|a game by||reakktor.com|
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As much as some quarters persist in evangelising massively multiplayer as the future of PC gaming, many of us will not be enticed by such lifeconsuming endeavours until several developments take place. 'Hie first, obviously, is for the form to break into new generic pastures, away from the predictable and hirsute worlds of fantasy - and more recendy, space trading - in which it is presently mired. Another is the introduction of the kind of cutting-edge graphical standards that we are accustomed to seeing every day in bouts of first-person action and engine revving. Both Anarchy Online and Sony's forthcoming MMOFPS Planetside promise to make advances in this direction, but potentially even more exciting is Reakktor Media's futuristic Virtual city1 project, Neocron. Blending elements of FPS and RPG and boasting a state-of-the-art 3D engine, Neocron could be the kind of online environment to finally tempt a clean-shaven demographic away from their real-life jobs and loved ones.
One look at the post-apocalyptic metropolis of Neocron and it becomes clear that the developers have taken no chances with the look of their world, and there is no avoiding the horribly predictable comparisons. Hovercars, animated billboards, incessant rain and Rick Deckard namechecks illustrate just how blatant the borrowing from that sci-fi benchmark truly is. However, while disappointingly derivative in its generic influences, Neocrort appears set to create a convincing virtual environment that is at once familiar and incredibly appealing. This is helped in no small part by the lovely graphics engine, capable of handling all the dynamic lighting effects and high-poly environments of current-generation FPSs.
Played entirely in the first- person and set in and around a totalitarian super-city, Neocron allows you the choice of four starter classes: Tank, Private Eye, Spy, and Psi-Monk. From these starting points you are free to choose your path in the game, be it an ordinary law-abiding existence as an unassuming citizen, or the pursuit of any number of dangerous professions. As a bounty hunter, hacker, thief or merchant, you can cheat and kill your way up through the social ranks, provided you are not caught and killed by the patrolling Copbots. A Black & White-style system of good and evil also operates - the more people you kill the darker your SoulLight becomes, eventually leading to eviction from your cosy city apartment and exile to the non-moderated areas of Pepper Park or the monster-strewn Outzone. Only by killing those more evil than yourself or by donating funds to charity can you regain SoulLight and re-enter civilised society.
The RPG elements of the game will be lighter and less intrusive dian in other online RPGs, but it's still possible to play the game as a pure RPG if desired - training your character, completing quests, solving puzzles and so on. Currently in the early stages of beta testing, Neocron already looks brilliant, and has the potential to take the genre to new heights. Perhaps massively multiplayer is the future after all.
While recent entries into the online role-playing genre have innovated in terms of interface and design (most notably Anarchy Online), developer Reakktor are attempting to rewrite the RPG rulebook with Neocron, a cyberpunk MMORPG set in one of Earth's last remaining cities in the year 2750. Think Blade Runner meets Judge Dread with a dash of The Matrix. At the time of writing, Neoavn is on Beta 2 with Beta 3 imminent, and is already displaying, not only a rich and darkly absorbing setting, but also some innovative ways of approaching the whole concept of character development and combat. While the choice of class is currently limited - you can only play a psi monk (technowizard), spy (hacker), private eye (jack-of-all-trades) or tank (fighter) at the moment, hopefully there will be more choices upon release - you can customise your character to a huge extent in the game. For example, the psi monk casts psi spells but if you allocate experience points in the correct areas you can make your psi monk more than capable of handling a serious weapon too.
