NEUROMANCER / Interplay / PC

Neuromancer is a landmark 1984 sci-fi novel that introduced the concept of "cyberspace" to the mass consciousness and was eerily prescient in predicting the rise of the internet and tech-based globalization. The property was licensed for computer games in 1988, and while the game that Interplay ended up making with the license is very dated now and hasn't held up well over time, considering that it was originally designed for the Apple II and Commodore 64 it was actually appropriately ahead of the tech and idea curve in a lot of ways.

Of course, to appreciate what qualities it has, you have to first survive a garbled title screen and some honking internal speaker jamz. You then have to deal with an interface that isn't terribly self-explanatory, and a main character who seems to refuse to stop moving left-right until you crash him into a wall above or below him. Also, have a pen and paper ready 'cause there's a shit ton of note-taking to be done, mostly passwords.

If you can get past all that, though, you find a game that actually delivers a fairly meaty dose of the hacking experience that many gamers were looking for (but rarely ever got) from games with a cyberpunk theme. The game takes place in Chiba City, Japan, and only very loosely ties into the novel (mostly just with the presence of super-AIs Wintermute and Neuromancer.) Chiba City is pretty tiny, and there's only a couple other places you can go via spaceport (which are even tinier), so much of the game is spent in your coffin-like flophouse room jacked into the net hacking stuff to make heaps of cash and steal new and better software.

The game initially looks like a typical adventure game from the period, but the "adventure" portion is really limited due to all of the real action taking place online. Talking to people, acquiring items and giving/using items is largely handled automatically; rarely do you ever even directly click on anything to make something happen. There's no real puzzles to speak of in the real world, just bring item A to place B or talk to person C sorts of things, and I'm pretty sure there's no way to die either (other than getting busted too many times doing stuff like visiting the brothel and running out of money.) The real world is actually mostly just a refuge from cyberspace, where you can recover your stamina points in-between bouts in the virtual world.

In a way, Neuromancer is a lot more RPG than it is adventure game. The crux of the game is battling AI systems that guard the juiciest and choicest bank accounts, software, and info needed to advance the story. You get equipped for these by acquiring new skill chips and hacking software with which to attack them and defend yourself. Really, if it was a fantasy world, it would almost be like filling out a spellbook and then engaging in magical duels over and over where you have to use the right spells in sequence to win.

I don't mean to suggest the game is bad, because it isn't at all - it's actually pretty advanced for the time it was released. The simple problem is that it just hasn't aged well. The interface is a pain to deal with and while cyberspace, hacking and AI battles are neat at first, it quickly turns into a samey routine. The graphics are also rather amateurish, and sound doesn't exist except for the obnoxious title theme which sounds like an early outtake from Monkey Island. In a cyberpunk game this is pretty much unforgivable, as atmosphere is critical in the genre, and you just don't feel like you're in the game world here. The complexity of the novel has also been reduced here to pretty much simply "level up, get stronger and take down the baddie AIs."

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
* LP of the Amiga version

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