Let me start by saying that NERO is not a game for everyone. I don’t say this as a reflection of its quality or content, but simply because of what type of experience it is. Developed by Storm in a Teacup and published on XBOX One through Microsoft’s indie game program, ID@XBOX, NERO is a narrative-driven, puzzle-solving exploration and adventure game with minimal gameplay elements.
It is hard to talk about the story that fuels NERO without giving it away entirely, but here’s a brief summary: the player explores the physical manifestation of a child’s coping mechanism to situations and emotions, all of which are outside of his control and understanding.
NERO, like most of its genre, is best described as a game to be experienced and not played. While there are puzzles for the player to work out and a story to advance, traditional methods of gameplay are, for the most part, forgotten. There is no experience to gain, combat to partake in or leaderboard to scale. Instead, the player’s enjoyment and understanding of the game hinges on their willingness to explore and uncover.
There is a very literal in-game path that the player can follow, taking them from point A to point B of NERO’s story, but the game rewards those who find themselves wandering. Not only will you gain a greater appreciation for the gorgeous worlds that Storm in a Teacup has built, but you’ll delve deeper into the story they have spun by uncovering hidden puzzles and tidbits of story otherwise left behind.
NERO excels in building a world that is visually convincing. From forests and caves filled with bioluminescent plants and animals, derelict hospital hallways wallpapered with haunting messages and bottomless crevices filled with gigantic jellyfish, each visual is gorgeous and effective in its own way. An impressive feat coming from such a small project.
That being said, NERO has a few scratches that mar its surface and sadly some of them detract from what should be some its greatest strengths. Long loading screens and stuttering textures break immersion at times, and less-than-eloquent on-screen writing is a bit jarring, especially when so much hinges on its storytelling.
While falling into the trap of comparing NERO to the forerunners of narrative-driven games is easy, it isn’t exactly fair. NERO’s puzzles and story just aren’t on the same level yet. Storm in a Teacup has all the pieces necessary to build a game of the same magnitude, and for a first try, they did very well but it still falls a bit short when it comes to bringing it all together to create a fully-formed experience. In this case, I’m almost certain that the second time will be the charm.
NERO is available now on XBOX One for $19.99 (CDN)