Valorant Episode 4 has kicked off, bringing with it new agent Neon who - like that famous blue hedgehog - goes fast. They're able to sprint and slide around maps at blistering speeds, which might seem at odds with the game's tactical pace, but they fit into the roster nicely. Thing is, you've got to be brave enough to get the most out of their move set, which rewards ballsy plays over careful corner turns. It's safe to say I struggled to break out of my tentative shell, but when I did? Hoo boy, what a thrill.
Neon's whole schtick is speed. Inspired by lightning, her Ultimate ability lets her shoot electricity from her fingertips. She can raise walls of static that block your vision and damage anyone who passes through them, a bit like a zappy fast lane. As for grenades, she's got an energy bolt that bounces off surfaces and leaves a concussive splash on the ground. But it's her ability to sprint and slide that separates her from the rest.
Valorant rewards co-ordination and patience. It is, for the most part, an FPS where you stalk around corridors at a snail's pace. Needless chat is a distraction. What if you don't hear the enemy's footsteps or miss an important snippet of information from an ally? You are conditioned to take things slowly, methodically. Many of the game's Agents fit this tactical mold. Sure, you've got Jett who can dash and fling herself into the sky, but hers are brief bursts of speeds best used in moderation.
That's not to say Neon's sprint shouldn't be used in the same way, it's just... inviting. You can activate it repeatedly as there's barely any cooldown period, and you don't need to buy charges from the shop. So long as you're moving forwards, a quick press of the "hoof it" button (TM) provides more than enough time to cover half a map, or in my case, attempt some cheeky flanks.
Cut to me playing with a bunch of influencers and people who are very good at this game. I'm playing Neon and it's my first match and somehow I get four kills in quick succession. My team picks up on this and I revel in having proven myself somewhat to strangers. Then one of them asks, "Did you get to use any of her abilities?", I respond with a "No" and laugh. As per my usual FPS tendencies, I relied heavily on my aim, forgetting that I had the ability to sprint or, well, zap people with my electric fingers.
Over time, though, I forced myself out of my comfort zone. Soon I was sprinting out of the gates, gathering info in a flash. I transformed into a scoop machine. Whoosh "one left pyramid". Another time I committed a cardinal sin and left my team to defend the bomb on their lonesome. In one sprint, I flanked around the enemy, got an elimination, died, and yelled incomprehensible words. Whoosh "aahhhffjgjgh". Not helpful in the slightest, but it was exhilarating, to say the least.
Right click when you're sprinting and you'll perform a quick slide. Perfect for whipping round corners and taking your opponents by surprise, or simply ducking under crosshairs for a split-second to get your shot in first. You can't, however, spam this willy nilly. At the start of a match, you're granted two charges, and the only way to get these back once you've used them up is to secure two kills. I can see top players charging and sliding around maps, getting kills, and refilling their tanks in the process. Play fast and you’ll be rewarded with “fast juice”. Aggression begets aggression, so to speak.
And maintaining momentum is key to playing Neon. You’re a disruptive force that doesn't so much as set the pace, but break it. You get this power trip being faster than everyone else. Enemies inch around corners; you slide around them. Enemies trot over to a site; you sprint to it.
While Neon’s concussive grenade is great for flinging into a site and forcing people off positions, it’s her static wall that compliments her speediness. Less so because it damages folks who pass through it, but more because it creates this channel for her to sprint down, and in and out of. I used it as another way to obscure vision and gain information for my team, like a lengthy cloak I could rip on and off.
If the enemy has a good Neon on their team, then you’ll fear the cloak. In fact, you’ll likely feel quite fidgety. I certainly was. You can’t settle into a rhythm if they’ve got a player that speeds around corners and slides and zaps you. That’s not to say she’s overly fast, as I reckon Riot have struck a nice balance here. To get the most out of her pace, you'll need to carefully match it, and manage it. Fail to do so and speed quickly deteriorates into recklessness, which means she’s an Agent that takes practice to get right. Something I’ll need plenty of, I think.