As with all of my reviews, the verdict below is based purely on my personal time with the game, which has usually been purchased with my own money. Sometimes a developer is kind enough to provide me with a review copy - this has no bearing on the result, and will be explicitly stated after this paragraph. My reviews are not influenced by general opinions, they do not draw reference to other people’s experiences (unless I’m reviewing couch co-op play), nor are they based on any one particular element; rather, they are an account of my own experiences, and as a result are entirely subjective – as they should be! Enjoy
A copy of Neon Chrome was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review. Thank you!
Tight, birds-eye shooters have a special place in my heart. From the hours of co-op fun that my brother and I put into Super Smash TV on the C64 and Sega Master System, through the hidden gem of PS1 splatter-fest Loaded, and on to my repeated plays of literal poo-fest The Binding of Isaac, it's fair to say I get a lot of joy out of them.
I've also played some shockers, though, which I won't name and shame here. You'd think it would be easy to create a tight, responsive, smooth experience with the advantage of dual analogue controls, but some games just don't provide that
satisfying and buttery experience you need from the genre.
Thankfully, 10tons, the developer of Neon Chrome, really knows how to make the formula work.
You play as a master Hacker, hidden away in the titular arcology of Neon Chrome - a huge, self-sufficient structure which houses over a million people, controlled from within by the Overseer and his legions of Armocore troops. It's implied by the intro monologue that the people who live under his rule do so with a certain amount of contempt. As the master Hacker, you work out of your hub in the arcology trying to take down the Overseer to free the citizens from his oppression, via the medium of big guns, bigger explosions and mass destruction. What else?
Your character never faces death personally. Instead, at the start of the game, you climb inside an Immersion Chair (an Animus-like device) and take control of another being in the building. This person is randomly generated, and has weapons and skills plucked from a pool of those you've unlocked in the game so far.
As this neurally controlled asset, you shoot, burn, zap and explode your way through thirty or so procedurally generated, fully destructible floors of offices, labs and living quarters on your mission to eliminate the Overseer. Well, that's the plan. You'll find yourself dying a lot in the rooms and hallways of Neon Chrome. You're vastly outnumbered, criminally underpowered and everything is designed to kill you. Or at least, that's the case for the first ten or twenty runs.
When you kill enemies and blow stuff up, you'll find a lot of cash left strewn around the battlefield for your collection. After your asset's inevitable demise, you awake from the Immersion Chair, back in control of the Hacker. The cash you've accumulated can be spent here to improve your chances of survival. There are permanent character upgrades, such as upgrading your maximum health, your damage dealt by weapons, and the total number of skills you can equip. There are also temporary upgrades which will only affect your next run, such as buying a particular weapon or skill to start out with. Then, upgraded and a little more prepared, you climb back into your chair to take over the body of another unwitting citizen and start again.
Every single time you restart, the entire game is reseeded. The rooms are different, the enemies and their numbers are altered, the lift to the next floor - and your key to progression - is in a new place. As you explore, you'll find plenty of lootable boxes, machines and vendors which may contain upgrades and unlockables for use in future runs. If you discover a burst laser for example, that weapon becomes permanently unlocked, meaning the pool of random choices when taking over a new asset increases. Combining this mechanic with the RPG-lite upgrade system means you're always building a bigger, better starting point for your next run. It's like the Formula One of top-down shooters: By the time you start your run, you're already obsolete, already thinking about the next play-through, planning in advance, mentally calculating, being one step ahead.
These elements give the game a fantastic sense of progression and reward, leading to the clichéd "just one more go" element that the best progressive games have. It helps that, after every five or six levels, you come to a hand-built, non-random boss floor. Elimination of this boss gives you a checkpoint of sorts, a plateau you can choose to start from in future runs, meaning you don't have to face climbing thirty floors in one run to beat the Overseer.
Scattered around the floors of Neon Chrome are also hidden lifts, which provide a secondary exit to some stages leading to other, hand-crafted rooms such as laboratories, store rooms, and even shooting galleries and many other surprises where you can unlock unique and rare weapons and skills for your character to use in combat. Some of these even provide some hidden narrative, offering a little background to the arcology, the Overseer and the corporations which worked to build it.
None of the above would matter however if the gameplay sucked. News flash: It doesn't. The controls are tight and responsive, using the left stick to move and the right one to aim. Shoot the hell out of everything with the right trigger, and activate destructive secondary weapons with the tap of a button. The pace of the action and speed of control is spot on, and there are surprising nuances to the AI: Line of sight is at work, so sneak attacks and surprise ambushes through walls are possible. The more you play, the more you see, and just when you think you're learning it all you come across a new enemy, a new trap or a different way to progress.
And you know what? You can do all the above, every bit of it, in 2-4 player, same-screen couch co-op. Seriously; how brilliant is that?Achievements:
The game isn't difficult to 100% per sé, just time consuming. There are a handful of achievements for doing unusual things, such as finishing a level without killing anything, or without being seen, but most of them are for progression: Raising your stats, killing bosses, finishing the game etc. I imagine the ratios will always be pretty high for this game, but only down to the time you'll need to invest to complete it. But that shouldn't put anyone off, as Neon Chrome is really good fun!Overall:
Never boring, always changing and fun to play, Neon Chrome is a game every indie gamer should have in their collection. It offers bite-size chunks of co-op play time with a lot to discover, second only to the inimitable Binding of Isaac for content in the niche genre of top-down shooters. Unlike that game, however, you're always getting stronger, always progressing and always pushing that little further towards reaching your goal.8/10