Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Neotokyo: Review

Most mod teams these days want everyone to know about an upcoming release; they advertise updates and pictures of models and maps on a nearly daily basis. Meanwhile a few mods seem to keep quiet for months or even years before releasing a handful of screenshots to satiate the wanting masses. This can work both for and against a mod. On one hand you end up creating a high level of excitement for when the mod releases, but on the other hand if the mod does not deliver the creators may end having an angry mob on their hands.

Neotokyo began as a mod for the Unreal 2 Engine. It was built quickly so the team could enter it into the Make Something Unreal Contest. While this early version did receive a small fan following, and you can even see some of the ideas that made it into this newest version, the team decided to go back to the drawing board for the then new Source Engine. So, after over five years of teasing does Studio Radi-8’s masterpiece Neotokyo live up to the hype they’ve built?

For starters, Neotokyo is one of the most polished mods I have ever played. Some mods that began development at the same time that have since been released could stand to have this level of work done on it. I know a lot of care was given to this mod, and countless hours of testing were done, and it shows. The maps are truly a sight to behold, and give the perfect sense of Sci-fi and Anime that the developers were obviously influenced by. Taking place mostly in dojos and cityscapes it’s hard not to get immersed in the game, which is something most modders take for granted when it comes to multi-player.

As for the gameplay itself, it would be easy for an outsider to simply push this off as Counter-strike in the future. While the game is team based, the goal and the balancing are really what make the difference. The current game mode called “capture the ghost” is One-Flag CTF with a twist. The “ghost”, a robotic torso that spawns randomly on the map, can be seen by both teams at all times. When the opposing team picks it up, the beacon for the ghost turns red. Meanwhile the player who picks up the ghost can now see beacons that represent the players of the opposing team and their distance from the player holding the ghost.

At the beginning of each round you choose your class; Recon, Support, or Assault. Recon is a quick class with low armor, Support is slow with high armor, and Assault fits nicely in the middle. The guns in the game are mostly of the automatic variety, and yet the non-automatic guns tend to make their presence known by delivering a powerful punch to your opponent. The better you play the better guns you unlock. Assault and Recon have a Predator like invisible camouflage; also each class has a special vision mode, and grenades that are actually useful.

The game has a strong focus on team work, and for good reason. While you may at first have the urge to run around and be a hero, the guns do enough damage that you’ll soon learn that it is unwise to stand up to more than two people at a time. The game also launched with tons of servers up; probably the most for a non-Steamworks released mod I’ve ever seen, so you’ll never have to be looking for a game. While the balance of the game is nearly flawless, I do feel that the Support class is a bit overpowered, and running into a team made up mostly of them is almost certainly a death warrant. Since you unlock guns by score, it does make it hard to just jump into the middle of an ongoing game when everyone else has better guns than you. Also, with all the time put into the balance and the general look of the game, you would expect the same quality in the animation department. After one uses their knife for the first time you will see that animation is one part of the mod that could use further polish. But once you’re complaining about the quality of the animation you’re soon to realize that you’re probably nit-picking.

Neotokyo accomplishes what it set out to do, and is a great if not essential mod for owners of Half-life 2. With rumors of it coming to Steamworks, new game modes, and 10 maps known to be in testing it’s looking like this game will only get better over the years.