Christian Games Done Right: NEON STRUCT (David Pittman)

NEON STRUCT Header from Steam Store Page

*Sources of screenshots are listed in their respective file names.

Full Disclosure: David Pittman is both a friend, and someone I may work with professionally in the future. The various modes of coverage below contain my honest opinions regardless of these facts.

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NEON STRUCT* gameplay footage from the Video Games and the Bible YouTube channel:

Developer Interview

Christian developer David Pittman‘s previous game, Eldritch, is something of a beautiful mess. A hyper-stylized riff on H.P. Lovecraft‘s tangled lore, it throws almost every idea loosely connected to adventuring through supernatural catacombs into a randomly-generated, sandbox FPS. Somehow, this unwieldy concoction works, producing a stealthy action game that changes tone (and your subsequent approach as a player) by the second. Stretches of calm sneaking are punctuated by frenzied dashes across gaping chasms as ancient god-spawn hunt you through winding catacombs. The unintentional blasting of a floor opens into a clearing containing a small army of statues, waiting for you to look away before planting their axes in the back of your skull.

Eldritch Screenshot 1 from Steam

Eldritch juxtaposes mazes of deadly cultists and ancient abominations against creatures like this…Human-sized penguin.

I mention Eldritch (despite several potential content issues) because it showed me something valuable. That beneath NEON STRUCT‘s serious narrative and lettered grades of performance lies a blazing-fast, non-lethal stealth game with more room for exploration and slapstick hijinks packed into one level than most AAA games fit into an entire campaign.

In NEON STRUCT, you play as ex-spy on the run Jillian Cleary. Victim of a conspiracy reaching the highest levels of government and the intelligence community, you attempt to stealthily complete objectives and clear Jillian’s name in a dystopia ruled by invasive mass surveillance. Storytelling is primarily accomplished through conversations, briefings, and phone calls, though you can find concise news terminals and notes for entertaining background information.

One can’t help appreciating that Pittman doesn’t use the gravity of his subject matter to drown players in detail and exposition, or allow a grand narrative to overwhelm the gameplay itself. It’s a story well-told in a reasonably tangible world, with opportunities for action-minded players to skip straight back to the fray. Nothing more, nothing less, and a quiet example of the thoughtful efficiency to be seen throughout the game.

NEON STRUCT Screenshot 3

“ARREST ON SIGHT 
Cleary, Jillian”

A minimal HUD paying homage to the Thief series (complete with a light/visibility bar at the bottom of the screen) underpins perhaps the most enjoyable ‘pure’ stealth title I’ve ever played. Using a variety of gadgets and black-market chemical stimulants, players sneak through levels full of deadly patrols to complete objectives (some of which are optional). Your only means of permanently pacifying enemies is a non-lethal takedown from behind, making combat and the all too-easy fallback of a gun completely out of the question.

Impressively, the one type of collectible to be found (a Geocache) doesn’t serve to pad out the length of the game, but actually ties into the already established gameplay systems by providing handy distractions. Find a Geocache to retrieve a Geocache Token, throw it to distract an opponent, hack a couple of doors, and you’re on your way to the next challenge.

NEON STRUCT Screenshot 1 from Steam Store Page

An alerted robot.

I’m not sure I like using the word “levels” for the locations you pick your way through in NEON STRUCT. That term, at least to me, evokes images of linear paths and structured solutions. No, NEON STRUCT‘s stark locales are boxy, patchwork labyrinths stitched together to create a sprawling yet navigable whole. So, is the right word here “maps?” Sandboxes? Puzzles in architectural form? Whatever the name, they’re a joy to explore. Whether the paths you find lead to unexpected treasures, or simply a convenient vantage point, the constant rewarding of your natural sense of exploration and discovery screams “YES, I AM A VERY CLEVER SPY INDEED.”

Unfortunately, the game encourages deliberate, non-confrontational play by assigning a lettered grade to your performance at the end of every stage. Your rank depends on whether you were spotted or tripped any alarms, with additional categories for if you found all Geocache Tokens in a level, took down opponents, and hid the bodies of those you did neutralize. Unintentionally or not, this system ends up defining NEON STRUCT as only for people who are already fans of that style of play – quiet, considered, and requiring constant evasion. Keeping my rank in mind, my first few hours with the game were an exercise in tedium as I restarted levels over and over again to get a better score.

This was the same problem I had with the Thief games NEON STRUCT pays so much homage to, actually. For every moment I bought into the fiction and believed “Yes, I am the coolest, greatest thief who ever lived,” it felt like an invisible hand was slapping me down and telling me “Maybe you are, but you’re not doing it the right way.” NEON STRUCT‘s movement system is sublime, with Jillian climbing, leaping, and power-sliding across even the most perilous of walkways with ease. Cool devices are available at every turn, from invisibility and speed stims, to stunning “HUDSON Scramblers,” to teleporting “Displacement Orbs.” However, I didn’t use any of these abilities for fear of getting caught, or not bring prepared for a hypothetical tough spot later on.

It was only when I stopped trying to satisfy NEON STRUCT‘s arbitrary, external ranking system that I discovered a stealth experience like nothing else in gaming.

Totally worth it.

Totally worth it.

Stomping across cacophonous metal panels, I slam the door behind me to buy precious seconds, weaving between pillars to dodge hot neon gunfire. Power-sliding into a narrow hallway, I jump out the window onto a fire escape, and throw a displacement orb at the ground below. The gadget lands with a satisfying *thunk*, instantly transporting me to street level, leaving every guard in the compound staring out the window wondering where I’ve gone. Thinking the first floor is now clear enough for me to ferret out any secrets I missed earlier, I head back inside through the front door to find myself staring into the eyes of three stragglers.

