What are you doing later? Bit of a night out in a bleak post-Soviet city, maybe? Drink? Dance? Drugs? Pet giant rats? Chat with a back-alley cyborg tech? Catch a poetry reading? Have a blood pressure test? Contemplate your empty existence? Eat a kebab? All this and more awaits you with Neyasnoe, the new first-person explorer from the creators of It’s Winter. While It’s Winter had you so bored and lonely you might cook egg on toast only to flush it down the toilet, here you’re surrounded by life, and I’m not sure that’s much more comfort.
Neyasnoe is set around separate districts of an unknown city. You start way in the suburbs, a loose scattering of Brutalist blocks and squat houses. Follow the lights and you might find yourself at typical places: a kebab shop; a bus station kiosk; a nightclub which throbs with music and dance and chat and booze; a clinic; an underground waiting room for purpose unknown; just normal things. So go explore, talk with people, smoke cigarettes, steal drinks, buy food, take drugs, mess with devices, pet giant rats, and see what else lurks in the night.
You move through different districts of the city across Neyasnoe, venturing into poetry readings and bookshops and sports fields and more, with the only obvious objective in each level being to find the point or story beat which will send you to the next. Yes, I’m being vague on purpose.
Like with It’s Winter, it takes time to figure out what Neyasnoe even is. What are its rules? What am I doing? Why? Wait why do I have stats, and what do they mean? Why can I do all these things? What changes if I do this or that? Does anything? Is this person telling the truth? I still don’t have all the answers, and that’s a good feeling.
Neyasnoe conjures a powerful mix of emotions. While the tone of the world is tired and melancholy and desperate, it is exciting for me the player to explore and discover what I can do. But our character isn’t a blank slate, they are a specific person with connections to others that you discover as you go. And maybe our character’s life isn’t that different from my role as the player. Maybe they, like me, are also living for a night of adventure and hedonism, dancing and stealing drinks and smoking and petting giant rats in rubbish-filled stairwells with little thought for the future. And maybe that’s a problem. Oh no, maybe that’s really a problem.
The world has a nice surreal edge. Conversations with strangers can be dreamy and existential, magnified in contrast to the mundane chat with others. The city itself feels corrupted and dying too. Concrete tower blocks on the outskirts curl inwards at the edges like wilting leaves, and many buildings have spiralling corridors burrowing through them in ways that can’t be right. It might also be set in the future, amplifying quite how old and worn-down everything feels.
I think it looks great. The low-poly geometry, low-resolution textures, and photosourced faces of games 23 years old combined with the draw distance and abundant detail of newer games, realising a striking vision of a tired world. It’s specific enough to feel real, abstract enough to be nowhere, anywhere, a dream. You can turn the low-res pixellation filter off if you want, but I didn’t.
Oh, and Neyasnoe has a feature I now want from any video game with a nightclub: autodancing. If you’re drunk, stepping onto the dancefloor will make you automatically pull shapes, waving your arms in front of the screen as you stumble about. A joy. The drunk movement is better than in most games too, capturing that roll and snapback of your body as you turn. I’ve not touched alcohol in six years and could almost feel those memories rise in my back and neck as I played. Horrible, and very good.
Neyasnoe is out now on Steam for Windows and Mac, priced at £8.50/€9.775/$9.99.
For stranger concrete curios, do also check out Babbdi, a free first-person explorer which gives you fun toys like climbing axes as you try to leave a bleak and Brutalist city.
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