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NEO Scavenger is the debut effort from Blue Bottle Games, which is headed by (and perhaps completely run by) Daniel Fedor, who spent seven years working for BioWare. The game is sort of a roguelike RPG, only without a lot of the trappings you normally see in RPGs, like levels, experience points, and attributes. Instead, the game's focus is on scavenging for materials in a post-apocalyptic future, and then crafting those materials into useful equipment, so you can survive in the harsh world you find yourself in, and also defend yourself from other survivors and rabid animals.
The setting for NEO Scavenger is intentionally vague. You wake up in a cryo chamber in Michigan, but you don't know who you are or how you got there. Worse, the world seems to be devastated, and you don't know how that happened, either. So equipped only with your hospital gown, your goal is to survive for long enough so you can figure out what's going on. This isn't easy, of course, and you should expect to die numerous times before you put everything together -- if you ever do.
The first thing you do in a game of NEO Scavenger is create your character. You're always male, and you're always named Philip Kindred (at least according to the wrist band you wake up with), but you get to select some abilities to make surviving a little bit easier. You get 15 points to start with, and each ability has a cost. Some of your choices include Strength (6 points), Hacking (1 point), and Lockpicking (3 points). If you find that you can't make your character work with only 15 points, then you can also select some flaws, which add to your available points. Some of these include Myopia (1 point) and Fragile (4 points).
And that's it. There aren't any classes, attributes, or spells. You're defined by your abilities and flaws. Luckily, the system works pretty well because there are far more abilities than you can select, and so you actually have to make choices. The game is also versatile in how you can win, so you're not forced to play any particular type of character. You can bludgeon everyone you come across if you want, or you can hide and avoid combat altogether, or you can try something else. There are lots of character builds to try out, although of course some work better than others.
The world in NEO Scavenger is made up of a large hexagonal grid. Some of the grid locations contain ruined or abandoned buildings that you can scavenge for supplies, and others contain forests or fields where you might be able to hunt for game or pick berries. During each turn of the game (which seems to represent about an hour of time), you're allowed to perform up to five actions. Moving from one grid location to another counts as one or two actions (depending on the terrain), and each scavenging attempt counts as an action as well.
Scavenging is interesting. When you find a building that you can scavenge, you're allowed to pick some equipment or abilities to improve your luck. For example, if you take a lighter with you, then you increase the number of things you can see, which increases your chances of finding loot and also increases your safety. But if you select the Strength ability, then you can move items out of the way and dig deeper, but while this increases your loot chance it also increases your chance of getting injured.
If your scavenging is successful, then you gain access to a collection of items on the ground. These items can include things like plastic bags (which can function as a backpack if you're desperate, giving you more inventory space), clothing (to keep you warm and protected), weapons (so you can defend yourself), and electronics (which usually sell for a good price). Your inventory space and carrying capacity are limited, so you can't take everything you find; you have to be selective and choose the most useful or valuable items. Later, you might come across a "vehicle" (like a shopping cart or a sled, not a Highwayman) so you can take more items with you.
Sometimes the materials you scavenge can fit together to form new items. For example, if you find a branch, a knife, and some string, then you can craft a spear. If you combine a campfire, a pot, and some water, then you produce sterilized water, which is usually safe to drink. If you combine a tarp, a large branch, and some string, then you create a shelter, which makes it more comfortable when you camp in the wilderness. You don't quite get to become MacGyver in the game, but there are all sorts of recipes, and it takes a while to figure them out. Helping you out in this regard, you can sometimes find recipes while you're scavenging, but these recipes often need some decoding, like when they mention a "flexible non-food object" and you have to translate what that means.
While you're exploring, you sometimes run into other people or wild animals, and this often leads to combat. When the combat interface pops up, you're shown who your opponent is and how far away he is (assuming you can see him). Then you're given lots of options for how to handle the situation. During each turn you can try to talk to the other person and end things peacefully, you can advance on your opponent to close the distance, you can retreat or flee to try and get away, or you can attack if your opponent is in range. Depending on your abilities, you might have extra attack options available. For example, Tough characters can headbutt, while Melee characters can trip. Most battles are to the death, although sometimes enemies leave you unconscious and just rob your supplies.
Whether from combat or scavenging, it's easy to get wounded in the game. Wounds range from simple cuts and bruises to crippled arms and legs to concussions and internal bleeding. Any time you receive wounds, you have to be careful and wrap cuts with clean rags and possibly take painkillers. If you're negligent, then your wounds might become infected and lead to sepsis and death. You can also die from drinking contaminated water, or from starvation, or from hypothermia, or from a "dogman" eating you. Instead of NEO Scavenger, the game could have been called A Million Ways to Die in Apocalyptic Michigan (from the creators of Ted).
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