Ultimately, what you'll get out of Neocron will be down to how you choose to play the game. You might be driven by the desire to try and level up your character as much as possible, spend your time collecting together as much loot as you can stuff into the Matrix-style jacket pockets or strive to get the most challenging missions from your chosen faction. In particular the Neocron deals with levelling is entirely different to anything you will have seen before. Reakktor have thrown the traditional method of levelling up out of the window, and instead installed a system whereby your character gains not only levels but also skill points. There are five basic attributes: strength, constitution, dexterity, psi power and intelligence. Each of these will be linked to certain sub-skills, such as the transport skill, which control the amount of stuff you can carry. The way you choose to navigate your character through the game will directly effect his or her physical and mental make-up. Use a melee weapon a lot and your strength and dexterity will increase, run around a lot and your constitution will increase. The combat system is also influenced by skills but nevertheless retains a strong element of flexibility. "However, you can make up a bit for character skills with your own reflexes," claims Jens Bremmekamp, community and game content manager for Neocron. "For instance you can run around monsters and attack them from behind, hide around a corner and take them by surprise, or just duck behind a barrel for cover. It's much more intuitive and flexible than 'normal' MMORPG combat systems." This approach to levelling also goes a long way to alleviating the obsession with levelling up in games like EverQuest and Anarchy Online, where most players play the game purely to reach the next level, at the expense of any real appreciation of the game's mechanics. In Neocron half the fun will be getting there.
Proof Of Life
Obviously, at this stage, a lot of Neocron's content has yet to be put into the game, but from what's currently on offer, there is more than enough for players to do than just killing everything that moves. Even at this stage players were making their own mark on Neocron with events - a particular favourite is the notorious fight club that takes place underneath the strip joint. Trade skills are already advanced enough for players to make items that other players are willing to buy. This is in stark contrast to Anarchy Online which, even months after its release, has still to implement important trade skills in the game. Also, while the Neocron server is sparsely populated at the moment, there is no noticeable lag whatsoever, even in crowded pans of the city. Personally I would prefer to have a game that was prom and playable, rather than one which had obscenely high detail but was rendered unplayable as a result.
That's not to say Neocron isn't visually arresting. The graphics, while not wildly impressive, are detailed, realistic and fantastically dark in atmosphere, as opposed to colourful and vibrant such as those in Anarchy Online. I make no excuses for drawing AO comparisons, as AO is obviously the closest game on the market to Neocron in terms of style and subject matter. However, it's obviously too early to decide which of the two is most w orth your money as Scocron is a work in progress and could change dramatically even with the release of Beta 3.
Death Becomes You
Dealing with death. This is a subject of much controv ersy in online RPGs. Ultima Online penalises death by reducing your standing in the game and. as such, is not much of a deal when compared with EverQuesi. This game penalises you heavily for death by taking away a set amount of experience thereby making it difficult for you to get back to where you were before the unfortunate incident occurred. Anarchy Online tackles the problem differently by taking away all the experience you gained since your last save, although it makes a slight concession to this in that you never lose a level when you die. Reakktor has gone out on a limb in this area by ensuring you lose no experience whatsoever when you die.
.Ml that happens is your statistics will be temporarily reduced, and you will have to return to where you died to get your belongings, unless you have the money to pay to get your inventory items back instantly. There are penalties for dying if you take out your law enhancer chip and risk other players looting your corpse, but if you choose to live a totally risk-free existence in Neocron, you can easily do so.
This seems something of a strange decision, since knowing there is no risk if you die takes a lot of the bite out of combat situations - players will be fighting simply to increase their skills and not for the thrill of combat that you get from other games in this genre. I iowever, if you take this path, you will be penalised severely in other ways. For example, players with their law enforcer chip intact will not gain as much experience from combat or through trade as those players who have discarded it. Additionally, in order to use certain weapons and items you need to raise your skills to a much higher level than those players who do not have the law enforcer chip. From what I've seen of the game so far, the Neocron beta community appear to be divided on which path to take.
While most players have removed their chip and taken the risk of being killed by players and losing all their belongings, there is a sizeable minority who are taking the safe approach and playing the game without risk and accepting the penalties imposed upon them as a result. Whether it's a good thing that Reakktor are giving people a choice in this aspect of the game, I think the penalties imposed on people playing safe are very severe. The experience penalty is, in itself, fair enough, but the skill point penalty makes it far too difficult to improve your skills high enough to use certain weapons and items. This is what forces many players (including myself) to remove the chip, exposing themselves to higher level players lurking in the shadows waiting to kill them in one shot and take all their inventory.
