"Roguelike" games promise heavy doses of challenge and variety thanks to their randomized level layouts and permadeath, or the permanent death of player characters.
NeuroVoider from Flying Oak Games is a Roguelike twin-stick shooter that also features extensive character customization and four-player local co-op.
NeuroVoider has a bit of a story, but you only experience it during the tutorial and ending. Said tutorial can be set to play only once or every time you begin the game in the options, which is a nice little touch. In this tutorial, each player begins as a lowly brain, awakened from a containment unit. These brains will quickly hop into robotic suits, which is how you actually play the game.
A helpful robot named Fat.32 explains the mission and how to play the game. Your team must fight an army of (presumably not brain-driven) robots in a quest to find and eliminate the mysterious NeuroVoider. But Fat.32 might have an agenda of its own. It's a fun little setup, making the scarcity of cinematics later in the game slightly disappointing.
At the start of each game, you choose from three difficulty levels. That's not a common feature in Roguelikes, but it's definitely appreciated. The game tracks your overall completion percentage for each difficulty, with Achievements for completing them all, as well.
Next, each player must select from three classes: Dash, Rampage, and Fortress. Each class has a unique ability and primarily relies upon class-specific loot found throughout the game. Abilities consume Energy Points (EP), the same rechargeable energy source that powers weapons fire.
- Dash: The most agile class, its special ability allows it to dash through enemy fire without taking harm.
- Rampage: The DPS class gets a rampage maneuver that boosts its damage and mobility.
- Fortress: This tank has a temporary shield that prevents incoming damage.
Finally, every player gets to choose a single Skill (some passive, some active) from 27 available options. These encompass a variety of effects, such as healing, an EP-recharge boost, the ability to find only melee weapons, scrap (currency boost), and more. Twenty-seven skills are a lot to choose from, and several skills have their own Achievements, too.
Battle of the bots
NeuroVoider is a twin-stick shooter in which players have two weapons, with one equipped to each trigger. Whether ranged or melee, these all consume EP, which recharge over time, but you're still bound to run out occasionally due to firing too much. When that happens, your robot overheats and can't attack or use abilities for a few seconds. This mechanic can be annoying, but finding better parts will at least improve your EP reserves and recharge rate.
The goal in most levels is to find and destroy one or more generators. These don't normally appear on the in-game map, though a certain passive skill selection can fix that. Once you've destroyed every generator, you can choose to continue exploring or teleport out to the next level.
As for the map, the game could really use a minimap or the option to move around with the map overlaid on the screen. That would reduce the need to stop and check the map when figuring out where to go next.
As a Roguelike, death is permanent in NeuroVoider. Run out of life, and you have to start from scratch the next time you play. I don't mind permadeath in Roguelikes, but I prefer them to have metagame elements – something that carries over between runs, making future playthroughs easier or more fun. Like fellow robotic Roguelike, Heart&Slash, nothing carries over between runs here. And that's a shame.
One full playthrough of NeuroVoider consists of 20 levels. On every non-boss level, players choose between three randomly generated areas to visit. These have their own Size, Elite enemies, and Loot ratings that determine how challenging and productive they will be to visit.
Sometimes a special level will appear among the choices as well. One such area has a very strict time limit before it destructs and ends your game. If you can find the Reactors needed to escape in time, you'll likely walk away with choice loot for your troubles.
Every fifth level is simply a boss fight, but don't think of them as "simple." The bosses are large, have shifting weak points, and spawn lots of enemies to protect themselves. I find they can be too chaotic (and thus very challenging) when playing solo, but playing with friends makes these fights a lot easier.
Complete the game and it will loop, becoming harder the next time through. Going through multiple consecutive runs is a time-consuming prospect. Thankfully, as long as you don't die, the game saves your progress between levels (in single-player). This encourages players to keep going and see how far they can get. But since the main game mode lacks leaderboards, I doubt many players will keep pushing on after they've earned the completion Achievements.
Loot and customization
Between levels, you'll enter the Intermission phase. Here you can manage loot and spend scrap (dropped from enemies or salvaged from unwanted loot) to heal your robot. You can also upgrade existing equipment or forge random items.
Equipping new body parts will boost your bot's health, EP, EP-recharge rate, and more. Equipment comes in several qualities and rarities, indicated by color. The game only explains the rarities on a loading screen, which makes learning what each color represents a little harder than necessary.
You'll find a lot of unwanted equipment, including some for other classes. One cool option is that if you have three body parts belonging to a different class, you can switch to that class mid-game. You can also choose to scrap (sell) all items belonging to other classes. But you have to perform this step for all three body part types, whereas it really should be a single step. NeuroVoider also needs an option to scrap all items of a specific rarity. As it is, loot management is clunkier and more time-consuming than necessary.
As for weapons, they can be equipped by any class. The game offers a nice mix of weapon types, such as missiles, beams, liquids, spread shots, and melee weapons. I like to go with one melee and one long-range option, but I'll take two ranged if they're both of sufficient rarity.
NeuroVoider's best distinguishing feature is probably its local co-op support for up to four players. Teaming up with friends adds a lot of fun to what can otherwise be a largely sterile experience. Everyone gets to select their own Skill from the pool of 27, so you can mix and match skills rather than being restricted to only one as in single player.
On the downside, only the first player earns Achievements in local multiplayer. Worse, extra players can't join an existing single-player game. Nor does the game save multiplayer progress, so you have to beat the whole thing in one go when playing with friends.
The Xbox One version of NeuroVoider offers 38 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Several involve defeating specific bosses and beating the game on the various difficulty levels. A few require you to choose specific skills that make the game harder.
There are also three Achievements for Daily Run mode, including one for completing 30 Daily Runs. These work a lot like in Crypt of the NecroDancer — you get a single shot at playing through the game every day. But unlike NecroDancer, you don't have to actually beat the run for it to count towards the Achievements. Just playing Daily Run 30 times, win or lose, counts. Daily Run is also the only mode with online leaderboards.
NeuroVoider is a fairly polished game but also a sterile one. The artistic design is almost entirely bland and lacking in personality. The soundtrack by Dan Terminus fits the game's cyberpunk aesthetic well enough, but it doesn't elevate the boring visuals. A little more personality here and there would make for a much more compelling experience overall.
Still, the actual gameplay is quite good. Exploring levels, battling robots, and hunting for loot makes for a good time. Finding an item with significantly better stats than your current one provides a Diablo-like rush. The game also gives players so many choices — difficulty, class, skill, equipment, and even which levels to play — that it's hard not to have fun.
- Loads of choices for players to make.
- Plenty of loot to find.
- A four-player Roguelike shooter. (Those don't grow on trees!)
- Boring to look at.
- Clunky inventory management.
- Needs more story and personality.
As both a solid local multiplayer twin-stick shooter and a Roguelike game, NeuroVoider is a good buy at $13.99.
The Xbox One review code for this evaluation was provided by the game's publisher.