Neptune Flux is an underwater adventure game from indie developer Zoxide Games. Its promotional videos and screenshots tease a haunting deep-sea walkabout drenched in dark shades of aquamarine, wherein main character Sarah stumbles upon unexpected wreckage and learns about her missing mother. To Zoxide’s credit, they aren’t lying: technically the game is “open world,” and it is set in what most could consider a “sci-fi ocean.” Neptune Flux is itself a wreckage, though, and while functionally a game, several fundamental design flaws and lackluster feature implementations make it feel like a series of meaningless chores.
The first thing you’ll notice about Neptune Flux is that it’s small. Made by a small team, the game’s scope is appropriate and left Zoxide room to account for polish and a cohesive aesthetic. A background track of underwater ambiance combined with the occasional eerie synth melody help to establish a realistic setting, and the game’s lighting is properly foggy and high-contrast. My favorite detail might be the muffled metallic bump you hear when colliding with an object. It might seem insignificant, but that sound and several others make the game much easier to bear.
Unfortunately, though, it isn’t completely bearable. From a design standpoint, Neptune Flux is almost entirely devoid of player decision scenarios. Any player that joins this deep dive will face the same challenges, mostly having to do with actually playing the game rather than completing objectives, and the objectives themselves are overly uniform. Possibly the most irksome of these challenges is the lack of visual feedback provided the player. Leaving the W.A.V.E. Grid puts the player on battery power, for example, and the player’s sonar ability greatly increases the rate of battery drain while in use. An indication that the sonar ability is on, and perhaps even an indicator for current battery drain rate or how much time is left, would be a huge step in the right direction. The character moves so slowly that I often ignored the battery level – respawning at the home base for 10% of my cash even felt like a fair trade considering the time it saved me. The decision to force the player to spend so much of their time crawling forward is worsened by the sporadic appearance of interesting objects, most of which I had almost no interaction with, and the abundance of crates and scrap metal that make the character exclaim, “Sweet!” or “Nice!” or “Hell yeah!” every time they’re acquired. Moreover, frequently occurring “interact-to-hear-a-voice-over” scenarios quickly became a source of frustration, sounding less like real situational explanations and more like, “You can’t do that.”
Combined with the game’s lack of meaningful decisions, the nail in the coffin for Neptune Flux might be its constraints. While many games use character constraints to enhance play by allowing the player to choose strengths and weaknesses, this game’s economy overtly monetizes standard gameplay elements that other games give out “for free.” Boosts temporarily alleviate the slowness of traveling between wreckage sites, but the player can only hold up to five at a time. Grid nodes expand the safe zone, in which the player doesn’t run out of battery power, but the player can only hold one at a time. An upgrade to reduce the battery cost of using the sonar is understandably very expensive, but I typically ended up spending most of my money on boosts before purposely dying to start over and buy more. Strangely, refilling boosts and flares costs next to nothing, and makes me wonder if the game would be ruined by doing away with boosts as a consumable altogether and simply using a cool-down.
Neptune Flux starts as a convincing underwater swimming simulator and provides about an hour of playtime that could be considered fun – if you’re more interested in a stop-and-smell-the-scrap-metal experience than an action-packed adventure. But while cool moments appear here and there – like spying a derelict structure or wreckage in the distance for the first time, or completing one of the game’s simple puzzles – I’d only spend about $5 on this title as opposed to its retail value, $15.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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