PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mobile and Nintendo Switch (version reviewed)
£12.99 on the Switch eShop, out now
The Switch eShop has been swamped by a plethora of title over the last few months, from titans of the indie world such as Stardew Valley and Axiom Verge to lesser-known jaunts like Golf Story or The Flame in the Flood. With such an indie feast laid out on the eShop, it can be difficult to know where to spend your hard-earned pennies. Looking at Neon Chrome, one could hardly be blamed for initially glossing over this title - roguelikes and twin-stick shooters aren't exactly underrepresented genres in the indie world. The question posed, then, is whether or not overlooking Neon Chrome would be to do it a disservice.
As alluded to earlier, Neon Chrome is a twin-stick shooter which sees you cast as an unnamed master hacker who is trying to overthrow The Overseer, the ruler of a colossal building in which literally millions of people spend their lives. The Overseer decides who is trustworthy and who lives and dies - sounds like a well-adjusted dystopian overlord to me. Your master hacker straps themselves into a device known as an "immersion chair" and takes over the body of a mercenary known as an "asset" to then run and gun their way to The Overseer and overthrow his reign. If you've consumed any sort of dystopian or cyberpunk media, the premise won't come across as anything particularly mindblowing.
Once your hacker has rudely awakened one of the mercs, the game begins in earnest. As a twin-stick shooter, you'll manoeuvre your chosen soldier with the left stick and fire with the right stick. The shoulder buttons give you access to a special attack - ranging from rocket strikes to stunning shockwave attacks - and a basic melee swipe too. Each level will afford the chance to pick up different weapons, changing the basic gun-play in slight ways. The usual cast of weaponry is here for the ride, from your assault rifles to your shotguns and beyond. Whilst the guns themselves don't change all that much - some of them will grant more damage dealth to specific enemy types, but that's about it - it will affect how you approach combat. Long range weapons result in a sneakier playstyle in which you pick off grunts and drones from afar, but shorter range weapons turn you into John Rambo barrelling through the urban jungle with aplomb. Destructible walls and explosive canisters make the combat feel fast and frantic, with cover changing on the fly. By entering into power-up chambers littered across each level, each asset can be powered up to compliment whatever playstyle is working best at the time. Found a particularly amazing shotgun? Then it's time to load up with quicker reload powerups and some extra health and berserk your way through each room. Last long enough and you can really feel your asset grow and become stronger as you create an unstoppable machine. Having said that, health pickups appear less frequently andeventually, your asset will meet their grisly end... but it's not game over yet.
Unlike in The Matrix, dying in the immersion chair does not spell the end for the protagonist. Instead, with seemingly no regard for the life they've just expended, the hacker hops back into the chair and selects another asset to continue the fight against The Overseer. Any guns or power-ups acquired by the previous asset are lost and the fight begins anew. Well, not quite - the currency picked up during each level is kept and can be spent on powering up the next asset by granting them stats boosts, a special weapon or starting them off with a specific powerup. It does take away some of the sting of dying in roguelikes, although it can be a pain if you don't have enough credits to properly kit out your asset, leaving you with the cyberpunk equivalent of a pea-shooter to combat The Overseer's security detail.
However, whilst the roguelike elements work well enough for the character building elements of the game, the level design takes a real hit in this area. Only a handful of the game's twenty-odd levels are designed - the rest are procedurally generated. Whilst this is fine for the first few runs, eventually the identikit cyberpunk office spaces and generator rooms become dull and make subsequent runs feel more of a chore than a thrilling blast through a dystopian environment. Ironically, the neon environments are likely to blame for this - each level does not feel visually distinct. There's not enough of a difference between each procedurally generated level to make it interesting to replay for future runs. The best levels in the game are the scripted and likely hand-designed levels and the boss encounters. The bosses are a blast to square off against, especially considering that the point of each run where you face these big baddies is where your asset is normally at their most powerful. But, the game grants the player a checkpoint after beating these bosses, so there's no real incentive for returning to fight them again.
As a consequence of this, it's difficult to recommend Neon Chrome to somebody for their next roguelike adventure. Having said that, as a twin-stick shooter it serves its purpose well and you'd be hard pressed not to enjoy at least one complete playthrough of this - even more so if you're good enough to keep an asset alive for a considerable time and watch their powers swell as you blast your way to the Overseer's lair. Neon Chrome might just manage to cut through the dystopian smog and shine through for a fair few players looking for their next indie kick on the eShop.
Reviewed by James "Jay" Moyles. This review code was kindly provided free of charge, but did not colour any of the opinions expressed above.