It’s not a stretch to say I’m a big fan of the cyberpunk genre. It’s also not a stretch to say I get irrationally excited when a new title tries to expand or enhance the genre. And it’s a dead certainty that when somebody fails do so, I’m not a happy camper. So you can imagine how thoroughly unhappy I was after reaching a point of “yup, I’m done” with Neon Blight.
Produced by indie dev studio Bleeding Tapes, Neon Blight puts you in the shoes of a former cop turned gun store owner in an undercity ghetto of the future. Ostensibly, you’re looking for payback against the crime boss who ruined your respectable career while making a new career in the black market retail sector. You take your flying car out to explore the areas outside of town, cap enemies in a semi-bullet hell roguelike fashion, steal any loot they happen to drop, and sell it off in your shop. Sounds like a nifty sort of premise. The only problem here is that the delivery is nothing like that.
Visually, Neon Blight goes for a lo-fi 8-bit sort of aesthetic. Character animations are fairly smooth, though sprites do tend to get hung up on invisible corners in the environment here and there. The map areas are distinctive enough to fit with the theme you’ve been told the larger sector encompasses, though very little of it actually feels like it fits a cyberpunk setting. Bullets are color coded so you can differentiate what you’re sending downrange and what’s incoming, but outside of that, there’s not an overwhelming degree of special effects. Overall, the visuals just don’t grab you like they should.
On the audio front, “disappointing” is a massive understatement. While enemy grunts and death sounds feel appropriate for the lo-fi aesthetic, the lack of musical enhancement is a serious black mark. The only consistent area I could hear music was going into the club in the hub area, and it was not anything particularly special even in terms of club music. If the visuals failed to hold your attention, the audio barely thought to make an appearance.
But the greatest sin within Neon Blight falls within the gameplay, and the seemingly endless array of bugs riddling it. I’m willing to be patient to a point if I have a decent amount of documentation to remind me from time to time what the hell I’m doing and how I have to do it. Neon Blight does not provide that documentation. It does not outline the intricacies of how to manage your inventory. It does not tell you things like “use the mouse wheel to change your active item.” It assumes you’ve played the game already and thus must know how things work. From a design standpoint, it’s pretty poor.
And that’s just before the bugs come into play. Program freezes are annoyingly common, especially when you shut down the store for the day because you’re out of inventory. Another relates to traversing the map, where going through a transition warps you to a completely different area of the map. When you try to leave that area, it refuses to let you do so, trapping you at the next transition point. Or, in other cases, it will not let you enter a map section unless you approach it from a certain direction/transition point. Combine that with items that literally have code identifiers as placeholders for descriptions, and items that don’t exactly seem to work as advertised, and you’ve got a recipe for deep frustration even before you crank in the gameplay loop.
The loop in Neon Blight is pretty simple: go out, shoot enemies, loot, move to next sub-section. When it works, it’s decent. But the initial climb for improving the shop, going after the first boss, and the myriad details which are not explained just make for an experience which feels artificially conservative. The lack of tutorial interactions with the other NPCs in the hub compounds this, since you have the feeling you should be doing something in those locations, or at least introducing yourself to the neighbors. And the scarcity of drops makes a bad situation worse. You might get some coins, you might get a weapon, but more often than not you get nothing. Worse still, the lack of information regarding replenishing ammo stocks for weapons outside of your standard (but serviceable) starting pistol makes for further frustration. All of that makes for a steep and unsatisfying attempt to make a viable business, much less a reputation.
If given another six months of development, Neon Blight could theoretically be a functional game. But there’s no telling how long it would take for it to be enjoyable. The tissue-thin narrative, overwhelming bugs, lack of engaging audio, and ridiculously locked down progression loop all add up to a painful slog that no gamer should have to suffer.