I’ll level with you here. NecroVisioN is quite silly.
Although the game is set during the grim historical times of WW1, it takes roughly five minutes to throw squadrons of rotting, shambling undead at you. And just in case any players were still clinging to the idea that the gameplay might focus on sitting in a puddle, contracting Trench Foot and generally getting involved with the world’s most pointless war (a lofty accolade), it then pops up a giant, floating face that whispers cryptic comments about sending demons back to hell. Once you’ve stumbled across your first ‘vampire artifact’ and been attacked by fiery, flying manta rays all pretence of seriousness melts away and you can at last revel in the thoroughly bonkers nature of it all.
Given all that, it’s not a huge surprise that coherent plot isn’t NecroVisioN’s strong point. A cutscene that plays after the opening mission depicts our gunslinging Texan hero with gear he doesn’t actually have yet. This suggests the scene is occurring in the future, but it also seems to follow on fairly smoothly from where the prologue left off, causing momentary confusion. At times even the main levels seem to forget where the player just concluded. Having just scaled a fortified hill, I found myself sliding into the depths down a man-made tube. The cutscene that preceeded this showed my character shooting the breeze with a wounded soldier at the entrance to what was described as a vast railway station. Then the level started – with me inside a storage chamber full of gas barrels, for some reason. Other methods of advancing the narrative, like letters scattered around the various play areas, suffer from an interface problem which slaps the scrap of paper right in your field of vision. None too helpful if you’re in the middle of a firefight.
Plot, though, doesn’t really need to be too sensible in an unashamedly b-movie inspired FPS like NecroVisioN. What’s important here is that the game has borrowed from the excellent Dark Messiah and included a powerful kick button. You can kick people into fires. You can kick people off cliffs. You can kick people just for the sheer joy of seeing them tumble over with perhaps rather more force than physics should allow. The game doesn’t litter the levels with quite the same number of obvious set-pieces as Dark Messiah did (there are no handy spiked walls around every corner), but it’s tremendous fun nonetheless.
Melee options also abound. It’s possible to bayonet a hapless adversary, or pistol whip them into submission, or, indeed, kick them over, slap them with a pistol and then brutally finish them off with a shovel (earning one of the many baffling combo-names which flash up whenever you do this kind of thing, like Rush Hour, Soccer Foul or, err, Angry Farmer.) All possible thanks to a nifty weapons configuration option which allows a free hand to hold a second pistol or pointy object for dishing out gratuitous violence. You can even practise these techniques in various Challenge Rooms which are unlocked as optional side-games every time a level is completed, offering rewards such as ‘always have bayonet in the inventory’ for killing 75 zombies within a set time limit.
You’ve perhaps noticed that I haven’t really mentioned any long-range shooting yet, which is a bit odd for an FPS. This is because (a few situations aside) by far the best way to deal rapid damage is to close distances with a sprint and get stuck in up close. Pulling off various combos increases both fury and adrenaline – the first resulting in more powerful, damaging melee hits and the second allowing a quick stab of the adrenaline button. This slows events to a bullet-time crawl for a spell, giving you an obvious edge in combat. At first, all of this can feel a touch overwhelming (I haven’t even mentioned special functions of some weapons, like the ability to toss bayonets like throwing knives), but once you get into the flow of merrily meleeing, kicking and blasting your way through the hordes, the sheer variety of moves becomes a treat. Especially as they tend to be accompanied by some amazingly cheesy one-liners, all naturally delivered in a Texan drawl: “I can’t remember who’s good or bad … but I’m the guy with the guns!” One small complaint here, melee can sometimes feel a little inexact, where some slashes that probably should be connecting with greater force don’t actually seem to be.
Of course, longer-ranged guns are still useful in certain circumstances. A mounted machine gun can be awfully handy when a cave troll-like creature bounds out of nowhere. It’s also handy to have a rudimentary grenade launcher if you stumble across a tank. Or a dragon. Or god knows what else. The selection of rifles and sub-machine guns feel suitably ‘weighty’ when fired, and there’s a serious amount of recoil on the sniper rifle when zoomed in on a target. Whether any of this is historically accurate is somewhat open to debate. However, the heavily modified Painkiller engine does a good job replicating the dank, sludgy greys and browns of the trenches of WW1, amidst ruined buildings and barbed wire tangles. While a lot of games go for a weak grey and brown colour-scheme, here it’s merited and well used.
The emphasis, however, is firmly on close-quarters combat. In part because trying to lay low for too long will get you shot to pieces and in part because the game likes to launch the odd frantic section where it chucks enemies at you fairly relentlessly. At times (especially in confined spaces) it can be a bit easy to leg it past a horde of adversaries and lure them around a corner, whereupon you whack them on the head one by one. Whether this is good tactics or slightly dodgy AI is up to you to decide. Steadily regenerating health also acts as a prompt to throw caution to the wind – alongside the fact that particularly gruesome combos will sometimes replenish it too.
Amongst all this amoral mayhem there are a handful of other problems. These range from some extremely bad accents (both Ze Churmans and the jolly Cockney Brits suffer from this) to some potentially more serious framerate issues. Toning down the detail a notch in a couple areas did the trick for me, but looking at opinions across the web it seems the game can be quite demanding on certain machines. Load times are also a slight sticking point, although these tend to be worse for an initial load of a level and improve during any necessary restarts. Finding your area of vision reduced to about 5% of the screen when forced into donning a gas mask is rather tedious – though quite realistic, presumably – and even with a series of knee-high barbed wire fences stopping you from travelling in certain directions, it can be puzzling to figure out exactly where to go next at times. There are some minor bugs too, which sometimes temporarily prevent progress and force a re-load.
NecroVisionN’s imperfections are largely the result of the development decision to throw a whole bunch of stuff into the mix and sees what sticks. But while it’s a bit rough around the edges in places, the amusing number of ways to maim an opponent the game offers you keep things entertaining. The bursts of rapid action are welcome in an age of more tactical shooters, and the plot and setting are pleasantly ludicrous. Like all the best zombie gorefests, it places an emphasis on over-the-top comic violence and unwholesome non-family fun. Did I mention you can also kick people off clifftops? You can also kick people off clifftops.