Impressions: Neo Scavenger

By Adam Smith on January 17th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

It seems like only a few days since the last write-up of an RPG created by former Bioware developers. Neo Scavenger is actually the work of a single man, Dan Fedor, and it’s a less lavish production than The Banner Saga. This is a brutal game about survival in a harsh world. It’s also one of the best single player turn-based RPGs I’ve played for a long time.

Neo Scavenger has a large and generous demo. I’ll be hugely offended if you decide to go and play with that instead of reading all of these words but I’ll be sure to remind you of its existence at the end.

Unlike a reality television star, I mostly die from exposure rather than a lack of it*. Every playthrough of Neo Scavenger begins the same way – you awake, confused and afraid, in a small room within a medical facility. There’s a monster clawing at the other side of the door. Far from being a metaphorical depiction of terminal illness or the deadly price of health insurance, the monster is a bipedal canine. The claws that it is using to claw at the door also fail to be metaphors. Neo Scavenger has only just begun and already, something wants to eat you.

Your tissue-thin garment won’t protect you. It doesn’t even protect your dignity, being one of those bum-revealing tissue-thin gowns that cause me to childishly giggle at even the bleakest hospital-set dramas or apocalyptic horror-shows. Neo Scavenger explains the dire situation with a couple of paragraphs of text and a couple of images, and then it leaves you to make the first choice of many.

How will you survive?

before an encounter with bandits

That question is never far away and because the game is fastidiously turn-based, there’s plenty of time to ponder your answer in any given situation. Will you attempt to flee from the mutant with the soft, swollen cranium, or will you try to burst its bonce by lobbing a rock? Is scrounging for supplies in the ruins of a multi-storey office building a worthwhile risk or would it be better to head into the wilderness? Will eating the unidentified blue berry turn on your rear-tap until you don’t have any blood left?

It’s a cruel world but, as the first encounter elegantly demonstrates, your character isn’t entirely useless. To escape from the dog-man, you’ll use one of the skills chosen when creating your character. A hacker might reroute a security code to lock the door, for example. Skills can be used during specific encounters but they also boost abilities, such as combat, identification and scouting. Extra slots can be created by selecting detrimental traits as counterweight and if you’re a masochist of the first water, you could design a character with no positive attributes at all. A short-sighted insomniac with a metabolism that burns away the energy gained from a meal before he’s managed to swallow the last mouthful.

There’s no need for that though. Neo Scavenger’s world inflicts enough pain and suffering to please even the most zealous follower of Loricatus. Monsters aside, that hospital gown is your real enemy. If you don’t find clothes by sunset on the first day, you’ll probably freeze to death. If it rains and you don’t find (or make) shelter, you’ll probably freeze to death. As I remind myself before leaving the house every day, it’s time to find some trousers.

after an encounter with bandits

Wandering around on the world map, you’ll come across settlements but it looks like civilisation went on a massive drinking binge and fell over while you were sleeping. Everything’s in bits. The map is semi-randomised, with certain story-specific locations always located in certain regions and (I think) a degree of balance in the layout. I’ve never floundered about for too long before finding water, woods and a few buildings.

Scavenging takes time and carries a degree of risk. It’s noisy and might attract hunters, and buildings are hazardous. I’ve had characters cut themselves on a shard of glass while looting an abandoned house and never recover. Like gazelles in a herd, people in the world of Neo Scavenger must avoid any display of weakness because predators will identify the weak, pounce and feed on their remains.

Even though combat is turn- and text-based, the approach of an angry bare-foot bandit wielding a broken whiskey bottle is quite terrifying. Even more terrifying is the realisation that you are quite excited about the prospect of beating his brains out with a rock because he is wearing a hoodie and you would very much like to be the one wearing the hoodie. I killed a blind man because I wanted one of his shoes. He tried to run away when he heard me approaching but I dived at his legs and we rolled around on the floor, punching and kicking, until he choked on his own blood.

I only had a boot for my left foot, you see, and the other was bare. Turned out his shoe was for a left foot as well so it pinched a little on the right, but I was happy to keep it. And besides – I didn’t get a receipt.

