Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


Necrovision (PC, 2009, Poland): Dark, Ridiculously Dark
November 5, 2013, 4:47 am
Filed under: Necrovision (PC, 2009, Poland)

Would I sound like a jerk if I said I was including this post about “NecrovisioN” (PC, 2009, Poland) on the crappy games blog out of a sense of obligation? Yeah, I guess that sounds pretty douchey. But mark my true meaning: I actually really, really enjoyed playing this ridiculously kitchen-sinkey, bombastic, half-serious, and quite bloody mess (even though I couldn’t manage to get around to it until 4 years after its release, but we don’t talk about such matters).

However, the reality is that, at last count, Metacritic has already logged over 20 professional reviews of the game (with a lukewarm rating of 63), and a quick Google search reveals written reviews on all the major sites. Since no one can rightly call this game an “underdog title” or an “unknown gem” (using the word “gem” liberally), I feel less inclined to include it here. Although I’ve made exceptions in the past, I generally don’t write about everything I play, especially if I really feel like I have nothing to add that someone else hasn’t already spewed onto the nets. (Example: I just finished “Bioshock Infinite” [I was mildly disappointed], “Dead Island: Riptide” [more fun that it had a right to be, but still nothing more than a rerun] , the last of the “Borderlands 2” DLCs [God, am I ever sick of that game], “Gears of War: Judgment” [yup, time to move on]…and you won’t hear me write anything about any of those. Oh..uh..whoops.

But “NecrovisioN” must be here on this cruddy list or else something would be wrong—the sheer bizarre, half-baked, relentlessly questionable character of the game demands it. And if you’ve not played it (which is highly unlikely if you are one of the actual eight folks who read this blog), you are really missing out on something otherworldly.

The game was made by Polish developers The Farm 51. It came as no surprise to me that the founders of this company, Wojciech Pazdur and Kamil Bilczyński, had previous connections to the Polish developer People Can Fly (who is currently owned by Epic Games). Why so obvious? I’m probably drawing connections here that are only peripheral at best, but one feature included in “NecrovisioN” are humorously named combos, special maneuvers you perform at lightning speed which grant certain bonuses. For example a “Brute Willis” (har, har) is some combination of a headkick, a gut punch, and a rifle shot to a limb (or whatever). There are a dozen of these silly-themed moves, such as the “Angry Farmer,” the “Soccer Star,” and the “Flying Duck.” When you perform one on an enemy (usually, in my case, completely by mistake), the ridiculously-named combo pops up on screen for your enjoyment and laughter. If this sounds familiar, it should. The exact same mechanic appeared later on in People Can Fly’s over-the-top “Bulletstorm” (2010) where a “Misery” combo was where you shot an enemy in the head in order to distract him from the pain of having just kicked him mightily in the groin (har, har). Other “Bulletstorm” combos (actually, they were renamed “skillshots”) included the “Voodoo Doll,” the “Enviro-Mental,” and the ever popular “Sausage Fest.” Considering this mechanic had time to properly marinate by the time “Bulletstorm” arrived on the scene two years after “NecrovisioN,” the skillshots are much more eloquently realized in the latter game  (and also tied to in-game achievements, which was nothing short of genius). Of course, many reviewers also draw connections between “Painkiller” and “NecrovisioN” as well (“Painkiller” seems to always win these battles, by the way). These comparisons are understandable considering “Painkiller” was developed by People Can Fly and “Necrovision” by The Farm 51, practically kissin’ cousins. (Thanks to reader “unholy” for this clarification. As he said: It’s all in the family!)

The narrative behind this game is more likely to be derided than praised—let’s just get that out there. But there is a story that propels the action forward enough that the plentiful (and typically short) cutscenes do make sense. Taking place in 1916, you play as southern-accented Simon Bukner, a World War 1 American conscripted into the British Army. At first, dropkicking German soldiers seems normal enough (if such a thing can be said), but before you know it, you are instead wrestling with vampires, demons, and zombies on the muddy battlefields. Where did these supernatural foes originate? Well, stories circulating among the troops (which you find in the form of hand-scrawled notes and letters home on the battlefield) hint at strange infections turning soldiers into otherworldly creatures, a secret lab run by some insane scientist named Zimmerman, and underground caves full of strange red gems.

