Most games tell a story to some degree but not a lot really move you emotionally. Just think about the thousands and thousands of online murders you’ve committed without so much as a second thought, ok maybe you had a second thought but it was probably damn, I should have reloaded.
Nero, a puzzle adventure game developed and published by Storm in a Teacup, have created more of an emotional experience than a game. There’s no combat, just words floating around a beautiful world which at times is very Avatar-esque. Glowing animals and crystals light dark and beautiful environments and leave you walking around in amazement staring at the giant caterpillar or watching the stars shine in the exquisite night sky.
Nero is a tragedy in all senses. The tale of a small boy who is dying and his parents struggle and helplessness to save him. If that doesn’t pull at your heart strings I honestly don’t know what would. You play as a child, although your character is a little weird hooded guy with bright blue eyes and your story is told by a mysterious voice, with floating text dotted around the landscape filling in the gaps and adding more to the already dismal tale.
The majority of the puzzles are optional and not needed to progress in the game, in fact you could run straight through them all and be done with the game in under a couple hours. If you choose to do this though, you’d definitely be doing yourself a disservice, uncovering the games secrets and solving puzzles reward you with a deeper look into the story and as this is what the games sole purpose is, avoiding them would lessen the overall experience and your understanding of a story so wonderfully pieced together.
A little into the story you meet another hooded figure, who then proceeds to be the stalker you never knew you wanted. He helps solving a couple of puzzles but mostly serves to follow you around so that when you turn around you bump into him or when trying to solve a puzzle and move quickly transforms into a nice barricade to prevent you from getting to your destination. On occasion he will sit and ponder life’s many mysteries while sitting down on a rock or wave at you with a strange look in his orange eyes.
The puzzles themselves are pretty basic, lining up pictures and making sure lights are lit shouldn’t be too taxing, some however like the solaris puzzles are a little harder to solve but you are rewarded with an achievement for solving them all. They require spinning a block and getting all the lights to glow, which is easier said than done. You have the ability to cast a sphere of light and throw it by aiming a circle marker at objects. This for me was sometimes hard to do, I’d have to aim my circle around the object instead of at it to get it to hit correctly and that was pretty frustrating at times.
The mix of story and puzzles is done perfectly, the puzzles providing a distraction to the narrative and although don’t differ much as far as variety goes serve their purpose well. The world you explore is pretty unique and open with the path forward pretty obvious and straightforward to begin with but then opening up allowing small diversions to puzzles you would likely miss if you didn’t try to explore it all. You also collect mementos during each of the four chapters, which when pieced together become a photograph, a memory of a certain event giving life to the story and the characters you don’t get to see.
The game has a few issues with a bad frame rate and a character who couldn’t move any slower if he tried, he walks about as slow as you would if you had your character crouched in other games, otherwise known as snail-pace. There are a couple of spelling and sentence errors dotted around due to the company being located in Italy, but all these issues are definitely forgiveable with a story that makes an impact and surroundings that will have you staring in awe.
Overall Nero is a short but sweet game that aims to make the player feel and think about what is going on around them. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed even with it’s slight problems, even in text form the narration and floating text really paint a tragic picture and it’s not often a game makes you feel something having played it. Definitely a credit to the ID@Xbox program and would probably have been a game we would never have gotten to play without it. That is a tragedy in itself.