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Scott Alsworth's Video Games Monitor A surreal yet realist journey through an exploited suburb of New Orleans

Geography of Robots
PC / Mac

IT SEEMS everybody’s talking about Norco right now.

Developed by the indie collaborative, Geography of Robots, it’s already being hailed as the surprise hit of the year; a narrative-driven, point and click adventure, channelling the “petroluem blues” of a dystopian Deep South.

The story, without giving too much away, centres on a working-class family and unfolds from two perspectives; that of Catherine, a mother, dying of cancer, and Kay, her runaway daughter, who has returned home to the real-world town of Norco, Lousiana, which, as the game’s title implies, is the real star of the show.

A backwater on the edge of the Mississippi, it’s a place of societal, environmental and industrial decay, wholly dependent on the operations of Shield Oil — a company that could give even the most seasoned XR activist nightmares.

The near-future world scenes, clearly inspired by a golden age of pixellated drag-and-drop mysteries, really capture the imagination and present a memorable hellscape of smokestacks, pipelines and polluted bayous.

Oppressive, but not always without a sense of beauty. The kind we’re sometimes forced to find. Refinery lights, twinkling in lieu of stars.

Indeed, it’s Norco’s subtleties, supported by well-written text descriptions, that really shine.

This extends to the dialogues and reveries of its many, many characters too. Drug-peddling Santas, masked Mardi Gras revellers, bored shop assistants, suicidal executives and cultists obsessed with matching uniforms speak as one, in the gut-punching language of the alienated and dispossessed. As social realism, it’s refreshingly provocative.

However, somewhere in the game’s second act, things get as muddy as swamp water. The emotive charge is blunted by an esoteric descent into Christian spiritualism and honestly, it gets pretty bizarre.

Perhaps I just didn’t understand it, or maybe it was developed with multivalency in mind. Either way, I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little disappointed.

Still, as weird as the whole experience was, there are powerful forces at play.

If you can forgive a lack of gameplay, retro graphics and a story that really does go down the rabbit-hole, Norco is a game that will reward you with a vivid portrayal of a small-town community, subverted by the (literally) carcinogenic effects of corporate greed.  

The indignation’s there. But as the credits roll, I couldn’t shrug the feeling of some missed potential.


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