With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. In this installment we will be looking at Neo Scavenger published by Blue Bottle Games in 2014.
The apocalypse this week is a mystery! In Neo Scavenger you wake up from being in suspended animation inside a cryogenic tank, with no idea of who you are or what is going on. The facility is abandoned, and it’s unclear why or how you were awakened. You quickly realize that the world has fallen apart while you were frozen, and you are left to scavenge through the ruins to try to stay alive.
Neo Scavenger is a turn based role-playing game. You start by choosing from a set of attributes or flaws. Flaws grant you additional points to buy skills, but lower some statistics of your character. Outside of this, you don’t get to choose anything else about the character you play. Your character is always a man, presumably Philip Kindred according to the medical wrist band you wake up wearing.
The game takes place mainly on a hexagonal grid map. As noted, this is a turn-based game, and on each turn you initially have four Moves, or actions that you can take per turn. The number of moves can be reduced if you are overburdened, injured, or are traveling at night with no light. You can use a Move to travel to a neighboring map location; scavenge an area for items if it has any unexplored location; try to cover your tracks; sleep; or rest and heal, if you are injured.
Scavenging is a big part of the game, as the title would indicate. Any area on the map with a spyglass icon can be scavenged. In outdoor areas, you tend to find things that you might expect: mushrooms, berries, or water. The ruined cities tend to have the more interesting items, such as clothing, weapons, bags, or crafting components.
When scavenging an area, three bars are displayed: loot, safety, and sneak. Loot is your chance of finding items in this location, safety is your chance of getting hurt scavenging, and sneak is your chance of alerting any nearby creatures while scavenging. Some items and abilities can be used while scavenging, and you can see how these impact your chances on these bars.
After each of your turns, non-player characters move around the map. These aren’t strictly monsters, but wild animals, survivors of whatever apocalypse happened, and apparently mutants – not the X-men kind, more the Hills Have Eyes variety. Some of them are not hostile and will leave you alone, but most will try to eat you, which can be particularly fatal if they happen upon you while you are asleep.
Combat, and really most of the game, is done by selecting one action from a list of options. The encounter system in Neo Scavenger uses a range system, so if you are lucky enough to have a ranged weapon, you can take advantage of most enemies initially only having melee attacks. You can also attempt to converse with creatures if they are intelligent.
The game also has a fairly expansive crafting system. You find lots of odds and ends: bits of string, foil, and bits of machinery that you may be able to cobble into useful items. Depending upon your starting skills, you may have some recipes available at the start of the game. You can discover a lot more while playing the game. Most items can also be broken down back into components.
The inventory system is also a big component of the game. Initially, you can just hold a couple of items in your hands, but if you find bags or backpacks then you can hold more items. Finding actual pants also lets you store items in the pockets. If you are very lucky, you may even find a vehicle, like a shopping cart, that will let you cart around lots of junk!
The final component to the game are encounters. The game starts with one, where you wake up and hear something heading into the room. You can choose what action you want to take based upon your pertinent abilities or items. This is where most of the plot of the game occurs, if you are lucky enough to live long enough to find any of it.
As you may have surmised from some of my comments, Neo Scavenger is a difficult game. There is a steep learning curve and you will likely die early on in the game, quite a lot. However, this is part of its attraction for some players – figuring out how to make it in a post-apocalyptic landscape with just your wits and what you can find.
There is a good degree of luck, in that you may scavenge around and just find nothing. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find plenty of useful stuff early on, but more often than not you’ll be trying to cobble together enough clothes to not freeze to death. I will say in very few games have I ever been as happy to find an abandoned shopping cart.
The art style is mostly simple, as you can see from the screenshots, but this is an independent title so that is not unexpected. There are a few nice touches, like your character’s icon on the map showing items that he has equipped. The encounters also have some more detailed artwork to help give the story more impact.
The music is well done and provides a good background and atmosphere to this post-apocalyptic world. Sound effects are fairly minimal in this game. They are primarily triggered on items being moved around the inventory, and there are no combat sound effects.
The big draw for this game is its mechanics, more than anything else. There are a few places where the interface feels a bit clunky, or at least not as intuitive as it could be. I will also note that in playing this title multiple times for this review, and dying quickly in most of them, I did encounter a bug once where the game stopped displaying new event text.
If you enjoy lengthy, challenging, slow-paced games about survival, then this would be a good title for you. Overall, I personally give it a “B-“, or a 7/10 stars. It is worth picking up on sale, if you think this might be an appealing game to you.
One last side note, the game was built using mostly free tools and is essentially a Flash game. It is available on Steam, GOG, and on mobile devices. If you want to check it out, here is a link to the developer’s page.