N.E.R.O.: Nothing Ever Remains Obscure is another entry into the "walking simulator" genre. In this instance, however, developer Storm in a Teacup has tried to address the constant criticism that these style of games don't actually have any gameplay.
N.E.R.O. is billed as an interactive visual novel and it definitely lives up to that with storytelling coming in many different forms. In your short time with the game (it'll take you around two hours to complete) the plot unfolds in cutscenes, narration, quotes scattered along your path, as well as some fantastic environmental storytelling. The plot is N.E.R.O.'s greatest strength, as it tells a beautiful story of a family and touches on some really poignant themes that will have you reflecting once the end credits begin rolling. The story does bear some resemblance to Journey, as does the design of the main characters, but N.E.R.O. puts its own unique spin on it to keep things feeling fresh.
From the very first cutscene you will be struck by just how beautiful the game is, and we were constantly hanging on the edge of our seat to get to the next cutscene. One particular scene on a bridge is truly breathtaking, and when combined with the game's fantastic soundtrack, it will give you chills.
Unfortunately, the beauty of N.E.R.O.'s visuals stop there, as the in-game graphics are generally underwhelming, especially after being shown an incredible intro cutscene right off the bat. It's a shame that the real-time are a step down, as you explore some truly exciting and cool environments during the game that invoke mystery and wonder.
N.E.R.O. mostly succeeds in its aspirations to be an interactive visual novel, but doesn't fare nearly as well in trying to be a game. N.E.R.O. plays out as a first-person puzzle game, but unfortunately the game's conundrums really inhibit the attempts to tell a great story. Most of the puzzles involve you activating various pillars of light with your Sphere of Light power or puzzles where you need to match up patterns. Eventually, things like pressure plates are thrown into the mix as well as a second character who can be used to help solve puzzles, however this second character is only utilised for one or two puzzles and mostly serves as a plot device.
The problem with N.E.R.O.'s puzzles is that it always feels like you are simply doing them because the developers decided the game needed puzzles in order to truly call itself a game. You never feel like there's any proper reason or explanation for why you're solving these various puzzles; perhaps there's a deeper meaning that connects with the story that we missed, but for the most part it seems like these obstacles have been plonked down randomly to simply impede your progress for a few minutes.
It also doesn't help that many of N.E.R.O.'s puzzles are incredibly simplistic, while the style of puzzles that will challenge you never have their rules properly explained, which makes them feel unfair. Even these harder puzzles don't feel too hard in the scheme of things, as you can just fumble around for a few minutes and eventually discover the solution.
While N.E.R.O.'s opening level is almost completely linear, the following levels are much more open, with numerous branching paths and puzzles you could miss if you're not careful. We could never tell if it was compulsory to complete these puzzles, but it becomes quite overwhelming when you have several paths in front of you that you can potentially take, never quite knowing if taking one path will mean you will miss some crucial storytelling.
N.E.R.O. intrigues as an interactive visual novel, but it fails in its attempts to be a game. The puzzles here are laughably easy, and they subsequently get in the way of the storytelling. There are some beautiful cutscenes and an interesting story here, but they're too often impeded by unenjoyable gameplay.