Norco Review: A Strange and Beautiful Inquiry into Religion

I stopped going to church about two years after Katrina.

For one thing, my mother had issues with the Catholic Church’s stance on divorce – my parents had divorced when I was 6, politely, respectfully and for the good of all involved – and this meant that our usual church attendance was slowly waning. Then, amidst all the things that go into rebuilding a destroyed home, from struggling with insurance companies to finding suitable contractors to renting a temporary apartment that could house two children, catechism lessons were no longer a priority. The storm itself wasn’t the only reason, but the reality of the aftermath played a part. So I stopped walking.

I haven’t missed religion for a long time. In fact, I became actively grateful for his absence from my life. I saw the pitfalls of their institutions, the misdeeds of their zealots, and in my most cynical moments the sickness of their believers. How could anyone trust anything so blindly, despite the flaws involved? I didn’t understand this belief.

A character stares out of a window in Norco

Image: Geography of the Robots/Raw Fury

Norco, the point-and-click adventure game based on the New Orleans suburb of the same name, is a puzzling experience. His writing style is poetic and insightful, the kind that ignites a generative flame within you. You start out as Kay and return home after the death of your mother Catherine. You left your home for unobvious reasons, with all the predictable doubt and resentment lingering in the air. As you fill in your backstory, your inner monologue overlays the memories and landscapes of your childhood. You remember the years you were away including the war you stumbled into. As you tell a story about hiding in a cargo ship, you have three dialogue options: “I’ve been praying.”; “I slept.”; “I forget.”

I was presented with these options twice: once when playing the demo and once when playing the full game. Although I am not a religious person, I chose “I have prayed” every time. It was undoubtedly a reflex and not a desire to try another path.

When you enter Kay’s childhood home, you quickly begin to sift through the lives frozen in time. In your old bedroom, you’ll find books, posters, and memorabilia, including a stuffed monkey to take with you in the future. Elsewhere in the house you’ll find your mother’s laundry and medicines and videotapes of her lilting memories. In the backyard, leaning against the shabby pickup, you’ll find Million, the fugitive android your mom took in years ago. Million informs you that your brother Blake is missing, and so begins your journey to unravel the past and future of your family and the town itself.

NorcoPixel art is vibrant and kaleidoscopic, like the stained glass in a cathedral. The first act focuses on Norco’s landscape, from its refineries to its swampy terrain to its battered suburban architecture. Act Two extends beyond Norco, alternating between Kay’s and Catherine’s perspectives as you travel through the greater New Orleans area. You look for clues at City Hall and concerts to get to the abandoned Promenade Mall, where a group of zealots are camped with information about your job. Finally, the third act is altogether more fantastic. On your quest to find your brother, you will delve into the swamps and stumble through scenarios that are difficult to distinguish between reality and nightmare; Along the way, you’ll encounter a giant bird covered in mud whose eyes have been stolen. Norco also features some really solid comic relief, from a cat being thrown through the ceiling to a long story about a guy getting in the shit.

New Orleans at Norco

Image: Geography of the Robots/Raw Fury

The pixelated style also captures the comfort and majesty of a Louisiana sunset, with its blocky shape reflecting the density of humid summer air. I’m notorious for my infatuation with sunsets and sunrises. I have hundreds of images, each depicting a unique coloration of the sky. I remember the special ones and those who sat with me among them; I remember when the moisture suffocated and held me. Today my friends write me you see this shit and i will answer Yeah man can you believe it? With every new pixel scene that rolls across my computer screen NorcoI want to write to my friends you see this shit looking for someone who can answer Yeah man can you believe it?

Norco blends myriad genres to tell its story, including cyberpunk, mystery, and southern goth. The latter pervades the entire game, both visually and lyrically, with its appreciation of the landscape. The area is being overrun and poisoned by technology: technologies from our world, like oil refineries and smartphones, and those not quite from our world, like the corrupted, for-profit cloud to which characters upload their memories. NorcoDesigning as a mystery allows you to discover how these technologies came to destroy your hometown.

While the game is mostly a simple point-and-click narrative, some of its side stories deviate on a mechanical level. One such side story takes place in a puppet show under a highway overpass. In it, an alligator whose child was killed by a shrimp fisherman asks you to find that shrimp fisherman and kill him in exchange for the alligator’s obedience. You navigate a swamp from a bird’s-eye view on a map born of flickering light. Once you find the shrimp fish, he’ll ask you to kill the alligator instead. You make a choice.

A long shot of a corner store in Norco

Image: Geography of the Robots/Raw Fury

I love point and click games for both the freedom of choice they afford and the freedom of choice they hold back; I also love what I’m learning about myself. What am I doing in the best, worst, or any other superlative version of my life? What can I say? Do I take the monkey with me? Does my compassion for my brother replace my resentment over his actions, or vice versa? Will this election be different tomorrow?

In Norco, I can be another version of myself – more virtuous, or at least someone approaching it. I can apologize for my absence. I can reduce the distance between me and my family a little. I can team up with an eco-terrorist and break into the oil refinery and destroy my city.

I chose to kill the shrimp fish. I shot him and blood splattered across the screen. I went back to the alligator to tell him I had completed his mission, but the alligator laughed in my face and ate me anyway. My choice, whatever my intention, was debatable.

Then you fall further into the underworld of Norcowhat you are told to believe becomes more extreme. When confronted with the possibility of an angel, your response is twofold: “There is no such thing” or “What if you are wrong?” I chose “There is no such thing.” The other character replies, “As the cargo ship sped down the freeway, weren’t you praying? You are no stranger to the clarifying light that removes all doubt. That is the essence of faith.”

I froze, embarrassed at how quickly I’d forgotten. I had prayed – twice.

Characters are waiting for a puppet show in Norco

Image: Geography of the Robots/Raw Fury

As I got older, I found that I yearned for religion. The thought of something bigger than me, something that can quell my constant questioning, seems nice. I have friends who take their religion seriously and I am jealous of this ritual and comfort. But when I traveled through Norco, I realized that while I have no religion, I do have a lot of faith. I have chosen to remain in Louisiana, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Despite the rising cost of living and a job market built to feed the maw of the tourism economy, I’m staying. Norco is part of a stretch of land so polluted it’s been dubbed “Cancer Alley”; Still, lawmakers are pushing to make Louisiana a fossil fuel “haven.” I remain. And with each hurricane season increasing in length and intensity, I stay. As I sat on my porch after Hurricane Ida, while New Orleans was without power for days—weeks in Norco’s case—I still sat in awe of each sunset’s gift, the Louisiana sky that never missed a beat.

Norco ends on a visceral note that will appeal to Louisiana’s staunch followers, but also to anyone seeking a beautiful, depressing, and ultimately hopeful story. Past and future mixed, and my reaction was unbridled. As I gasped and sobbed at my computer screen, I thought again about faith—the kind it takes to stay here. If you don’t understand this belief Norco can convince you very well.

Norco was released on March 24th on Mac and Windows PC. The game has been verified on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Raw Fury. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find For more information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy, click here.

https://www.polygon.com/reviews/23025400/norco-review-point-and-click-adventure-windows-pc-mac-ending Norco Review: A Strange and Beautiful Inquiry into Religion

Charles Jones

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