10tons bring their neon-drenched; skyscraper-climbing twin-stick shooter to the Vita, making a few technical compromises in the process but still delivering the same polished and enjoyable experience.
World-building & Story
Set in the titular futuristic skyscraper, Neon Chrome follows a rogue resident who aims to take down the ‘Overseer’; omnipotent controller of the tower block who has gone mad with power and aims to annihilate anyone or anything who stands in his way.
As you may have gathered from that brief synopsis, the game creates a very dystopian world. The main character incites his rebellion while sitting in an Assassin’s Creed animus-style control device to manipulate ‘assets’ – disposable beings with unique abilities, with the goal of progressing floor by floor to reach the Overseer and take him down. Along the way you’ll meet a gauntlet of organic and mechanical enemies to stop your progress and – if your asset dies – a new one is woken to carry on where the last left off.
The real star of the show here is the Overseer, reminiscent of foes like Glados from Portal or Cabal from Tiberian Sun. Always watching and throwing waves of enemies and traps at you; happy to mock your progress and encourage you to give up, he’s pretty much the only character developed in the game yet is the perfect embodiment of tyrannical power-crazy ruler and Neon Chrome embraces this well.
The world itself is easy to admire – although it’s not the most unique in terms of being a near-future dystopia, it’s still a fascinating place to explore and makes good use of colour and space. The repeated setting does make it feel claustrophobic and stifling, which is the point – it’s oppressed and controlled and you’re there to liberate it.
With all this said, the story itself is very sparse – you’re given brief insight into your surroundings and main bad guy but much of it is left untold, which allows an element of “draw your own conclusions” yet feels slightly under-baked at the same time. I would have liked to know more about the Overseer; main character and the origins of Neon Chrome, but the game finishes before having any chance to explore this, despite briefly touching on each of those subjects.
Still, there’s enough of an incentive here alongside an intriguing setting to make it worth seeing through.
Presentation & Sound
A complete mixed bag in terms of presentation, Neon Chrome does a lot of things right which just makes its flaws more unfortunately obvious.
A top-down isometric shooter taking place in a futuristic skyscraper, this aesthetic gave the creators plenty of scope for interesting design choices which they have embraced. What’s immediately noticeable is the menus – these are sharp; eye-catching and help set the tone for the game – right from the opening screen of a cybernetic woman on a neon-drenched background.
And indeed, colour is used extremely well throughout the game. Weapons light up the screen with flashes of blue and red; collectible items glimmer in the distance and neon signs litter the rooms you’ll explore. Occasionally, you’ll walk across balconies to see the grittily-lit exterior of the building you’re in – it all comes together to help set the tone of this cyberpunk world.
Once you take control of your character in the isometric perspective, things become more hit and miss. Enemies are generally pretty well designed, ranging from robot spiders to towering cyborg men, but repeated designs throughout the campaign begin to grate. Your controllable asset doesn’t really stand out in any way and you never really get to see them properly, but the guns they hold do change when you pick up new ones and animations are fairly smooth.
Environments – while making good use of colour and sometimes lighting – have clearly been significantly pared back compared to other versions of the game. Things like vending machines features noticeably low-res textures, which can sometimes be repeated on other environmental objects. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, but it’s something you’ll notice when trying to figure out exactly what an item is. Still, areas are pretty enough to run through on the whole.
These cutbacks are presumably to help the title run better and unfortunately this is another area it struggles. For the most part, performance is steady and you won’t have any problems, but as soon as explosions happen Neon Chrome stutters. In a normal level, things correct themselves within a few seconds and nothing is affected; but boss fights can go through more prolonged bouts of slowdown. Again this is nothing game-breaking, but it is something that could impact your enjoyment of the title.
One thing I have no doubt people will enjoy, however, is sound. While some tracks can get used a little too often as you’re ascending floors, the game features a pounding electro soundtrack that’s both fitting for what’s happening on screen and the kind of thing you’ll be whistling for hours after. It very much reminds me of Hotline Miami in this regard, which is about as high praise as I can give. Sound effects are your standard set of gun and enemy noises, which is about what I was expecting.
Gameplay & Content
Pretty much a refinement of the twin-stick isometric shooter genre, Neon Chrome doesn’t do anything particularly new or special, but it does provide a polished experience and by mixing in rogue-light elements, creates a large amount of replayability to keep you coming back.
When you first enter the game world, you’ll gain control of a character in a small hub containing various purchasable upgrades and boosts for your ‘asset’. You’re then given a choice of three characters to control, each with their own strengths; weaknesses and an individual skill. Some of these are incredibly useful compared to others (I found myself nearly always choosing the regenerating shield which encourages defensive play), meaning you’ll sometimes find yourself a bit put out if you land upon three duff skills.
Still, once you’ve chosen you’re thrust into gameplay, which is fairly standard. One analogue stick moves while the other aims; the triggers fire and use special skills; you can reload and interact with objects with circle and x respectively etc. Shooting is sharp and feels responsive for the most part, although I had occasional issues with aim being slightly float-y and there’s no lock on ability, although this is a minor gripe.
Levels consist of a series of interconnected rooms and your goal is to make it to the exit to progress to the next floor, taking down the enemies littering the area (or ignoring them entirely) as you see fit. There are various weapons and upgrades hidden throughout the game that encourage you to fully explore your environment and variety is added by various challenges such as finding keys or taking down certain targets before you can progress.
But Neon Chrome differentiates itself in a few ways from the norm. The main one is the destructibility of its environments – although some constraints are put on levels to ensure you progress through them a certain way, the majority of the time you’re given free reign to come up with your own strategies. Most walls are destructible, meaning its often viable to smash through and catch a guard unaware, giving you an advantage. It’s a neat piece of design and often had me feeling smart for dispatching a room full of foes without them even noticing.
The game also embraces rogue-light elements to give you a challenge, yet still retaining a constant sense of progression. When you die, you’ll have to start again from the last boss you fought, but any cash collected will be kept and can be used to upgrade your permanent stats. New weapons and upgrades are also hidden in special areas which you’ll stumble across, and once these are unlocked they’ll be available for subsequent play-throughs. It’s a nice feeling to discover a powerful augment that you know can be equipped for your next run.
Yet, Neon Chrome does occasionally put a foot wrong. Perhaps I’m unfairly comparing it to Hotline Miami due to the similarities in aesthetic, but I did find myself missing the ability to peek around corners to help me plan out my route of destruction. I also found enemy AI to be lacking at times, with guards not reacting to their buddies being loudly shot just a few metres away or the wall behind them being blasted away by a shotgun.
Still, these were minor issues and on the whole I found the game to be a well made twin-stick shooter with plenty of systems at play to keep it varied; and an aesthetic that resonated so well with me. It certainly kept me fully engaged until the eventual conclusion.
Which brings me to my final point – content. Levels are procedurally generated which means there’s a potential wealth of content here and the game encourages replaying at higher difficulties to get better loot and boost your stats further. With that said, your first run will take around 3-4 hours, meaning how much value the package has will depend on your tolerance for slightly tweaked replays. For me, I can see this being the kind of game I come back to regularly to chip away at; but if you’re a ‘once-and-done’ player there may not be enough here to keep you occupied for long.
Neon Chrome is a well-made twin-stick shooter set in a fascinating world with a beautiful aesthetic, that features some solid shooting action; interesting progression systems and fun destructible environments. Some minor gripes with performance mean the experience isn’t perfect on Vita, but it’s still well worth playing if you’re a fan of the genre or even if you’re looking for a good place to start.