Developer Andrea Interguglielmi and publisher Armor Games Studios present Nauticrawl for review. Nauticrawl aims for an escape experience that’s part mysterious machine experimentation, audiovisual immersion, and rebellion story. By learning how the hulking Nauticrawl transportation device works the player may find freedom and a way for others to follow.
Nauticrawl revels in trial and error. As soon as you start the game you’re presented with the big machine, filled with screens and various implements, with no clue as to how to use them. For players who enjoy figuring something out for themselves, Interguglielmi has integrated a number of subtle – and not so subtle – visual and audio cues to clue you into what’s going on in or around the vessel. If you need a bit of guidance, a layer of in-game storytelling detours that provide information on the world and vessel divvy out hints.
There’s a moment in Nauticrawl that had me asking one of the rarest questions I have when it comes to playing video games. The machine I’d spent over three hours learning to tame, navigate, and hide through hostile corridors revealed that it had secrets to hide. My chair swiveled, the instruments that seemed familiar were now alien, and my view shifted so drastically I had no choice but to ask myself, “What now?” I was so gobsmacked by the moment that I felt a twinge of disappointment when I later learned the twist is previewed in part of Nauticrawl‘s trailer package.
That doesn’t detract from the moment and says more about what video games have to do to entice players than their actual construction. By nature of iterative design, video games have to teach the player how to play them in some fashion and few have done it as masterfully as Nauticrawl. Every button, lever, screen, knob, and panel in the vessel has a purpose but Interguglielmi doesn’t signpost things to the point of detracting from the joy of discovery. What Interguglielmi does is take a lesson from the infamous sound maze of Myst, where the player was intended to navigate a maze from sounds, and stretch it to an engineered marvel.
The primary character and focal point for Nauticrawl is the vessel itself. There are so many moments I needed to switch instruments off to conserve power, aiming carefully while making sure nothing was around me, only to hear the dread-inducing crack of the vessel as it struck something I didn’t see. All the tools I needed to beat it on my first venture were right in front of me but a combination of impatience and sporadic experimentation did me in a number of times. There’s no tutorial, nor does something as well crafted as this need one, but the little hints I got from diagnostic checks in-game and coming across the logs of others gave me the will to move on.
Even if you can’t hear the vessel well enough you’ll get a number of visual indicators that add to the mystery and tension. My favorite was when I didn’t vent the heat of the Nauticrawl and the pressure from one bump was enough to send steam that transitioned into liquid from a lever. Even if submarine stories aren’t so common these days, that foreign intrusion of a usually life-sustaining material was enough to send my stomach into a tailspin. It all comes together in a great holistic understanding of how to convey information as visual, audio, experiential, and text learners can get through with patience and understanding.
The only issue I have comes with Nauticrawl‘s story. There’s a magnificent setup, hinting at class struggle with enough markers and crests to think of a feudalistic society with access to tanks. But it doesn’t quite go anywhere, and the attempt at a transcendent ending made me think more of the people I was leaving behind than the attempt at wonder the ending aims for. It’s a surprisingly abrupt and too holy stab at a climax that had been paced excellently to that point.
Nauticrawl is as excellently paced and constructed a game as you're to play in 2019. There's still more land hidden behind what my radar showed me and the possibility of maybe bringing that transcendence back down to earth for others. Even if not, it's worth trying to peel the mystery back just a bit more. I have a feeling that whatever secrets the nauticrawl holds don't end in transcendence but a rejection of the shallow values gaming seems too relied on as of late.
- Sound and visual design is so lived-in that a player heavily dependant on either will have a rewarding experience.
- Tight pacing with just enough of a bread crumb trail to encourage exploration while gesturing at a larger purpose.
- Final act comes abruptly and feels at-odds with the scrappy spirit up to that point.