Neofeud is a Dystopic Cyberpunk adventure game in the vein of Blade Runner, but with an overlay of Game of Thrones-like political intrigue, and 1366×768, hand-painted, stylized visuals. The art, writing, programming, music, and audio are made by one person, Christian Miller, also known as Silver Spook, with the exception of 50% of the voice acting.
Neofeud begins with a prologue info dump, involving a bunch of “neofeudal” royalty talking heads discussing their technobabble-laden plans. Anyone who has played Deus Ex will be familiar with this format. This establishes the broad strokes of the narrative going forward and makes a lot more sense after you’ve finished the game. You play as Karl Carbon, an ex-cop turned peon social worker in a cyberpunk dystopia called Coastlandia City, and he’s stuck in traffic on the way to his depressing job at Sentient Services.
The characters you encounter are almost all ridiculous. A stereotypical hippy who’s also terminator robot veteran. A nano-augmented hobo with sunglasses, a trench-coat, some incoherent conspiracy theories that may or may not be true. Major Armitage, who doesn’t speak, but I can only assume that he is a passing reference to Neuromancer, the seminal work of cyberpunk. A robot kid gangster who smokes because it looks cool.
Cultural references abound, which is fairly appropriate as the narrative and setting essentially function as in a larger sense as an absurd deconstruction of modern culture. One sequence involves inputting part of the melody from the Terminator main theme, for example. This set up a clever and memorable introduction to a character. It was a highlight.
The risk with any reference-heavy/parody media is that over-reliance on amusing portmanteaus of real life brands and “wink, wink” references to pop culture can result in media in which original ideas are hard to find. It can also get tiresome and deaden the impact of material that would otherwise be more memorable. Neufeud treads that line to varying degrees of success. For my taste, it tried too hard to be clever a few too many times and some of the jokes get played out well before the end.
The overall tone of the narrative is inconsistent. For the most part, it doesn’t take itself seriously, moving from gag to gag, but when it takes a turn for their dramatic, the transition isn’t particularly smooth. Scenes jump jarringly between comically absurd and straight-faced drama. Characters who were ridiculous walking jokes a few minutes earlier are suddenly positioned as the sympathetic victims of a dramatic turn.
The larger issue with Neofeud’s potential commentary on complex philosophical and political topics is that, at many points, it practically beats you over the head with its themes. It’s not simply a matter of lacking some subtlety, either. There are multiple points in the game during which its messages are explicitly and awkwardly outlined in the middle of a lengthy exposition dump, of which there are many.
This unwillingness to let players consider these issues for themselves is made more tedious by the cartoonishly corrupt and evil villains, whose motivations seem to amount to “sociopathic greed.” These characters aren’t humanized or sympathetic at all.
The interface is archaic, though it’s hard to say how much of that is a matter of being intentionally retro. Your inventory can hold seven items per row, after which you have to click an arrow to see the next page. You can switch between four interaction modes using the top menu with Walk, Use, Talk, and Look, or cycle through in order with the right mouse button. They’re also tied to keys (the first letter of each word) scattered accross the keyboard and you can cycle through them in order with the right mouse button.
Each of these modes is distinct and can be tried on any object or character, but they don’t really have much purpose because nothing has more than 2 (usually only 1) meaningful interactions. “Walking” is functionally redundant, because both Use and Talk involve Karl walking to the NPC or object and empty spaces have no other function other than Walk anyway. Perhaps it’s a limitation of the adventure game engine they used, but it does get tiresome.
The gameplay itself consists of standard old school adventure game conventions for the most part, which means that a lot of the game’s run time is padded out with what too often amounts to trying everything in your inventory and all of the interaction modes on everything on the screen until something useful happens. This is part of the reason the UI is a persistant annoyance as “I can’t figure that out” flashes across the screen or, on occasion, your character will use a different inventory item/action than what you had selected on an adjacent object instead.
The best puzzles were those with a certain consistent logic to them. Reasoning just far enough outside of the box to be interesting, but not so far that it becomes complete trial and error.
Unfortunately, in my experience, those were not really the majority, which left me with a sense of relief more than satisfaction once I had solved them. One particularly bad example requires you to “examine” the obvious (and well guarded) entrance that you obviously would not be using in order to trigger a completely unrelated sequence that coincidentally opens the back door for you. Some of these time-wasting impasses ultimately come down to using the wrong interaction mode on the right item, which is similarly frustrating.
Art for the Eyes and Ears
It’s worth noting again that nearly all of the assets for the game were created by one person, which is an ambitious endeavor in itself.
I’m not really sure what to think about the art style. It’s clear that realism is not the goal. It’s more of a painted look, with thick, uneven strokes, somewhat odd proportions, and awkward, choppy animations, but I wouldn’t exactly call it pleasing to the eye.
It’s the kind of aesthetic that could easily be mistaken for amateurish, even if it’s completely intentional. It certainly doesn’t look like anything else I’ve played and at times the backgrounds in particular can be very impressive. Unfortunately, they are also inconsistent. This is represented well in the various screen shots of the game.
The soundtrack is consistently quite good and probably the most enjoyable aspect of the game for me, blurring the lines between ambient electronic music and background ambience. From filling out piles of TPS reports to Bladerunner-esque synth Blues, to exploring the mix-specifies, mixed income slums with the sounds of police sirens and dial-up modems, it’s varied and aesthetically pleasing.
Voice acting was the area for which Silver Spook enlisted the help of others, to some success. The voice-over is certainly varied, but not always in a good way. Recording quality sometime differs quite a bit between actors as do the quality of the performances. Attempts at different colloquial accents tended to feel stilted and obvious and some performances were very deadpan. Somewhat like the game as a whole, the voice acting is what one would expect from an inexperienced cast.
Overall, Neofeud is a unique, memorable game, if rough around the edges, that would likely appeal to fans of old school adventure games, cyberpunk, and quirky satire. It’s an ambitious first outing for a relatively inexperienced game designer. For me, its narrative didn’t live up to its potential and the gameplay could have used some more attention and creativity. By the end, it had outstayed its welcome.