Hours. Days. Months. Multiple lives. Multiple paths. Schizophrenia. Detective work. Sewer rat annihilation. Radioactive cockroach torture. Knuckledusters. Badly animated strippers. Violent wastelands. Mutants with guns. CopBots.
Neocron involves all of these. You’ll spend vast quantities of time across multiple personalities doing a wide variation of things whilst killing things, delivering things and staring at semi-naked flesh. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? It sounds like a lot of in-depth fun with lots of other like-minded people. It sounds like the kind of game that you need to dedicate lots of your life to in order to get anything back out of it. And it is.
The first thing you’ll do when you enter the world of Neocron (which, by the way, is a post-apocalyptic wasteland – don’t worry, it’s all described in the manual) is get lost. You don’t even need to travel very far. You’ll walk out of the apartment you’re given, go into the street, get distracted by something shiny and then completely forget where the door back to the safety of your home is.
After finding your way back in again, you’ll wander back out with a little more trepidation, always keeping a bead on your crib. This time, you’ll go to the weapons shop, because you’ll clearly need at least a little gun with which to defend yourself. Upon arriving there, you’ll discover that you don’t have enough money to buy anything at all and dipping into the sewers or taking on one of the obscure runner jobs is all that you can do to get more. The sewers involves beating insects to death with knuckle dusters or some other form of primitive weapon, being a runner involves getting to point a, picking up package b and taking it to person c. The latter is certainly the easier – and in some ways more interesting – way to make cash.
Throughout the game, you’re able to improve your abilities through a series of implants. Pretty much anything you can imagine is available, as futuristic corporations vie for your hard earned cash. In addition to buying weapons, you’re also able to build your own should you find the correct materials required, and the blueprint to go with them. These is clearly the types of things you’ll only get your hands on after a considerable amount of play time.
Taking its inspiration from any number of downtrodden future societies that have been suggested over the past 30 years, the aural and visual stimulus provided is more than adequate. Player models look detailed enough, with a nice range of clothing meaning that personal tailoring of that Goth look you’ve striven so hard to achieve in real life can be conducted relatively painlessly. The cityscapes look like they’ve been lifted straight from a cleaner version of Blade Runner – neon strips, flying cars and billboards populate the areas with abundance. Each zone of the city has its own graphical set, meaning that you always have a sense of what kind of place this is. It’s no substitute for walking around the back streets of Manchester on a Saturday night, but you can tell when the neighbourhood is bad.
So that gives us something akin to:
(Generic MMORPG + unique upgrading ability) X gritty sci-fi setting = ?
What’s the answer? Obviously, it should be “addictive and life consuming alternative reality). It’s not, though.
Standard RPG’s depend upon their script, their world to make them a success. Only through making NPC’s successful at conveying responses in a manner that doesn’t smack of programming can they ever rise above the rest. The tight scripting and storytelling is an integral part of the RPG, the purpose of your quest the reason for you playing. MMORPG’s lose this hook automatically. So far, there is little in the way of story in any of them, little point bar levelling up, improving your ability as a courier, fisherman, warrior, whatever.
Instead, as with any online game, MMORPG’s are turned into videogame gold dust through the community and through the actions of the server admins. Only by portraying a consistent and believable world can they hope to sustain subscriber levels and entice new players into the experience. Neocron, whilst achieving at least the same as any other of its kind if not more, brings little new to the table bar its setting. There are clans, clan outposts, quests, levelling up, exploration and a vague backdrop to undertake actions against. What it (and the genre as a whole) needs is for admins to take more of an interest, prod and poke people into action, create situations which involve more than going to point A, attacking entity C, increasing attribute F.
Past its setting, Neocron brings with it a reasonable community with which to play. However, servers are typically quiet (with 400 players on any of the English speaking ones being the maximum witnessed) and this leads to the game being something of a solitary affair. With no true story arc to play through, it prevents this from being a truly immersive experience. Is it right to fault the game on that though? Perhaps not – get in there now and by the time “they” come, you could be an omnipotent God.
So, to assess what Neocron is, rather than what it isn’t. It is a unique setting with a well thought out history. It is a gritty and reasonably involving experience. It is, as with all MMORPG’s, an overwhelming experience to start with, and you can expect to have multiple players and multiple deaths before you get the hang of it. It is in need of some community coaxing. And, finally, it is worth a look if you find that playing as a bosom heaving Dark Elf of the Pretty Forest a dire prospect.