Here’s an exercise for you: imagine your favourite open-world RPG, but absolutely everything has been stripped out apart from the background characters. Perhaps you’re now thinking of The Witcher III, but with no enemies and no named NPCs: just Villager 1, 2 and 3. Or maybe it’s Cyberpunk 2077, but with only the junkies and homeless people as scenery. There’s some inconsequential nattering and maybe even the odd codex entry, but that’s it. 

This is, by and large, the premise of NeonLore. It’s got all the hallmarks of a bigger, deeper RPG, but instead of splashing out on some combat, crafting, quests or branching dialogue, the only thing you can do is walk around and chat with the extras. 

neonlore review 1

It isn’t exactly a concept that we’d pop onto Bobby Kotick’s desk. Money isn’t going to start pouring into Playstige Interactive’s offices any time soon. And while there’s some amusement to be found in wandering around dead levels, chatting to incredibly forthcoming characters, it doesn’t amount to much. 

In many ways, NeonLore feels more like an art demo than a game. And what an art demo it is. For a game on this budget, it’s a pretty darn good showcase for the talents of those who worked on it. At times it can feel like you’re wandering the streets of Observer or Cyberpunk 2077, such is the quality of the atmospherics, lighting and modeling. The characters milling about aren’t quite up to the same level – they’re mostly mannequins in a shop window – but the city of NeonLore is rather splendid. 

The levels aren’t exactly empty, either. Drug dens and genetics labs are incredibly detailed, strewn with stuff, and we found ourselves checking out the furniture and machines like we were scanning Good Housekeeping magazine. There’s so much care painstakingly etched into the environments of NeonLore, that we couldn’t help but hope that Bloober Team or CD Projekt Red would snap them up for their next game. 

There is a game here, but it isn’t much of one. The world is sliced up into five areas, and most of those areas are Blade Runner-esque in their affinity for neon, rain and gloomy lighting. Scattered about are the city’s residents, and you can approach them to immediately pop up a stream of consciousness. This is the character’s intro to you, vomited out in a wall of text with no paragraph breaks, plenty of spelling errors and the odd habit of deleting the spaces between words. 

neonlore review 2

We wish the same amount of care was put into these story fragments as the artwork. Aside from being in dire need of some copy editing, they’re not all that interesting. A couple piqued the interest, including a taxi driver who regretted his choice to install a navigator AI directly into his brain, only to find his every move being narrated. But generally these are all cyberpunk 101: a businessman who lost his fortune; a model wishing for something more substantial in his life; a junkie regretting his decisions. Too often, they could be summarised in a neat two-sentence synopsis. 

These spiels often trigger an achievement (Playstige Interactive clearly have a few characters that they want you to meet over others), but they don’t require any interaction. Hear them out, and then move on. And that’s it. There are thirty or so people to find, and they’re not exactly playing peekaboo: the closest they come to being ‘hidden’ is when they’re upstairs or inside rooms, so you might miss the doors or stairs to them. 

But hold your horses! There are four terminals to be found in NeonLore, and they do offer a minigame to play, should you want to (achievement hunters should be aware that they can be skipped – you don’t need to play them at all for your filthy, unearned 1000G). One is a memory game, flipping cards to get matches. Another is a splurge of text where you’ve got to locate a smaller fragment of text within it. None of these are elaborate, and they’d probably be dismissed as too simple by Dr Kawashima, but they’re at least an attempt to bring in some gameplay. 

They also trigger some audio diaries which, we think, are read by a Siri-like AI. They’re devoid of emotion and – as a result – really hard to concentrate on. They go on for ages, and we found our minds wandering from them, as there’s no passion in their delivery. It’s like an audiobook read by Eeyore. 

neonlore review 3

And before you know it, NeonLore is over. We spent barely an hour cruising through its cyberpunk corridors and emerged with 1000G for our efforts. That will, of course, be a recommendation for some. But we can’t shake the feeling that these were empty calories.

More an art demo than game, NeonLore is a stroll through a cyberpunk showreel with the satisfaction of some achievements as you do so. There’s some scraps of gameplay and dialogue but they’re nowhere near as good. They’re mostly just waypoints to point your cursor at and walk towards. 

NeonLore can be summarised as an open-world RPG with everything stripped out except the background NPCs. It’s about as interesting as it sounds. 

You can buy NeonLore from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S

Here’s an exercise for you: imagine your favourite open-world RPG, but absolutely everything has been stripped out apart from the background characters. Perhaps you’re now thinking of The Witcher III, but with no enemies and no named NPCs: just Villager 1, 2 and 3. Or maybe it’s Cyberpunk 2077, but with only the junkies and homeless people as scenery. There’s some inconsequential nattering and maybe even the odd codex entry, but that’s it.  This is, by and large, the premise of NeonLore. It’s got all the hallmarks of a bigger, deeper RPG, but instead of splashing out on some combat,…

Pros:

  • An excellent portfolio piece for the environment artists
  • Lovely lighting and atmospherics
  • The easiest 1000G you’ll come across

Cons:

  • Snatches of writing are really poor
  • Probably could have done without the minigames
  • A sliver of entertainment, over in an hour

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Playstige Interactive
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, PS5, Switch, PS4, PS5
  • Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 20 Apr 2022
  • Launch price from - £4.99
TXH Score

2.5/5

Pros:

  • An excellent portfolio piece for the environment artists
  • Lovely lighting and atmospherics
  • The easiest 1000G you’ll come across

Cons:

  • Snatches of writing are really poor
  • Probably could have done without the minigames
  • A sliver of entertainment, over in an hour

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Playstige Interactive
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, PS5, Switch, PS4, PS5
  • Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 20 Apr 2022
  • Launch price from - £4.99

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Mace
4 months ago

Great review of the game! Thanks.