Hope Springs Eternal
With the absence of fanatical levelling and Neocron's fairly casual policy towards death, this game is likely to attract a large number of people to the online RPG genre who might otherwise have stayed away. Whether the hardcore RPG veterans will take to such a system is quite another thing altogether, but generally speaking, Reakktor seem to have got everything else just about right. There is a strong sense of community in Neocron, and players are generally helpful and chatty, plus it's possible to get your character to a reasonable degree of competence within a relatively short period of time. The only reservation I have about the game at this point is that the gameworld itself feels a little on the small side. EverQuest was huge even before any expansion discs, and while it's true that Reakktor are planning to add more content to the game before its release, my feeling is the game will need to be at least five times larger than it currently is to maintain continuous interest. Given that Neocron is currently three months from release at the time of writing, our hopes are high that Beta 3 will bring with it a huge amount of new content and new locations to explore.
As ever, we will be bringing you constant updates on the game's progress, and a full review when the servers go live.
Morons of the world unite, this game is made for you
While It's possible to play the game safely by keeping your law enforcer chip in, there are huge penalties for this, so most people take It out When you take your chip out, your name changes from green to yellow. Yellow players can kill other yellow players and steal any items they had equipped in their Quick Belt (QB). This has, of course, attracted a large number of player killers who hang round dark areas waiting to kill players who are lower than them in level and steal everything they have. I was personally killed several times by a higher level player in the Neocron sewers (hello FI3wless, you turd) even though he knew there was nothing in my QB after the first time he killed me, so he was just doing it for fun. These people are called 'grief killers' and their only reason for existence is to piss people off by repeatedly killing them when they can't fight back. All of this has resulted in constant messages in the chat channel from people saying things like 'that's it I quit' and 'I can't believe that bastard just killed me again.' Although PvP is an integral part of Neocron, one of the ways in which the game will penalise PKers is by way of the 'Soul Light' system, which is basically a reputation system that gets darker the more PKs a character gets. Indulge in too much bad behaviour and you could find yourself forced out into the Wastelands with a very large bounty on your head. But most victims of grief will probably do what I fully intend to do, and that's power level my character to a point where I can go back and kill the bastard over, and over, and over again.
Reakktor Media is not your normal games designer and Neocron is not your normal online RPG. Where Neocron differs from the rest is with its attempt to create a virtual community: the designers want you to act out a virtual existence rather than plough through levels and collect items.
Set in the distant future where most of Earth's population has mn off to warmei climes (and subsequently fallen foul of aliens), the remnants of humanity survive inside huge shielded cities with the rest of Earth having become a mass of poisoned gases and industrial slag-piles known as the Outzones.
The usual player types are replaced with Spy, Private Eye, Tank and Psi Monk and climbing levels is not simply a question of acquiring points. Instead, certain sub-skills must also be raised before you can improve. You can also buy implants to boost your skills, but the purchase of these is not straightforward or entirely legal. Within the city itself Cop-bots keep the peace from invasions from the Outzones and nefarious player activities. Player-killing is possible and local 'job-centres' will hand out both quests and bounties. It's worth remembering that killing in front of the cops is not a good idea, especially in the two safe areas'. Death results in a slight loss of experience and total loss of equipment with regeneration occurring at clone generators.
You start the game in a private un-hackable room, to which you can return at will using a PIN code, and you also have the option of storing items in the future s version of a bank. What you do with your time is entirely up to you: hunt, steal, kill, trade or hack... whatever takes your fancy. The only thing to watch out for is that your 'SoulLight' (notoriety) doesn't fall too low. If it does, the Cop-bots will hunt you down on sight, although it's possible to sneak through them. Neocron is hard to categorise but calling it a first-person role-playing game is not too far from the truth. There are no official system requirements as yet, but a 3D card is essential and Reakktor claims it will be fine on a 28.8K modem. One thing that's certain is it looks fabulous and while Reakktor will be levying a monthly fee to play, the game will be available to download free of charge.