Hopefully, you know what a massively multiplayer online game is by now. It's one of those games that lets you create a single character for yourself, send that character into an online world, develop him or her by gaining skills and experience, and meet other players. But for the most part, many online RPGs are all about time--if you spend enough time with the game, your character is bound to get better. But what about a massively multiplayer game that involves actual player skill? That's what Reakktor Media's upcoming game Neocron intends to do. This intriguing sci-fi game will give you plenty of ways to develop your character, but it will replace the sometimes repetitive fights you usually have to sit through in other online RPGs with the action of a fast-paced first-person shooter.
So is Neocron just another Quake or Unreal Tournament? No--the game takes place in a fully fleshed-out, persistent sci-fi world. The game is set in and around the huge, futuristic metropolis of Neocron, one of Earth's last surviving cities in a dystopian future in which the human race has nearly drained the world dry of its resources and dumped so much toxic waste into the ecosystem that most of the planet simply can't support human life. Though human technology has advanced to the point that its survivors can augment themselves with powerful implants to increase their skills and abilities, these discoveries came at a price. The outskirts of the world's few surviving cities are inhabited by fearsome mutant creatures--the failures of technological experiments--and outdated guard robots that were judged to be inferior by the new breed of human security.
Neocron itself is perhaps an even more menacing than the wasteland. The angular, efficiently designed buildings of the city are lit with friendly-seeming neon signs, but they're patrolled by copbots and highly trained city guardsmen who have no qualms at all about gunning down unruly citizens. These guards are in the employ of the City Admin, one of the most powerful of the game's 12 political factions, all of which tend to be at odds with one another on matters of civic policy, illegal activity, and open conflict on the streets. Though some of Neocron's districts, like the posh Viarosso financial district, are "safe" areas in which no one is allowed to draw a weapon, the city also has less-reputable areas, like the run-down, graffiti-covered streets of Pepper Park, where players can draw their weapons and go at it in real-time player vs. player fights that resemble first-person shooter deathmatches.
But there's more to fighting in Neocron than just pointing and shooting. Though the game lets you carry various weapons in your inventory and switch to them using your number keys like a standard first-person shooter, you'll be armed only with the weapons and ammunition you've been able to buy, beg, borrow, or steal. At the beginning of the game, you won't have much, but you'll eventually be able to increase your skill with handling weapons and acquire powerful items like assault rifles, rocket launchers, and flamethrowers, to name a few. You won't be limited to guns, either, since all Neocron characters will have four ability scores (passive, aggressive, exotic, and resist) that pertain to psi powers, which are skills that let you perform spectacular feats of magic with your character's force of will. Neocron will let you play as one of four major character classes--the tank, the private eye, the spy, and the psi-monk--though each of these four classes will have different specializations, like soldier, bodyguard, and mercenary.
The City That Never Sleeps
A typical day in the life of a Neocron citizen can be as busy or as idle as you wish. As a new player, you'll begin your career in Neocron in your own apartment, a safe house that's equipped with a comm station. Comm stations, which can also be found on the streets of Neocron, essentially act as in-game personal computers that will let you pick up missions to perform for rewards, contact other players using e-mail, and even post messages on an in-game message board. You can also use storage receptacles throughout the city to store up to 40 items, including weapons, ammo, armor, and cashcubes--hard cash that your characters withdraw from their bank accounts to trade to other players for whatever they happen to be selling. Neocron will have a full set of player trade skills that will let players build, repair, and upgrade their own weapons and armor, and the quality of your gear will be even more important in Neocron than in other games, since you may need it to defend yourself from a trigger-happy player.
If you're spoiling for a fight, you can challenge other players to a battle in the streets of the city, but you'll want to take careful note of your faction standing and your opponent's faction standing, lest you unwittingly make a powerful enemy. You can also visit the city's virtual "NeoFrag" center, which acts a sort of sparring room that lets you fight in practice rounds against other players, without having to worry about your faction standing. And, of course, if you'd prefer to join up with other players for an old-fashioned bug hunt, you can exit the city walls to fight against the game's powerful menagerie of monsters. You'll need to make sure you're armed and armored well, and that you're carrying enough ammunition, but you'll also be able to jump into one of four different vehicles, including hoverbikes and massive assault tanks. Fighting won't just be important to gain experience and loot--different factions can also seize control of key areas like outposts and factories to increase their holdings and upset rival factions.
If you're not in the mood to fight, Neocron will still give you plenty of opportunities to interact with other characters and with the world. There will always be demand for good implants, which players can place into their characters' bodies to increase their weapon and psi skills, so if you wish, you'll be able to craft items and sell them to the highest bidder. You can take whatever money you have and use it to buy weapons and armor for your character, but you can also spend it on other things, like different kinds of ornamental clothing for your character or StockX, Neocron's virtual stock exchange. Since each of the game's 12 major factions has its own common stock, shrewd players will be able to use comm stations to play the market by trading in shares of the most powerful factions' stock. You'll be able to trade stock, share investment tips, and general chat using Neocron's multiple chat channels, which will let you send messages to your entire area, your adventuring group, or a select number of friends. You can also grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant with your friends, or hang out in some of the seedier sections of town, like the red-light district (which was originally going to feature topless strippers, until Reakktor wisely opted to cover them up).
Whatever else you might say about Neocron, it's definitely trying to do something different. Its first-person, action-oriented combat seems to be a good change of pace from the sometimes repetitious back-and-forth fighting found in most other online RPGs. Neocron has already gone retail in Germany, and it will be out later this year in the US.