I’m not particularly happy with how young adult so called “dystopias” distort the post-apocalyptic genre (and the Huxley and Orwell dystopia in the first place), but that’s a rant for another time. Needless to say, I prefer the mood set by Fallout 2 (and Fallout 3 too), even if not fully realistic, surely more gritty and pos-tapocalyptic than the “youngsters against oppressing faction” we get in books and movies nowadays.
That’s why NEO Scavenger caught my attention. I’ve never heard about the game, but the reviews promised a survival game, and I got hooked when I’ve learned they didn’t just mean slaughtering endless waves of mutated animals and raiders. In fact, when playing the game, you’ll more often find yourself frantically trying to run away from a famished dog than tryingto take it down. Because fights mean wounds and wounds in post-apocalyptic world can kill you faster than you can say “young adult dystopia”.
The graphic in NEO Scavenger is quite simple, and kept in grays and neutral shades, lending to the survival mood, but once you familiarize yourself with the little icons and symbols on the screen, it’s not only clear and straightforward, but also has its postapocalyptic appeal. The interface is friendly enough, though sometimes switching between the windows and options can be frustrating. But let’s start from the beginning: your character.
It’s creation is very limited, you don’t get to pick your looks or name, and gender is set to male to match the story within the game, but it’s not an RPG and the interaction with NPCs is limited and somewhat impersonal. Also the graphic itself leaves a lot to your imagination. What you do get to pick are skills, and believe me you’re going to think a lot on what to pick. Survival, medicine, knowledge of plants or maybe of mechanics? Will your character be resistant to the sickness or have tracking skills? With the meager amount of points to spent (and none to come later as your character does not level up!) you might find yourself wondering if you can survive with myopia or other disadvantages that would give you a few extra points to buy that one more precious skill…
But let’s be honest, no matter of what you pick, you’ll probably die quickly anyway. That is, until you learn the basic rules of survival in the harsh world the game throws you into.
I’ve mentioned the wounds before, but you can as easily die from hunger or thirst, freeze to death without proper clothes or suffer from unknown sickness when in desperation you’ve drank that marsh water to survive. And I haven’t even exhausted the list of possible death causes! The game definitely does not go easy on you.
If you ever thought the post-apocalypse is all about good-looking teenagers in fancy outfit fighting to their death (or survival) in elaborate arenas, mazes and what-nots, you’ll be surprised how much joy can a single plastic bag bring. And finding one left and one right shoe? It doesn’t really matter one is a boot and the other a sandal, as long as they won’t give you blisters while you walk. The most exciting day in game? No it wasn’t when I found a rifle (it had only few bullets anyway). It was when I found a backpack. And a pot to cook my water, so I stopped being sick.
The game has very little story to it, and even though you get to investigate why you woke up from your cryo sleep and who you are, the main focus is on the survival aspects. You’ll travel through the world, carrying your meager belongings through the destroyed cities and the wilderness, while scavenging for any goods left behind and desperately avoiding any encounters with people, animals and mutants. And be careful, if you’re not a herbalist, this handful of berries you’ve ate on the brink of starvation might be your last one.
The strength of the NEO Scavenger lies in showing very vividly what the life in a post-apocalyptic world would look like, and how hard it would be for an average person to survive. The several scripted encounters bring you difficult choices and many times your game might end just because you decided to be heroic… or compassionate. It sets quite a grim mood, and even if you reach the city, it’s not getting any better: you can’t really stay there, so you just come in when you have enough money to eat something else than mushrooms and fried squirrels or have the doctors check on your health. I still remember the amount of scavenged junk I had to trade to get enough money for the eyes enhancement. But feeling a bit safer at night was definitely worth it!
All in all NEO Scavenger brings a lot fun, especially if you want to get the feel of dark and grim post-apocalyptic world. With its little story it lets you to weave your own, and even though the graphic is simple, along with the in-game description it does feed your imagination. You die quite often before you get the hang of the basics, but the game is quite addictive and I often found myself just wandering through the ruined cities in search of little treasures: antibiotics, a smartphone with a charged battery or a pack of crackers. And while I did, ideas for stories crossed my mind.
- Story: Low
- Immersion: High
- Inspiration: Medium
- Relaxation factor: Medium
- Procrastination risk: High
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.