That all makes Neo Scavenger sound a bit like an offline, turn-based DayZ. An Isolated Bastard Simulator that condones or congratulates terrible behaviour, but it has more in common with Fallout, Unreal World and Robinson’s Requiem.

Ending someone’s life in order to take their clothes might seem like a horrible thing to do, but while Neo Scavenger is brutal, killing isn’t cold and calculated. It’s desperate and frantic. Fights are clumsy and messy, characters falling as they try to flee, or pleading for mercy and offering to give up their possessions as a lucky blow breaks their arm. If you’re lucky enough to find a gun, many would-be assailants will back down if you raise it and threaten them.

I’m not much of a marksman myself. I once found a gun and would have happily traded it for a carrier bag. That’s the kind of odd situation that Neo Scavenger’s grim realism invites. Inventory management often involves cramming berries into pockets, water bottles into plastic bags and hoping to find a spare wheel for a broken shopping trolley so that you can reattach it using some twine and become the king of the road.

My main criticism is a lack of variety, in terms of the items that I find and the enemies that I encounter. That’s after more than ten hours of play though, which ain’t bad for a game in Early Access. The good news is that there’s more to come, in terms of creatures, items, crafting and story events. This chart gives a good oversight of the additions that are on the way and before you shriek at the idea of votes driving development, do read the disclaimer at the foot of the page.

I’ve avoided talking about the story, partly because I don’t want to spoil any surprises and also because I haven’t explored a great deal of the late(r)-game content yet. There’s a large shift following the first significant discovery, which the game hints at when the player survives a single night. However, as with all my favourite RPGs, simply exploring, surviving and experiencing the odd rhythms of the setting is a legitimate option. Indeed, my one major concern is that Neo Scavenger may become less interesting when the player discovers even a modicum of safety and shelter.

That would be a shame but it’s also kind of irrelevant. If Neo Scavenger were never updated again, I’d still revisit every once in a while. Where else can I feel the guilt of stripping the trousers from a dead man and then the delight of finding a cigarette lighter and a few twigs in the pockets? It’s a world of many mucky wonders.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack sleds on fire off the side of the road. I watched glass shards glitter in the dark near the barricaded gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like – hang on. Can I drink rain? Or tears? Time to thrive.

Play the demo immediately and consider purchasing.

*with thanks to Nick Cave

, , , , , , , .

34 Comments »

  1. boundless08 says:

    I was going crazy trying to remember the name of this game! I played the little demo after your post last March. I really enjoyed it but I’m horrendous at it!

    • X_kot says:

      Same here – the title didn’t ring any bells, but that description of the thing trying to eat you in the cryo room prompted instant recollection. That game had me hooked when I decided to risk scavenging in a derelict building and it collapsed on me.

      Your move, Bethesda! #fallout4

    • cherylruddnol says:

      This is actually the best job Ive had. I work at Home with Google. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. Moreover, My Uncle Carson got a stunning gold Porsche Cayenne Hybrid only from working part time off a pc. Official website http://ring77.com

  2. Premium User Badge golem09 says:

    Not on my radar this. I chose to scavange it.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Say, that’s a pretty nice radar you got there, stranger. What say you drop it out on the ground, now, and back away real slow, like.

      Whut?

      Well, sure, this could just be a finger I got pokin’ into my pocket, sure. Sure it could.

      *sniff*

      But do y’wanna take that chance, stranger?

  3. JFS says:

    I like that you adapted the label “Bastard Simulator”, which I first encountered in the comment section on that Rust article a few days ago.

  4. The Random One says:

    I bought this on a bundle shortly after it became available and love it. I didn’t even know it wasn’t complete, it feels so. (Or maybe I’m too rubbish to live long enough to see where it falls short.)

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Since I wondered this, I thought others might as well: If you got this in the Groupees bundle ages ago, yes, you are eligible for a Steam key. The short version is: add the game to Desura with the key on your Groupees page, “Connect” Desura to the dev’s site from the game’s page in your Desura app, log in to the dev’s site, and claim your Steam key from the Beta page.

      • jaronimoe says:

        hmm.. I connected but I can’t find the beta page…
        EDIT: nevermind, I forgot to actually connect after i registered at bluebottlegames

      • Hammerstrike says:

        Thank you!

