Neon Chrome is a twin-stick shooter roguelite that just hit PlayStation 4 and touts improvements based on feedback from its initial Steam release. The gameplay certainly is refined here, and it will keep twin-stick shooter fans occupied, but Neon Chrome doesn’t bring enough to the table to interest anyone outside of that group, especially roguelike fans. In the game, you play as a hacker trying to take down a futuristic totalitarian megacorporation. With this hacker, you will take over “assets” which seem to be people under control by the corporation that you hack into. As you can probably tell by now, the game has a cyberpunk theme which means you’re going to be fighting a lot of robotic enemies and the color palette is reflective of the title.
You start off each run by selecting from three random classes. Each of these classes has slightly different stats, for instance, a soldier has 20% more health but moves slower than other classes. All the classes also have a specific ability. The aforementioned soldier has a shield that deflects a percentage of damage from the front; the hacker can open certain doors and loot crates that other characters can’t and so on. You will also be given a random weapon with your class. There are different categories of guns that play into the system with a rock, paper, scissors mechanic. Regular bullets do the best damage to human enemies, laser weapons do the best damage to robotic enemies, and ion weapons are a balance of the two. These three variations exist for basic weapons such as the shotgun, assault rifle, submachine gun and burst rifle, but there are also several unique weapons like grenade launchers, sniper rifles, and railguns.
You also get a random ability which ranges from a temporary shield to a homing rocket. Once you begin a run, you can also grab perks from machines that will randomly spawn throughout the levels. As you progress further in the game, you can unlock more perks, abilities and weapons to further customize your loadout. There is a ton of variety in Neon Chrome, which is it’s greatest strength. If you aren’t using a new weapon or testing out a new combination of perks, then you’re probably running up against new types of enemies, environmental hazards or level types.
However, the variety doesn’t do much for me because the combat lacks weight. Most weapons feel like pea shooters, and the enemy hit animations don’t do anything to reinforce the feeling that you’re wielding a powerful tool. Enemies disappear after dying, so you don’t get to see the fruits of the carnage you’ve wrought in the level. And for all the weapon variety combat usually amounts to circle-strafing around and spraying your weapon until everything is dead. There are certain enemy types that you will have to use specific tactics on but for the most part the combat only gets a much-needed dose of strategy during the boss fights, which are few and far between.
Progression is no easy feat, though. Your first few runs will be spent getting smacked down as you learn the ins and outs of the games twin-stick shooting mechanics. As you slowly get further, you will constantly be introduced to new enemies and more powerful variations of those you are already familiar with. However once you get the hang of things the gameplay starts to run together. Every few levels there is a big boss encounter. All the bosses have tons of spawning mobs and a massive health bar so you will have to apply all of the tricks and tactics you used to get to that point. After you beat that boss, you can start from the level after that on a new run. There are thirty levels you will have to get through to reach the Overseer 1.0, the big bad of Neon Chrome. The levels themselves are procedurally generated and suffer from the same pros and cons that procedural generation often does. You have a theoretically unlimited number of levels to play with, but they soon become a blur simply due to the nature of procedurally generated content. Strangely enough, the level after you beat a boss is hand designed, and you have to repeat it until you beat it once, at which point it becomes just another procedurally generated level. These levels are by far the most interesting bunch in the game, often showcasing some unique hazard or mechanic that tests your skills in a way only hand-designed content can do. I wish that Neon Chrome had simply opted to have 30 hand-designed tough as nails levels with random loot instead of opting for random layouts.
One of the features the game touts is making it more friendly to less-skilled players because you are always making progress by adding to your arsenal of weapons, perks, and abilities. Less-skilled players can certainly still make it through the game, but they may have to spend more time grinding out new weapons and perks in the lower levels before they can tackle the stiff challenge the bosses present.
It’s all pretty standard stuff, and that’s Neon Chrome‘s biggest weakness. It isn’t a bad game, but it fails to differentiate itself from the crowd of other indie roguelites that we’ve seen in recent years. My mind was constantly drawing comparisons to The Binding of Isaac throughout my time with Neon Chrome and not in a flattering way. It makes it a tough recommendation when I can easily think of five games that I would put before it if someone was looking to scratch a roguelite itch and even combining those elements with twin-stick shooter elements is something that has been done better elsewhere. Overall if you’re looking to scratch a rouge-lite or twin-stick itch you can certainly do worse than Neon Chrome but you can do better too. If you’ve grown tired of The Binding of Isaac and want something to fill that gap in your heart than Neon Chrome may be for you but that’s the heartiest recommendation I can give it.
Neon Chrome isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it may not grab you if you've played anything of the same ilk.