NecroVisioN is a first-person shooter that starts in a World War 1 setting, but adds an increasing number of supernatural elements over time, until you're basically fighting demons in a hellish underworld. Apart from German soldiers, your enemies are zombies, phantoms, other undead, a hidden civilization, some animals, and various forms of demonic beings. Your weaponry consists of regular WW1 pistols, rifles (one of them with a sniper scope), some melee weapons (including a shovel), various grenades, a shotgun, and early machine guns. As the game progresses, the WW1 arms will become inaccessible or obsolete, and you switch to superior fictional weapons. The most important of those is a magical gauntlet that talks to you, feeds on your rage, and allows you to cast a number of powerful spells: devastating fireballs, ice shards, a resurrection spell that turns killed enemies into your slaves, and more. Occasionally you will be able to enter an armored metal suit and become a walking tank.
Certain sequences of actions - like hitting an enemy with the your gun in melee, then shooting him twice - constitute "combos". Performing those increases your adrenalin and may even heal you. Your adrenalin can be used to enter a "bullet time"-like mode (in which the enemies move in slow motion), and it is necessary to charge your magical glove. Combos are crucial to stay alive in the later parts of the game.
The story presents a welcome departure from the simple good-vs-evil paradigm of many other shooters. While you gradually discover the horrible events that have led to the outbreak of undead and demonic creatures, you can never be certain which side is the "good" one. The first enemy in the game is neither a German nor an undead, but an English soldier who was responsible for the death of his entire unit. Some enemies help you by providing vital information. And one important enemy gives you cryptic hints that things may not be what they seem, and that the forces that support you may actually be betraying you. The conversations between you and the magical glove are refreshingly ambiguous as well. These mysteries keep the storyline interesting and engaging.
The game uses cutscenes, as well as drawn pictures with voiceovers, to advance the storyline. You can also find dozens of letters (which are read aloud with the respective author's voice) - these contain interesting background information, as well as hints to some secret areas. These elements capture the mood of the trench war, and the increasing madness of the situation, very well.
The game spans across a dozen levels, most of them fairly large, but all completely linear. Some of the better maps lead you to places where you can overlook other parts of the level, so that the map doesn't feel like an endless tunnel that you're slogging through, but there is never any need to return to previous areas. In many other shooters, such linearity poses an artificial limitation to the player's freedom, and breaks immersion. However, in a shooter that mostly takes place in WW1 trenches, bunkers, ruined buildings, and caves, the confinement feels appropriate. And despite the linearity, the game still encourages you to explore your surroundings. There are many secrets to find - from weapon and ammo caches to strange artefacts which raise your fury level, which in turn makes your combat combos more effective.
The game's AI is pretty poor. Enemies will often run straight into grenades and die, and your minions may run endlessly into the same spot in the wall. The game tries to compensate for this shortcoming by throwing hordes of enemies at you, and sometimes it even lets enemies pop up in cleared areas behind you, but a better AI would have been preferable.
The game's graphics are highly detailed and very well done, especially with maxed details and on high resolution they look very good. While the color palette is a bit drab and dark due to the setting, the game is still interesting to look at. Fires, gas lamps, and other light sources provide variety, and the later levels look interestingly alien. The character and creature animations are fluid and often make aiming appropriately challenging.
The version sold here is uncensored, which means that the graphics are also very visceral, and sometimes outright brutal. Players who can't see blood, or who find exploding zombie heads offensive, may want to look for a different game.
The game installs two shortcuts, one to start it in DirectX 9 mode, and one for DirectX 10. The former appears to be buggy - after loading a game, my surroundings were often completely black. DX10 worked better for me.
The game has realistic weapon sounds, and appropriately scary enemy noises. The background noises hit the mood perfectly in the first part of the game (the trench war), but become obtrusive in the later areas of the game. The background music consists of a short and overly dramatic orchestral piece in an endless loop - it gets annoying quickly, and actually detracts from the atmosphere, so I turned it off after three levels.
The game includes a considerable amount of voice acting, most of which is executed professionally. The accents of other soldiers (especially the Germans) are extremely thick, and would feel badly overdone in most other settings, but in a WW1 environment they don't sound out of place.
Unfortunately, the player character's utterances are sometimes rather silly. Most of the time the voice actor is pretty good, but when he growls "Death and death and death and DEATH!" after killing an enemy, it's just too cheesy compared to the rest of the game.
The interface is efficient as long as you have enough keys at your disposal. Some HUD elements (like the stamina bar) are a bit too small when playing in high resolution. Unfortunately there is no map feature, but a compass shows the direction to your next objective.
I had massive problems with task switching, in both DX9 and DX10 modes. About 50% of the time the game would either not switch to the desktop, or would show a blank black or grey screen when I tried to switch back to it. In both cases, I had to kill the game from the task manager, which I must have done several hundred times by now.
EASE OF USE:
The GamersGate version of this game does not come with the manual. This is unfortunate, since the manual explains some things that are not immediately obvious. There are some tutorial messages when you start playing, but they don't cover all aspects of the game. I found the manual at the following link, but can't tell how long it'll stay up:
The game has proper saves, and (unless you play on the hardest difficulty) allows you to save everywhere. Very convenient!
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE:
The game has a decent length for a shooter, and there is some limited replayability: Replaying single levels, and discovering artifacts that you missed before, increases your character's abilities, even for the game in progress.
Of the 3 difficulty settings, the middle one is fun, but not particularly challenging. You character regenerates very quickly. As long as there was an escape route, I never ran into serious trouble.
NevroVisioN is a shooter with "oldschool" gameplay, good graphics, and interesting enhancements (combo system, storyline). 4 stars.
Review Date: 2012-Oct-30 -- Program version: 1.2 -- Progress: one playthrough, some levels replayed (30h)