  5. dE says:

    the monster is a bipedal canine.

    Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn’t let you into heaven for.

  6. Cooper says:

    Been waiting for this to come out of beta for ages now…

  7. Premium User Badge melnificent says:

    Bastard simulator, I can’t be the only one that thought of an ex when seeing those words.

  8. pupsikaso says:

    This all sounds a lot like Cataclysm:DDA, to be honest. Which is a good thing!

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      It plays a lot like Cata, honestly. To the point where I found myself trying to follow the same mental checklists in both games. It’s not at all wrong to think of it as a similar experience seen through a different lens.

      Less Zs though.

  9. dorn says:

    Why is it so hard to find a container? Kill the dog and turn him into a bag.

  10. dcfedor says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, guys. And you, Adam, for the shout-out! Also, that last paragraph was very clever :)

  11. pupsikaso says:

    Just played for a while and it’s not bad. Biggest problem is the combat system. I have a very hard time trying to figure out what just happened. It’s not bad when it’s 1v1, but when you engage multiple enemies it becomes very hard to parse information, such as who’s at what distance, who did what, what condition is each one in, because you have to click on arrow buttons to switch between targets instead of having all info of all targets displayed at once.

    • Krusa27 says:

      I think all this chaos in the combat system is in some way realistic. If you think about that, if you’re surrounded by ten enemies that are trying to kill you, you will have some problem figuring out information about all of them.

  12. Noburu says:

    “Will eating the unidentified blue berry turn on your rear-tap until you don’t have any blood left?”

    -You have died of dysentery.

    More games need to let you die from shitting yourself to death.

  13. frightlever says:

    A single player survival game is just what I’m after. Can’t be doing with folk and their multiplayer shenanigans.

  14. Rindan says:

    Steam really needs an alert system that tells when games are OUT of early access. Early access is great and all, but sometimes I really just want the final product, and I fear that I will forget about stuff like this and miss it when it finally comes out.

    • Shadow says:

      Your wishlist and a watchful eye are your main tools, for the moment.

  15. BooleanBob says:

    This game is fun! Couple of random thoughts: why can’t you combine tarp and a stick into a hobo-bundle? Am I missing an ingredient or skill? And secondly, is there any way to prevent people stealing your stuff when you’re sleeping? I quit my last attempt in a fit of pique after some bandit wandered into my hex during the night and made off with my lighter.

  16. BarbaraRGonzalez says:

    my roomate’s half-sister makes $78 hourly on the internet . She has been out of a job for ten months but last month her paycheck was $12406 just working on the internet for a few hours.

    see this,,,,,,,,,,,, http://x.co/3fSON

  17. callumdarke says:

    my buddy’s step-aunt makes $82/hr on the computer. She has been out of work for 10 months but last month her paycheck was $18010 just working on the computer for a few hours. read this….
    http://www.dub30.com

  18. Lionmaruu says:

    Dude! I play this game since you first told em about it two or three years ago! money well spent! I cant recommend enough!

  19. twaitsfan says:

    After playing the demo six months ago, and then playing it another forty times, I bought it. The crafting is really fun and because it’s so difficult, each sound trap that you can make with pebbles, string and tin cans can be life saving and precious. There are a lot of nuances that are tough to figure our initially (I didn’t figure out I even needed sound traps around my camp until about 30 play in…) but give the game some great depth and challenge.

    Definitely recommended.

  20. onyhow says:

    Got it from Groupees bundle back in 2012 (actually my first Groupees purchase), pretty awesome game. Combat is hellish at first but when you get a hang of it it becomes much more manageable (you can still die though, so need to be careful)

    Also, under NO circumstance should you fight multiple enemies at the same time. Even weak enemies can swarm you to death easily.

  21. james___uk says:

    Holy smokes! I was just thinking of this game earlier! I was trying to remember what that awesome game was I played ages ago, this is that! Thankyou RPS, I lov- thanks

  22. Premium User Badge Wowbagger says:

    I now blame you guys for the hours of time I’ve put into this game only to die horribly while I sleep, multiple times. It’s absolutely wonderful.