NEO Scavenger is the fourth installment in The Matrix franchise. As everyone who saw these films is aware Neo aka “The One” is really Jesus, which is subtly hinted at on a couple of brief occasions throughout the trilogy. Naturally, this means he comes back from the dead three days after the ending of Matrix Revolutions. In this Smith free world the matrix has rebooted itself, and the citizens are no longer in need of his stylish black coat, sunglasses, and super slow motion gravity defying kung fu fight scenes. The horrific machines that terrorized Zion for so long are no longer a threat, and Neo, the once celebrated messiah, has been forgotten after three short days and finds himself with no purpose. He is reduced to scavenging through refuse, dumpster diving in hope he can find items he can sell or barter for food and other essentials, subsisting in the short term off of discarded pizza boxes which are incidentally an often overlooked source of cheese. Scavenging through the trash, he hopes to eventually find something will net him a lot of money, which is important because money can be exchanged for goods and services. Wait a minute, this has nothing to do with the game I am supposed to be writing about. NEO Scavenger has nothing to do with The Matrix, even though the title did make me think of that nonsense which could possibly be the premise for the worst sequel ever. The actual premise for this game is that you wake up in some sort of abandoned research facility at some undisclosed date in the future. You have absolutely no idea where you are or what happened, but when you do finally leave the facility you can tell that some cataclysmic event has essentially ended civilization as we know it and you are left to try to survive in this harsh new world, try being the operative word as none of my attempts at this game lasted too long.
One time I got into a fist fight with someone who punched me in the chest. This resulted in broken ribs and internal bleeding. Knowing I was in trouble I retreated only to die one turn later from the aforementioned internal bleeding. Another attempt, which was actually starting to shape in a very successful effort, was ended when a feral dog chased me from my campsite to the forest where I succumbed to hypothermia. NEO Scavenger is a survival game that is a text heavy point and click adventure. The rather primitive presentation of this game does make for the best first impression, but after several attempts at playing it becomes apparent that this game does have a lot more to it than you would think at first glance. Character creation involves selecting what abilities you would like, such as botany knowledge, physical strength, medical knowledge, or computer skills to name just a few. You can also select flaws such as myopia or insomnia to give you more points to spends on abilities but these flaws obviously come with their own disadvantages. The abilities you choose do have a dramatic effect on how the story progresses, opening up different options in various situations. Botany for example allows you to use your knowledge of plants when you scavenge in grassy fields and forests increasing the likelihood you find something useful, and hacking can allow you to uncover some story information from computers that you would otherwise not be able to find out. After you escape from the lab, you travel on the world map moving from one hexagon to the next uncovering the map piece by piece. The map and encounters seem to be randomly generated as you scavenge through abandoned office buildings and homes along with more natural settings. One time I was lucky enough to find a sleeping bag which made resting safer as it protected against hypothermia. When you are wandering the wasteland you are never safe, searching for items to stay alive can attract attention from unfriendly people and wild animals, or someone can come across you while you are trying to sleep.
Combat is interesting in that there is very little actual fighting in these encounters. The first several turns of an encounter there is too much distance in between you and whatever you are up against to do anything directly, so you can use this time to advance towards them, retreat, or attempt to communicate with them, either to threaten and intimate or engage in a peaceful conversation. Sneaking away or plotting a sneak attack is possible as well, provided you remain undetected. When I did finally get to fighting the fight was usually pretty short, and more often than not I did not fair well. This game does have a lot of good ideas going for it. The setting of the game makes me think the programmers were inspired by other franchises such as The Walking Dead or Fallout, but wanted to create a desolate setting similar to them in atmosphere except that is realistic with no zombies or super mutants. Each character I made was a unique experience with their different skills effecting my available choices and the randomized nature of events in the world. Initially you know nothing about the story, and the game does a great job of gradually revealing pieces of what happened as you progress. Unfortunately, this game is almost too realistic in its attempts to simulate trying to survive on your own in a post apocalyptic wasteland. Certain things we have to pay attention to in order to stay alive and healthy in real life, such as drinking water, staying warm, and getting enough sleep are generally ignored in most games. This is one where these are constant concerns, and if you aren’t lucky enough to find things like food, water, clothes and camping equipment, you will likely die without any intervention from hostile people or animals. I had enough interest in the story to want to learn about what happened and I enjoyed playing with the different possible character creation combinations, but the very realistic survival challenges and fights make this game extremely challenging and frustrating, especially if you do not have a high threshold for punishment. There is great potential here, and the game is enjoyable but unfortunately instead of playing to fully learn about happened you will likely end up playing simply to see how many hours you will survive exploring a violent world with only a hospital gown protecting you.