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.