I have this weird fascination with Neocron that I can’t quite explain. I think it’s one of those early MMOs that slipped under everyone’s radar, had an interesting development history, and continues to stay almost-invisible in the MMO landscape despite being a mature-themed cyberpunk game. It’s currently community-run as a pure free-to-play title now that Reakktor Media folded, and I think there’s a Neocron 3 in the works somewhere.
Anyway, trying Neocron out was scatching a huge personal itch of curiosity. Signing up and downloading it wasn’t that difficult; the client size is much smaller than these modern MMOs.
I set the display size to my desktop resolution, which was probably a mistake. Neocron first came out in 2002, so it’s more or less skewed toward smaller window sizes. Making the game into a huuuuge field meant that all of the text and UI elements were tiny beyond belief. I seriously got a headache just trying to read everything.
Most of my first night in it was going through the tutorial. That’s not because I was lazy; the tutorial is pretty darn lengthy and an adventure in and of itself. I created a preacher/monk/psi warrior — I was a little confused as to my exact class, because I kept having to pick a new one as the character creator progressed. The physical features of my avatar were pretty limited, although I soon discovered that it didn’t really matter because the game puts you in first-person mode.
So let’s start with the obvious: Neocron is a chunky little game, graphics-wise. Factoring in the first-person mode with the graphics, I was getting huge flashbacks to the original Half-Life, System Shock, and Deus Ex. Really, the best way to describe the game is as a mixture of those three. It felt a lot more like a shooter than your typical RPG anyway. The tutorial was a combination of navigating the environment, learning to interact with the world, and hoovering up all sorts of gear.
There’s some story about mutilated corpses that you’re investigating — I guess mutants are doing a little food shopping for their stew — which took place in teeny tiny dialogue windows. What I really wanted was to get to the shootin’, and I was frustrated for a while trying to figure out just how to do that. I had a backpack full of cool gear and no obvious way to equip them. The armor screen just showed armor slots and right-clicking on weapons to “use/activate” did nothing. Then I saw numbered boxes over on the right side of the screen and realized that those were for the weapons and usable items.
That’s when things got a lot more fun. I dragged everything usable from my backpack over to those slots, from grenade launchers to assault rifles to a little psionic hand thing to a flashlight. Swapping between usable items was easy from then on out, and I really dug approaching each situation with a different weapon instead of the same-old, same-old. My favorite was this pulse rifle that took a second or two to fully lock on to a target (if you shoot too soon, the shot would usually go wild) and then knock them down with a satisfying thunk. Speaking of the weapons, the animations on them were pretty well-done, especially when reloading them.
The remainder of the tutorial was blasting the crud out of everything and anyone. It truly did remind me of slightly older FPSes. I wasn’t a huge fan of how the camera bobbed back and forth while moving — maybe there’s a way to turn that off, but it started to get me seasick.
So toward the end of the tutorial I found a room with police guys in it and said, hey, this would be a terrific opportunity to test out my grenade launcher. No sooner did I click on the mouse button then the police turned me into a fine pulpy patte. Game over in the tutorial? That’s kind of new.
Actually, I think that was supposed to happen. I woke back up in a government facility of some kind where a guy told me that a “beloved leader” (was I in North Korea?) owned me now and I had to prove my loyalty. With dismay I saw that all of my nifty weapons and items were gone. I guess those were just for the tutorial, but it really sapped my enthusiasm to have my beloved pulse rifle taken away.
So I ignored the instructions to go here, do this, and instead made a bolt for the outside. Neocron takes place in a post-apocalyptic earth with just a couple mega-cities, so the outside was pretty gross. And blocky. And chunky. It was Anarchy Online with a serious brown palette.
I spent a half-hour or so wandering the wasteland without any usable gear and feeling somewhat lost. Maps? I guess the game doesn’t need them. Maybe it has them, but I didn’t see one.
Would I play it again? Hm. No, but not because of any fault of the game itself. I love cyberpunk settings and despite the aged graphics, there’s obvious substance here. No, I wouldn’t play it again mostly because of time factors and the fact that it’s not really being supported by any company. Investing time into a game without knowing if it’s going to evaporate tomorrow is a daunting proposition.