So what do FarCry 2 and Brothers in Arms 3 have in common? Well, they are two triple-A titles I played recently that feel like triple-F next to Necrovision. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration for dramatic effect, but to be honest, it’s simply how it felt at times. Former People Can Fly developers that brought us the awesome Painkiller in 2004 have made a little thing that’s akin to Painkiller on steroids. It’s ironic that an open world game like FarCry 2 and a tactical game like BiA 3 are more repetitive than a linear corridor shooter; they are two games which I had to force myself to finish since I spent cash on them. In all fairness, Africa and the Netherlands couldn’t stand a chance against fighting zombies, Nazis, demons, and vampires using WW I weaponry in combination with super powers and brutal melee attacks. In other words, use a little imagination so I don’t get bored to death. I’m not saying wandering aimlessly through the bush watching the sunrise or hiding behind a wall trying to shoot Germans doing the exact same thing can’t be fun (it was for a while), but games like Necrovision are living proof that good old fashioned high-speed shooting will never go out of style.
While the plot in Painkiller was very straightforward, the developers went in the opposite direction this time, so much so that sometimes it was hard to follow the narrative. My understanding is that some German guy found strange crystals during WW I allowing him to resurrect dead soldiers and to open up a portal somewhere. Then you fight vampires and dragons eight miles below the surface. Okay, it was really hard to follow, so my apologies, but you’ll have to put the pieces together yourself, even if they hardly fit. With that said, however, it was interesting to see what direction the story would take, and if nothing else the plot kept me entertained with all the supernatural talk by characters with deep menacing voices; plus, the cut scenes had some very cool artwork.
For the first few chapters, you play a regular soldier using regular weapons, and it all feels like a regular shooter. Still, your trek through the WW I trenches is very well presented, and you feel the brutality and desperation of the situation, but reading various letters scattered throughout you know that something bigger is coming your way. And it comes abruptly. From Chapter 5 onwards the game goes from good to awesome. You go from using WW I weapons to a demonic hand, from above-ground trenches to underground temples, from zombies to demons and flying monsters. Chapters 1 to 4 feel like a long introduction, which I think could’ve been made shorter since, it pales in comparison to what comes after.
The combat is in the game is extremely gratifying, and I don’t think it could’ve been done any better. You can fight in three ways: using melee attacks, using standard WWI gear, or dual-wielding your demonic hand and the vampire weapons. While you are mixing all of this up you inevitably perform combos, and the larger the body count gets the more damage you do during melee, and you also get some extra perks like lightning strikes through the enemies or slow motion. Even when you are close to death, there is a way out as you’re made invincible and faster for a short amount of time, giving you a chance to retreat and save yourself from trouble. In short, Necrovision makes you feel like a total badass.
Since about a third of the way in you become a necromancer and are given a shiny new (well, it’s actually pre-owned) Shadowhand and all the attitude that comes with it. The main character seemingly transforms from a lonely soldier trying to stay alive in the trenches to a trash talking undead who doesn’t take crap from nobody. It’s quite funny, actually, I really want to know how I can get the confidence to call the Lord of Hell a.k.a. Mephisto himself, an a**hole, in his own domain, while making a mess out of the joint at the same time. It was the only time I literally laughed out loud when playing the game, but it was a badass laugh, because that’s how I felt. Ubisoft should take note from these guys, because walking ten minutes through the bush to battle with a rusty AK-47 that jams five times per firefight and having to manually take bullets out of my body because I need to take a pill for malaria is not how you make me feel badass. Instead I felt like I just walked ten minutes with a rusty AK-47 that jammed in my face before needing to take a pill. Oh, I guess I said that already. Anyway….
I know I mentioned Painkiller quite a few times already, but I wouldn’t say the two games are identical. I’d say Necrovision just feels familiar, and when I first started the game it gave me the Painkiller vibe. Necrovision is like the more sophisticated version of Painkiller, in the sense that it does a few more things besides run-and-gun gameplay. The pace of the game is a little slower partly because it tries to go for a more realistic approach with weapon reloading and aiming down the sights. As a consequence you’re not plowing through as many zombies as you did in Painkiller, although there are still plenty to kill. The story is more fleshed out and plays a bigger part through the actual levels with cut scenes before, during, and after each one. The biggest difference is that all the levels feel connected to each other, and you feel like you’re progressing gradually along a set path. In Painkiller you went from a monastery to a warehouse, from a church to a snow base, and it was all a bunch of levels with nothing in common. This, however, was also its strength, because it allowed for greater enemy and level variety, something which I would’ve liked to see in Necrovision.
Even though I can’t confirm it I have little doubt that the game uses an upgraded Painkiller engine. That means two things; it performs great while managing to look great as well. It’s 2009 and painkiller came out in 2004 so Necrovision can’t compete in technical terms to other games using more advanced and recent tech. The art direction however more than makes up for that with some stunning and visually striking levels. I am not saying that the game lacks the now common bells and whistles such as shadowing, shaders, blur, physics and all that bling, it has plenty of those and in good taste, so when taken as a whole the graphics are actually quite impressive and probably some of the best I’ve seen recently. Surprisingly the voice acting is up to par and there was suspiciously little cheese during dialogue, even with all the thrash talking by the main character.
Despite the praise I’m giving to Necrovision, I still consider Painkiller to be the better game. It felt fresh and innovative, even though it might not have been, and Necrovision doesn’t have that appeal. What it does have is a lot of good quality shooting which actually held my interest until the end, and I could’ve gone for twice more had the game been longer. What I’m implying here to the developers is go make a sequel, because you’ve got a guaranteed customer if this game is anything to go by.