Oh boy.

Using my mousewheel, I select a HUDSON Scrambler and throw it into the middle of the group, leaving my potential assailants dazed and clutching their heads. I then leisurely walk behind each one, knocking them out and throwing their bodies into a conveniently placed bathroom, before heading back on my way.

I’m not Jillian the wary ex-spy. I’m Jillian the escape artist. Jillian the explorer. Jillian the codebreaker under pressure. Jillian the fast, invisible, and deadly. Divorced from the fear of how the game might judge me later on, I’m free to use every tool and ability at my disposal, experiment incessantly, and laugh at every foolhardy misadventure. I’m finally having fun, and the thought that those who also find the grading system oppressive might quit without experiencing the full breadth of what NEON STRUCT has to offer saddens me.

NEON STRUCT Screenshot 5

Hacking in NEON STRUCT is done by essentially playing Breakout. Surprisingly, this abstraction works quite well!

Speaking of all NEON STRUCT has to offer, in between each stealth sandbox is a peaceful “hub” of sorts. This downtime is valuable, allowing you to take a quick breather before the next mission and use your abilities freely without fear of imminent death. Absorb more information about the game’s world, complete side quests, buy equipment for the next stage of your journey, and engage in healthy conversation – while you still can.

NEON STRUCT Screenshot 8

In context, this screenshot is entirely justified.

Or not. That’s cool too.

NEON STRUCT Screenshot 7

Before closing, I’d like to add a non-spoilery note about NEON STRUCT‘s ending, and how it makes a binary final choice feel meaningful.

Vinood won’t speak to me anymore.

I know he’s a fictional character, constructed from lines of code, snippets of carefully-edited dialogue, and Pittman’s signature low-poly art, but it deeply affected me. I was honest with the game, and the results of my decision made perfect sense. He has every right to never contact to me again.

That doesn’t mean I don’t miss him.

Potential Concerns

·The treatment of Stims in the world of NEON STRUCT is like that of a drug, or certain varieties of prescription medication. Unlicensed vendors are referred to as Dealers, transactions are conducted in shadowy locations out of the public eye, etc.

Neon Struct Screenshot 2

“STIMS BUST”
“Police officers detained a local businesswoman for the sale of illegal stims outside Greenwald Mall…”

·A lesbian couple offering a side quest can be found in the first hub of the game.

NEON STRUCT Screenshot 1

·The phrase “what the h-ll” is used once.

·The pastor of the game’s cathedral/safe house is a woman.

·Depending on how you view certain situations/actions, taking the Cash lying around sections of some levels could be theft.

Support NEON STRUCT (Steam)

*This title was received for review/coverage. See our statement of ethics here and game review criteria here.
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*More reviews from Video Games and the Bible.

About Nelson

Writer, amateur #gamedev, and Founder o' Video Games and the Bible. My interviews bring the boys to the yard. Featured from Kotaku to Rock Paper Shotgun. Dropsy.
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2 Responses to Christian Games Done Right: NEON STRUCT (David Pittman)

  1. M Joshua Cauller says:

    Hey Nelson, great writeup! I’m gonna disagree with a few things, so keep in mind how much I love you and respect your work.

    It’s probably not a huge surprise that I take major issue with gender issues related to people’s callings in the church. If a woman is called to be a pastor in a culture that values the voice of women, why should religious authorities suppress that calling? Paul’s instructions to Timothy were his own or he wouldn’t say “I don’t.” Also, that section you quoted is obviously an odd Ephesian context — or that part about “women being saved by childbearing” is some strange idea. I certainly don’t believe a woman has to have babies to be made right with God. Something else is at work here contextually. Also, Paul commissioned female leaders in Philippi (whom Philippians is written to) and the deacon, Phoebe. I’ll spare you the arguments about the female biblical apostle, Junia. Just consider that maybe women are capable leaders that God calls into those roles. I’ll also keep from diving into the role of gay folk and church, but I also find it weird that you address the existence of gay characters as a problem. Like, would you address it as a problem if an unmarried couple had a room together in a game?

    This is much more minor, but I found your use of “Unfortunately” funny when addressing the non-confrontation of enemies. I personally found that to be the game’s single-most-novel design element.

    We’ve talked about this before, but I think that the potential concerns section is more of a turnoff than it needs to be. It might be useful for a few of your readers, so it’s obviously your perogative on whether or not you keep it around. But I feel like it’s worth addressing how much it comes across as inappropriate.

    Like I said, the actual contents of the review are really good. And I loved your interview with David. Please keep up that great work!

    • Nelson says:

      Heya, Josh! Big fan of your work at Gamecell and elsewhere as well.

      As far as Potential Concerns goes, I keep this section for Christians who, desiring this information, wouldn’t find it elsewhere. I personally don’t have an issue with the vast majority of Concerns I listed for NEON STRUCT, and actually wasn’t even sure if I *should* list them, but left them in as I attempt to provide potentially useful information for believers across the spectrum. So, for those who certain content might pose a “stumblingblock” for, I kept the warning in regardless of my personal feelings–1 Corinthians 8 serving as my reference point in this regard.

      Thanks again for the feedback, Josh! I’m always considering where and how to shift and improve.
      Always appreciated.

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