As someone new to both top-down shooters and roguelikes, I didn’t quite know what to expect when coming into Neon Chrome, a ruthless roguelike top-down sci-fi shooter developed by 10tons. It turns out, the combination of sci-fi cyberpunk atmosphere, roguelike RPG mechanics, and top-down shooter gameplay is a superbly engaging one. Neon Chrome is the epitome of “just one more try” style gameplay, that consistently keeps you wanting to play more even after you’ve died countless times.
Neon Chrome could have easily been a less than ideal experience. If the shooting too clunky, the variety too limited, or the progression too miniscule, the game would fall flat. Thankfully, Neon Chrome executes on every aspect of it’s gameplay extremely well. You play as a randomly generated character that has an assigned role, weapon, special weapon, and stat buffs and debuffs; trying to get to the top of a tower. Roles allow the player to play in different ways. Hackers get a robot sidekick, and are able to hack certain objects to get to new areas, disable lasers, or get additional loot. Assassin’s gain the ability to use shadows as a stealth advantage in combat, and get a damage boost when killing in stealth. These roles aren’t all created equal, but there are enough great ones to keep gameplay feeling fresh after each consecutive death. They do a fantastic job of letting the player choose how they want to tackle the challenge of the tower. If going in headfirst hasn’t worked out, you can switch to playing stealthily, or switch to a character with a shield. Weapons and special weapons are equally varied, and offer up variation similar to the roles. You have plenty of different styles of weapons from SMGs to Shotguns to Plasma Rifles. You get access to special weapons like Homing Missiles and Laser Pulses. All of these weapons, along with the rest of the game, feel super-responsive.
Not only are the mechanics deep, but level design is as well. This is especially impressive considering each map is randomly generated. In spite of this, each one feels uniquely designed. Loot is put in places that reward you for your effort, enemies patrol in ways that make sense with the layouts, and so many more details make the game not only more engaging but also more fun. Levels also contain various forms of destructible terrain, such as glass walls or explodable reactors or even most doors, that expand the player’s strategic options. However, enemies are just as able to take advantage of these environmental changes as the player, making each choice you make particularly meaningful. There are even certain instances where the level design invokes feelings of puzzle solving.
While Neon Chrome’s gameplay is spot on, it is also ruthless. In my first two hours playing, I still hadn’t cleared more than 2 levels in one run. However, the game doesn’t feel as hard as it is. Each time you die, you are able to spend all the money you gathered in the previous run on permanent upgrades that increase stats such as health, damage output, or luck. You can also spend money to guarantee certain weapons, ability upgrades, or special weapons on the characters generated next. Because of this set-up, and because the gameplay is so well done, the game never felt unfair. It was always my fault when I died. Not because I was unprepared or needed to grind, but because I had made a poor strategic call that cost be precious health or had moved in the line of sight of too many enemies before reloading. With fairness in death, the ability to use money to upgrade once you do die, and so many viable strategies at your disposal, the game keeps you willing and addicted to trying again. So, while the game is ruthlessly difficult, it is not a barrier of entry in the slightest.
Graphically, Neon Chrome isn’t anything to write home about. That being said, it still looks solid. The graphics do a good job of both setting the tone and communicating gameplay to the player. Lighting especially shines in creating atmosphere. It fits the sci-fi dystopia theme quite well. Backgrounds and levels vary quite a bit throughout the game, enemies each look unique, and it’s obvious where important things are or what you need to do to move on to the next level. There are also quite a few graphics options to get the game running in the way you like. All in all, while the graphics aren’t gorgeous, they are still atmospheric and well-designed.
The soundtrack is stylized like what you’d expect from old-school 80’s sci-fi movies, taking obvious inspiration from movies like “Bladerunner”. It stays varied throughout the game, so no one song ever gets old, while also setting the mood quite well. It plays a large part in telling the story of the game, without the need for any text, while you are actually playing the game. There wasn’t a single song that felt out-of-place. Overall, the soundtrack was spot-on, and something I could easily listen to outside of the game.
Neon Chrome, is a superbly challenging, but rewarding experience. It may not be the prettiest game, but with it’s addictive RPG mechanics, large variety of strategic options in both roles and weapons, and fantastic cyberpunk atmosphere, I can wholeheartedly recommend Neon Chrome to anyone who might be interested in giving it a try. It is, quite simply, a great game.
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