As I'm stepping out of the elevator, I notice this floor is unusually quiet. Most of the lights are off, and even the rooms seem clear of enemies. A purple terminal beckons me, which I hack into, and I am showered with loot and –— ooh, a gun, it's better than my current one! That'll come in handy for later.
I spy a certain chamber in an adjacent room, one I'd been hoping to come across, and as I step inside, its metal arms envelop me, and a holographic menu appears before my eyes. Upgrades! I only have a limited number of slots, and I can only pick one, but which?
I decide on Nano-weave tech, which boosts my health. I step out of the chamber feeling definitely at least 10% healthier, and with my autonomous attack droid at my side, we progress through the floor. More loot containers. Once I almost got caught in the cross-blast of a booby trap detonating huge vats of explosive goo. Almost.
I can see from the window I'm so high that the street below is no longer visible. Flying cars pass by, miles about the road, and I feel as though Rick Deckard will appear at any moment to accuse me of being a replicant.
As I find a medstation, I know in my gut something bad is coming. Medstations are few and far between, there's obviously a reason I'm going to need as much health as possible very very soon. Through the next door, I find it.
Shelob, it's called, a Robot Spider Queen, spawning what feels like millions of maintenance droids — and they're all scuttling towards me. She may be named after the giant spider of The Lord of The Rings, but remind me of the part where she also doubled as a flame thrower? Did Gandalf give her that power? I must have missed that part.
Either way, my attack drone buddy is taking hits hard and fast, and I'm not faring much better. I'm able to shoot off a few of my laser pulses, but then all my energy has run out. Sometimes the enemies drop some, but it's not always enough to refill one use. As I'm trying to strafe between bursts of flame from the spider queen, I am ganged up on by a bunch of maintenance droids who steal the last of my health and I fall to the floor. The neural connection is lost, and I am back in the lab.
Hail the Overlord
Zap and slash
First off, let me be completely honest. I really like this game. Everything from the theme to the difficulty. I like how it feels like a film noir sci-fi game, and I really like the soundtrack, which reeks of cheesy 80's gameshow theme tunes.
Neon Chrome could be a watered-down Matrix crossed with the dark sci-fi feel of Blade Runner. This cyberpunk RPG rogue-like gleams with all the things that made The Matrix stand out. There's ducking and diving through rooms while covering your butt to get to the Overseer, who has a bit of a monopoly on the violence in Neon Chrome. It's all based in a giant pyramid home to millions of people who work, rest and play within it.
As we know, Mr. Anderson, or Neo, already had a reputable career as a hacker, and the character whom we 'participate with', the androgynous Anonymous Hacker, is able to hack into a neural network, enabling them to control various people who have different skills. Why? To kill the Overseer who lurks at the end of the path, many floors later.
Unfortunately, level five was the furthest I reached for some time. These neural links I'd been making had been with 'assets', just shells waiting to be used. And I'd used over forty of these by the time I killed the first boss.
Permanent upgrades can be purchased between attempts, which boost health and damage, as well as other stats, and these affect the assets you play as. But any character you play as will remain dead once they're dead.
One of the more unsettling things about Neon Chrome is how expendable characters are. You really do get the impression these assets are nothing more than empty shells to be used and killed when necessary. I guess in this cyberpunk dystopian game, they are. There are chambers and chambers of these isolation containers, always more to use in your quest to the Overseer.
Part of me feels like Neon Chrome hails back to the days of games like Smash TV on the SNES. While it doesn't revel in the gore the same way Smash did, eliminating enemies room by room, collecting power-ups and upgrades, and shooting everything in sight, there is still the same satisfying taste left on the tongue when the reinforcements have come and you still blow your way through them, glutted on tasty robotic slaughter.
Rogue-like games come with an inevitable sense of accomplishment when we make progress, usually rewarded by making the enemies harder. Another very great example of such a game available on Xbox One is The Binding of Isaac.
Fans of The Binding of Isaac will definitely love and appreciate Neon Chrome for what it is. It's a very well thought-out RPG with rogue-like elements, and in some ways, it's a larger game than Isaac, but also has some restrictions.
In Isaac there are ways (that are not necessarily game breaking, but more like luck based exploits) you can have pretty much every stats-boosting item it is possible to get, there is no limit to how many power-ups you can hold. In Neon Chrome, though, you need to unlock upgrade slots, through the upgrade screen between assets. You start off with a few, but in order to keep getting upgrades throughout the floor, and building your character into an absolute cyber-punk beast, you need to keep investing coins in your slots.
I had to concede my defeat to the developers over Twitter. They were very sympathetic. They knew my struggle; they made the game after all. They told me they had plans to make a more structured path to the Overseer, and make it a little less difficult. For my ego, and the sake of others with egos like mine, I had to ask them to hold off, at least for a while.
Yeah, the game is hard, but it can be beaten. And it will be beaten.
I could lose hours to Neon Chrome, as no two runs are ever the same. The method of completing the floor to reach the lift to the next level could be different from one to the next. I could have to blow up certain key points, or just clear the path to the elevator of enemies.
Between each floor, you get a general map of your path to the Overseer. Every five levels is a boss floor, but there are also other offshoot rooms which have bonus items, shops and lots of loot, or trap rooms with glass walls, rotating laser strip beams. Should I damage the walls in any way, the lasers will damage me if they make contact. These rooms off the main path are usually signified by a heavily guarded purple elevator.
This is a pretty nifty mechanic, in that if walls are thin enough, you can just shoot your way through them. This has the unfortunate caveat that any ricocheting bullets can cause the wall to fall down, so enemy turrets spraying bullets will eventually shoot through the wall and hit you if you stay put.
In a surprising twist, Neon Chrome even features a local four player co-op mode, which is the main game with the assistance of your couch buddies. While this is fun and the extra fire-power certainly comes in handy, it makes power-up distribution a fight of fastest fingers first. In the effort to keep a happy home environment, my boyfriend and I took turns to collect the power-ups, while the bulk of the loot is shared between you.
To begin with, progression felt impossible, because when you die, you don't respawn. You have to start an entirely new character —but there is a saving grace. After each boss, you can choose to start your journey with your new asset at the next floor. Defeating Shelob-751A opened a new elevator which skips the first floor levels and takes you straight to level two. The downside to this however, is that you also miss out on anything you could have collected on the levels on that floor.
There is a way to get around that, too, if only in a minor capacity. When control is handed back to the Anonymous Hacker at the end of a run, you can use your hard earned gold to purchase items for your asset to start with. While it may not grant you to two or three power-ups you could have collected, it's still better than starting a harder floor with nothing to work with.
Neon Chrome is a game I will be playing for many hours to come. For its $14.99 cost, the replayability is through the roof, with a selection of different assets to pick from, and weapons, mods, and upgrades to apply.
- Cool cyberpunk style
- Rogue-like game play elements keeps each run fresh
- Local co-op multiplayer
- Wickedly difficult to the point the developers are thinking of making it easier
The swings and roundabouts the game throws at you balances the game well in that it's challenging enough to want to keep playing, but every challenge in your way can be overcome with patience.