You awaken in an unknown location, rising from your cryopod with the grace of a corpse. You have no recollection of who you are, the only indicator of any past is the patient wristband around your left hand and the peculiar talisman around your neck. As you’re about to take it off a most intense, inexplicable dread creeps up your spine. Something primal in you tells you removing it is not a healthy idea.
You look at the wristband and see the words “Philip Kindred” printed in bold lettering alongside a billing code linked to Detroit Savings Bank. You’re not alone, at least to a degree. There are other people in similar pods behind you, resting peacefully. Before you have the chance to mull over your situation you hear something rushing towards you from the darkness ahead, heavy and ravenous.
Think. You don’t have much time.
Neo Scavenger is a post-apocalyptic survival roguelike game set in Michigan several years into the future after a series of events changed the world for the worst. Your objective within the game is simple, survive and try to find your place in the world. Keep yourself fed, healthy and armed and you might see another sunrise.
Well, if you can’t live long enough you’re hardly going to discover much now are you?
I’m using the Extended mod developed by Neo Scavenger forum user Chiko. Please consider giving them support as the mod adds some more features on top of the base game. The Neo Scavenger community offers other similar mods. I do believe it is the best way to experience Neo Scavenger. Again, there will be some stuff disclosed, so if you want to go blind, do so after playing the game.
Neo Scavenger is developed in the Flixel engine (with the aid of several other pieces of software) by Blue Bottle Games, mainly company head and ex BioWare employee Daniel Fedor.
The game’s got a very simple but charming art style. Buttons are blocky, items and locations have a pixel art quality to them. Not traditional, square style you find in popular games. Think of it more like pixel art sketches rather than a style trying to emulate retro console games. Some items feel obviously drawn. Others feel more like pixelated pictures. In the end you’ve got a game with its own unique visual style. A unique, dirty pixel style. Colors are pretty drab but that’s kind of the point.
This came out in the year 2015, when the survival game genre went into overdrive and you’d be hard pressed not to find an open world game that wasn’t inspired by DayZ or made in the Unity engine. The game does have some basic weather effects for dawn, day, dusk, night, rain, snow. Your entire gameplay presentation is essentially a series of windows and besides items hovering in and out, there’s not much animation to speak of. If you played certain old school games and Newgrounds era flash games, the presentation should invoke some memories.
The game does have unique art pieces for specific locations/events to give you an idea of the world. But other than that, you’ll see a lot of recycled pieces for the general locales.
Still. It’s unique. It’s alright. It gets the job done. Moving onto soundtrack.
The soundtrack is composed by Josh Culler. It mainly consists of electronic ambiance, similarly to some of the ambiance tracks within popular games like Silent Hill, Fallout and Half-Life, where it is more about establishing a mood rather than following a rhythm to get you pumped. It reminds you that you’re stuck in the apocalypse and how truly cold and hostile the world’s become. This isn’t heroic music, this is slow end of times music. I like that. I like that a lot.
There’s at least an hour’s worth of soundtrack and it does convey the apocalypse feeling through the droning, digital ambiance. Granted the soundtrack does have some rhythm to it, but overall, long bursts of industrial style tunes is what you’ll get. The soundtrack as a whole? I believe it is alright, albeit you hardly ever get to listen to it. The majority of your time spent in the game will have you bask in the sound of the desolate Michigan state. The sound effects for items and selection are crisp and good; honestly the sound of pressing the ingame buttons is kind of burned into my brain at this point. It would hardly be the immersive simulator if you had rave stuff going on all the time, but with that being said, I wouldn’t blame you if you put some headphones on and listened to something else. Or a podcast. Or a movie. Or a review.
In short, the actual music is alright but suffering from what I dubbed the “DayZ music syndrome” where you might be inclined to listen to something else. It’s not bad. It’s just not that memorable.
Also, no voice acting.
Visuals were alright and so was the music, but the gameplay is where everything’s at.
