Necrovision is not a game that you should judge based solely on its first few hours of play. The early action can be great fun, but some clunky technical issues and frustrating missions don't show this supernatural first-person shooter at its best. However, about a third of the way through, it leaps a great barrier and becomes a blast to play, even if its ongoing narrative doesn't make a lick of sense. But this is a challenging arcade FPS in the vein of Painkiller or Serious Sam, so don't come in expecting innovation or cohesive storytelling. Instead, come for the demons, the zombies, and the giant robotic scorpion. Oh, and come for the fire-breathing dragon that you get to ride around on.
The history books don't make note of these undead creatures and winged serpent in the chapters on World War I, but thankfully, Necrovision is here to fill in the gaps. As the colorful menagerie populating the game should signal, we're not meant to take its story seriously, though it tries to deliver its supernatural ridiculousness with a certain amount of gravitas. Soldiers' letters litter the battlegrounds, apparently meant to offer a poignant point of view to the zombie-laden, war-torn atrocities; your own character, Simon Bukner, takes pity on the dying men whom he encounters in the trenches. However, it doesn't take long for things to get nutty. Signs of evil experiments, undead infantry lurching toward you, shimmering ghosts hurling jolts of energy in your direction--these are pretty good indicators of a more unusual take on the traditional historic shooter. You could try to make sense of this parade of the occult, but it's better to ignore the incoherent dialogue and occasional misspellings and let your guns do the thinking on your behalf.
For the first few hours, Necrovision remains firmly entrenched in its World War I setting. You'll traverse smoking battlefields and face standard soldiers alongside some of the more unnatural enemies, and though the shooting can be incredibly rewarding, you'll also be struck by a number of technical issues and mission-design flaws. Sensitive collision detection makes it easy to get stuck on growing piles of corpses, large enemies get stuck in the geometry every so often, and enemy limbs and bayonets clip through walls. In the meantime, you'll deal with periods of aimlessness in which you try to figure out where to go next while facing frustrating objectives, such as an absurd timed mission in which you need to find and plant two sticks of dynamite while being chased by a hulking ogre. Necrovision isn't big on first impressions, and less-patient players may be inclined to give up after the initial levels.
Luckily, the heady action and excellent selection of guns make these flaws somewhat forgivable. You'll point a variety of solid weapons toward your staggering foes: pistols, machine guns, rifles, grenade launchers, and more. Many can be dual-wielded, which is just as well; the early environs are filled to the brim with ambling zombies and nervous soldiers. You'll do best to keep your enemies close, given that melee weapons are also an integral part of your arsenal. A blunt whack with your shotgun can get the job done, but for a more effective mauling, you can take potshots with a pistol in your right hand while waving around a sword with your left. Bayonets are particularly enjoyable to use in close-quarters combat, and are a handy solution for both your ranged and melee needs. You can even kick the throngs of the undead, which is an effective move when their numbers become unmanageable. However, if you are serious about shedding the blood of the damned, you'll want to explore various combo moves by stringing attacks together. Combos are signaled by an onscreen proclamation and an audible whoosh that makes them satisfying to perform, though the copious spurts of blood may also have something to do with it.
As enjoyable as the shooting can be, the linear levels and glitchy behavior are all too noticeable early on. Nevertheless, about a third of the way through, Necrovision practically becomes a different game. The story takes an interesting turn, and you find yourself wielding the Shadow Hand, a clawed glove with a powerful melee attack and several magic attacks to boot. Armed with the Shadow Hand and some powerful vampiric weaponry, you explore the demonic realms, clashing with scurrying fiends, gross slithering beasts, and oversized robots bent on your destruction. At the same time, the combat arenas expand, the art and level design become infinitely more creative, and you're able to focus on the fun rather than the flaws. There are still some lingering issues: too much searching for levers to flip, bizarre sights when the hyperactive physics engine causes objects to jitter around, and so on. But for the most part, the later hours are filled to the brim with nonstop, over-the-top glee.
By the time Necrovision draws to a close, it will have pulled out all the stops. You'll don a clunky robotic suit and take on an enormous metal scorpion. You'll swipe your claws at lanky mutants as they descend on you in endless waves. And in one memorable level, you'll fly around on a dragon, breathing flames onto those that dare defy your will. Yet whether you're taking on a monstrosity in a wheelchair or filling resurrected soldiers with lead, Necrovision offers a consistent challenge. Although the regenerating health system and limited-use slow-motion ability might annoy shooter purists, they will come as welcome features for those unprepared for the game's generally high level of difficulty. Early on, and in some of the optional challenge levels, headshots are all but necessary if you want to succeed, and the sheer numbers of enemies in certain battles can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, though some encounters feel too cheap (a boss fight during which a gas mask severely hampers your vision is a good example), battles can be tough but never feel too much to handle.
Unfortunately, death results in one of Necrovision's biggest annoyances: long load times. Loading a saved game, even a quick save, can take a minute or more, which is frustrating during some of the more difficult boss battles. This seems especially unusual considering the game's slightly dated look. Necrovision is not technically impressive; textures lack detail and its human character models are poor. It is, however, highly atmospheric. Outdoor environments look smoky, as if great battles have been raging there for days, and the caverns and winding corridors of the underworld are moody and interesting to explore. Some of the demons look fantastic and move around in grotesque ways, making them more enjoyable to shoot. Also grotesque: the voice acting. The actor (or actors, judging from some weird mismatched bits of dialogue) playing Simon sounds ridiculously unenthused, and the nonsensical blurts of soldiers ("I'm defending!") are grating. The soundtrack is a mixture of hard-rock grinding, orchestral swells, and tribal beats, and it fits the tone of the story far better than the uncomfortable voice-overs.
There is a minor online component offering Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Artifact, and Last Man Standing modes. The maps are competently designed, but finding a match is a tough proposition, and the small community seems unlikely to grow. Regardless, the game's discount price and healthy single-player component make Necrovision an attractive purchase for FPS enthusiasts more interested in exercising their twitchy trigger fingers than their gray matter. Just don't give up after the first couple of chapters, because if you can muddle through them, there is a surprising amount of mayhem and merriment waiting for you on the other side.