Horror is a genre that relies on multiple layers of design. Designers have to know these layers inside and out, as well as study their players to see what’s working to make a game scary. Often times, the titles with residual horror tend to stand out the most, such as Silent Hill 2 or Amnesia. These games have elements that stick to the player, often with their narrative or hints at one.
The Indie scene has blown up over the past few years with titles like Five Nights At Freddy’s and Slender soaking up popularity. This, in turn, has many developers focusing on horror. Devolver Digital is helping developer C3SK bring Noct to a reality.
Noct is a top down, multiplayer shooter that mixes elements of Silent Hill and Rust with monsters of which Lovecraft would be proud. Players see and control their survivors through a satellite feed, while given directions by a mysterious being known simply as XMIT. Who XMIT is and why he is helping the player are some of the questions that make these exchanges especially unsettling. It seems that XMIT wants nothing more than to see the survivor succeed, but is just as quick to move on upon death.
The game carries many solid, uncanny elements in its visuals. According to the game’s website, Earth has been cast into perpetual darkness, plagued by monsters known as the Nocturnal. The monochrome color screen fits with the notion that the player is being watched from above, presumably by mostly XMIT. The monsters of the game are all terrifying and overwhelming, as they can kill players with a single hit. The HUD is also cryptic; players must manage ammo and supplies without any clear numbering. It’s never easy to fight off a monster when ammo is low, but it’s oppressive just knowing ammo is low in general.
Playing with the objectives in mind leads players around the expansive map, gathering supplies and activating various machinery, as instructed by XMIT. Throughout the walkthrough, what’s left of humanity, vision becomes blurry as the eldritch creatures appear, just out of sight. Most of the time, when the monsters show up, its too late. Fighting them alone is futile and running from them is almost impossible. Survival is much easier when teamed up with other players, but they can also be as dangerous as the monsters. While being connected to a multiplayer server, I never ran into anyone else, but given the player patterns of Day Z, I imagine they would kill me without question.
It’s important to note that Noct has not been fully developed. It is currently under Early Access on Steam and has already gone through quite a few patches. As of now, once most objectives are cleared, it seems that players can get stuck in a loop to gather supplies. Being that many monsters can simply chase down the player, especially the little worms, there isn’t as much horror as there is frustration. The game’s framework is there, but the actual experience feels just as empty as the world its attempting to create.
Noct does carry a visual and thematic framework that could turn into something special. The monsters look great and the graphic style is oppressive, all while being accompanied by some interesting guitar songs that are reminiscent of Silent Hill. I was also hoping to get that overwhelmed feeling that comes with horror games. No matter what forced my character to say “Uh oh,” there was usually little room for avoidance or for confrontation. Most of my session included heading towards a waypoint, dying, and then continuing to the waypoint, until reaching it. It didn’t feel scary, just time consuming.
Being enclosed in a building, frantically grabbing supplies, felt unnerving, especially when the scratching of claws got closer and closer.
Let’s hope Noct continues to evolve and capitalize on those moments.