When NERO first made its appearance back at E3 2014, pretty much everybody with eyes on the screen was intrigued. Beautiful settings, a fantastic soundtrack, and stacks of luminescence were the order of the day. That first trailer didn't particularly shed any light on the gameplay though.
As it turns out, Storm in a Teacup's first title is something that you could describe as an "experience" as opposed to a straight-up game. A visual novel more than anything else, NERO puts you in the shoes of an encloaked figure with no obvious initial goal or task. Wandering through the game's initial caves, things become clearer as passages of text appear written in the sky and on walls, drawing you toward them so that you can read them clearly. This serves as a sort of guide system through a game which has no map (mini or otherwise) and which contains branching paths that could easily cause you to get lost. It's an interesting way of doing things.
Along the way, you'll stumble upon puzzles that can be interacted with either by pressing buttons or footpads, or by firing an arc of light from your hand toward specific points. When aiming, a reticle is displayed on screen, which never takes the curve of the arc into account. This leads to many missed shots but the pedestrian pace of the gameplay - and the fact that there's no way to perish in the game - means that this is an annoyance rather than a major problem.The puzzles more or less always involve turning orange lights into blue ones and - barring one particularly (and somewhat illogical) one in the last chapter that can be tricky if you overthink it – are all pretty much a cakewalk to complete. There's very little here that could be considered to be truly taxing to anyone who has played any sort of puzzle adventure before, and it isn't a stretch to say that the ones on offer are somewhat repetitive.
The biggest issue with these puzzles however, is that an awful lot of them can be skipped entirely. The reward for completing a non-essential puzzle is generally access to one of the 48 picture pieces that are dotted around the game – which only completists or achievement hunters will really be worried about – or a few more lines of the story. The problem is that without these snippets, the story comes together perfectly well anyway. They may flesh things out a little more for some but usually they're nothing more than metaphor-filled lines of superfluous exposition that don't really add a great deal to proceedings. As soon as you work this out for yourself, which will be around about the time you stop doubling back to ensure that you've done everything that's available in the game's world, you'll find that NERO can be a somewhat brief experience. Most players will breeze through it in less than a couple of hours and only those completists that we mentioned will really take any longer with it.
For those two hours though, NERO teeters on the brink of being something very special indeed. We've purposefully avoided mentioning any real specifics about the storyline, since we don't want to ruin it for anyone. The nature of the plot means that it'll reach some people more than it reaches others, which is why we're expecting to see an awful lot of contrasting opinions about the game as a whole. One of the things that could get in the way of people's enjoyment is the technical performance, however. First impressions count and NERO made a great one at E3. Second impressions can't be discounted though and in this respect the game jams all of the good feeling that it built up into a cannon and fires it into the sun. From the very get-go, NERO feels as if it's really labouring to keep up. Turning too quickly introduces dips in the framerate and late texture draw-in is apparent in all four of the game's chapters. For sure, this can be a stunningly beautiful game, but that beauty only really shines through in still frames, and when you're not stood anywhere near any structures that are made from poor textures. Look past the pretty lights for a second and the chances are that you'll be put in mind of game engines from several years ago, running on PCs that didn't quite have enough grunt to handle them properly.
The overall tale that NERO tells as a game is one of missed opportunities. It's a rough product as opposed to a truly bad one, but what you get for your money is a somewhat self-indulgent and relatively simple story delivered by a system that entirely allows you to skip parts of it at your whim, all wrapped in a technical package that just isn't good enough. Your mileage may vary depending on how much the story grabs you, but most will find that the asking price here is too high for what you get.