I feel like I should do another post on NeoTokyo because my last one wasn’t really about why you should try the game but rather what it is. Here’s my best attempt at describing what the game feels like and what actually sets it apart.
A major thing about this game (and maybe all tactical shooters) is how it manages to be tense and fast-paced while also requiring careful and patient play. It’s not for the kind of people who like to run all over the place gathering kills, but rather people who try to carefully control the map to complete an objective, even if that objective is killing the other team. The reason it’s one of my favorite multiplayer shooters is because it’s built around that more strategic style of play.
Last time when I said NeoTokyo sometimes descends into team deahtmatch by nature of its lack of respawns, I really should have said that’s what happens at least half the time. The sole mode of the game is about capturing a cyber brain — called a “ghost,” but it’s really that and TDM at the same time, depending on the situation. The meta game that flows out from NeoTokyo’s unique mechanics is what does this.
Basically, each team can begin thinking about the first one or two steps of their strategy as soon as a round begins. The ghost spawns in a different place each round, inevitably putting it closer to one team than the other. More importantly, the location of the ghost (even when someone has it) and all capture points are visible to everyone from the beginning.
Say a round starts and the ghost appears to be pretty close to your team — you already know you’re going to get it first, and from there you can try to reach the capture point or defend the ghost until you’ve taken down the whole opposing team. Matches with low player counts change the game completely.
Years ago I remember playing a two-on-two match where the pace turned into something very unusual for shooters, but oddly believable for tactical combat. Basically, each round would start with each team immediately trying to find the other for a couple minutes, followed by about five seconds of gunfire before the round was over. I thought that more than anything else highlighted the rhythm of tactical combat.
What’s odd about that feeling is that NeoTokyo is supposed to be a futuristic game. You have a cloaking device and some players have motion vision, yet its combat feels more realistic than most modern military shooters. It’s definitely a unique combination.
Then you have the differences between classes. Each one has specific jobs and play styles, but they aren’t as immediately apparent as, say, Team Fortress 2’s classes. Recon players can bunny hop and run around so they usually end up with the ghost, plus it’s easier for them to reach roofs and hidden high-up locations. Support players on the other hand are better suited for camping to defend points since they can take a lot of damage, aren’t fast, and don’t have cloak.
I’ll go ahead and admit NeoTokyo definitely has a learning curve. The website has a decent tutorial for the basics and those same tutorial images appear on screen at the start of each round. Some control nuances however don’t become apparent until you either stumble into them or look at the key bindings. The meta game only really comes into view through communication with experienced players.
For a free and low-budget mod, I think NeoTokyo is a really tightly-designed and unique game. Hopefully it can find an audience the way Source mods like Day of Defeat and Zombie Panic did.