NeonXSZ(pronounced Neon Excesses) is a strange title to find nowadays. More than a decade ago, however – it would have come off as a Descent sequel or spin-off. Exactly 2 decades ago, the first Descent game was developed by Parallax Software released by Interplay Entertainment in Europe in 1994. It was the first of it’s kind – a unique first person shooter with 6 degrees of freedom control (6DoF). Doubtless, Descent had set a benchmark for games of its genre and style, and to date, not many had successfully emulated its success.
Brutal And Demanding
Where traditional FPS games requires the player to only operate on two axes; horizontal and vertical strafing, Descent and NeonXSZ demands the player to take control of an additional axis. Doubtless, the controls are difficult to learn, and even harder to master. NeonXSZ is not meant to be an easy game, and my first few moments of venturing into the battlespace was more frustrating than I’d care to admit. I often found myself upside-down, bumping into walls and friendly ships, and occasionally thoroughly lost.
Make It Yours
The depth of customization offered is dizzying to say the least. Not only are players allowed to customise their weapons, gadgets, loadout and ships, but also what the game looks like. There are multiple graphical styles that can be switched at ease without restarting the game, or going back to the main menu. It is incredibly helpful for players that suffer from any variants of colour vision deficiency.
There is a lot of learning to be done in this game. A lot of exploration of the game mechanics is required to fully grasp an understanding, making me wish for a Wiki page to be available. The game encourages the player to develop his own play style; whether it is to create a hulking battleship with turrets that spawn smaller battle drones or a small, fast spaceship that electrocutes enemies upon impact.
The Open World
You start off as a lowly ship with tier 1 technology, scouring the virtual world and beating down your enemies to salvage their parts, you slowly rise in your ranks. Your enemies also drop various items of loot that enable you to upgrade a myriad of components on your ship. Though the docking stations are slightly indiscernible from each other, you’d find your way once you get used to it.
If you don’t feel like hunting down enemies in the open world, then there are Challenge Arenas available where you can pit your skills against these mini-dungeons. Although the events are said to be scripted, they seem to differ from one to another, and is often very rewarding upon completion.
The game touts a mind-bending 100+ hours of single player content. While it might seem to be an exaggeration, it offers replayability that would doubtlessly invite its players to challenge the game again with different play styles and higher difficulty levels.
As the NeonXSZ attempts to capture the magic of Descent, as well as adapting various aspects of Quake, it is only right that we revisit its predecessor.
The Sequel That Never Came
Descent had garnered a strong cult following due to its special features, consequently releasing multiple expansion packages for its titles and directly spawning two sequels, namely Descent II and Descent 3. Unfortunately, the franchise’s popularity diminishes during the recent years along with the death of its Parallax Software. Parallax Software was split into in two (Outrage Entertainment and Volition) in 1996, where Outrage Entertainment continued to produce Descent 3. It was acquired by THQ in 2002 and worked on Red Faction II before closing in 2004. Plans for Descent 4 were cancelled by Interplay Entertainment, and the dreams for another sequel slowly drifted away.
NeonXSZ isn’t alone in the journey to reinvigorate the 6DoF genre. Some examples of recently released games which allow independent control of all three movement axes and all three rotational axes, include Shattered Horizon and Retrovirus.
Though relatively well-made, both of these games suffer from a scarce playerbase for multiplayer. Its single player statistics are not faring well either, perhaps suggesting that the 6DoF genre is not for the current generation of players. Some would even claim that blinded nostalgia is all that’s left of the 6DoF genre.
Similar statements were made towards Telltale’s games when it first released. The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us are stellar examples of reimagined genres that brought point-and-click adventures back from the dead. While similar in certain aspects, the current generation of Point-and-Click games introduces an array of complex interactions between characters and various game entities – features that weren’t possible with aged technology.
The blood of Descent and Quake flows in the veins of NeonXSZ, but in its current form, it isunable to enamour anyone. From the webpage, we learn that the game’s solo developer, Paul F, “is utterly determined to not only make the game a success but to create the best 6DoF twitch shooter available.”
An Unfortunate Truth
Albeit pulsing with potential, NeonXSZ requires further polishing in several aspects to keep up with current tastes.
While NeonXSZ have brought minor surprises, it is not enough to warrant success. It’s complex customization functions and narrative progress are obscured so that players have to delve deep into the game to learn it. While veterans of the 6DoF genre are likely to be able to master the game, it is likely that newcomers would be disenchanted due to sheer frustration.
NeonXSZ is expected to arrive on Steam in Fall 2014. It is currently available as Early Access for $19.99.