North is an Indie video game by Outlands that was originally released in April of 2016 on Steam. On March 6th, 2018, it releases on Nintendo Switch. The Switch is quickly becoming the go-to platform for Indie console titles, so North is in good company. Now, North is a relatively short game. In fact, if you know what to do, you could probably finish it in 30-40 minutes but the game anticipates that it should take you about an hour. With that in mind, I am going to do my best to avoid spoilers in both written and visual mediums. It’s a linear story with very few variations and I would prefer not to ruin it for anyone who is looking to pick it up.
Outlands describes the game as:
In NORTH you play a man who applies for asylum in a city filled with strange creatures and strange customs.
Dealing with the issue of the contemporary refugee crisis while at the same time being deeply rooted in a classical cyberpunk atmosphere à la Blade Runner, NORTH features a dark synthpop soundtrack, a sprawling mega-city and weird monster-like inhabitants.
The gameplay is very straightforward and mostly consists of exploration and simple puzzles. The main difficulty is to understand what you have to do in order to get asylum. You’ve come from an foreign land in the south and find yourself lost and confused – a confusion you convey through letters to your sister back home. An important part of the gameplay, these letters help you understand your tasks while at the same time moving the narrative of the game forward.
NORTH is short (20-40 min) and comes with a full soundtrack (8 songs).
North hits some heavy notes and focuses on an intense topic that impacts millions of people around the world. As you complete the game, the overtones and concepts it relays become much more clear. The story really does all tie together in a fairly creepy and unfortunately real way. But let’s start with the basics.
It is a first-person game. You do not have hands. You cannot see any part of yourself or anything you may be holding. While this cleans up the screen, I would have appreciated some kind of aiming cross-hair as interacting with certain objects was tedious when using the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. It is not immediately clear what you are supposed to do but that is the nature of the game. North doesn’t have a menu. You can’t pause or save. There’s no HUD nor indication of health, location, etc. aside from one specific life monitor when you are in the mines, as show in the image above. Instead, all you get when the game begins is what you see below:
The graphics are relatively simple and look like they would have been great for a VR game. However, the loading between screens is a problem. It is very buggy. The beautiful soundtrack gets broken up on a regular basis when loading between screens which really takes you out of the moment and feel. With that said, the sound is truly beautiful and reminiscent of movies like Blade Runner and The Neverending Story, two of my personal favorites.
Speaking of bugs though, I broke the game. You see, there’s a part when you have to go to work in the mines. The atmosphere is dangerous and you have to limit your time in there. My first couple of attempts led to my death and in dying, broke the flow of the game to where I was not able to complete the steps. The arrow markers that were supposed to lead my way to the mine locations I needed to work were no where to be found and I could not interact with the drink machines that were active prior to my death. I found myself stuck and decided to just close the game and relaunch it, starting over. Being that I was about half an hour in, this wasn’t the end of the world and now that I knew what to do, it was much easier to progress.
I did use some walk through from Steam because the whole Church conversion tied in with the street cameras was not immediately intuitive for me. I think that’s my chief complaint. The game relies a lot on you just figuring things out but since I essentially broke the game during my experimenting, I was also hesitant to do anything I wasn’t fairly confident in. Of course, there are the letters to fall back on. As mentioned earlier, you are sending letters to your sister and as you progress, they tell you vital information about upcoming tasks. Yes, it’s a little weird. Essentially, you perform an action and a letter becomes available to send your sister. In posting the letter, you get to read it and learn what… you… learned. It’s a little convoluted but it’s a solid mechanic that does help you along. So it works.
In the end, it’s a short game that does have a solid message about the way many refugees are treated, the hoops we force them to jump through, and how we make them feel about their background and who they are. There are some technical issues, specifically around loading between events and what happens if you die or do not convert correctly. Hopefully these things will be fixed with patches. I am playing pre-release, so I will cut them a little slack. Also, it’s a dirt cheap game, only $2.99 USD on Switch, making it easily one of the cheapest games on the platform and not a terrible way to spend an hour.
If you’ve played North by Outlands, please hit me up on Twitter @TheStarTrekDude and use the hashtag #northgame. I’d love to talk to you about it.
If you haven’t played and are going to snag it on Switch, also hit me up and let me know! It releases Tuesday, March 5th on the Nintendo Switch eShop.