Have you played… NEO Scavenger?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

There are lots of things I love about NEO Scavenger [official site]. I love how, despite its lo-fi visuals, it conveys the fickle fortunes and indifferent cruelty of a wilderness better than many technologically superior survival games. I love its ridiculously detailed combat system that lets you rugby-tackle feral dogs. I love the ambient sound effects that convey the misleading serenity of its natural environments; the chirping of birds, the wind in the trees, the soft crunch of grass underfoot. Delightful.

But the thing I love most about NEO Scavenger is its inventory. I’d argue that NEO Scavenger has the best inventory system ever devised. It’s a grid-based inventory like those you see in System Shock or Deus Ex. But that grid expands and contracts depending on the types of storage items you’re carrying. Wearing a rucksack, for example, will make the grid bigger, while pushing a shopping trolley in front of you will make the grid much bigger.

Not only that, but the depth to which NEO Scavenger thinks about how an individual in a survival situation might store objects is astonishing. It simulates the pockets of every item of clothing you can pick up, from jeans to jackets and even shirts. Meanwhile, what may seem like a useless pile of rubbish could contain a balled-up plastic bag which, if equipped, unfurls to expand your inventory as long as you can function with one hand. You can even place very small objects, stones, pills, certain foodstuffs, inside discarded plastic bottles.

NEO Scavenger’s inventory system makes managing your equipment enjoyable and intuitive, and is the standout mechanic in a game that applies this kind of detailed thinking to nearly every facet of its design.

24 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I remember trying the mobile version and bouncing right off of it. Lousy controls. It’s a surprise to see lousy controls in a mobile port, I know.

    Is the PC version better?

    • Bongo_clive says:

      Cracking game. No idea what the mobile is like, but this is well worth a visit.

      The first game I’ve really debated about exploring an area, whether the risks outweigh the reward, as I was shivering, was only wearing one shoe, but needed the shelter.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Off the top of my head, I seem to remember that port only really being intended for tablets and the like, rather than small phones. Could be wrong though.

      As for the PC version, that’s the only one I’ve played, and I’ve always been very content with the controls. A couple places where you need to experiment a little to figure out how to do something, but nothing that outright PREVENTS you from doing something you want to do.

  2. Dewal says:

    A thing I loved about this game are the layers.

    You will spent 10 hours and 30 different characters to just understand the game enough to survive… and then, when you finally get to the city you find out that there actually is a story and now you get missions. And you must carry out your missions while still trying to survive itss incredibly harsh world.

    I didn’t spent more than 15hours in it in the end, and started cheating at some point in saving my game-files and reloading them (it’supposed to be a permadeath-game) to be able to even try the first mission I was talking about and never finished it…

    But I still had a very good time with it. (And the encounters and/or fights are amazing)

  3. LearningToSmile says:

    I read the devblog a long time ago, and while his ideas were interesting, I remember being worried for the developer gambling his livelihood on something this ugly looking.

    But apparently most people aren’t as shallow as me and the game became a relatively successful endeavor.

  4. jeremyalexander says:

    Terrible game. There is a difference between overcoming challenges and getting lucky on dice rolls. It has hypothermia, but you can’t build a shelter, even in one of the hundreds of homes you come across. It has opponents, but you can’t use the terrain around you to interact with them in any meaningful way like climbing a tree, or setting an ambush. It has gear to kit you out with that disintegrates at an alarming rate. Plastic bags that will be on this Earth for millennia somehow fall apart in minutes of gameplay. I’ve no idea who this game would appeal to. It has a survival sim with the harsh environment, but few ways to overcome it outside of luck, it’s too hard for a casual player, and too random with too few choices for someone that loves these types of games. How this had any popularity is beyond me. Also, after a very long time as a full release, it has many bugs the creators have no intention of fixing.

    • Behrditz says:

      “You cant build a shelter” yes, you can. “It has opponents, but you can’t use the terrain around you to interact with them in any meaningful way like climbing a tree, or setting an ambush.” Yes, you can. You can use rubble in a city to both hide and attack people. You can even set an ambush if you want.

      Yes, a plastic bag will last forever just sitting in a pile. But once you start carrying random junk in it and climbing around through bushes and building ruins, that flimsy thing is gonna tear right open. Its not “too random,” you just have no idea what you are doing.

    • Jay Load says:

      Yeah…have you ever actually used a plastic carrier bag? What you’ve described pretty much describes reality: you’re lucky if they survive from shop to house, even if you’re using a car! They certainly aren’t meant for hiking trips, lol.

    • Esin12 says:

      Hmm… Seems like somebody tried to play this for about an hour and got frustrated and ragequit. To echo the above comment, you can in fact build shelters and the combat does in fact react to your environment. The game is super harsh and not everybody’s jam. But don’t shit on it because you didn’t take the time to fully understand its complex mechanisms.

