Unedited Norco Review snip – Deep South Dystopia
Norco weaves a compelling and utterly wonderful story that’s dark, beautiful, evocative, and distinctly human.
by Richard Wakeling on April 11, 2022
I had never heard of the eponymous town of Norco until playing the debut point-and-click adventure game from indie developer Geography of Robot. Now I feel like I know it intimately, owing much to the game’s evocative and honest portrayal of a community intertwined with the petrochemical industry. Norco confronts societal issues other games only want to distract us from, weaving them into an utterly compelling tale that had me eager to reach the next scene, line of dialogue, or delightful piece of prose.
The real-life Norco is a small town in Louisiana that sits on the banks of the Mississippi River. Its unusual name is derived from the New Orleans Refining Company (NORCO,) which was established in the area after the land was purchased by Shell Oil in 1911. For over a century, the town has lived in the shadow of a major Shell petroleum refinery that dominates the skyline, coating the air in plumes of smoke that bellow from the plant’s monolithic flare stacks.
It provides a fascinating backdrop for a story that centers around Kay, a young woman returning to her childhood home after the passing of her mother–a curious former professor–due to cancer. Kay has been gone for five years, preferring to drift around the United States rather than stay in Norco, despite the outside world being ravaged by localized wars. Kay arrives with some baggage, then, and it doesn’t take long before she’s saddled with her late mother’s mysterious affairs, which revolve around her sought-after research and strange activity in the days leading up to her death. There’s also the matter of Kay’s missing brother, who is nowhere to be found, spurring her into action as she embarks on a thrilling adventure across this small industrial slice of Louisiana.
Norco’s setting and themes mesh the grotesque and magical realism of the Southern Gothic genre with science-fiction nihilism. …