Thursday, 20 July 2017

Review - Neofeud

Futuristic dystopias seem to be a fan favorite among point & click adventure game enthusiasts.  Even if the tendency isn't evident in the mainstream, it's certainly true of developers working with the Adventure Game Studio engine. Recent years have seen the release of Gemini Rue, Primordia, Technobabylon and Shardlight -- all of them grim visions of what the future (whether near or distant) holds, but each unique in style and flavor. Neofeud, likewise, presents its own angle and tells its own story in its own voice.

You play as Karl Carbon, a lowly social worker down on his luck, just trying to make ends meet - just like most people (and non-human persons) going through his office every day: single moms, war veterans and robots just wanting humane treatment. All the while, high above the vast expanses of the urban misery, the rich and powerful live lives of unimaginable wealth and prosperity - whiling away the hours in their sky castles (literally!). But something's brewing, and it isn't long before Karl finds himself right in the middle of a grand conspiracy - one that will shake the fabric of reality itself!

As an ex-cop, Karl is no stranger to danger.  He digs deeper to get to the bottom of things, and indeed Neofeud's gameplay resembles an investigation: gathering evidence, going to some shady places, asking around, questioning witnesses, suspects, informants and local bigshots.  There's a heavy emphasis on talking, and even more listening (it's worth noting the game's fully voiced). Fortunately there's not much legwork involved: there's no tedious backtracking, most puzzles can be solved via interactions only within the area you're currently in.  The puzzles themselves tend to be on the easy, common-sense side - and I truly prefer them that way, so that they don't disturb the flow of the story itself.  The plot thickens and twists abound, and Karl wouldn't get far without the help of two most unlikely allies.  The three strangers, each coming from a completely different world, will face a challenge larger than life.

The conspiracy runs deep and is quite massive in scope. Politics meet technology, philosophy meets madness. But even beyond the intrigue itself the world of Neofeud is quite a detailed and intriguing construct, with its own history and lore. It's not a shiny future. Not for all, at least. Under the guise of cyberpunk dystopia hides the world of today, with its socio-political issues: inequality, discrimination, uneven distribution of wealth. But the game's not all about serious matters and lofty speeches. It allows itself some humor, too. While the characters do have their dramatic moments, there's plenty of grim sarcasm (mostly courtesy of Karl) and over-the-top theatricality, especially in the portrayal of the dismayed upper class. There's no shortage of odd expletives (such as "Jobbs" being the equivalend of "Gawd!"), puns and curious amalgams. Karl, for instance, drives an old Toyundai. Because the future is in no way as colorful as we'd have wished.

Though then again, it is quite vividly colorful in the literal sense. From the makeshift, provisional, use-what-you-can-find architecture of the slums, through the neon-lit gangland underworld to the obscenely green grass of the skyborne islands, the art in Neofeud follows the modern trend of saturated dystopias such as Fury Road or the movies of the modern 80's cinematic revival, soaked in red and teal lights rather than the bleakness and muted colors of The Matrix in the early 2000's.  Developer "Silver Spook" also goes against the general trend of lo-res pixel art that is prevalent in commercial AGS games. The graphics in Neofeud are part digi-painted, part collage. It's not classically beautiful, and the animations are simple and somewhat stiff -- but this style suits the scrapland where most of this grand adventure plays out.

The soundtrack -- created by Silver Spook himself -- consists of various flavors of electronica; an obvious choice, given the futuristic setting. And indeed it fits in perfectly. It's minimalistic when it needs to emphasize the dreariness of the slum world. Action sequences, in turn, are punctuated by a pounding beat -- whereas a distorted piano plano creates a watercolor-like backdrop to some of the game's most powerful moments of existential reverie. As mentioned already, the game is a full talkie. It's something that's expected of a modern game -- but the workload and the quality are actually impressive. The writing, especially in some heavily stylized parts, really profits from engaged delivery -- my favorite being Proto-J's slang and the General's southern drawl. It's also worth noting that the lead and one of the sidekicks were voiced by the creator himself -- which I didn't even realize until the credits rolled in. 

Everything about the game just oozes the love for sci-fi: the literary cyberpunk and the 80's and 90's movies. It utilizes familiar motifs and plays around with the tropes from Blade Runner, Robocop and Terminator (on a side side-note: the main character sounds a little bit like Arnold at times - and the token juvenile delinquent reminded me of young John Connor from Judgement Day). But even more interesting than the theme of the blurry line between man and machine - explored in Neofeud in many ways - is the personal aspect of the story's background. The creator writes most his characters with a tongue in cheek - especially the filthy rich. But there's one group that he treats with a great deal of earnestness. The disenfranchised. The ones living on the flipside of paradise. And that is what makes good sci-fi: a social commentary on the world today. A very personal story dressed in a cyberpunk trenchcoat.

Reviewed for Indie Game News by FiTZ.

Neofeud is available for $15.00 from

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