Narcosis is a slow meditation on what it may be like to slowly die alone. You're an undersea miner cut off from the surface and any support, and your goal is to survive. You always seem to be low on air inside your suit, which you use to explore a dark, flooded underwater base with only a limited number of flares to use to see. You're narrating this experience to an unnamed listener as you try to survive.
It's that last bit that's somewhat weird.
Quentin De Beukelaer, one of the game's designers, explained that this fact doesn't take away the drama inherent in the situation, but actually adds to the mystery.
"So, here you are making an assumption; that's he's telling the story, and that he survived."
But that's just an assumption. Perhaps there's more going on here than appears at first glance. Perhaps Narcosis may not be as simple as a happy ending.
"The voice you here, you can notice how it describes events in the past-tense," De Beukelaer said. "The the player can assume it's probably him, but we don't know exactly, and who is he talking to?"
"We're trying to do horror with no zombies or spiteful spirits. Everything that feels supernatural is happening inside the character's mind."
There may not be anything supernatural to be found in the deep, although the game does play with your sense of reality. During one scene I found myself in a closed room, but by looking around I found myself in a long hallway, with sea life growing from the ceiling. Objects seemed to move when I wasn't looking at them.
Maybe I wasn't seeing things as they happened after all, but instead reliving the experience as the narrator explained it. When you're struggling to survive in an impossible situation, you can be forgiven for becoming an unreliable narrator.
It's not fun, exactly
While you'll use your woefully underpowered knife to fight off undersea animals from time to time, the real threat is suffocation. You have a small amount of air, and being attacked causes your amount of air to dwindle. You breathe faster when you're trying to escape death, after all. There are creatures that can even cause cracks to appear in your underwater suit, what the team called a "walking coffin" when we played an earlier build, and those will stay with you throughout the game.
All these words describe how the game plays, but the important thing is how the game feels, especially when wearing a virtual reality headset. Your head moves around inside your suit, allowing you to see how much oxygen and how many flares you have left. You can hear yourself breathing. The glass that separates you from the crushing cold of the ocean seems uncomfortably close. This is every nightmare you ever had while watching The Abyss, but you're inside the game itself.
It's not fun, exactly, because the experience is much too intense to be purely enjoyable. I walked out of my demo glad it was over, feeling a bit overwhelmed and happy to be in the light above the water. The full game is coming by the end of 2015.