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NEO SCAVANGER Review

Post-apocalyptic themed games have enjoyed something of a lime-light in the world of gaming over these past years what with titles like Wasteland 2 and Metro: Last Light being notable entries into the genre over the past couple of years. Late last year, the genre found itself a new member to induct into its fold,a small flash-based indie title simply titled NEO Scavanger brought to us by former BioWare lead artist and founder of Blue Bottle Games Daniel Fedor.

Despite its simplicity, there’s a certain carefully crafted charm to the hexagonal turn-based roguelike world of NEO Scavanger that offers an experience wholly unique to itself. Despite the fact that it tends to have something of a high barrier to entry, I found myself getting particularly engrossed in this 8-bit flash-based world.

Story: Organic, just like that expensive milk

Welcome to the apocalypse, where civilization is (mostly) dead and the raiders don’t care who you are. As far as settings go, NEO Scavanger has the feel of the typical Wasteland or Fallout game. Sparse communities with a heavy emphasis on roving bands of marauders and feral packs of dogs intent on ruining your day.

As far as any sort of plot-related element goes, it starts off Futurama style with the main protagonist waking up from cryogenic sleep in an abandoned cryogenics lab with nothing but his name – Philip Kindred – and a mysterious talisman to guide him.

It is a story that certainly favors a more organic approach to storytelling, having the major plot-forwarding elements discovered via world exploration and scavenging rather than just the typical button prompts and dialogue boxes (which the game does have, but that’s besides the point). After all, you can only learn so much of this new hellish wasteland from the inhabitants that live in this new world, why not peruse the wide variety of newsprint and pamphlets to glean a better understanding of the broken world of decadence this once was.

Source: bluebottlegames.com

Source: bluebottlegames.com

For the most part, you are alone to traverse this broken land with nothing but the occasional radioactive monstrosity or cannibal bandit to keep you company in these lonely times.

Gameplay: Never Enough

For an initial play through, the game was not at all kind. In fact, it felt like there was a rather sizeable barrier to entry for this sort of game. Suffice it to say it took me a few times of starving and dying of hypothermia to actually grasp the subtler niceties that NEO Scavanger. 

I’d very much liken it to something like Minecraft in the way it begins. You, the player are dropped into this massive world with nothing but a single objective: survive. It does start off with a rather bare-bones tutorial that glosses over some of the finer points of surviving this hellish wasteland but to be entirely frank, it just doesn’t do enough to prepare me for the trials ahead.

For starters, just before you are dumped into this world you are given your first important set of choices: perks. Each and every play through you are presented with this same set of options and each and every time they play a pivotal role in your gameplay.

Some – like Botanist – are benign attributes that aids in scavenging and discerning edible flora. Others – like Tough – give you more of a fighting edge against the many adversaries that you might encounter in this broken land. They each have their uses but there just aren’t enough points to move around to get ’em all.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to stunt yourself. The game offers a few counterperks that, for the price of hampering yourself and/or restricting access to other perks, grant you additional perk points that you can throw around to your heart’s content.

Now to the actual game portion of this game. For the most part, its got the feel of one of those old computer RPGs from the bygone era of PC gaming. You know – ZorkKing’s QuestMyst – games with a heavy emphasis on narrative-driven gameplay with some combat elements and a punishing survival mechanic to keep the player engaged along the way.

Source: BlueBottleGames.com

Source: BlueBottleGames.com

Combat is strictly turn-based but its got a certain flair to it that sets it apart from the ye olde method of pointing and clicking. I would say it carries itself a lot like Dungeons & Dragons in the way it sorts out its battle mechanics, mostly left to your imagination with the player’s only engagement in it clicking on what to do next.

Surviving handles much like it does in any other typical survival-oriented game: track your condition with an array of bars and do your best to ensure that those bars never hit zero lest you suffer that all too familiar perma-death that so many rogue-likes and procedurally generated titles have gone for in years past.

Scavenging is the name of the game and, personally, I feel it takes on a bit of Binding of Isaac in the sense that play throughs are ultimately determined by a series of randomly generated scavenging mini-games.

Not gonna find enough warm clothing to survive the night? Hope you enjoyed that brief fleeting joy of finding a gun and one round of ammo cuz the stars ain’t gonna align again, pal.

Grab your gear and hold it close. The dogmen are on the prowl and that dinky butter knife of yours isn’t gonna do much against that pack of starved radioactive beasts.

Environments: A surprising lack of total annihilation

In this war-torn landscape of NEO Scavanger one would expect to find the surrounding areas blasted to a fine powdery mash, but considering that the surrounding nature is as resilient as that steel-clad vault I tried lock picking for the umpteenth time that day there’s surprisingly a lot that survived the apocalypse.

Source: BlueBottleGames.com

Source: BlueBottleGames.com

Sure the cities appear to be but a sullen memory to what they once were, I’m seeing a lot less Fallout apocalyptic and something more along the lines of The Long Dark – a doomsday event that had seen the fall of civilization without the need for all-out warfare.

Admittedly, when the game presented itself as a post-apocalyptic survival simulator I was more than a bit miffed to see that the fall of human society didn’t have that much of an impact on the surrounding environment but perhaps that’s a bit of my insistence on everything within the genre adhering to hat time-old “nuclear holocaust” scenario.

Perhaps a better explanation could have been gleaned from the wide variety of newsprint on offer, but to be entirely honest I was too busy fleeing from the hobo with a machine gun to bother with such trivial things like plot.

All in all, despite my biases, the environments seem pretty repetitive

Story: 4.5/5

  • Exploration-based narrative
  • Gather the context clues.
  • Unique and organic method of discovering a story.
  • Evocative of those old text-based adventure games.

Gameplay: 4/5

  • Bit of a curve.
  • Too much info to take in at once.
  • Rogue-like elements ensure each play through is new.
  • Typically end up cold and alone with a shotgun-toting raider looking to make a meal of you.
  • Makes that rare find all the more wonderful.

Environments: 3.5/5

  • Bit on the repetitive side.
  • More lush than the apocalypse I’m used to.
  • Nice to have, but not the point of the game.

Overall: 4/5

Despite having the look and feel of a cRPG caught between the visual elements of something like King’s Quest and the text-based aspects of that old classic Zork, Blue Bottle’s NEO Scavanger has a charm all its own. Sure, there’ll be frustration but so long as you tough it through you might actually find an engaging RPG gem that offers an apocalyptic experience different from those offered by the Fallout or the Wasteland franchises.

Is it worth the $14.99 price tag, though? A cursory glance at the trailer would say no. After all, for $5 cheaper you can pick yourself up a copy of Half-Life 2. But it does include a demo version for the prospective customer, so feel free to give it a shot. Who knows, you might find a new time sink to fill those days of listless wandering.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

 

Cover image via

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Categories: Video Game Reviews

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