This relatively unknown post-apocalyptic RPG launched on PC to what felt like very little fanfare back in 2014, and while it impressed a number of genre fans with its hard-edged gameplay and immersive setting, it didn't get the recognition it probably deserved. That might have been the end of this particular turn-based story, but Neo Scavenger isn't what you might call typical. To that end, the game has now reappeared as a mobile title, free-to-play but unsavable, unless you fork out a cool £10 to unlock the full thing.
For a mobile game, that's a fair amount of money, which is part of the reason we decided to take a look. This is actually a game that we already own on PC, a game that was for reasons long forgotten neglected upon first purchase, with no attention paid beyond a cursory inspection, this before it was discarded in favour of something else equally long forgotten. It didn't make a huge first impression back then, and it didn't when we revisited it recently. However, once you've found your feet and begun to explore the flexibility offered by its various interlocking systems, a potentially deep and compelling world comes into focus.
This roguelikian post-apocalyptic adventure has you wake up in the same cryo-lab every time you start (which happens frequently, especially at first, because of a perma-death mechanic), although once you've explored your immediate surroundings the world opens out differently each and every time. As the name of the game implies, the focus is very much on scavenging your way through a hostile world as you try to piece together who you are and what's going on.
The skills you choose when you create each new character define your options, either when searching for new gear, or interacting with the wider world. Strength, toughness, and melee skills are the obvious choices, but there are other options that will open up different gameplay possibilities and even negative traits that you can inflict on yourself to get extra points to spend on other helpful abilities.
In the opening encounter with a fierce lupine creature in the cryo-lab, your various skills will impact on the way the scene plays out. Choose the hide ability, for example, and you can wait it out and emerge when the coast is clear. Choose the melee ability, on the other hand, and you'll fight with it and risk injury. Finally, choose strength and melee at the same time and you'll smash its silly wolfish face in. It's a great setup that over time will throw plenty of interesting decisions at the player, not just in battle but across a range of different scenarios.
When you bump into NPCs out in the wild, it usually descends quickly into violence. The combat here is no-nonsense and utterly brutal. It can take just one hit for your opponent to then be able to knock you down, beat you senseless, and murder you as you lay defenseless on the floor. Just like every other scenario that you encounter in the world, whether it be the various ruins you pick over in your search for appropriate shoes, or dodging any undesirables who cross your path, the combat plays out in written form. While that might sound dry, the absolute severity of the action means that the text-based delivery doesn't detract too much from each punishing blow.
We started playing the mobile game, first on our iPhone 6, but the screen was too small. The text so tiny that it was a little frustrating to play, and after a short time our eyes started to feel the strain. You can pinch the screen and zoom in a little, but this is far from ideal in such a text-heavy game. On the other hand, when played on an iPad (even a Mini / Android equivalent) the situation is much more manageable. You'll still have to zoom in from time to time, but it's not a major issue in the same way.
What isn't great when playing on any touch screen is the time it takes to check items on the ground or in your inventory (to find out what they are, or whether they're better than the stuff you already have). Pressing and holding your finger over sometimes teeny tiny icons to find out what they are can get a little frustrating, and we never found a solution that made inventory management less of a chore.
While playing on a larger screen is much better than doing so on a smaller mobile device, both versions of the game crashed on us, one time even deleting our progress (luckily we didn't have much in the way of choice loot, or there would have been salty tears). Technical hiccups and the less-than-ideal UI ensures that the best way to experience this harrowing adventure is still the PC original, which after a while we revisited, spending some quality time with it at last and finally starting to routinely survive our first meeting with another character.
With all that in mind, the score below is a blend of our impressions of both the mobile game and its PC-based predecessor. Unless you've got eyes like a hawk we can't recommend you splash the cash on the fully featured mobile version of the game if you're intending on playing it on your phone. Having said that, despite a slightly clunky UI, the iPad version is worth a look (and you can try both before you buy, and we'd certainly recommend you do that). At the end of the day, though, if the idea of surviving an interesting and dangerous world by scavenging supplies and using your wits is appealing, you should also consider going back to the PC original; it's still the best way to play the game.
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