STAFF REVIEW of Neon Chrome (Xbox One)

Thursday, June 30, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Neon Chrome Box art I’m an 80’s kid, so anything neon and cyberpunk is right up my alley. While Neon Chrome from 10Tons might be one of the most generic titles there are, it offers a twin stick shooter experience overlaid with a rogue sci-fi cyberpunk theme, complete with plenty of neon colors and gameplay that seems to have been influenced by games like Smash TV. While twin stick shooters are common, Neon Chrome tries to add some mechanics to the core gameplay to set it apart from the competition, such as persistent progression, procedurally generated levels, and an interesting plot premise to name a few.

You work for Neon Corp, and while most places simply escort you out of the building when you get fired, Neon Corp kills you. You are part of a group staging a rebellion and attempting to take down the Overseer from within. To do so you’ll hack into the network and begin climbing the ominous death tower from the ground up, floor by floor, by taking control of virtual character assets and shooting your way through each level.

Being a top down twin stick shooter, there’s not much to explain in its core gameplay, as you move with the Left Stick and aim with the Right Stick. What is welcomed though is that the levels are procedurally generated, so every time you die, which will be often, you will have to make your way through the floors again, but it’ll be a fresh experience in terms of layout. There’s only a handful of levels, each of which consist of roughly five or so floors before you reach the boss, and subsequent checkpoint. It may not sound like a lot of gameplay, but the difficulty in the beginning is so high that you’ll be replaying levels many times over, slowly making progress by saving up credits and upgrading your character.

You start off in a small room that consists of some terminals and a machine where you can hack into the network and control other people (assets), allowing you to safely fight your way to the top of Neon Corp from the safe room. Given that you’re simply controlling an avatar instead of your real body, every time you die and respawn you’re given a random selection of three assets to choose from, each one having different abilities and weapons. You awaken back in your safe room, able to spend the credits you earn along the way to upgrade permanent stats or purchase better abilities and weapons. Stat increases are your best bet for the first few hours, as these are permanent increases regardless of what avatar you control and they persist throughout the whole game, constantly increasing as you upgrade.

Every time you hack into the network you’re given a choice of three random avatars to control, each one usually varies given they are different types of classes. You have assassins, techie’s, hackers, and more, each of which have their pro’s and con’s based on your preferred play style. Given the difficulty of the game, I almost always chose whomever had a bonus to their increased health pool, as dying results in restarting the level from the beginning every time until you defeat the boss and can continue from that point on.

Hackers can be useful, as they can unlock special doors and loot boxes that others can’t, and some classes even have a little robot pet that follows you around, helping you defeat the onslaught of constant enemies as you make your way through each floor of Neon Corp. Some gamers may prefer the hacking abilities of some of the avatars, but the ability to loot slightly more boxes isn’t worth the tradeoff of a 10% increase or more to your health. There is an avatar for many different play styles, just be prepared to grind a lot for the first few hours until your stats start to increase, making things easier as you go.

Classes vary the gameplay approach, but so does the weapon you use at any given time. There are shotguns, assault rifles, SMG’s, and more, and each one has their own strengths and weaknesses. You'll have to power through and learn what works best for you over time. Sometimes a shotgun is best for levels that have many tight hallways, allowing enemies to be funneled through narrow doorways, while more open levels are better suited for a different type of weapon. Since floors are randomly generated there’s no way to plan ahead and you must hope that you luck out with your strategy.

You also start out with a randomized secondary weapon, some of which are incredibly powerful, and others that are almost useless. You need to loot energy for the secondary meter to fill, allowing you to rely on it more, and it will be needed when you become overwhelmed during boss fights. The randomness of the characters on each spawn sometimes works out perfect (health bonus, assault rifle, and missile launcher), but there will also be times when you know you don’t have a prayer of completing many floors with the build you’ve been given (shotgun, increased melee damage, and mines). This can be frustrating, but factor in the seemingly random hit detection, and things start to slowly become a test of your patience. Sometimes aiming is on point, while other times it takes a few clips to defeat a single enemy as your shots miss.

