REVIEW: ‘NORCO’ Is A Point And Click Masterpiece (PC)

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Norco - But Why Tho

NORCO is a point-and-click adventure game developed by Geography of Robots for PC. Their first game as a studio, NORCO sets the bar incredibly high for future Geography of Robots productions. It gives off major Kentucky Route Zero vibes at first but establishes itself as a work of art by the time credits roll.

The game takes place in the suburbs of a semi-futuristic New Orleans.  Geography of Robots describes it as a “distorted South Louisiana”, which is an incredibly apt description. Players take on the role of Kay, a former resident of Norco, Louisiana who has spent years on the road looking to escape her past. While the bulk of her past travels aren’t explored in detail, at least not right away, there are a good amount of backstory options the player can select leading into the opening chapter. Once Kay’s lost years have been decided, it is revealed that her mom has recently died and she is returning home where her brother Blake still resides. The start to the story feels incredibly grounded, as well as dark, but it doesn’t remain that way.

When Kay arrives in Norco, it is clear just how messed up the people of her hometown are. What is even more clear is why Kay wanted to leave in the first place. Every character introduced in NORCO has been profoundly impacted by the state of the world around them. The nearby oil refinery may have provided jobs for many of the residents, but it also sucked the souls out of the community. NORCO is a very poignant commentary on the effects of capitalism and the exploitation of workers and does a wonderful job showing the humanity of the impoverished people left behind in the wake of others’ quests to earn a profit.

NORCO tells two intertwining stories at once, one following Kay as she searches for her brother Blake and the other following their mother Cathering weeks before her death. The switch felt jarring the first time it took place, simply because I wasn’t expecting it, but soon began to make sense once more pieces of the puzzle became visible.

The stories told in both of these perspectives give even more background to the characters and their motives. It also helps keep the story feeling fresh, with different locations and interactions popping up depending on which character is being controlled at the time. Every character you meet, no matter how big or small, is written so well they feel like authentic people. Even just listening to conversations on the street, while it might not always have a major impact on the story, furthers the depth of the world created by Geography of Robots.

Speaking of locations, the real highlight of NORCO is the outstanding atmosphere presented in every single area. Places like Kay’s bedroom have hints and nods to her personality as a character that may not seem obvious at first, and other locations like the French Quarter combine the vibrant look of New Orleans with the dystopian feel NORCO is going for.

The pixel art style manages to bring out an incredible amount of detail in every location, which only helps contribute to the story as a whole. It is easy to understand the despair and struggle of the characters when the places they live and congregate in also reek of desperation and poverty. The set designs for each location also give more power to the idea that companies have bled the area dry, and they look as bleak as the story sets out to make them appear.

There is not much complexity in terms of gameplay mechanics in NORCO, given the genre, but there are a few minigames and quick-time events that are enjoyable. While I would have been satisfied with a game that was exclusively a point-and-click story, the addition of sections like the puppet show that has the player guiding a boat through the bayou add an extra layer of depth that is greatly appreciated. The replayability factor is also relatively high since alternate choices unlock different interactions that are incredibly satisfying to achieve.

Overall, NORCO is a game I could not stop thinking about. Even long after completing my first playthrough, I find myself thinking about Kay, Catherine, the AI security robot Millions, Private Investigator Leblanc, and the multitude of ordinary citizens I encountered that profoundly impacted me throughout my time in NORCO. It’s been a while since a game has managed to cause so much emotional damage in such a short period of time, and I cannot recommend NORCO highly enough.

NORCO is out now on Steam.


NORCO
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Overall, NORCO is a game I could not stop thinking about. Even long after completing my first playthrough, I find myself thinking about Kay, Catherine, the AI security robot Millions, Private Investigator Leblanc, and the multitude of ordinary citizens I encountered that profoundly impacted me throughout my time in NORCO. It’s been a while since a game has managed to cause so much emotional damage in such a short period of time, and I cannot recommend NORCO highly enough.