First posted on 23 March 2008. Last updated on 24 February 2010.
Normality (also known as Normality Inc.) is an odd, amusing, and unique game from 1996 with an Orwellian setting and storyline set in an alternate present. At the least, the game itself is not normal, even in its interface. This is because you play the game entirely in a first-person perspective much like a first-person shooter, but there is no shooting or killing; instead, you go on a classic point and click adventure, but in 3D and a futuristic world that has been turned upside down because of a police state that controls the life of every individual on the planet.
The story of Normality reminisces that of George Orwell's 1984 or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where every aspect of the individuals is controlled by a superior force and the freedom of speech is basically annulled along with any form of self expression. It is a communist like state where individuality is sacrificed in order to put on a higher plane the collectiveness of the people as a group instead. It is a world where individual problems and goals do not matter. The story shares many traits of the cyberpunk culture that imagines the future as a dystopia where peace can exist but only comes at a great price. The theme of dystopia in Normality is not unlike the theme of dystopia in Beneath a Steel Sky.
Normality is played through the eyes of a rebellious teen and slacker named Kent Knutson, who lives in a world where individuality is punished and being normal is rewarded. You first start in Kent's apartment, where he has been placed under house arrest after having just been released from the slammer by the Norms for not acting normal. Kent cannot escape by the door, or his landlord will kill him for the rent money Kent owes. Instead, Kent must free himself from his place by other means so that he can search for the resistance in the city of Neutropolis and join the resistance to bring down the Norms.
The gameplay in Normality can turn difficult because you can get stuck even in the easiest part of the game due to bad camera angles that can make it difficult to solve some puzzles. An example is from the first level where you have to unplug the television set first to ensure a safe escape, but it can be hard to change the camera to the correct angle to unplug the cord. Another example is at the last level where it can be difficult to escape from the underground because of the same problem. Beyond that, the puzzles in the game are generally not hard to solve, but the erratic camera controls can be a real pain when going forward in the game through the levels.
For its time, Normality is a title that truly tries to push the game production to a new level. In the end, however, it feels stuck to its roots and never goes beyond the innovation of mixing different genres of games. It is fun to explore the 3D world, but the exploration can get boring fast because of the repetitiveness of the environment and music. The graphics in this game are a mixed bag. The game uses the same graphics engine as Realms of the Haunting (also developed by Gremlin Interactive). The pre-rendered cinematic cut scenes are appealing to watch, but the real time rendering of in-game scenes and characters are too pixelated. The poor graphics steals away much of the beauty of the game that otherwise takes place in a true 3D world and not a 2.5D world, where game objects and characters actually scroll on screen adjusted to your visual perspective. Still, Gremlin Interactive must be credited for trying to be innovative, at a time when most other developers dwell on making only clones.
I find the level of difficulty in this game to be mixed. In theory, this is a really easy game because of its simple puzzles. At the same time, this can be a really hard game because you can get confused by the keyboard commands or camera controls and thus get stuck in a single level more times than you may expect. Fortunately, some hints are included in the instruction manual that comes with the game CD.
In conclusion, I have to say I have enjoyed playing Normality. I have spent about a week hooked to this game. Normality is a game that can be as entertaining as it can be frustrating. Despite its flaws, it is a great game with an unique premise that many gamers will enjoy.