fb5Simon takes most of it in stride with semi-corny one-liners—after all, if an enemy is bum-rushing you, who cares if it’s a German soldier with a bayonette or a hell hound with snarling, slavering jaws? The response is the same: Shoot it! Eventually, amongst the general, constant chaos, a demonic looking face appears in the sky and chants some mumbo-jumbo about a hero that will be revealed to save the world (and, of course, you are that savior). This is the point where you are introduced to the vampires—a mystic race of giant, underground dwellers who have been right here on earth for centuries (although we’ve never actually seen them). Continuing to uncover pieces of the narrative, you eventually understand that the nasty, megalomaniacal German scientist Jonas Zimmerman has conducted some experiments in various battlefield locations which have summoned demons to earth—demons who have been locked into combat with the vampires in the past. And this time, during their visit, these demons want to overthrow the vampires, who, by the way, are actually earth’s kind, but quiet overseers and protectors. Are you lost yet?

Interestingly, and pretty quickly, you locate Zimmerman on the battlefield (a mini-boss) and put him out of his misery. Game over? No, not quite. The problem, the vampires then relay to you, is that the demons have gotten a foothold in their underground world, and they will destroy the entire planet if they overthrow the vampires. You’ve got to get to the underground and eliminate the threat. Why, exactly, the vampires can’t defend themselves is never made entirely clear (or, at least, it flew past my head), but whatever. So, this is the point where regular old Simon Bukner becomes a semi-vampiric entity with some limited supernatural powers (and a down-pitched voice that sounds like Barry White) who travels from the mundane, muddy battlefield and into the strange, massive, abstract underground dimensions which constitute the second half of the game—a welcome change of scenery. There are three endings to the game, depending on the difficulty setting you’ve chosen at the outset. I won’t (too seriously) ruin them here, but they generally range from “Was it all a dream?” to “I’m the king of the underworld!”

Now that I’ve butchered the already-butchered narrative this game offers, I’m going to run into trouble trying to provide any real insights. Honestly, I’ve got nothing new to say about “NecrovisioN” that other reviewers haven’t touched upon—this is all rather well-tread territory. So, instead of pretending to say something original and failing, I thought I’d take the rest of this post to reflect on some of the major critical statements others have written, agreeing and disagreeing, and pointing out inconsistencies.

First up is jkmedia at Gamezone, who writes: “The last half of this game is far superior to the first.” This observation is dead-on target. Right at the three-quarters-point of “NecrovisioN” (after about 4 hours of trudging across muddy battlegrounds), do things truly get interesting. As mentioned, this is the point at which you finally get to confront Zimmerman—which has been your sole target—in boss-battle fashion. Honestly, as the showdown commenced, I thought the game was going to come to an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. But no! This is actually the point at which the only-slightly warped WW1 shooter becomes truly otherworldly: After killing Zimmerman and supplanting him, you get to travel underground to the vampire realm, you get a cool hand weapon that shoots fireballs and can resurrect zombies to fight at your side, your character’s voice becomes demon-like (in other words, a southern-fried Barry White)—all the kind of stuff you expect in a game like this. Some argue that it takes “NecrovisioN” too long to get interesting and fun in this regard, but I disagree. I think the longish lead-up to the real weirdness gives the new powers and environments real punch, and it certainly makes for a longer game (which is something I bitch about only occasionally).

On this point, as one or two reviewers conjectured, the lower scores given by some critics may be evidence that they, indeed, did not play all the way through it (having only experienced some of less crazy, more mundane first half). And at this, I repeat my refrain: No critics should be allowed to review a game that they haven’t suffered all the way through, period. Where else in the world do you see reviewers only reading half a book or watching half a movie and then rendering a verdict? It would be considered criminal—and worse, unfair. But lately, I have actually read some professional game reviews that contain this very confession: “Well, I only played 4 hours of so-and-so before turning it off and writing this review. But I feel confident in saying…blah, blah, blah.” To them I say: Shut the fuck up and go play the goddamned game to the credits, you loser.

