Review: Noct

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When I originally reviewed Noct, it had just undergone a major transformation as some Early Access games are wont to do. Before the update it was a promising top-down horror game with virtually nothing to do, and seemingly no future development to look forward to. Post-update, it morphed into an arena shooter with virtually nothing to do, but the promise of additional development. Now nearly a year out from those dim impressions, the only thing that’s changed is the loss of hope that Noct will ever become a game worth anyone’s time.

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“Noct” refers to a disaster that has effectively ended the world, ushering in unspeakable horrors reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Mist. You play one of a handful of unnamed survivors picking their way across the blasted hellscape that was once Earth. Scavenging through the few structures that remain, you find weapons, ammunition, and supplies to help you ward off the monsters overrunning the surface. You can also assemble a bunker for yourself, a simple underground haven to drop equipment and take breathers.

The bunker is a major new addition from Noct’s transformative update, along with cataclysms. Every 5 minutes, the world basically ends again. You need to be in your bunker when that happens, or you’re history. So for those five precious minutes, you better scavenge as much junk as you can from the cars and cabinets left standing. You also need to gun down or pummel as many creepy-crawlies as you can, because… well, honestly that’s all there is to do.

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My big gripe with Noct both before and after the update is that there’s nothing to do. Before, you had a great big empty map to explore and loot. Now you have a tiny postage-stamp map to fend off endless waves of worms and spiders on. When you safely bunker down for a cataclysm you get a score page that rates you on how many things you killed, how much junk you found, and so on. Supposedly this will be used in future progression systems, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no reason to chase high scores now.

Even if I wanted to, it’s a pretty laborious process thanks to some questionable design. The biggest issue is the health system, an admittedly welcome change from the one-hit-kills of before, but not by much. Your health is percentage-based, and when it hits certain thresholds around 30% and 70%, your character slows down. He’s not terribly fleet of foot to begin with, so even a small movement penalty is a death sentence against your writhing foes. And even if you manage to ward off death in your crippled state, you might not have the time to limp back to your bunker before the next apocalypse comes to town.

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The update introduced a slew of new technical issues, as well. Interactables are much touchier about being activated, which can cost you a survivor if you need to grab a new gun this instant. You have to hold the button to search crates and such but there’s no progress bar to show you how long to hold. The entire HUD will sometimes vanish after a cataclysm, leaving you guessing how much health or ammo you have left. And in a completely inexplicable move, you have to wait a minute or more sometimes for a respawn timer to start a new game even in single-player mode.

My original review spent a lot of time lauding the unique look of Noct, but even that’s taken a hit with the update. The original top-down monochrome display was a nod to your perspective being from an aerial drone, with brackets and scan lines for a fully immersive experience. A lot of that detailing has be jettisoned, perhaps to make the UI clearer for the more hectic action. It’s still a loss, because the unique look was a big part of what little appeal Noct had. And that’s really the story of this update, a giant step towards something that never fully materialized, at the cost of what was there already. I appreciated the somber, desolate atmosphere it had before much more than the hectic monster arenas it has now. I’ll keep an eye on Noct but considering there’s been nothing of substance added since it became something less than what it was, I’m not going to lose a wink of sleep waiting for this one.

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