Steam Early Access Preview: Noct
I’ll be honest, my initial experiences with Noct have not been good, and I can say without any doubt that for many reasons, this is not the game for me. Within 30 minutes of gameplay I had already come to the conclusion that I didn’t like the game, but conversely I had also started to form a picture of it as an alright horror/action title that could appeal to a lot of people.
An isometric, survival horror shooter, Noct doesn’t sound particularly unique, but that’s a notion that fades a bit (just a bit) as you get to grips with it. Starting out, the game plonks you seemingly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by darkness, ruins and an eerie sense of dread. A communication comes through telling you to reach a certain destination for weapons/resources, and so you set off (these communications forming the foundations of the gameplay – having you go from checkpoint to checkpoint) into the quiet dark.
I’d love to style this article as a detailed description or story of my gameplay experience, but it would be a tad lacking (read: pathetic) as in the first 15 minutes I had already died 7 times. How did this happen? Well, I suck, but also big horrible scary monsters. Yeah, Noct’s world is hazardous to one’s survival to say the least, and it will punish you for A: not paying attention, B: not having any ammo, and C: because it can. As you explore the hostile environment ticking off rolling objectives – find some components, pick up this key, etc. – you really do need to have your wits about you, and every attempt of mine resulted in much the same experience: “I’ve got a little bit further, now just be careful” and boom, I am an idiot and leave a building backwards, walking straight into a giant slug thing, screen promptly flicking to black as I am instantly killed.
The way the game is presented helps add to this stark feeling of tension as well as to the overall challenge. Not only do we view the world from above, but line of sight is an important concept to get to grips with. Essentially you can see around your character (unless the rest of the screen was blackened out this would be impossible with the current view), however being able to see around corners or just out of the way requires your character to be facing in that direction with no obstacle in their way. What this means is every few steps you take, every building you are about to enter, and every corner you are about to turn is filled with the possibility of danger. Too hasty and you could find yourself instantly killed by some gruesome monster that was lurking just out of sight. There is a bit of a warning of danger, with your character spouting “uh oh” when trouble is coming, but generally speaking you’re on your own.
Well, unless you engage in the game’s multiplayer, which to be fair seems to be how the game was intended to be played. Running around on your own trying to survive, shooting monsters, gathering resources (including food and water rations) is difficult and a little frustrating, as it’s not an unheard of occurrence for you to enter a building, spy some lovely ammo sitting in the middle of it, but to be brutally munched on just after you grab it. With friends in toe, you can have look outs, you can have extra firepower, and you can have people to laugh off the tension with. Anything can be fun with friends and just because a game has multiplayer doesn’t mean that it is a worthwhile multiplayer experience, but I feel that Noct benefits from the inclusion, and gameplay really suits teamwork…even if it doesn’t last very long.
It’s an atmospheric and tense game with a clear emphasis on repeat sessions, though I do feel it goes a bit too far with regards to its aesthetic. The darkened screen, slightly blurred/static vision (kind of like looking through CCTV or infrared) does make everything look a bit bland. There’s clearly some interesting locations – a shipyard, forest, town – and so to not be able to see virtually any of it is a little unfortunate. Of course, it does add to that sense of dread, but the darkness doesn’t have to be quite so intense. Also, remember when I said “quite dark”, well I meant it. The game is deathly silent for the most part, other than a subtle soundtrack and some radio static, even the gun sounds are a bit muffled. It’s unusual, because I suppose it does something for the tension – calm before a storm? – but it’s not the most aurally exciting game.
Additionally I worry about the game’s longevity. While it did take me a while to get anywhere due to the difficulty, I wonder where it really goes from there. You play a bit, then you die. You play with friends, then you all die. You start over. It is a little repetitive by design, and relies fairly heavily on this survival/horror experience (none of the mechanics were particularly outstanding – shooting is alright, but that’s about it). How long can something like that keep the player interested? Because I haven’t seen much on offer in Noct to convince me that this would be for very long.
The current state of the game is promising though. I didn’t experience any errors or glitches, and there is game to get into (not like some early access builds that give you an unplayable mess or virtually nothing to get on with). I really think that they’ve got a good niche or spin on survival horror here that a lot of people will enjoy (and hate). If it gets fleshed out a bit before launch I think Noct could be a decent if simple title…even if I don’t want to play it anymore.