Often, when I'm playing a game for this column, I take a few screenshots. "Oh! This is cool!" I'll say to myself, and snap away a few times. Maybe five or six, seven if I'm really loving the aesthetic.
I took dozens of screenshots of my time with Norco: Faraway Lights' (fairly meaty) demo, an adventure game set in a semi-destroyed future Louisiana, rife with classic computers, sentient androids, and rabid conspiracy theorists.
Every bit of dialogue is evocative and more than a little hard-boiled. Every vista neon and stylized and brutally pretty. This is a cyberpunk-ass-cyberpunk game, but it carries much of the weight of the excellent Night In The Woods, in its examination of rural places crushed by future 'progress' that only left lots of folks out in the dark.
You play as a young person who has returned home to their small town after hearing of their mom's death. Mom was a researcher with plenty of shady business (and connections to conspiracy theorists, like this Glenn Beck/alt-right edgelord who hangs out at the local gas station).
This sets up the central mystery, but Norco also works so well on a personal level (earning those comparisons to NITW). Your brother has gone missing, and you need to explore these ruined landscapes and talk to the folks who live here—including his friend who works at the video store—to find him. There are personal memories, connections, talk of the ghosts that haunt places you know too well.
I kept pausing the action, screenshotting, and leaning over to Austin to show him bits and pieces of the game. This feels very much like a first chapter in a longer-running, deeper game (and it is), offering plenty of context and detail to pull the player into the world. I feel like I already know and care about these people, and I'm intrigued by this weird place and its mysteries. It's playing on plenty of cyberpunk tropes, but it doesn't feel obligatory or paint-by-numbers.