Friday, 06 May 2016 00:00

NORTH Review

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You are a newcomer, escaping the “fires” of the South.

I gather someone convinced you of the good opportunities in the North, only to discover the oppressive reality there. It remains to be seen whether the South was really as terrible as the North claims. To mirror and distort Western depictions of Muslims and Arabs, the story draws a contrast between the North and the South. At the heart of this contrast is the notion of freedom. Allegedly, the North is comprised of free people, though the barbwire fences and mass surveillance tells a different story. According to our hero, the South had a kind of freedom the North misses out on.

Gameplay and story primarily progresses by letters with your sister. Each time you do something or interact with the game in a particular way, an envelope pops up, meaning you have something to write home about. In these letters, you tell your sister your inner thoughts and dialogues, your interactions with the locals and the environment. There aren’t explicit directions on what to do. Instead, you describe the thing you need to do, like how to operate the mine or how to solve the enigma of your guilt at the police station.

There are references to an eye, and allusions to mind control and authoritarian telepathy, which may or may not have an actual basis in the game.

It's clear you play as an outsider: you are shorter than everyone, you'll get an occasional comment about you and your people, and you're called a terrorist more than once. More importantly though, the player is in this world trying to figure out how it works. There aren't that many people around to help either; the streets are empty of life. If you do find someone, they speak a tongue you can't understand. NORTH hammers home the idea of your “otherness” again and again, effectively bonding us to our character, the only thing we the players find familiar.

Despite all the heaviness of the world, the stark oppressive colors, or multicolored prismatic landscapes, NORTH still has the ability to amuse us. Swanky elevator music lightens the mood as we transition levels, while the irony of the story builds unto the final macabre climax.

There is no HUD and no menu, so what you see is what you get. As far as I could tell, there was no way to save the game, pause it, or even exit it. The one time you get an indication of health is in the mines where you have a certain amount of time to start the jackhammers before you die from the heat.

In the context of the refugee crisis, it serves as a beautiful and shocking portal into the grim realities of people forced to migrate. It certainly created in me an opening dimension, contemplating the idea of being forced from my home into a totalitarian work camp. At the very least, this adventure will expose you to the strangeness of moving to a new place, and feel like the absolute stranger.

NORTH is a fascinating and disorienting journey. I felt like I went away, to some new land where the customs were far from my own, grasping for some clue or sign of the familiar. I became thrilled upon finding a radio, only to turn it on and hear a foreign weirdness pervading my ears.

The odd bureaucratic flourishes here, and there are well done, imbibing the cyberpunk sensibility with a much needed dose of the Kafkaesque.

This is probably the only game where waiting in line at a police station is entertaining.Bureaucracy is essential to a good cyberpunk story, and sadly it tends to be left behind in most games. NORTH provides just enough to make you feel like you're tangled in a web larger than yourself, a faceless face, or just another worker.

The main quest is a path to citizenship, which requires conversion at the local church andevidence of your ability to do good work. Oh, and a visit to the doctors... Fairly simple and straightforward, NORTH offers no overt hand-holding, but due to the limited map, there are only so many options you can be faced with. It gives the illusion that you can explore and find new things, only to be forced down a linear progression. In many ways, the story itself mirrors the illusion of freedom one society can be under.

A piece of advice: find your way out of the bureaucratic maze towards asylum to reach the super creepy ending. That’s worth all the effort of playing.

NORTH encourages you to place yourself into the shoes of a newcomer. I allowed the game to be a “what if I had to uproot to a completely new place?” pretending that this new world was my world, that I had to become apart of this society by reasons beyond my control. Toward such an experience, NORTH provides a delightful skin-crawling adventure, that can be remembered for years to come.


The Verdict

Outstanding minimalist graphics combined with strange photography and videos creates a somber and creepy adventure that can be completed in a single afternoon. Dark and contemplative, NORTH is a must-play for cyberpunk and dystopian fans alike.

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Shane Lynn

Shane's earliest memory of gaming was playing Contra on the original NES. Since then he has found a love for PC gaming, Pen and Paper Role playing, and Board games. His strongest passions are in the realms of fantasy and science fiction where he has developed countless worlds, stories, table top gaming systems, and an original board game. Outside of gaming, he'll be found dancing with crystals and talking with glowing nature spirits in his backyard.


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