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Norco

Entry updated 11 July 2022. Tagged: Author.

Videogame (2022). Published by Raw Fury AB. Developed by Geography of Robots. Designed and written by Yuts. Platforms: Win, Mac.

In this independent point-and-click Adventure game, players take on the role of itinerant American loner Kay Madère, who is returning to her hometown of Norco, Louisiana in the wake of her mother's death. What initially appears to be a elegiac piece of southern gothic is quickly revealed as sf when Kay encounters her domestic Robot lounging the backyard. From there, players alternate between Kay's search for her missing brother and, in flashback, the story of Kay's mother's encounter with an Uploaded intelligence named Superduck. Both Madère women find themselves in conflict with the Shield oil conglomerate, which is seeking an Alien orb in the Louisiana bayou. The narrative grows more surreal before culminating aboard a Spaceship built by a mall-rat cult, whose leader believes your family to be the last living descendants of Jesus Christ.

Norco is a real-world satellite town of New Orleans, built in the polluted lowlands around a Shell oil refinery ("Shield" in the game universe). It is also lead designer Yuts's home town. Norco the game is openly autobiographical, and was described by its developers as "a tribute to the stripmalls and swamplands of suburban Louisiana disguised as a sci-fi adventure."

The game's static environments are beautifully rendered in throwback pixel art that make Norco a pleasure to explore. It is a grimy world locked in eternal sunsets, where town and its inhabitants are literally and figuratively sinking into the swamp. Scraping a living through the gig-economy, poisoned by the glowing refinery that looms above them, the inhabitants of Norco no longer have hope for an atomized America. Even the spacefaring mall cultists are revealed to be just in it for videogames and drugs. Perhaps the most confronting thing about Norco is that it is unclear how much this is a science-fiction Dystopia, and how much a contemporary portrait of the region.

As an adventure game, Norco is more rudimentary than the forebears it apes. As a science-fiction story, it is muddled and convoluted. As a love-letter to a real community, troubled but tenacious, it is a resounding success. [JN]

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