Norco Review – Deep South Dystopia

I had never heard of the eponymous town of Norco until playing indie developer Geography of Robot’s first point-and-click adventure game. Now I feel like I know him intimately, thanks in large part to the game’s evocative and honest portrayal of a community with close ties to the petrochemical industry. Norco tackles societal issues that other games only want to distract us from, weaving them into an utterly compelling tale that made me want to reach for the next scene, line of dialogue, or delicious prose.

The real Norco is a small town in Louisiana located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Its unusual name is derived from the New Orleans Refining Company (NORCO,) which was established in the area after the land was purchased by Shell Oil in 1911. For more than a century, the city lived in the shadow of a major Shell oil refinery. towering above the horizon, blanketing the air in plumes of smoke billowing from the factory’s monolithic flares.

Lecture en cours: Norco – Bande-annonce de gameplay exclusive [Play For All 2021]

It provides a fascinating backdrop for a story centered on Kay, a young woman who returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother – a curious former teacher – from cancer. Kay has been gone for five years, preferring to drift to the United States rather than stay at Norco, despite the outside world being ravaged by localized wars. Kay then arrives with some baggage, and it’s not long before she’s grappling with her late mother’s mysterious affairs, which revolve around her wanted research and odd activity in the days leading up to her death. . There’s also the matter of Kay’s missing brother, who is nowhere to be found, spurring her into action as she embarks on a thrilling adventure through this small, industrial slice of Louisiana.

Norco’s setting and themes blend the grotesque, magical realism of the Southern Gothic genre with sci-fi nihilism. It takes place at an unspecified time in the near future, indicated by the sentient security android in the backyard and a clinical service that allows people to upload their consciousness to a smartphone app. Despite this, Norco’s genuine worldliness makes it feel more like our current reality than any sci-fi dystopia. There is the rotting corpse of a cockroach buried somewhere in the inner workings of the microwave in Kay’s mother’s kitchen; rear-battered bike needs a fuse to get it going again; motels still equipped with fixed telephones; a hot dog vendor desperately looking for someone to buy his ten-year-old sausages; and a puppet theater tucked under a busy overpass.

Rather, the dystopian elements are grounded in reality. Norco is a city ravaged by frequent floods and hurricanes. Many of its residents have lost loved ones to incidents caused by the oil refinery, either due to the explosion of pipelines or the environmental degradation that a major industrial operation will inevitably induce. The game never comes across as preachy or condescending when exploring these issues. Climate change is a fact and its effects are palpable. There is nothing to add. And the same goes for the other underlying themes that Norco skillfully tackles, be it religion, class division, gentrification, materialism, capitalism, etc.

It all works because the writing throughout is so wonderful. It’s dark and whimsical, and often poetic. The eerie characters that accompany Kay on her adventure are all nuanced and empathetically human, whether you’re with them for a few seconds or a few hours. Private detective Brett LeBlanc is a particular highlight; his illusions of grandeur undermined by the time he spends pacing the neighborhood sitting on the toilet. The Garretts, on the other hand, are a gang of disillusioned cult-like youngsters who evolve from their nickname “Mall Nazis” into a bunch of miscreants simply seeking a sense of community in their own way. For all of Norco’s melancholy and sense of hopelessness, it’s a really funny game. There’s a warmth and compassion that emanates from its characters and keeps the story’s inherent hopelessness from becoming too overwhelming. Even in its darkest moments, there’s enough levity to lift you out of the mud.

Mechanically, Norco is pretty straightforward, as everything exists to serve the storytelling. It may be a point-and-click adventure game, but it eschews many of the genre’s historical conventions, while still remaining inherently familiar. You’ll spend much of the game navigating through each panel of the game’s beautiful pixel art, clicking each scene to interact with objects in the environment, talking to people, and piecing together memories and new ideas using the dialogue choice in Kay’s mind map. It works like a kind of diary, giving you an easy way to review information and add new revelations as you uncover them.

There are occasional puzzles where you may need to find an item and give it to someone or walk through the bowels of a building in total darkness selecting different text prompts. None of these puzzles will make you rack your brains, and Norco likes to hold your hand when the solution isn’t immediately obvious. It’s safe to say that you’ll probably never feel lost, which is rare for a point-and-click adventure game. There’s very little backtracking, and you won’t have to decipher how two seemingly disparate inventory items might fit together. Solving these rudimentary puzzles isn’t particularly engaging, but Norco is driven by its narrative and many puzzles serve to improve it. Choosing to focus on story progression rather than stopping the player’s momentum with an ambiguous puzzle design is a smart move.

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Brief combat encounters appear a few times, requiring you to complete a time-based or memory-based mini-game to deal damage to enemies. These sequences feel slightly out of place due to their overly playful nature, but they’re rare enough to avoid overstaying their welcome.

Norco’s beautiful, evocative, and contemplative storytelling takes you on a fascinating journey that will occupy your thoughts for weeks and months after the credits roll. It earns its place alongside games like Kentucky Route Zero and Disco Elysium, effectively portraying the Southern Gothic genre with a mystifying adventure based on sublime writing and a poetic exploration of societal issues, environmental catastrophe, and what it means to be. human. It’s not always engaging gameplay-wise, but it’s a negligible flaw in the grand scheme of things. Games like Norco don’t appear very often. It’s a treasure.

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