Is it possible for a game to be both dour and beautiful at the same time? Yes, and one of the prime examples of this is NORCO. This point-and-click adventure is set in the very real town of Norco, Louisiana and it manages to capture the beauty of the American South in a rare way, but alongside that beauty is an off-putting style that perfectly matches the tone of the game’s narrative.
“I think what I personally wanted to capture above anything else was the sunsets of Louisiana because they are so brilliant and so beautiful.” Yuts, the creator and main writer for NORCO, told UPROXX. “The kind of like dismal quality that a lot of the art has is it just comes naturally to me. I guess I’m attracted to somewhat forlorn landscapes and things that are a little broken, a little roughshod. I think that was part of the reason (Jessie Jacobi) is part of the project is because I think he has similar sensibilities.”
NORCO is many things. A sci-fi adventure where a cult wraps up an entire family into its absurd vision. A coming home story. A commentary on development’s impact on the environment. Whatever you take away from the game, and it is open to many interpretations, all of it will feel gripping and emotional. What this game arguably does best above anything else is that everyone has a Norco, Louisiana in their life. Whether it’s the hometown you left and planned to never return to, or maybe you still live there. A family member you had a falling out with only to be thrust back into each other’s lives unexpectedly. Or friends you saw go down a path you couldn’t follow. You don’t need to be from Louisiana, or the South, to appreciate the subtleties of NORCO.
This isn’t a game to play so you can get to the end, see credits, and move on. It’s a game where despite its linear progression there are always details to look at. Details ranging from a house still boarded up from a past hurricane, to an LSU calendar hanging in an office. All of these details are presented to you through the eyes of Kay. After her mother’s death from cancer, Kay returns home. When discovering her brother, Blake, appears to not be home, she goes out to figure out where he went off to. From this point on most of how she reacts to situations is up to the player. What’s brilliant though is that, despite this, the player can’t change what is happening to Kay. They’re forced go on Kay’s adventure with her. The player’s agency is more about how they feel in certain situations than actively changing the story.
This doesn’t mean the player is completely out of control. Small events can change by going briefly off the beaten path and there are multiple endings, but unlike other games similar to NORCO where the player is given multiple paths and options, this is not one of those. Don’t go into NORCO trying to change the world but instead with the intention of experiencing it.
“The reason Kay is so vague is because I do I want her to be a conduit for the player.” said Yuts. “They can interpret both Kay, her past, and her interpretation of the world how they want. There is a lot of kind of player maybe quasi or like meta player agency involved in that. My interpretation of Kay is that she has almost an ambivalence where there’s this constant sense of her just kind of going along with the momentum of the evening that she’s experiencing because she couldn’t be bothered to change that inertia or to redirect the night. So she gets swept along.”
NORCO is the first time Yuts has ever created a video game. After signing a contract with publisher Raw Fury it occurred to Yuts that the game had to actually get made. Now, Yuts and the team that created NORCO are Geography of Robots and the game they have created is an artistic masterpiece, but the game had many forms before what ultimately became the finished product. A side-scrolling adventure starring Million, one of the characters in the game, and even before that there is roots all the way back to an oral history on Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s rooted somewhat in a project that I was doing with friends after Katrina probably around 2007.” said Yuts. “So Katrina’s 2005. We started an oral history project where we were interviewing people about their experiences of the storm, their experiences of living in Louisiana living next to heavy industry, things like that, and it was somewhat of a mixed media project. We’d do interviews and we would edit the interviews into these video montages, and other things, and we would project images, take pictures of it, just all kinds of experimental stuff that we were doing to kind of narrativize and make sense of the climate socially and ecologically in Louisiana at the time. Part of that project was a small experimental side scroller as well as a little small interactive text piece and there are a number of other small creative projects. So the number of other small projects I was working on kind of congealed slowly over the course of the years into something that was more tangibly a game.”
All of these elements can still be found in NORCO today. Mentions of hurricanes, infrastructure’s impact on the region, and how the social climate was responding. Alongside this are a lot of modern feelings. This was a game made during the COVID-19 lockdowns and Donald Trump’s presidency. While not obvious, there are subtle moments in the game that comment on everything that has happened to not only Louisiana but the entire United States. That said, the ties to Louisiana are strong and some of the best parts of the game. Anyone that knows anything about the culture of that state, from its people to its love of football, will appreciate these moments.
Play NORCO. Not because it’s a look into the American South, or because of its social commentaries, or even for the very gripping story. Play it because it’s going to fill you with emotions. Everyone who plays this game is going to experience something different from it and that is an example of a game that is for everyone.