Nero isn’t a game for everyone, and that’s something developer Storm in a Teacup is totally okay with. According to their website, they’re all about telling stories, and with Nero, they’ve succeeded in creating an emotional and depressing narrative that’s bound to tug at your heart strings if you’d give it the chance. It’s a strange journey through a young child’s vivid imagination, a coping mechanism of sorts for the shitty hand that life’s dealt.
You’re portrayed as a mysterious hooded figure, exploring a sad and lonely world that’s draped in contrasting blacks and phosphorous neons. It’s the type of world that begs you to explore it, and doing so rewards you with additional puzzles to solve and snippets of dialogue to mull over. It really is a sad tale of hopelessness, loneliness, and coming to terms with our own mortality; it’s a realization of just how cruel life can be some times, and it’s fantastically told through portions of text floating about the world, in addition to some rather well voiced-over cut-scenes. Coupled with its haunting and whimsical musical score, there’s a constant rush of emotion as more of the tale is uncovered at your own pace.
“You could probably breeze through the game in a little over an hour, but Nero is all about taking it slow…”
Exploration really is the name of the game here, as there’s no combat or action throughout the solemn adventure. That’s not to say there isn’t anything to do, though. Puzzles exist as an optional way to further the game’s narrative, but none of them are difficult enough to take away from what’s most important. I managed to solve all but one of them in handful of minutes, and most of them were found off the beaten path, again, rewarding exploration.
With storytelling at the forefront of Nero, it’s easy to draw comparison to other narrative-based games like Gone Home or Dear Esther. It’s also a relatively short game, clocking in around 2 to 4 hours; depending on your method of playing. You could probably breeze through the game in a little over an hour, but Nero is all about taking it slow, reading text, and partaking in some optional puzzles to uncover more of the story. I’ll say it again: It’s definitely not a game for everybody, and if that’s not your thing, you’ll probably want to avoid the game altogether. It’s also $20, so you’re going to want to evaluate your own personal length-to-price ratio to determine whether or not it’s worth checking out at its current asking price.
“For a brief moment I was a ghost in my room, completely absorbed by this heartbreaking tale and the fantastical world that existed inside it.”
Graphically, Nero exists somewhere in the middle of the last console generation. Nothing about the visuals scream current-gen, and combined with the awkward character animations and obvious framerate issues, I’d never peg the game for being an Xbox One title at first glance. That’s not to say Nero isn’t visually appealing at all. Dated visuals aside, there’s plenty to love in the use of contrasting colors, vibrant lighting, and the haunting environments that exist inside of this intruiging world.
Nero is a really hard game to give any sort of definitive score, as it’s full of technical shortcomings and it’s graphically dated, but there’s just something about it that was clearly good enough for me to overlook its flaws while playing. For a brief moment I was a ghost in my room, completely absorbed by this heartbreaking tale and the fantastical world that existed inside it. I didn’t care about getting stuck on terrain, thoughtless puzzles, or the lack of action. Storm in a Teacup set out to tell a story, and that’s exactly what they did. And it’s one that will stick with me for a very, very long time.
Recommended for fans of: Gone Home, Dear Esther, A Story About My Uncle, great storytelling, and narrative-based games in general. If not, it’s probably not for you.
*This review is based on the currently exclusive Xbox One version of NERO. There are rumors that it’ll be releasing on PC and Wii U as well, but unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review.