Review – Neon Chrome

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OVERVIEW:

Developed by 10tons Ltd., Neon Chrome is an isometric twin-stick shooter with rogue-like elements, procedurally generated levels, and partially destructible environments.

Set in a cyperpunk universe, players control many different avatars in their journey to free Neon Chrome from its ruthless Overseer.

Released on PC in April of 2016, the game was ported to Nintendo Switch on October 12.

STORY:

Set in a desperate future, the player assumes the role of an elite hacker that is struggling to dethrone the Overseer, the totalitarian ruler of Neon Chrome, a corporate-owned structure boasting a million inhabitants.

Neon Chrome is a massive structure, and it is all controlled by the Overseer.

The game begins with the Overseer flagging the player as a potential risk. Stating that Lab 13 has an unacceptable Trust Score, the Overseer implores its inhabitants to stay calm and await “removal.”

The player assumes control as the denizens of Lab 13 are being massacred. Running down corridors in an attempt to escape, the Overseer confronts the player at a dead end via a giant digital display. “Your quest to bring me down is a waste of time.” the Overseer boasts. “Eventually I’ll find the real you. Time to say goodbye to your asset once more.”

Death carries a heavy cost in Neon Chrome, but unlike life, you actually get to take some of your wealth with you.

Releasing hidden super-soldiers, the asset is killed. The hacker awakens in an Immersion Chair, a device that allows them to take control of additional assets each time the previous is destroyed. Surrounding the player is a vault of hibernating assets that awake one by one as the relentless fight to destroy the Overseer continues.

GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS:

Neon Chrome is a twin-stick shooter, played from a top-down perspective. The player navigates all manner of corporate areas, which are procedurally generated, for the most part. Boss levels are static, and come every five or six levels. Each death forces the player to start over, but defeating a boss allows the player to skip all previously conquered content when they die, restarting on the level after the latest boss instead.

The climb is long, but wise investments and quick reflexes will ensure steady progress.

Gameplay environments are procedurally generated, as are the assets the hacker controls. Each time the player is killed, they are given an option of three new characters with different classes, weapons, and modifiers.

Much of the environment is destructible, so shooting rockets or blasting shotguns may leave a ruined wreck where a nice, clean, cubicle used to be. Anything orange is explosive, and this can lead to all sorts of fun with a little forethought. Luring a group of enemies to an area with explosives and then firing a single rocket into those explosives is immensely satisfying.

Orange objects are explosive, and many walls are destructible. Plan accordingly.

Booths around Neon Chrome allow players to install cybernetic enhancements that add modifiers to the game. One enhancement may reduce all damage taken by 20% or increase their speed. Another may double weapon clip size and speed up reload times. Yet another may cause Energy loot drops to heal the player, or cause them to turn invisible while standing still. There are a vast number of these enhancements, and thoughtfully combining them can have powerful benefits.

Death strips the players of their weapons, upgrades, and enhancements, as it does in most rogue-like games. There are persistent bonuses, however, that the player can spend currency to unlock. These include Luck, Damage, Health, and several others. Each rank costs more than the last, but the effects are permanent.

Choose your permanent bonuses carefully, and they can make a world of difference.

It is up to the player to decide how best to guide their assets through Neon Chrome, upgrading their weapons, and gathering currency and new cybernetic enhancements to ease their passage.

GRAPHICS & DESIGN:

Neon Chrome isn’t going to win any awards for visuals. This is equally true when playing in handheld mode or on a large television screen. The no-frills appearance may be a turn-off for some, but for those that do not demand incredible visuals from their games, Neon Chrome definitely has chops when it comes to gameplay.

Gameplay is where Neon Chrome shines brightest. (Courtesy of 10tons Ltd.)

It is difficult to critique design in a game largely based on procedural generation, but every level I played felt good. The layout of most levels is similar to that of an office building, and although certain sections of levels were unnecessary, nothing really felt out of place. Boss levels, on the other hand, were hand-crafted.

Boss encounters are intense, hectic affairs that can get out of hand quickly if the player isn’t careful. (Courtesy of 10tons Ltd.)

I did notice some issues with framerate and stuttering during my time with the game. Unfortunately, I found these issues to be slightly more pronounced in handheld mode. These issues are slight, and did not distract me or take away from the experience in the heat of combat, but I would be remiss if I did not mention it here.

SOUND & MUSIC:

The music is a thoughtful, futuristic mix that is equal parts emotional and sterile. Much like the assets the player controls, it feels disposable, but like the concept of disposable beings sacrificed to bring down the system that created them, it is also poignant.

Assets come in all kinds. Pick yours carefully. Fans of the genre will notice references in the names of many assets.

I even found myself humming some of the level tunes while I was away from the game.

Sound effects are light and snappy, and speeding through a level blasting my shotgun, destroying doors and blowing robots to pieces was satisfying.

FINAL VERDICT:

Neon Chrome struggles when compared to a few of the other twin-stick shooters of the generation, but it should not be counted out. Graphics are not the game’s strong suit, so if you demand more of a visual pop from your rogue-likes, this might not be the game for you. If you can look past the simple visuals and occasional frame issues to the engaging gameplay loop and procedurally generated levels, Neon Chrome definitely satisfies.

If Neon Chrome sounds like the game for you, it is currently on the Nintendo eShop for $15!

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