Before you start the game you will have to complete character creation. You don’t get to pick details like your character’s name, gender, physical appearance, portrait, voice etc. Your only customization before starting the game will be deciding what Abilities and Flaws you have.
Abilities are traits that will benefit your character during their journey. This includes things such as being strong thus allowing you to carry more and inflict more powerful strikes, ranged which lets you become more adept in using projectile weapons, or trapping which lets you yield more food and crafting material through harvesting.
Flaws are traits that make your character weaker. This includes things like suffering from myopia, being feeble or having insomnia. With the metabolism flaw being the exception, most others will purely hinder your exploration and combat potential. So why pick a flaw?
Picking positive traits will drastically change how you interact with the world around you; besides giving you statistical benefits such as allowing you to perform actions better, they unlock additional interactions with people, items and crafting recipes. Once your character dies, you have to start the game all over again.
Your base points are 15. Each ability has its own value. General positive traits (based on the most frequent in game encounters/actions) such as being better at combat or tougher tend to be expensive, whilst more situational/specialist skills are cheaper, like hiding and lockpicking. You can use up all your points to start the game and there are no inherent flaws to begin with. If you want additional points to spend on positive traits, you’ll have to get a flaw or two to avoid making your character too powerful.
Some flaws and abilities are not compatible; you can’t take the feeble wet noodle flaw when you’ve already got the strong gym goer ability. So be mindful what particular build you’re trying to go. I can’t stress enough how different builds change the gameplay. Your starting encounter in the game will demonstrate how different abilities offer different solutions.
Neo Scavenger is one of those games that are easy to pick up but hard to master. Your run time will vary. Sometimes it can be hours long. Sometimes you’ll be alive for just about a handful of minutes. That’s because the game doesn’t guide you. At all. Sure you have a manual and there’s a wiki, but just like going to college you need to prepare and soak in the experience to really make it.
Like the title suggests, most of your time spent in the game will revolve around travelling to different places and looting. Combat encounters are optional but going for a pacifist run is tricky. There is no fast travel in the game, you need to get there by foot or faster by using a vehicle. Consult the map often.
As we’ve established, the whole game is essentially you interacting with a series of screens, not your typical 3D survival game format. From looting, exploration, encounters and combat. The entire exploration element revolves around a hex-based world and each world is randomly generated although key locations tend to be in the same area. Hexes can be forests, towns, cities, special locations etc.
Your character’s movement is based on movement points, think of it like Action Points in a typical turn based game. Your total amount of movement points is determined by your character’s overall condition. Hunger, thirst, temperature, pain and encumbrance need to be managed, otherwise your gameplay will be hampered at best, or at worst, you’ll meet your maker. Difficult terrain types cost more movement points to enter, certain environmental conditions such as entering particularly dense areas like forests and moving at night without a light source will especially hinder your available movement. Actions such as crafting, hiding, covering tracks will also consume movement points. Starting a new turn will replenish your movement points, pass the time and it’ll allow NPCs to move too.
Thanks to the game engine all UI interaction is based on a simple drag and drop mechanic, though you can auto collect if you prefer and destroy items you don’t need. The drag and drop principle applies to most things you do, from putting your clothes on to combat.
What the game lacks in presentation it surely makes up for in mechanics. Trust me, it does.
Terrain determines whether you’ll trip and fall, leaving you vulnerable. Hiding will let you get the drop on your enemy. Cover can protect you from ranged attacks. Your conditions like thirst, hunger and fatigue influence your performance in combat. Some weapons have multiple combat modes, such as doing a simple spear stab or throwing it. Your build’s positive traits can give you more combat options like leg trip, lure and headbutt. The time of day will change your visibility in the game. You can follow tracks to hunt game and humans and hide your own to escape pursuers. Damage levels very. The game has a armor system and certain items have psychological effects. The health system is limb based. The amount of stuff you can carry is dependent on your strength and the amount and types of containers you’re carrying with you, like jeans, jackets and backpacks.
