It's difficult to figure out where to start on NEOTOKYO, so I'll say this right up front: NEOTOKYO is--in my humble opinion--one of the single greatest achievements in videogames, and a true masterpiece right up there with the likes of Catacomb 3-D, Wasteland, Pathologic, etc. Now, I've been playing videogames 40 hours a week for the past decade and a half, so at the risk of hubris I'd say I'm well qualified to make such a claim. The hard part is substantiating it.
So why is that? In short, NEOTOKYO is a wonderful marriage of art and craft: it combines the disparate elements of Japanese cyberpunk with high-impact tactical shooters and does so with such flair and polish that I've never once seen before. Consequentially, it maintains a duality between its inspirations and must be judged on both the quality of the gameplay, and the world that it inhabits. You'll often hear the term "Ghost in the Shell meets Counter-Strike" bandied about, and while such a phrase is no doubt accurate I think it sells the game short.
As a game, NEOTOKYO has many superficial similarities to Counter-Strike: it's a round-based, objective-oriented FPS without respawns and a heavy emphasis on teamwork wherein the player picks their loadout at the beginning of each round. That may sound like derivative-going-on-copyright-infringement, but just as there's more than one way to skin a cat there's more than one way to make a high-lethality team game. Unlike Counter-Strike and its clones where terrorists must plant and defend a bomb, the goal in NEOTOKYO is to recover a neutral item 'ghost' from the center of the map and escort it to the enemy spawn. This is further complicated by the fact that the 'ghost' will provide what's effectively wallhack to whoever has it equipped, at the cost of being unable to defend themselves and lit up on the enemy HUD. The effect is profound. Where Counter-Strike is strategic zone control in a very simple, small scale environment; NEOTOKYO is about successfully navigating a very large labyrinth and either escaping with the ghost or eradicating the enemy team before they can. The maps are suitably large and full of various nooks and crannies, which makes the CS style of covering all approaches and knowing exactly where the enemy is coming from impossible. Instead, it's about keeping close to your teammates, keeping alert and either outmaneuvering or ambushing your foes prey
. Situational awareness is the name of the game, and you must at all times be aware of every angle while being careful not to expose yourself to enemy fire. It's tense and immersive in a way that is difficult to put into words, but suffice to say I have no doubt that the games' best players are the sort that can catch flies with chopsticks.
But that's not all; there's also a class system. I won't get into the specifics, but here's the broad strokes: there are 3 classes, a light ('recon'), medium ('assault'), and heavy ('support'). Light classes move faster but have less HP/armor, and vice versa. Each class also has a vision mode (NVGs, motion-tracking, thermal), and the ability to cloak or otherwise conceal themselves. Lighter classes cloak for longer, vice versa. Each vision-mode makes tracking your foe easier when they're cloaked, uncloaked, moving, hiding, etc. but weak against the inverse. Thermal can't see cloaked people, night-vision can't see anyone in bright light, and motion-tracking should be self-explanatory. It's all very simple in the abstract, but when you put it into practice in real nuanced environments everything becomes infinitely more complex. It's a lot to take in, and that's only vision! Movement affects timings and map access, and max health (of course) tempers your aggression. Can't go in guns blazing when a stiff breeze is enough to put you in the ground, right? And this all works within the context of your team, necessitating you change your class and loadout whenever possible to maximize your and your team's effectiveness. There's an old tagline from the original Counter-Strike which I think fits better for this game than any other: "Your role affects your team's success. Your team's success affects your role."
So I've talked a lot about to everything leading up to the gunfights, but what about the gunfights themselves? Since I've used Counter-Strike as a reference so far, I'll continue the trend here. The shooting is suitably visceral, the guns have real punch, and you can see some pretty high octane ultra-violence on occasion. The single greatest change is the precision. Weapon accuracy has been uniformly reduced from the genre standard laser beam precision, and recoil is a simple random spread that increases with fire. There's no 1-AKs from across the map or recoil patterns to memorize here, there's so much focus on everything leading up the shot that shooting is almost an afterthought. It however, is by no means simplistic and you'll find it easily up to par with the various Call of Battlefield fare that's the current norm. The spray does introduce an element of randomness into firefights, and while death is never cheap, the imprecision will no doubt be frustrating to the sort of people with <100ms reflexes that railgun in Quake Pro duels. Everyone else won't notice after the first 10 min. Finally, instead of the complex economy and money system, loadouts are based on a simple ranking system. After scoring a certain number of points, the next tier is unlocked. It's not earth-shattering, but the choice of primary weapon is a significant consideration. So that's the gameplay, what of the art
As for the world the gameplay inhabits...it's like nothing else. Not since Mirror's Edge have I seen such a pretty game. The world is fully-realized, the art style is powerful and unique, and I've yet to find a single asset that hasn't been made from scratch. The dev team says that the game was in production for 4 years, and it absolutely shows. This is the kind of quality that can only be seen from a team with the passion to work a second job for free, just for the love of creation. The world is so believable, so incredibly atmospheric just because of this dedication! It's abundantly clear the devs took the time to sit down and think through everything about the world: the logistics, function, architecture, style. It's not just convincing, it feels truly real! The devs say that the game was heavily inspired by the likes of Ghost in the Shell and Akira, and it certainly shows! But more than that, the world isn't just a tribute to the works of their inspirations, but different and its own. It's a world that can exist in tandem with Shirou's and Otomo's, but is neither a pale shadow of nor dependent on theirs.
If you want to see the love put into this product, this absolutely free retail-quality product, just listen to the OST
. Only once before have I heard a soundtrack that complements the game so well (Morrowind). In the end, I can count on two hands the number of truly great tactical shooters I've played. I can count on one hand the number of truly beautiful games I've played. I cannot think of another truly great game in such a picturesque setting. And that's why NEOTOKYO isn't just "Ghost in the Shell meets Counter-Strike". From there most games would stop, but that's only where NEOTOKYO starts.