Anyone who sets out to draw attention to themselves in the wide world of first-person horror games needs a clear, unique selling point. For the Singaporean solo developer KOEX, this is the eponymous Noosphere. A relatively little-known philosophical concept about another realm, just like a biosphere, which feeds on logical thinking and consciousness. An unusual approach, but one that the game can only partially do justice to.
After Vincent Martin nearly died in a violent car accident, he feels another identity living inside himself. With the help of a futuristic machine reminiscent of an old-fashioned time capsule, Vincent can enter his subconscious and search for the cause of the nightmarish figure. A crazy journey begins through creatively designed environments that convincingly reflect the protagonist’s world of thought.
Noosphere is a horror game where we mostly explore on foot and solve puzzles, similar to many narrative sims out there. The game also has platformer passages and even fights against monsters, but these play a subordinate role and are not technically mature. The focus stays on the narrative staging and cracking puzzles.
The game’s story is overall well done and transports the psychological mystery well through the approximately 2-hour long episode. This is mainly due to the pleasantly creepy staging, the strangely ghostly 3D environments and the excellent sound design. The music, composed by VVN, also contributes to the eerie atmosphere. However, the story lacks depth, and the characters lack profile, which is mainly due to the rather amateurish writing and the short playing time.
The puzzles of the game are on a mediocre level. On the one hand, we look forward to pleasantly challenging chains of puzzles in which we have to find objects, manipulate machines or crack codes. On the other hand, with a few exceptions, it seldom goes beyond the fundamentals of a common adventure game. Nevertheless, the developer tries to innovate here, because sometimes it is necessary to take objects from the real world into the subconscious. In itself a good idea if there weren’t exactly 4-5 objects whose place of use is so clearly marked in the game that any challenge is lost on the way. In combination with easily overlooked things and some backtracking, more would have been possible here with a little more polish. It’s a shame because the approach promised a clever puzzle design!
Noosphere runs well overall but has technical imperfections in some areas. We did get stuck on objects occasionally or encountered some bugs that make objects disappear. In that case, the only thing that helps is reloading the save. Graphically, the game is solid, with highlights in both cutscenes and the environment. In addition to some ugly textures, the character models, in particular, have gotten so grotesque that they go beyond the famous Uncanny Valley.
Overall, you can tell that one person only developed this game. The intriguing and unusual story could use more depth and does not fully exploit the potential of its philosophical premise. Noosphere scores above all with the eerie atmosphere and the tricky puzzles, but there is still room for improvement here, especially on the game’s pacing and technical side Perhaps it would have been better if KOEX had concentrated on individual aspects of the game instead of, for example, implementing too many gameplay mechanics like the pointless fights.
Noosphere is first and foremost a game for those looking for a scary story and have already played most of the competing products. You can expect a solid horror adventure with innovative approaches, which suffers from weak technical implementation and unfocused gameplay.
Noosphere is available for PC on Steam. This review is based on a free review copy provided by the game’s publisher.