Repetition in games hasn’t always been en vogue, but the modern renaissance of roguelikes has led gamers to accept or even embrace this concept. Neon Chrome, a new cyberpunk shooter from 10tons, takes this idea of repetition to the extreme.
In Neon Chrome, you fill the shoes of a hacker who has the ability to take control of “assets” — mercenaries with various classes, special abilities, weapons, and special attacks. Each time you jack into the system, you’ll choose one of three of these assets to use as you take on the challenges that await in the game’s glowing halls. Your goal is to climb your way up a few dozen floors of a massive Neon Corp skyscraper and eventually reach the top, where a mysterious entity known as the Overseer is waiting.
Each approach will include a procedural set of corridors, obstacles, robots, and human thugs waiting to impede your progress. As you traverse the megastructure’s floors, you’ll find weapons, upgrade stations, and oodles of loot boxes. These helpful items allow you to augment your asset for any given run, and they’re peppered throughout the levels often enough that you can easily adjust your strategy on the fly as you ascend the massive building.
Your primary method of taking down your enemies in Neon Chrome is sheer firepower in the form of various shotguns, assault rifles, SMGs, and other firearms. Each class of gun attempts to portray its own strengths and weaknesses in the form of fire rate, spread, and accuracy, but in the end I found assault rifles to be the clear winner for clearing out foes.
There are also quite a few secondary weapons to discover and use, but these too felt lopsided in terms of efficacy. Mini-rockets are the very first special weapon you’re given when you start the game, and I found them to be my preferred choice even after unlocking a dozen other options. The inconsistency in the upgrades forced my hand to pick certain options over others, which ultimately led to a lack of real choice in how to approach the game. And as I’ll explain later, this isn’t where the problem ends.
The first time you take on the challenge of reaching the top floor and taking down the Overseer, you will most certainly die. Don’t sweat it. Neon Chrome operates on a persistent upgrade system that essentially starts you off hurling yourself at enemies and dying instantly. But each foe you kill and each chest you open along the way offers credits that you’ll use to permanently upgrade various stats like HP, damage, and ability slots for future runs. So each attempt you make not only improves your knowledge and finesse, but your character’s capabilities, too.
Getting through even one iteration of Neon Chrome isn’t easy, and you’ll likely bang your head against it time and time again just to earn enough currency to upgrade your abilities to the point where you can actually make it to the end. And as with other games in this genre, there’s a fair bit of luck involved in getting a good run. But your biggest obstacle in making it to the top floor is time. Thanks to all the upgrades littered in your path, I found it nearly impossible to complete a run without starting at the very beginning, which means committing at least an hour to making your way to the final confrontation.
The significant time spent climbing floor by floor would be forgiven if the moment-to-moment gameplay stayed interesting, but there’s no flair to the action in Neon Chrome. You aim your crosshairs in the right direction and then fire, and that’s really all there is to it. The upgrades and guns you pick up along the way don’t offer very much in terms of tactical options, and the game leans too heavily on kiting the same five or six enemy types around a floor, picking them off one by one. But don’t take too long on any particular floor, or you’ll suddenly be met with a timer counting down to another wave of enemy troops arriving to ruin your day.
Among all the minor annoyances in Neon Chrome, this reinforcement system is my greatest frustration, and a symptom of a larger problem. Its difficult nature, long-term progression, and slow but steady upgrade path encourage you to play it safe, taking a measured and methodical approach to each floor you encounter, but then punishes you for that very same approach. It’s a schizophrenic design decision that suggests the game doesn’t actually know what it wants to be.
The presentation of Neon Chrome certainly doesn’t help the feeling of repetition or smooth out the rough edges. There’s not much variety in the game’s visual style, and once you’ve seen a few rooms, you’ve seen them all. Unless there are some well-hidden secrets in this world, I feel like I saw and heard nearly everything the game had to offer, and committing to improving my character over time meant sitting through that same content time and time again.
In the end, Neon Chrome is a game that begs you to keep coming back, but the lack of variety in combat scenarios and your options for responding to them leaves those repeated attempts feeling rote and mechanical. And once you fight through that repetition, the only reward is the opportunity to face the same challenges over and over again.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
The long tail of Neon Chrome's progression system is too much to ask for its plain and repetitive combat. It's a carrot on a stick that doesn't offer enough joy or spectacle along the way.