Enemies have different levels of aggression and can assess your threat level. The game expects you to pay attention to the kind of terrain you’re on and what your enemies are equipped with. Encounters can end in several ways, either peacefully or in bloodshed. Keep an eye on range. Your gun is out of ammo? It’s okay. Use it as a club. Or use a different applicable ammo type. All items have varying degrees of crafting utility and can be broken down into more crafting components. Besides scavenging, goods can be acquired through trading. Goods offered vary between each trading hub. Each item has its own value, with the value decreasing as the item deteriorates. Even if you can’t use an item, carrying it around so you can sell it to buy supplies is a worthwhile strategy, unless an opportunity creeps up.
To make it out you’re going to have to take advantage of the crafting system. It follows real world logic rather than game logic, if that makes sense. Primitive weapons like bows and shivs can be crafted from salvaged materials but to craft guns you’ll need to find or purchase the proper gun parts and tools, and good luck finding ammo in the apocalypse. Tools, containers, food and weapons can be crafted from a preset database, additional crafting recipes/tips can be discovered in the forms of notes.
And then some.
Just imagine yourself out in the wilderness. That’s the best way to get into Neo Scavenger. Yes, the game has a lot of layers to it but the problem is it’ll be up to you to figure things out. There are no difficulty options, the threats in the game will be constant and there are no companions to help you. It’s you against the world. Just like in college.
Also whatever you do, do not try the people jerky. Just don’t.
Every missed attack hurts. Every bullet wasted reduces your chances of making it out alive. You can use items to improve your looting, but at the risk of making noise and attracting enemies. Sometimes you’ll find nothing while searching. Sometimes you might get hurt and lower your stats. Just because you survived a really difficult fight does not mean you’ll live to see another day. Afterall, your long term health is what matters and those resources need to be used as efficiently as possible. You can be today’s victor and tomorrow’s lunch if you’re not careful.
This all might sound like the game is a chore to play but it’s really not once you get into it. Every single enemy bested feels like a victory. Every single trading run you do feels worthwhile and every single upgrade and legendary ability you receive in the game feels deserved. Resources are scarce so adapting to the situation, making the most of what you have and surviving feels like your smart thinking paid off. It’s a tough game but it’s the kind of tough game that makes victories feel gratifying. It’s also kind of funny how a small indie game has more realistic survival mechanics than some more popular titles. This ladies and gentlemen is a simple straightforward concept explored as much as they could and it is fun.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t the strongest part of the game.
Given the game’s structure it doesn’t follow traditional storytelling; whether or not you’ll actually progress the story is if you manage to reach the game’s plot encounters. The game art, newspapers and optional encounters shed more light on the world you’re in but overall, like the music, it feels skippable.
It is possible to get hours into the game without even bothering to advance the game’s plot. Yes, the game has a beginning and an end but most players will be focused on staying alive as long as possible in that middle portion.
Your main character is, frankly, a loaf of bread. Yes, a loaf of bread hardened over time and capable of surviving the desolate wastes of Michigan, but once you bite in, there is no flavor. There are encounters with a moral aspect to them (multiple choices) and though they do shed some personality, everything else falls flat. Whatever themes the game has besides survival are not as explored.
The game does have a narrative but it feels more like there being a narrative for the sake of being a narrative, the world needs to have a reason to exist, evidently a downside of the team’s small scale. This is like the world of the The Road, but without the emotional depth. Still. A basic story is better than a bad one.
Don’t know if this is due to the extended mod but I have noticed some problems. Not much.
The UI when scavenging can sometimes spaz out and leave your items outside of the select menu and throughout my 120 hours of playing the game I think I’ve had a few save corruptions. Not a big deal when they’re so few, but having a save corruption in your perfect run is a kick in the teeth regardless.
Some quests might get borked halting your progress, mainly the Hatter questline but other than that I haven’t found anything else to gripe about.
I give this game a…
I had a blast playing Neo Scavenger. Even when the story is basic and the soundtrack is okay but scarce, the gameplay elates the experience. Give this a shot.
But never try the people meat.