  5. Sin Vega says:

    I looked forward to this and was very disappointed. It felt way too arbitrary (you took the necklace off? ha ha, fuck you, dead, start again. Of course we don’t tell you, Rick Dangerous), and the turn based structure felt uncomfortable next to the day/night cycle. A shame really as it obviously does some clever and interesting things, but it’s Just Not For Me. Bloody roguelikes.

  6. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Just playing this again last week. It does some things very well – your vulnerability where combat is usually a bad idea and lingering injuries can result in death, the sense of trepidation, the great inventory system, but others rather poorly – the horribly clumsy UI, repetitive interactions with the same limited number of environments. I’d love to see a expanded remake with a good UI.

  7. TychoCelchuuu says:

    I played this for a while but eventually the difficulty kicked my ass enough and I left it behind without ever really getting deep into the story or anything. I’m generally not that great at roguelikes so it’s not really the game’s fault, and I had a ton of fun during the time I spent with it. It would be nice if it had a baby mode for dopes like me, but I have no other complaints.

    • DeadlyAccurate says:

      This was me. I played about 12 hours, but eventually the constant death and restarting got to me, and I gave up on it.

    • Premium User Badge

      zapatapon says:

      Same thing for me. I sank a significant number of hours into that game and barely made a dent into it. I gave up frustrated that I apparently did not manage to learn anything: I still haven’t figured out how to reliably avoid packs of dogs who regularly track me down and tear me into pieces. My best runs have been due exclusively to finding good gear by dumb luck in the first rounds. Plus, the fights really take too long, and last time I played there still were game-breaking bugs. I believe there is a great game underneath this, I just can’t reach it.

  8. tour86rocker says:

    I had something weird happen to me with inventory degredation that I can’t quite remember. Something like, I took damage and was still in good health but no longer capable of wearing pants or something unrealistic like that. I wish I could remember what it was, it made no sense at the time.

  9. Randy_Butternubs says:

    It is brutally difficult at first and a lot of people probably don’t get past that. Through trial and error you discover what kills you and what you need to do to survive and if you keep at it long enough to learn you can become very powerful. I remember one playthrough I had where NPCs would flee from me on sight and I would chase every one of them down and kill and eat them. Eventually died of some incurable disease IIRC. You live (or not) and learn.

    I think the main barrier to entry is that you can do a few things in the first few turns (*cough* wolfskin coat) that vastly increase your odds but they aren’t obvious at all. You have to stumble across them through luck rather than learn through observation (or look up tips on the internet but that would really ruin the game).

  10. noodlecake says:

    There’s a story?

    I have gotten to the city and been fairly well equipped, but I enjoy the combat so much that I always end up getting killed by attacking everything. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do that if you want to get anywhere but it’s too much fun.

    Never found a use for phones or laptops or anything that seems interesting. Mostly just stab things and people with a pointy stick.

    • Dirk says:

      Phones and laptops can carry valuable information. Of course getting at it is not always so easy as locked devices have to be hacked first. Some files are worth thousands of dollars.

  11. thither says:

    I played this for a while and then at one point wound up getting really far into some of the missions, more by blind luck than skill. It took me so long to get to that point that I didn’t quite have the heart to pick it back up again when a random event killed me. I dunno, it’s the kind of game I like a lot, and I’m really into other difficult roguelikes (FTL and Out There), but this one just seemed way too RNG based, even for a roguelike.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Angstsmurf says:

    I have and I liked it almost too much. Still looking for something similar, still getting disappointed with all survival games I try. The Long Dark Story Mode has a lot to learn from this.

    Semi-spoilerish: Once I realized that this game drops you naked into one of the more dangerous areas and that a good strategy is to just run as far as you can on the first day, it got almost too easy.

  13. Prios says:

    Oh, boy. This game.
    There’s games with unrelentingly bleak, hopeless settings, and there’s games with gleefully punishing, maliciously sadistic deaths, and then there’s NEO Scavenger.

    I played for 20 hours altogether–there’s a lot of stuff that’s fun to try to figure out, and engaging and refreshingly unique elements–but finally gave up and ragequit after getting instasnuffed by a suddenly-deadly poltergeist.

    (Semi-spoiler: As best I can remember, I rolled my eyes and said “what’s this thing going to kill me with, melodrama?” And that’s pretty much literally what ended up happening.)

  14. Dirk says:

    “Player received Night Vision Upgrade to their Artificial Eye Replacement.”

    I DID ask for this! Was definitely worth selling everything I had for. What a game.

  15. April March says:

    A brilliant game. It imagines the apocalypse as a kind of massive wealth gap that turns the 99% into hobos, and spins an incredible game from there. Even the combat is the most ‘two hobos duking it out’ thing I’ve ever seen. There’s no glory and no triumph, there’s only surviving and being glad you found a bottle of soda.

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