The developers of NORTH, Outlands/Sometimes You, were awesome enough to send me a review copy of it, which I've now played through. I definitely have some things to write about it, so here goes.
Platform: Xbox One.
NORTH is a game that focuses on telling a lengthy and interesting yet depressing story while also being very short. For me, I see it as a game that is about how empty and pointless life can feel at times, but it also focuses on how some societies can make you feel caged-in. It might just be how I see the game, though.
The game starts pretty quickly, with a slow animated sequence where you see the North, I guess (?), for some seconds. Then the game's main mechanic comes in: the letters. The letters are what you're sending your sister, from far away. You've been living in the South before, the desert. By sending a letter, you get closer to completing the game. To send a letter, you have to find different things in this depressing and lonely world. At first, you might find yourself confused about where you're supposed to go. There's 6 (7: elevator) places that you can choose from: your workplace, your flat, the Church, the Police house, the Immigration Office & the Hospital (the last three via an elevator).
Your workplace, also known as the mines, is a weird place. Not only will you be finding these crosses of your diseased work comrades, but you'll also find a sad and hurt "monster" that you, for some strange reason, have to feed with rocks. Now, to get these rocks, you'll have to mine them, which is what your workplace is all about. To mine rocks, you have to enter the last door of the mines (you have to use a drink before entering, I think). I will try to explain the process in a show way: you enter the last door, you press B to run extremely fast (because of a weird drink that you consume), you run around trying to find the mining stations, you activate them, you grab the mined rocks, then you run back to the exit, while trying to not die because of the intense heat (I think). Simpe, I guess? It definitely wasn't simple the first time, for me.
Your flat is, in its own way, even more weird. It's not that big and the protagonist seems to be sharing it with 2-3 other "people", if you can even call them that. It's a pretty creepy place and I definitely didn't want to spend a lot of time there. On top of all that (not literally, though), the floor is full of creepy and weird pictures (as well as the walls). The place made me think a lot. How is the protagonist able to get even one second of sleep in there? Who are these monster-like inhabitants? Why is one of them taking weird pills, and is laying in the bed all the time? I had a LOT of questions. Mostly, I was creeped out. What is the meaning of all this? The Church might have the answer I am looking for.
The game seems to be running in native 1080p at a rock-solid 60 frames per second. It also has pretty beautiful graphics, even though the game isn't focusing on it.
The Church is where you have to go once you've been "seen" by all security cameras, so that you can convert. Yes, once again, very weird. The game is designed to be played in one sitting: there's no pause menu or a way to save your game. Essentially, the game is about one hour long, but can most likely be completed in a far shorter amount of time if you know exactly what you're doing.
Your have three (four if you count converting) main objectives: get the three documents needed for your immigration, so that you may become part of the society that is seen as "normal". I guess? You have to get a document from the hospital (also known as them proving that the protagonist is gay), from your workplace (also known as making sure that they know you're capable of working), and finally: the Police House (also known as making sure they know you're not a terroist). To get the documents, you have to pass three tests. Each test is different and weird. After passing all the tests, as well as converting by being "seen", you complete your immigration. All I can think of while playing is: "this game is one of the weirdest games I've played, yet I feel entertained and satisfied with what the game is offering, even though being very short". The game's ending is a big question mark in itself and I had a lot of questions that I wanted answers to. It's pretty much you, the protagonist, being brainwashed into thinking that this is how life is supposed to be. That life shall be depressing, empty & that your freedom shall be taken away from you. Essentially, lying to yourself that the North is a much better place than the South, which is where you lived before, I think. The game finally ends with a final letter to your sister, where you state that the North isn't as bad as you might've thought at first and that it really is the place you should live in. Sadly, I don't think that's the protagonist's real thoughts.
All in all: NORTH is a great and weird experience that will have you asking a lot of questions (with some being answered), but it could've been a bit longer. I really liked playing through it. I didn't really know what to expect at first but I did find the creepy atmosphere very awesome, and I can safely say that the game is worth your time.
My score: 4 out of 5.
+ Awesome and creepy atmosphere throughout.
+ Good graphics.
+ No bugs.
+ Interesting characters.
+ Easy achievements (😉).
+ Good story.
- Weird level design.
- Very short.
- Leaves you with a lot of questions.
Reviewed by: Jesper Ingemansson.