Every once in a while, a stealth game pops up with ambitions of besting the old guard of Deus Ex, System Shock, or Thief. With alarming regularity, these games fail in almost every conceivable way. While by no means perfect, Neon Struct is the first time I’ve felt a game has come adequately close to be worth the comparison.

Developed by Minor Key Games, the team behind the utterly fantastic Eldritch, Neon Struct puts you into the shoes of spy Jillian Cleary in the colourful dystopian 80s-esque future of 2015. Using a wide variety of tools and some clever sneaking, Cleary must complete her objectives as quietly as possible to uncover the conspiracy that’s framing her for treason.

2015-05-10_00001The story is incredibly interesting and well written, touching upon themes such as the interference of government, the threat of technology and even sexism in the workplace. It manages to flawlessly juggle all these different themes, while presenting a world which can be interesting and engaging. Plus tactfully telling your boss to go fuck themselves just felt so good.

The art style is incredibly basic, and while I’m no developer I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say it’s voxel-based. The characters are all very simple polygonal models, but it just works. It adds to that faux-1980s theme the game has when put up alongside the bright neon lights and grungy cities and helps to build the fantastic settings in a way a more complex art style might not.

2015-05-10_00004Unfortunately, my experience with playing Neon Struct was a bit of a rollercoaster.

The game presents plenty of huge, sprawling levels: retrofuturistic cities, hospitals, and offices are initially an absolute delight to explore. It really gives the game a similar feeling of openness, and one of just-being-let-loose in an area, that which I got from the older Thief games.

However, after a while these locations can all feel a bit samey and repetitive. Due to the game’s limited visual style, the colourful cities can all look alike, and exploring a hospital or a hotel which have the same carpeted floors and white walls can grow tiring after the third or fourth hour.

2015-05-11_00001This is exacerbated by a lack of signposting, resulting in me getting lost and without a goal for a frustrating amount of time. Good stealth games certainly don’t hold your hand and drag you to where you need to go, but they also make sure to give you the tools to deduce it for yourself. Often your only guidance in Neon Struct are plain white signs above doors, which are incredibly easy to accidentally miss. I think some more variation in the visual styles of the different levels may have helped me pick out which bits are directly linked to objectives more easily.

The tools the game gives you allow for some cool moments. For example, I was stuck in a corner while a guard was slowly inching towards me. Closer, closer, closer; baton in hand, prepped and ready to take me down if they caught so much of a whiff of me. They were a metre away from my face when I threw a small ball over their head. It clattered on the floor and then bamf! I’d teleported to it. But then I had the small problem of the guard now charging towards where I’d landed. Fortunately, I also had a speed stim, which let me run to the far end of the room and leap out of the window to safety. These sort of item interactions happen quite a lot in Neon Struct, and I felt like a badass every time it did.

As a small aside, one of the items you receive in the game is a hacking device, which is the only time in any game ever that I’ve had fun with the minigame it presents. BioShock had Pipedream, Fallout had some strange hangman thing, Neon Struct has Breakout, and it works so well. The game doesn’t stop while hacking, and so rather than the aim being to break every block, I found myself frantically trying to clear a single column before I was caught. It works so well and makes hacking an actual delight for once, rather than something I sigh at and do begrudgingly.

2015-05-12_00002Unfortunately, these situations also highlight a key problem the game has: the AI. AI is a huge part of what makes a stealth game interesting; manipulating the enemy rather than just jumping them and taking them down was a joy in games such as Dishonored. Unfortunately, the enemies in Neon Struct often follow a predefined path, meaning once you’ve memorised their paths you can play it incredibly blasé and just waltz on through the levels. On top of that, if they hear any noise, or find an incapacitated co-worker, they have an idea that there’s something in the area and go into a state of semi-alert: you’re in trouble, but they haven’t found you yet. This results in them very slowly homing in on the player. Regardless of where I silently crept to, they would always adjust their course to be slowly inching towards me, despite them not having any confirmation that I was even there.

Neon Struct is a noble effort that has many great ideas: a well created world with a wonderful art style, fascinating gameplay (and the only game to have ever made an actually fun hacking minigame – it’s Breakout and that’s awesome), and an intriguing story to wrap it all together. It is a good game.

2015-04-15_00001Ultimately however, cracks start to appear after a few hours of playing that make it feel slightly dated, and suggests it’s not quite as deep as it initially seems. The negatives certainly don’t outweigh the positives, but I also can’t see Neon Struct standing with the greats of indie stealth such as Mark of the Ninja. Give it a go, you’ll still find a fantastic game with some great experiences… just don’t expect utter perfection.

About The Author

Former Managing Editor

Joe Parlock is an opinionated pop culture writer from the British midlands with 3 years of experience and a passion for being a general grump about games. Starting out before he could walk with a Sega Megadrive and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, his favourite genres of games includes platformers, stealth, fighting, roguelites and the budding survival sim genre. Joe also writes not only about games, but also other areas of pop culture such as film and TV.

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  • Presentation wise this actually looks really good. You guys really need people that understand how games are made (so you don’t have to say you’re not a developer) and you need to figure out how the games you review are made and give the readers that information. Tools, budget, team size, living arrangements even. This is because how things are made is a big part of these games because they are being made on a budget and by people and for people who are interested in how the tools used to make budget games are coming along.

    Even if all the games are made with Unity or something like that, it would be nice to know that, but I bet a lot of them are made in a lot more interesting ways.

    • Daniel Fox

      While I don’t disagree that knowing how indie games are made is an important part of understanding them, such information is completely ancillary to the goal of a review. Whether a game is made by one person or by a team of hundreds, its merits must stand on their own.

      What you’re looking for is a very different kind of article, basically a cross between a developer interview and a profile piece. We provide a look into this area of development in audio format on a weekly basis with our podcast. While this is essential information for aficionados who want to understand their art in layers, it is irrelevant to the ultimate experience provided by the end product.

      Just as no game can be everything at once without getting sloppy, no article can be about all aspects of a game’s existence. That’s why we provide different types of content in different places, and sometimes in different formats: so that we can deliver a full picture of the independent scene in a healthy, balanced way.

      While it’s true that our team has some development needed to fully realize that ideal, I don’t believe that this is a fault. So that’s not to say that you shouldn’t criticize our work, but that I as a person believe this particular criticism to be of dubious merit.

      Thank you for your interest. We value your feedback.

      • I don’t think I was writing in the form of a criticism. However look at it this way. A review as you describe it (a review can be of almost any aspect of something) is mostly subjective, and it’s really more about you the reviewer than the game itself. Unless you are a celebrity critic it can be almost a pointless exercise.

        So if a game can only receive one article on this website. Neon Struct (for example) gets one article, it’s just my opinion that touching on these things that you are dismissing would be a much more valuable article, that will have a much longer shelf life, and probably a much larger readership, than a review of what it was like for you to play it. If that meant having no word on playing the game that would be fine.

        Usually screenshots and a word on what it is about or how it is played is enough to help game enthusiasts form a value judgment. Your readership is going to mainly be an enthusiast audience. An article like this is mainly just telling readers, hey! This game exists! The review here is mostly ancillary to that.

        PS: If you want to write a digest form of the podcast I’d definitely give that a look. If you could take the interviews and use them as a basis to write overviews of what all is going it would probably be compelling reading. Usually articles are the thoughts of the writer after doing lots and lots of interviews. That’s so the reader doesn’t have to sit through all of the interviews, take notes, and make sense of them all.