It’s no mean feat to stand out in the online gaming market place.
Every time you open the digital store of your chosen platform, whether that’s the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live or Steam, it feels like there’s an unstoppable tide of indie titles rolling towards you and the speed at which they arrive means every one you take a punt on has little time to impress before you brush it aside. Neon Chrome employs a genius tactic in that respect, as developer 10Tons’ new offering draws your eye with bright and flashy colours both in the game and on the page.
This results in a product that’s certainly easy on the eye. Neon Chrome‘s colourful environments are procedurally generated which offers plenty of variety. Occasionally, some levels will resemble ones you’ve seen before, but subtle differences mean a new challenge is offered each time. This system works well, though seems to negate the need for the rigid level system on offer.
Neon Chrome‘s story sets you as the defender of the titular apartment block, owned by the Neon Corporation which houses a million citizens. Besieged by the ruthless (and fairly generic) bad guy “The Overseer”, your character takes control of an “asset” in order to stop him from destroying Neon Chrome. These assets are basically avatars which you then send out to fight on your behalf (think Avatar), allowing multiple restarts while also retaining any progress you’ve made. The progression system is a straightforward one; five booths are located near to the cybernetic system you use to control your assets. Each time you play, you earn coins to spend at these booths, which are responsible for Health, Weapon Power, Luck, Energy and Upgrade Slots. With the exception of the Upgrade Slots which max out at 10, the rest allow you to upgrade your assets, one point at a time, to the maximum level of 100.
Coins are collected in three main ways: by opening containers you find as you scour the levels, after you’ve defeated enemies, or they can be chosen instead of mid-level upgrades from upgrade booths. This makes the upgrading process an exceedingly long and slow one. Not to say it’s not enjoyable to earn those coins, but a single run will earn you, on average, between 2,000 to 10,000 coins and the cost of an upgrade increases each time, so a solid 10,000 coin run will earn you perhaps four upgrade points, out of a total of 410. As I said, slow progress. You can choose to spend the coins on perks, too. These can be to begin a run with your preferred weapon (for me a Heavy Rifle – low accuracy but a big hitter when it lands). Your other options vary between things like 20% health boost, increased armour or melee power, or my other personal favourites: invisibility when standing still or a single, super-powered round at the start of every clip. Different combinations of these produce drastically different play styles, so it’s a good idea to figure out what works best for you early on.
You can also choose your class before you send each asset out. Perhaps you’ll play one round as a Hacker, who can open locked crates and doors that other classes can’t and is joined by an aggressive little drone for company, before you play the next as a Techie whose energy shield protects you from the first few hits from the enemy. Each class has these different pre-assigned perks, and picking your own perks to compliment them can be important. Classes like the Cyber Psycho or the Corporate Soldier can benefit from a 50% boost to their ammo clips, while the Techie’s shield needs time to recharge, so going invisible while that happens gives you a big advantage.
Some upgrades can be added mid-level too. You begin with three upgrade slots to play with and they can be swapped around each time you find a single-use booth. Step inside and you are offered one of three additional upgrades. If you prefer, you can sometimes choose to take a sum of coins instead, or swap between upgrades. Weapon stations also offer the chance to level-up your guns, adding greater power the higher the level.
Say that all fails and your poor asset gets filled with more holes than the plot of a summer blockbuster; surely you just restart the level? Well, no. Unfortunately not, and I found this to be Neon Chrome‘s stumbling block. The way it works is this: you begin the game at level one. All pretty standard so far, right? Once you finish level one, you move on to level two and so on until level five or six (depending on what the game procedurally generates when you start out), which is a boss level, such as the “Icarus T-17” jump-ship. Defeat the boss and all is well. Should you now die on the next level, you’ll restart at level six or seven and carry on. Although if the boss kills you – a fairly likely outcome as it has a one-hit-kill cannon to support its mini-gun – (or indeed if you die on any level before the boss battle), then you are sent tumbling all the way back to level one.
This happens regardless of how many times you fail. Once or twice is fine. “I’ll do it this time!” you think, fearlessly. But after a dozen or so fails between these checkpoints, you’ll begin to question why this would be part of the game. Perhaps you could look at it as an added challenge, but in my opinion it serves no purpose than to artificially increase the duration of the game and in doing so, spoils the fun. If 10Tons wanted a longer game, then as the levels are procedurally generated and therefore cost nothing in terms of time or labour to implement; simply add more. If it takes four hours to complete the levels you have without constantly starting over, just put in double the number of levels. There’s also a co-op mode to add value to the package, as well as items to unlock, special hidden levels to find and complete and of course trophies to earn (though somewhat disappointingly there’s no Platinum on offer on the PlayStation 4 version).
The controls are slick and the action is fast-paced and well balanced. Some areas are smaller, yet filled with enemies, leading to quick and frantic fighting while other levels are more sprawling affairs with fewer, larger enemies, often with rocket launchers that’ll see you blown up like a squelchy, red firework should you be too slow to react. Some of the interior walls and doors are destructible, giving you different tactical options if you do face these larger foes. You also have a special ability to use, which again you can choose before starting. From homing-missiles and good-old hand-grenades, to a 360° laser-pulse, there’s bound to be one that you favour.
It’s worth bearing in mind that your health will carry across between each of the 30 levels, so ending a level in a mad sprint where you get massively damaged just to make it to the finish means you’ll start with a big disadvantage on the next level. It’s the things like this that knock the fun down a peg or two, as being sent back to the start so frequently wears very thin after a while.
The frustrating checkpoint system (or lack of) aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Neon Chrome. The variety of levels, enemies and objectives is always just right and the weapons, perks and upgrades system is well-balanced. This game is not too far away from Dead Nation; in fact the actual twin-stick shooting and upgrades are very similar, which is no bad thing – but there’s also a dash of Not A Hero (the frustratingly frequent failure) and even Hotline Miami‘s constant restarts and frenetic pace in there, too.
Neon Chrome does a lot of things right, and I was impressed by the overall feel of the game which is both solid and visceral. The graphics hold up well in the isometric view and the bright and shiny visuals are certainly a pleasure to look at, while the tactical shooting and use of perks offers a different challenge each time you play. The trouble is that is is all marred by the agonisingly stubborn lack of checkpoints and forced restarts which, for me, definitely didn’t add to the experience. This aside, the fun you can have means it’s worth investing a little time to save Neon Chrome, especially if you’re a Dead Nation fan and if you can see past the issues I’ve mentioned, though the current £11.99 price tag may be a little steep.