Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: Notrium

Title: Notrium
Developer: Instant Kingdom
Homepage: http://www.instantkingdom.com/notrium/
Genre: Survival/Adventure
Program: Custom

Notrium is a game of survival. Having crash-landed on an alien planet, your character needs to scavenge for food, keep himself warm and find suitable shelter without being killed off by an array of savage, alien species. The eventual aim is to find the equipment required to repair your escape pod so that you can fly off the planet, but you're more likely to end up dead than end up back in space! Why are you going to be dying so much? Because the game pushes it's survival-based mechanisms really hard, giving your character no less than four different factors to worry about. 

The first of these is your hunger meter, which you need to keep topped up by scavenging for food from a variety of sources. Edible fungi will make up most of your diet and these quickly become a valuable resource, but you are also able to eat the meat of any aliens you kill. The hunger meter is eaten up (get it?) continuously, with consumption increasing whenever you walk, throw a punch etc. and is usually your primary concern as a result.

The second factor you need to worry about is your character's temperature. The environment around you will become both too cold (i.e. at night or when you stand in the rain without any cover) and too warm (walking through desert environments), forcing you to make campfires or use ice-packs to maintain a good temperature. Some terrains are impassable without these items available (try crossing a desert map without any ice packs, for instance), which adds a Zelda-esque items vs. passability element to proceedings. Although far from your primary concern, you're definitely going to want to keep an eye on your temperature gauge when entering a new area.

Another factor to consider is the amount of battery power you have, as this is used for devices ranging from torches to radios; these items are often incredibly useful (the radio will help you locate nearby items, for example, and you definitely don't wanna go exploring at night without a torch) so you're gonna want to keep that battery charged. 

The final factor is your health, which isn't just affected by taking damage as it is also affected by hunger and temperature; if you get too hungry or you get too hot/cold then you're going to start taking damage. Heat stroke is probably the worst of these as it makes walking, which you need to do in order to get into the shade, much harder.

The interface used in Notrium showing your temperature (purple), battery (blue), hunger (yellow) and health (red).

Overall, I thought that these factors were balanced really well. Being forced to keep a close eye on your item management, coupled with the fact that you know resources are finite, makes exploring the alien planet really taxing (in a good way, of course). Do you want to eat that fungi now or do you want to save it for later? Is it vital that you have your flashlight on or are you sure there's no aliens lurking around in those trees? Just exploring this alien planet is incredibly fun, so much so that it almost makes your end goal irrelevant (something I'd say it has in common with Fallout 3, another game where I spent more time exploring than I did trying to finish the actual game).

The only let down from a gameplay point of view is the combat. Seeing as this is a top-down game, the combat reminded me heavily of the combat in the early Grand Theft Auto games and I was never really impressed with the combat in those games either. There's a number of reasons for this, but the main two revolve around projectile weapons; they were always really hard to use because the bullets moved so slowly and being able to kite around the enemy's slow moving bullets turned their guns into an absolute joke. Both of these problems apply in Notrium and, although the game does make up for it in other ways, having supposedly scary enemies be far too easy to kill or avoid spoils some of the survival elements at play.

I can kite around this alien all day long and he's never gonna catch me!

From an artistic point of view, there isn't much wrong with this game, with the real strong-point being the atmosphere it sets via clever use of sound-effects. Take night-time, for instance; you can hear the rustling of aliens moving around in the trees, their howls and cries making you wonder whether or not one is about to jump out and start attacking you, forcing you to keep your flashlight on even though you know that you want to save the battery power for something else. The atmospherics work really well with the gameplay (you need to conserve resources, but you're constantly scared you're about to get torn to bits!), squeezing every bit of entertainment they can out of what is a relatively simple set of survival mechanisms.

This game takes a bunch of different elements and, with the exception of combat, executes them all brilliantly. Exploration is especially fun and, when combined with a wonderful selection of sound-effects, results in a very tense experience. Definitely worth a play. 7/10.
 

9 comments:

  1. im not sure if i could play this for too long

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  2. I'm with Sucio on this one, but I'm always willing to give things a try.

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  3. I would love to play this game, sounds right up my alley. Awesome and well detailed review as well.

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  4. Might be a laugh, I haven't played many survival games

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  5. i love this kind of games. do you remember crimsonland? aaaaaaa, that game fucking rules :D :D

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