Next up is some disagreement: Kevin VanOrd at Gamespot calls the game “moody” and that it “has a certain gravitas”—in other words, a seriousness (though he admits the “ghosts, goblins, zombies, and robot scorpions on the battlefield of WW1” premise would be pretty difficult to account for, historically speaking). Similarly, Play(Poland) notes the anguished, lengthy letters and diaries from soldiers read aloud on the loading screens (and collected throughout the game); these chronicle the last thoughts of conscripted German and British men now dead who were pining for the company of loved ones back home, dying of wounds and starvation, and shamefully hiding from battle out of fear. On the contrary, Tom Orry at Videogamer advises players to “leave your brain on the installation screen and you should have fun with NecrovisioN.” In kind, a Games(tm) review called “NecrovisioN” nothing but a “mindless headlong charge.” So, which is it? Is the game attempting a serious (albeit warped) tone, or is it merely thoughtless, headkicking drivel? As an answer, Steve Butts at IGN decides this inconsistency is one of the inherent problems of NecrovisioN: Regardless of its lunacy, the story “insists on taking itself seriously. If the story had decided whether it wanted to be tongue-in-cheek or tragic, then it would be a bit easier for me to get on board and enjoy the ride,” he says. I think Steve’s got a valid point; the game is undoubtedly characterized by this emotional polarity. Should I laugh hysterically? Or should I seriously ponder the vagaries of war? But instead of seeing it as a weakness, I personally consider this polarity  a strength. This central lack of clarity about how I am supposed to respond to the game actually gives NecrovisioN a kind of “dangerous” quality, while certainly making it stand out from the crowd; my emotional response to the game becomes a moving target, leaves me vaguely off-balance, makes me unsure. Those upended feelings are appropriate in a  bizarre universe like this one. In essence, for me, it works on a meta-level. Whether or not any of this is actually intentional on the developers’ parts…well, let’s leave that one alone.

Next up, graphics and gameplay: I always get a kick when I read reviewers discussing the graphical quality of a game. Why? Well according to these spectrum of folks, the exact same game can be both drop dead gorgeous and butt ugly. Honestly, if you want a little laugh, choose any game off the top of your head and read 10 or so reviews of it. You’ll hear everything from “such-and-such a game is decidedly beautiful to look at” to “such-and-such a game is homely and headache-inducing.” Who should you believe? None of them, probably. (And I always wonder how the hell is such disparity possible, but whatever.) Reviews of “NecrovisioN” are no different in this regard. Here are some actual opposing quotes copied and pasted for your pleasure: “The graphics are outdated” versus “The graphics are of average quality” versus “Great visuals” versus “The textures seem a bit muddy in places” versus “The lighting and effects are of great quality” versus “Melee is a polygon mess” versus “It performs great while managing to look great as well” versus “Textures lack detail and human character models are poor” versus “There are some stunning and visually striking levels.” Yeah, you want to talk about a ping-pong match being played by a dozen people, there you have it—in other words, you figure it out because I can’t.

Personally, I Iiked how the game looked; it provided a creepy, dirty, dark, dangerous atmosphere that felt like the battlefields of hell (which is the point, not to mention the actual location). Here’s two visual tips for the intrepid living in the year 2013 (or beyond): 1) ”NecrovisioN” seems to struggle a bit in widescreen environments. Luckily, there is a free widescreen field-of-view (FOV) fix widely available if you are playing in a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio (like on your television). I found it here: http://forum.1cpublishing.eu/showthread.php?p=68942#post68942. Using it requires some configuration file tweaking, but it’s simple enough if you follow the directions which are included. If the link is toast, just Google “NecrovisioN Widescreen Fix.” 2) If you are interested in putting an even finer shine on the game (by increasing anti-aliasing, using a reworked bloom effect, further balancing gamma, etc.) download the free SweetFX application, install, configure, and run the game through that, which is what I did for these screenshots. At the moment, SweetFX is located here: http://www.guru3d.com/files_details/sweetfx_shader_suite_download.html.

Overall, the mixture of traditional WWI-era firearms and nontraditional hellspawned fireball throwers makes the game unique. The “kitchen sink” approach to the opponents—the aforementioned enemy soldiers, dead enemy soldier zombies, hulking monsters, mechanical nightmares, ghosts, and wizards–works perfectly within the crazy context of the game itself. Lastly, even though the main gist is clobbering the kamikaze opponents, maps are surprisingly large, and there are many hidden areas to explore. The game rewards your exploration with power-ups (vampire artifacts) and other loot (weapons, ammo), so have at it. What more could you want?

I’d say, “There. I’m done. I added ‘NecrovisioN’ to the blog. Now leave me alone.” But not so fast! Sitting right there on the shelf is the 2009 “NecrovisioN” standalone expansion/prequel “Lost Company.” Oh crap, here we go again.