NORCO PS5 Review. Sci-fi dystopia in futuristic Louisiana makes for one of 2022’s most memorable experiences in Norco. Read why this moody, horror-tinged point n’ click tale is one of the best games of 2022.
Long have I believed that a great soundtrack goes a long way to make me like or even love a video game. So let it be known that before I even finished Norco, I’d listened to the soundtrack twice.
It’s not the only thing great about Norco. Not by a long shot, but I hear it and instantly get a feel of the game’s sumptuous moody atmosphere. The scuzzy film of a near-futuristic Louisiana permeates every damn note in the same way the visuals do. Even if Norco was all vibes, I think it’d be among my favorite things from 2022. The fact that it’s a damn fine game is a hefty bonus.
NORCO Review (PS5) – A Fantastically Grim And Grungey Tech-Noir Adventure
A Story Packed With Compelling Characters
So what is Norco? It’s a modern point n’ click adventure game that travels the same roads as games such as Disco Elysium, but has a distinctive style all of its own. It’s the kind of game that imprints itself on your sleeping mind and haunts you long beyond the credits. Though that might just be because I went to sleep with the soundtrack on.
Set in a dilapidated refinery town called Norco, the game tells the story of a mother and daughter and the strange, haunting world they inhabit at different times. Norco has been invaded and pillaged by a big company, and as such it is a husk of what it once was. Yet something strange is going on. Our initial viewpoint of this place is through Kay, a daughter returning to the hell hole she once called home after her mother’s death and her brother’s disappearance.
The other side of the story comes from Kay’s mother Catherine, with a view into her life in the run up to her death. What unfurls is a dirty fusion of technological terror and grim poverty poured through a filter of a classic point n’ click adventure. In short, it’s hypnotically grimy.
What’s impressive about how development collective Geography of Robots goes about Norco’s story is how it flits between styles, viewpoints, and tones without divorcing it from the melancholy tragedy of a place that’s on life support both economically and socially.
A Trashy Tech-Noir Graveyard Packed With Intrigue
The majority of your time is spent clicking and talking as expected from a point n’ click adventure, but there are some intriguing asides that draw you deeper into the increasingly surreal nature of Norco’s trashy tech-noir graveyard. Turn-based fights with drunks, sedate boat rides on a swamp, and puppet shows beneath an overpass are among the oddball departures from formula.
But it’s the people that really sell Norco as the living personification of the worst place in every town or city. There’s rarely a person you meet that could be considered ‘good’ in Norco, but what do you expect from a place that only exists now because the most damned and damaged residents remain to eke out whatever scummy living is left?
That doesn’t mean these people aren’t worth your interest or empathy. Even the slightest of characters has something to them, an almost visible mark left on their personality by the trauma inflicted upon them by a selfish uncaring company. Each person tells a story that connects you with Kay and Catherine’s own, pushing you towards the overarching mysteries end.
It works because the writing is so sharp, funny, and more than a little depressing in how it shows us a skewed window into our own reality. There’s jabs at the suffocating way big business can ruin entire communities for personal profit, and a fair bit on the impact of the gig culture in an increasingly uncaring world. It’d be easy enough to have that stuff in there and it feel preachy and hollow, but it permeates through every line of dialogue and every glum industrial wasteland shot. There’s clear conviction at play that only grows with every little thing you learn about this Louisiana crater.
Nerco Will Linger In Your Mind Long After You’ve Finished It
There’s a constant need for information, especially on Kay’s side of the game, and that means finding everyone possible to interact with in the hope of gleaning a sliver of knowledge from them that might help the ongoing quest. Norco itself is so machine-like and broken that it’s almost a treat to find humanity in any form, and Norco certainly offers up plenty of forms. Even the supposedly loony cultists and opportunistic oil thieves of this place have a unique depth to them.
Helping you keep track of the people and places of Norco is Kay’s mind map. It’s a special menu that holds all information you’ve learned, jogging your memory when important tidbits are needed to progress, and ultimately a great way to keep characters and places in mind beyond the time you spend with them.
Experiencing Norco for yourself is imperative. For me, it has a grimly enchanting aura that reeks of stale cigarettes, spilled spirits, and the never-ending smell of burning oil. Few games in recent memory have managed to pull me so wholly into their world like Norco does. It’s a game that lingers in the memory like the buzz off a few drinks. A chemical high with an under taste of regret.
Norco is now available for PS4 & PS5.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.