Nauticrawl, which releases today via Steam, is an enigmatic adventure game like no other.
Have you ever bought a new gadget covered in buttons and switches and knobs, or with a convoluted user interface, and stubbornly worked it out all by yourself without reading the manual? Perhaps you relish the challenge of a complex new game, eager to learn all of its systems. If any of the above sounds familiar, Nauticrawl: 20,000 Atmospheres is for you.
It’s difficult to define Nauticrawl with a single genre. It has a roguelike structure with some distinct puzzle elements, simulation mechanics and a hefty dose of survival in the mix. Above all, however, Nauticrawl is a game of escape. You’re desperately trying to flee a hostile planet teeming with lethal sentinel machines. In a glimmer of hope, you’ve managed to hijack a vehicle. The catch? Now you have to figure out how to pilot it.
Nauticrawl developer Andrea Interguglielmi explains that the game represents “my playground as a kid, piloting made-up submarines and huge robots. It’s a mix of my teenage gaming years, spent in space combat simulators and text adventures.” You begin in a dim cockpit, faced with dials, switches, levers, lights, buttons and screens. Work out what to do with them, and they offer the promise of salvation.
But this is easier said than done. Nauticrawls are designed to only be piloted by trained, authorised members of the aristocracy. An unsanctioned commoner like yourself has their work cut out for them.
Failure is around every corner, sometimes from the most trivial things. Forget to dissipate heat from the engine after moving at full throttle and it’ll explode. Run out of fuel while exploring and your journey will come to an abrupt and somewhat anti-climactic end. Hell, if you don’t work out how to get the engine started at the beginning so it can charge the battery, your escapade will be over before it’s even begun.
And that’s not including the turrets, sentinels and wild creatures roaming the lands, all of which will attack on sight. You’ll have critical decisions to make at every turn. Do you divert more battery power to your cloaking field and try to slip through undetected? Or do you go all-in on engine power and attempt to make a speedy escape?
Your ship’s Nethook system makes things even more interesting. Get in proximity of a machine and you can connect to it. Using charmingly low-fi user interfaces, you can hack their functionality, read logs and access their storage. There are crucial supplies plus valuable – and sometimes mysterious – loot to gather. But with a limited cargo hold, you can only carry so much.
In an age of casual difficulty settings and elaborate, exhaustive player tutorials that walk you through every facet of a game’s mechanics, Nauticrawl is a deliberate defiance of uber-accessibility. On the flip side, it’s far from sadistic – with enough perseverance and maybe a shred of luck, you can earn your freedom. And as Andrea says, “When you succeed, it’ll repay you with a sense of accomplishment that can only come from a goal hard fought and well earned.”
As you progress through Nauticrawl and uncover its many layers, you’ll piece together an understanding of its strange, militant planet and the sci-fi story it holds. It’s a fascinating setting that reveals half of itself in the secrets you uncover and the other half in what it evokes in your imagination. Andrea says that it’s “an experience that talks straight to our curiosity, our desire to pull all the levers and explore worlds that can’t be seen, only imagined.”
Exploring this world through Nauticrawl’s cockpit is a unique experience. It’s an atmospheric, slightly claustrophobic environment that nonetheless starts to feel homely once you’re used to it. Pale fuschia light from the otherworldly sky streams in through the cockpit windows. The radar paints a simple picture of the land outside, while your periscope delivers more descriptive details. It’s easy to feel immersed in the world without it being explicitly rendered in front of your eyes.
Nauticrawl: 20,000 Atmospheres is out now via Steam, priced at $14.99 – plus there’s a 10% launch discount for those who buy in the first week!