Neotokyo is a multiplayer total conversion modification for Half-Life 2. An FPS set in a future dystopian Tokyo, it focuses on clandestine battles between two political factions known as the Jinrai and the NSF. Back-story to the mod is relatively barebones – in fact, none is presented to the player inside the mod itself, and is not really required to enjoy it.
Initially, the most striking thing about the mod is its presentation. Its depiction of a cyberpunk Tokyo takes cues from anime like Ghost in the Shell and Akira – technology is advanced and present everywhere, from the electronic billboards on the sides of skyscrapers to the cyborgs that you play as. The arenas that your battles take place in range from shadowy underground military bases to city-centre rooftops to remote Japanese villas, providing plenty of visual variety whilst also giving the player a rounded, consistent view of the Neotokyo universe. These areas also integrate nicely with the mod’s fiction, the battles taking place in isolated or temporarily vacant areas on the fringes of society; for instance, one map consists of a top-storey office block late at night, high above the bustling traffic of the city below.
Although graphically speaking not the most impressive game out there, Neotokyo has a very consistent and lavishly detailed aesthetic design – maps are replete with unique and intricate props and textures. What it lacks in motion blur or tessellation it more than makes up for in beautifully imagined environments. Some features seem to resemble elements of Metal Gear Solid 2 or Zone of the Enders in their presentation – somewhat blocky but with very detailed and defined textures. Many of the maps are blooming with colour; some bathed in the orange wash of the evening sun, others in the deep blues and bright whites/ghostly greens of computer monitors and indoor lighting. Few games are able to match the aesthetic of Neotokyo – by turns colourful and vibrant, moody and sterile. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air when compared to the duller palettes of its FPS stable mates.
Gameplay-wise, Neotokyo plays similarly to Counter-Strike: weapons are contemporary and powerful, new weapons are unlocked based on performance, you have one life per round, matches are round-based and health is non-regenerating. The central objective of each match is a capture-the-flag variant, in that both teams are fighting to retrieve the Ghost, a feminine robot torso placed at a certain point on the map. There is, however, a stronger emphasis on teamwork in Neotokyo, thanks to one mechanic in particular – whilst holding the Ghost, a player can see every enemy position within 45 meters on their HUD, but they also lose all offensive capability. In addition, they themselves become highlighted on every enemy HUD as a large pulsing circle. As a result, the Ghost-carrier must rely on his teammates for protection, while they in turn rely on him to call out enemy positions. I have yet to play a game that equals Neotokyo’s ability to provide such consistent and frequent teamwork as a result – although perhaps part of this comes down to the mentality of an audience interested enough in gaming to play mods. Regardless, few games can match the sensation of fighting your way tooth-and-nail out of a manufacturing plant as part of a small squad dependent on one another.
Neotokyo also introduces a number of smaller mechanics which further alter the flow of gameplay. There is a selection of three classes to choose from: Recon, Assault and Support, each with their own level of mobility and defence (Recon being the fastest and most frail, Support being the slowest but hardiest, and Assault occupying a middle ground between the two). In addition, each class has their own unique explosive weapon (ranging from det packs to smoke grenades) and specific alternate vision mode (such as night vision or thermal vision). Classes also have different weapon loadouts, although there is some overlap between these. Generally speaking, heavier classes have access to stronger weapons than their faster counterparts, at least initially. This differentiation between classes helps to establish clearly defined roles for the player to occupy – for example, the Recon class is best suited to swift ambushes, quickly damaging an enemy with a spray of SMG fire or a craftily hidden det pack before bounding away to safety. Despite these differences in class, the mod is remarkably well-balanced.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the standard tactical FPS formula is the ability to turn invisible for a short period of time. Battles have the potential to become tense stalking matches as enemies change position whilst under the cloak of invisibility, each adversary attempting to get the drop on the other. This speeds up the flow of a match, as players dash about while invisible, and also helps to lend weaker classes like the Recon a more aggressive edge, as they have access to greater periods of invisibility. However, there is a slight counter-emphasis placed on caution through the use of two subtle mechanics – the ability to lean around corners, and a sort of semi iron-sight feature. Leaning encourages players to conceal as much of their body as possible during a fire fight, whilst the zoomed aim feature affords players a much greater degree of accuracy than shots fired from the hip. However, it takes about half a second to engage, and movement is slowed dramatically whilst zoomed in. As a result, firefights take the form of measured and deliberate positional-based battles, punctuated by bursts of risky invisible movement as opponents manoeuvre in the hopes of outflanking one another.
Although not actually present in the mod itself, some mention deserves to be made of the instrumental soundtrack composed for the mod by Ed Harrison. Featuring 27 individual tracks, it truly is a pity that it couldn’t have been incorporated in some form into the game – the music is incredibly atmospheric and meshes perfectly with the world envisioned by the game, ranging in style from haunting ambient tracks to jazzy electronica.
Unfortunately, development on the mod has all but ceased, and the community has dwindled to a small, tightly-knit group of players that set up matches at certain times of day through a Steam community group called Active Neotokyo Players. If you have any interest at all in trying out Neotokyo, join this group before trying to find a game – the mod is literally dead throughout most of the day. It’s a crying shame that a mod with such engaging teamplay and such a richly realised universe has been left behind and forgotten by the wider gaming community. Despite this, at the very least, I implore you to look at some videos of Neotokyo in action – its setting and gameplay are quite unlike anything else in gaming today.
EDIT: There is hope for Neotokyo’s revival! The project is currently on Greenlight on Steam, so be sure to go over and drop a vote for it (although apparently the developers have the ability to stick it up on Steam regardless of any Greenlight success). There is also news of another patch to be released soon, which will fix some bugs and add some new gameplay features, such as improved iron-sights. Good news indeed!
Here’s a deftly shot video that showcases some of the locations in-game: