We RPGamers are an opinionated bunch, and we've all undoubtedly, at one time or another, expressed our thoughts on what "they" should do to make the next killer RPG. For those of us who have thought that an RPG with first-person shooter combat would be neat, "they" (in this case, Reakktor) have granted our wish. Neocron is a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG that takes place in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting, and it features the attitude and guns that go with it.
After the "incident" that left Earth a horrid ruin, only three cities remain, the biggest of which is Neocron. The city is populated by criminals and schemers trying to make the best of the world's dwindling resources. The vicious CopBots oversee the peace in the city, but outside anything goes. The surrounding wastelands are where gamers will meet mutants, dinosaurs, and other monsters, and where they'll do most of their serious fighting. Players who prefer to kill one another can do it in a holomatch, where dying does not entail loss of abilities or time. The world of Neocron sounds small right now, but Reakktor promises to keep expanding it. As it is, there are 250 maps currently in the game.
The developers also pride themselves on having designed a game that is considerably different from the majority of MMORPGs. Earth and Beyond provides gamers a taste of the futuristic life, but Neocron has a special cyberpunk feel to it. In fact, much of the press of the game boasts that rough language is "encouraged" over phrases like "Pardon me, m'lady." Of course, rough language is very much a step up from player to player conversation in everyday MMORPG gameplay, but one may assume Neocron's non-player characters have an impressive cyber-punk vocabulary. More important to the theme is the combat style, namely behind-the-barrel view (or third person view, if you insist) blasting à la Doom. For this purpose, the game provides a nice array of guns, which players can compliment with their own creations. This new gameplay angle is surely geared to attracting action fans to the game and genre, but those who are used to the line-'em-up-and-shoot online death matches of Quake or Unreal Tournament are in for a nasty surprise. Building levels is still a necessity, and Neocron makes it an important part of the experience. Besides plain combat, players must hone lesser skills that have some importance to their avatar's class. To these ears, that sounds a bit like the system in The Elder Scrolls III.
Classes? I guess they still need them even in the 28th century. The big, strong, weapon users are called Tank Warriors, and they have the highest strength. PSI Monks are the most adept at using the game's "magic" (must be something in that radioactive air,) and Spies are the stealthy thieves who can also hack into computers. However, the choice is clear for players who feel the need to express their inner Mike Hammer. Private Eyes are jacks-of-all-trades who are best suited for solo play - the others are more for specialized roles within clans. Reakktor encourages clans, and there are several built-in ways to communicate with fellow members. A sense of independance will still exist though, as each player gets their own apartment in the city.
Actually, "every man for himself" is very much a part of certain areas of the game, and player killing will probably be rampant. The patrols of NPC robotic law-enforcement will put a quick stop to any violence wherever they are, and something called the Soul Light serves as a reputation system.
Speaking of lights, this game has some impressive lighting effects, as well as some nice weather effects. The rest of the game's graphics, though definitely PC-next generation quality, are less impressive when stacked up against some of the Xbox's first-person shooters.
As it stands now, Neocron will probably prove to be a very interesting experience with its marriage of role-playing and FPS elements, along with some other snazzy features (did I mention the vehicles? The tanks and motorcycles? No?) and will thus find itself a very loyal fanbase when it comes to North America on the twelfth of November. The game area seems to be a bit small and uniform, but hopefully that will change with the promised expansions. Undoubtedly though, the city of Neocron will be to MMORPGs what the city of Darwin, Minnesota is to giant balls of twine.