An awesome little touch is that the bulk of the environment is destructible, and this is something that you’ll need to utilize if you want to survive. Sometimes a slew of soldiers are behind a door just waiting to destroy you as you enter, so it’s sometimes better to simply blast a hole through the wall behind them and shoot them before they notice. This is preferred as you get double damage from behind the door as well. The AI itself isn’t too bright though, and you can usually lure one or two bad guys at a time without much trouble. That is until reinforcements arrive and you’re swarmed with over a dozen enemies at once all gunning for you.

Each stage consists of a handful of floors that need to be cleared in succession before you get to challenge that stage’s boss. The bosses themselves are quite difficult, but the bigger challenge is simply getting to their floor with enough health to hopefully survive the fight. Since health regeneration spots are completely random you might show up to the boss floor with little to no health and a very slim chance of survival. What makes the boss fights even more challenging is the fact that there’s usually waves and waves of enemies that are spawned to fight you simultaneously. Once you manage to take the boss down, you can then respawn from that point anytime you die and hack back in with a new avatar.

Enemies that are killed drop credits, as does opening special boxes hidden around the floors. These credits are highly sought after as it’s the currency you’ll use to upgrade your main character (which any avatar you use every time you restart gets the benefit of) stats permanently. Since you begin as a weakling with no upgrades at all, you’re essentially forced to play though many stages repeatedly, slowly amassing credits so you can spend them on some upgrades, hopefully making your next run slightly easier.

You can upgrade your damage, criticals, damage, and more, based on how you want to play your characters. After a few hours of grinding (by getting so far then dying over and over) I finally was able to afford a good amount of upgrades thinking it would drastically change the outcome of my battles. While you may notice a slight improvement, simply upgrading a stat one or two points is completely unnoticeable, it’s not until you get a dozen or so points in that you will start to really notice a difference. To save enough credits to even get to this point takes time, a lot of it, and even more patience. While you can purchase weapons and other improvements they are only for the next run, so you’re much better off spending your hard earned credits on permanent passive upgrades rather than a slight bonus for a single run.

As a top down shooter, and with a camera that is pulled way back, don’t expect to see much detail in anything. Sure the art style itself is very stylish with its neon colors, but levels constantly take place inside the office tower you’re trying to reach the top of, so you only see the same backdrop with bland office walls and cubicles from start to finish, save for the boss rooms. Some of the rooms have a very dark pallet, making certain walkways and walls difficult to see without any neon accents. As a whole it can be pretty, but there’s absolutely no detail in anything within the walls of Neon Chrome. As for the audio, the minimal voice acting is done decently, but unskippable when you have to replay the same floor numerous times. The music is fitting but nothing is memorable in the slightest.

If you happen to have friends over there’s an included 4-player co-op mode. Sadly there’s no online mode, so if you’re unable to have other people over you’re stuck trying to reach the Overseer on your lonesome. Watching some co-op, it looks as if things become drastically easier since you have much more firepower the more friends that play alongside you. I would have stuck with Neon Chrome much longer if online co-op was implemented, but sadly that’s not the case.

Neon Chrome has a few good things going for it, with its interesting take on progression and procedurally generated floors, but it’s simply going to come down to how much time you want to grind before you can realistically survive a handful of floors at a time. It took me a few hours to save up enough credits to get my health pool to a decent level, meaning I had to start the grind all over again to work on my damage, and so on. It’s time consuming to actually get to the point of having your character with decent stats, and by that point you might already want to move on.

Given that you only see the same handful of enemies from start to finish, Neon Chrome does become repetitive, and the lack of checkpoints, other than those found when defeating bosses, can be incredibly frustrating at times. That being said, if you’re a true fan of the twin stick genre and enjoy a challenge, Neon Chrome has a lot here for you if you have a tremendous amount of patience. It’s strategic and allows for some varied gameplay based on how you want to build and play your character, just be prepared to sink a lot of time into it before you get to that point.

Online co-op would do wonders for longevity.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 4.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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