Reviews - Updated on April 15, 2022

To get a rough idea of ​​what Norco is, try mixing road movies, southern gothic and cyberpunk, Disco Elysium and Kentucky Route Zero, Cormac McCarthy’s True Detective and The Road, David Lynch films. Lynch), novels by William Faulkner, and plays by Tennesse Williams. Add robots and Jesus Christ … I agree, it looks wild, but believe me – it turned out to be a very tasty cocktail.

What is Southern Gothic

William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Cormac McCarthy, Harper Lee – all these writers worked in the Southern Gothic genre. If that doesn’t tell you anything, then remember the first season of True Detective – this is just a classic example. The action takes place in the southern United States, in Missouri, near the yellow waters of the Mississippi, next to the swamps (or right there) of Louisiana and New Orleans. There are a lot of crocodiles and that same one-story, provincial America, fed by conservative traditions and religious obsession, left over from the times of the slave-owning past of the South.

NORCO: Overview

A scene from True Detective.

Therefore, smog of depression, mysticism, alcohol, neurosis and blues hangs over the swamps. One of the main themes is religious intolerance, which found fertile ground in the provincial environment, social problems like domestic violence or, conversely, descending into a personal personal hell (like the heroine of Williams’s play “A Streetcar Named Desire”). And at the same time, these are endlessly beautiful (special, southern beauty) landscapes, this is blues, this is jazz and aching melancholy in the heart …

All this everyday depressive realism may well be mixed with surrealism, mysticism, post-apocalypse, as in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or with cyberpunk and robots, as in Norco.

NORCO: Overview

And this is a shot from Norco. The romance of cars and roads is a frequent sign of southern Gothic.

What’s happening?

Yes, the game from the Geography of Robots studio can be called a typical representative of southern gothic. The action takes place in South Louisiana, in the fictional city of Norco, standing on a river that is dying from the dominance of oil refineries. Time is the near future. In addition to the homeless people living by the river, drinking private detectives and religious sects expected in the American South, there are androids and medical companies that allow you to transfer the consciousness of a dying person to a hard drive.

We play as a girl named Kay who returned home from a road trip across America and found that her mother had died and her brother had disappeared. Their family relationships were not easy, but still she wants to visit her mother’s grave, find out how it all happened, and find her brother. At the same time, she doesn’t really remember anything, but, meeting old acquaintances (including an android named Million) and those who knew her mother and father, she gradually fills in the gaps in her memory.

NORCO: Overview

One of the main plot “wow” moments is connected with the android.

In the process, we infiltrate the refinery of a large corporation that runs everything here, and find out that they are developing super-AI to fly into space – supposedly to search for resources. Periodically, the action is transferred to the past, where we are given to play for Kay’s dying mother, Katherine, who in this state strives to work as a courier and meets … a huge Superduck (Superduck), who promises to pay if Katherine delivers some important artifact to her. And he actually turns out to be … an angel.

NORCO: Overview

The first acquaintance with this character will definitely surprise you.

We also communicate with a huge crocodile, get into the location of a religious sect, where everyone calls themselves Garrets and also want to fly into space, and we also meet a homeless man who is obsessed with the idea that Katherine and her family are descendants of Christ. In general, from time to time you don’t understand at all what is happening, and more and more often you remember David Lynch and Kentucky Route Zero, where this tart mixture of southern gothic and surrealism was also. Even the approach to storytelling and some scenes are similar – in KRZ we drove a car, looking for a destination and interesting places on the map, and in Norco we do about the same on a boat, wandering along the river.

NORCO: Overview

You can swim here for a long time.

In any case, even if not everything is immediately clear, it is interesting to play and follow the story – you yourself understand, there are enough intrigues and unexpected twists here. In addition, Norco has excellent, literary dialogues, well-thought-out characters, cool pixel art and a great soundtrack that interferes with blues melancholy and downhole post-industrial. And the authors also combine surrealism, melancholy and mysticism with humor. I especially liked the aforementioned Garrett sect who want to dress like knights and play video games.

What about talking?

In the gameplay, we see a mix of classic quest gameplay, mini-games and original finds. Basically, we click the screen in search of active points, read descriptions, communicate with numerous characters and sometimes collect items in order to open something with a crowbar or use an access card for its intended purpose. Here, too, it was not without humor – once, in order to get to the right thing, I had to stroke the cat so actively that it soared into the sky from overexcitement, breaking through the roof.

NORCO: Overview

We are warned not to touch the cat.

There are also many dialogue tasks, which basically boil down to convincing the character to help us, share information or open a new location on the map in order to advance the story. For this, a private detective (of course, a drinker) had to be constantly treated to a drink, and his grandfather, who loves to blow up something at oil refineries, asked to find his runaway dog. In general, everything is familiar.

Some even join us for a while – and this also sometimes leads to funny situations. For example, the same detective, when we tried to start the modem, just pulled out a gun, fired at it – and everything, miraculously, worked!

NORCO: Overview

We move between locations on different vehicles – the aesthetics of the road movie is perfectly conveyed.

The programs installed on the smartphone also help in solving riddles. One includes augmented reality, and the other allows you to record the phrases of the interlocutors and then use them in the right place – for example, to open the door with a voice password or convince the abbot in a religious sect that its members are not really such lambs of God. In general, as a quest, the game will not offer difficult tasks – even digital codes are selected without much effort. And if you get stuck somewhere, you can always turn to one of the companions for a hint. But here it is important, firstly, the variety of situations, and secondly, the fact that the authors have found an almost perfect balance between the quest part and the narrative, the rhythm of which practically does not go astray.

NORCO: Overview

With the help of augmented reality, you can even find a prophet.

Remember everything

Interesting finds include a kind of memory map located in the head of the heroine – it is constantly updated with new characters, locations and organizations, between which logical connections are stretched. Learning new things about them, we not only remember and shed light on what is happening – it also helps in solving puzzles and opens up new points on the map.

NORCO: Overview

You don’t need to build these connections yourself – the game does everything automatically.

Finally, Norco has battles that take place in an almost turn-based format and with the help of mini-games – to inflict damage, you need to wait for your turn, choose who will attack whom, and correctly repeat the sequence of signs or press the buttons in time. And at the end of such fights there will be almost more than riddles. In one of the situations, in order to make the task easier, we first had to get rid of the drones patrolling the location during the mini-game.

NORCO: Overview

In this simple way, you can defeat everyone.

It turned out to be a truly amazing adventure in the Southern Gothic genre, at the same time mysterious, depressing, mystical and ironic, very tasty, literary written (almost at the level of Disco Elysium), with its own findings both in the presentation of the story and in the gameplay. It’s a pity, of course, that there is no Russian language, but such a game is worth it to learn English.

Pros: fascinating mystical story; excellent dialogues and well-written characters; varied gameplay with puzzles and mini-games; beautiful pixel art; very atmospheric music and overall work with sound.

Cons: in some places there is not enough complexity; no Russian.

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