2012 had been a brilliant year for games. Not only the enormous, expensive, shiny games, but for the smaller, gutsier games too. Chris had a bit of a roll in the hay with just one of these games and tells us right here what he likes about it. Just try not to catch cholera.
A lot of great things, and video games are no different, leave space for something other than themselves. You could call it activity, or imagination – it’s hard to pinpoint – but, essentially, great things say: “We’ve done our part. Over to you.”
NEO Scavenger, produced by Daniel Fedor of BioWare fame, does exactly that. Released through his company, Blue Bottle Games, NEO Scavenger is a simple-looking, turn-based survival game that asks players to put their own spin on the minimal narrative the game provides.
You choose four basic skills (‘melee’, ‘medic’, ‘botany’, ‘hiding’, ‘tough’, to name a few) as well as any weaknesses – you could make your survivor ‘feeble’, for example in order to gain an extra skill, and have five. Then, quite at your own leisure if you like, you wander a large hex grid, scavenging for food and water, and warding off bandits – and sometimes worse.
NEO Scavenger doesn’t need to go further than that, really. Sometimes you start a game and, because of the random generation of the map, find that you’re soon starving. Other times, you might reach some of the game’s non-randomised points.
You really can be the scavenger you want to be. There are better looking games than NEO Scavenger, for sure; and there are better games, too. But what makes it one of the best games I’ve played this year is that it’s so free, and so easy to dip in and out of.
For months, in fact, when it first came out, I played it at work, in my browser. Sometimes I’d last 10 minutes while I (in the game) died of a disease picked up from bad water; other times I ranged the map for hours. And all at a time when I could just switch tabs and look at pointless spreadsheets and seem like I was working, if I wanted.
But for me, I love NEO Scavenger because it lets me pour something in: it asks me to narrate. I can tell you several stories of my time on the NEO Scavenger map, and what was going through my scavenger’s head during each play; I could tell you why he was feeble and not tough, or why he had myopia and couldn’t see very far but, usefully, knew how to lock-pick.
It’s a game that really does ask for something from you. And if you don’t believe me, just see how easy it was for Jake to tell a story about one of his plays. NEO Scavenger might not be the flashiest of games, but it has something else: freedom.