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N.E.R.O.: Nothing Ever Remains Obscure Review

N.E.R.O.: Nothing Ever Remains Obscure Review

I suppose a title like that could be applied to any story; the beginning of an intricately woven tale is often shrouded in mystery, and leaves its audience eagerly awaiting that next nugget of information that might explain why the princess is locked in the tower, or the troll shuns society. When I first started up N.E.R.O., I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or even what kind of experience I had just signed myself up for; however, as I progressed further and further into this game, I learned that nothing ever really remains obscure.

N.E.R.O. is a story driven spectacle: although it adopts various tropes from different genres, such as collectables, puzzle solving and exploration of multiple paths, I’d find it hard to place it in any one mainstream genre. The focus here is entirely placed on the initially obscure narrative, and the process of virtually walking through what is closer to a description-rich children’s book than a game. And therein lies my first problem: as pretty as the story is, I personally don’t think that it’s beautiful or unique enough to risk sacrificing gameplay and challenge in the way that N.E.R.O. does. Many of the puzzles that I found myself completing consisted of clicking a button until everything looked as it should, whether that meant rotating a platform or lighting up a tree. The most challenging element of these time killers was finding the patience to actually complete them, as only a few of them unlocked new pathways or collectables: after patiently walking around this lotus flower several times to ensure all of the buttons were blue rather than orange, a little more of the story was laid upon me with some pretty ambiguous and ultimately meaningless wording, courtesy of the narrator from The Stanley Parable.

N.E.R.O. often tends to walk that fine line between beautifully simplistic and vacuous; there is no denying that this is a beautiful game in terms of its visual style, its “hidden in plain sight” narrative and some of the philosophical ideas it brings up about loss and personal development. However, I feel that that beauty is more akin to the art galleries or intricate cave systems that your parents drag you around as a child. The walk speed is unapologetically slow because of all the giant caterpillars, waterfalls and discothèque foliage you need to look at, all of which leads to that internal dilemma of “have I appreciated it enough yet? Is it safe to move on without looking like a boor?” Those early areas in the forests and caves were absolutely fantastic in creating a harmonic atmosphere that was both touching and thought provoking; around the midpoint, however, things started getting a little messy, with the game making use of a dark and dingy environment and sporadically placed piano cues that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror game. Once I had finished N.E.R.O., I learned that the story did indeed call for this chapter, but it simply felt jarringly out of place when juxtaposed against what the player had been exposed to so far, as well as what they are shown afterwards.

This middling area was also one of the key perpetrators for branching paths. As I said, many of the puzzles were optional extras that led to extra story extracts as opposed to actual progression; in such a story-focused game as this, I don’t think that enabling the player to hear narrative dumps out of order (or indeed allowing them the potential to miss them entirely) is the right way to go, especially when the gameplay that is on offer is so downright lacking. This method of storytelling can definitely be done effectively, but I don’t think that N.E.R.O. quite hits the nail on the head.

In spite of any issues I have with N.E.R.O. in terms of gameplay or layout, it excels at creating a compelling and inspiring (if dark) story in a way that is, when all’s said and done, far more interesting and interactive than watching a film. I can’t recommend this title for its puzzles or its focus on player choice and exploration because, frankly, that’s where the game falls down. This one’s merit lies in its more artistic representation of the medium, and that’s how it should be appreciated: if you’re anything like me, though, you’ll be wanting a healthy dose of your favourite action game soon afterwards.

6.50/10 6½

N.E.R.O.: Nothing Ever Remains Obscure (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)

Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

N.E.R.O. fails at generating an exciting or mentally challenging experience, but it really doesn’t try to. This visually stunning title places a great emphasis on its narrative, which is both uplifting and devastating – you’ll be thinking about this one for a long time afterwards.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Ben Robson

Ben Robson

Staff Writer

Owner of strange Dr Moreau-esque pets, writer of videogames.

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