Developed by Harebrained Schemes
Available on PC, Coming soon to Xbox One and PS4
Suitable for ages 13+
I know there’s a recent trend here on Dread Central to do hyperbolic reviews, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that Necropolis: A Diabolical Dungeon Delve is the most disappointing game I’ve played since Resident Evil 6. I’ve certainly played worse games since, but none that I was actually excited for. “Oh Ted, it’s your fault for getting your hopes up! The developers did the best they could, it’s not their fault if they didn’t live up to your false expectations!” Normally I’d agree, but there’s something insidious about the design of Necropolis.
I had heard of Necropolis some time ago, but didn’t get a chance to actually play any of it until E3 2016. It was a timed demo, booting you out of the game and into a sudden death arena after ten minutes of play. And oh, what a ten minutes that was! There was humor, tense action, hidden information, unique and varied enemies… everything I want from a Dark Souls game! It’s not a stretch to compare the two, since this blocking, dodging, hacking, looting, procedurally generated roguelike doesn’t exactly hide its influences. And this game has being cute and clever to boot. What could go wrong?
For the first few hours, nothing did. It’s an ironman style game, so you start, die, start over, die, start over, die, and then get the hang of it. As you get better and explore deeper floors, you find harder enemies and with them better loot. It’s a tried and true formula that I am certainly not suggesting anyone change. I just want it actually work.
The overall goal of Necropolis is to delve down through ten diabolical dungeon floors, fight a final boss, and escape the nefarious titular Necropolis. For the first few floors, this is a very fun and rewarding process. Levels are sprawling, yet manageable, configured in memorable pre-set tiles that click together well enough to create the illusion of familiar randomness. Enemy spawns are randomized by location, so you never know what threat is around the next corner. Upgrades are meaningful, so each tier-up of gear feels satisfying. Surrounding it all is a bizarre meta-narrative, telling a story in comical disjointed junks that only ever hints at the greater story.
Around floor 5, the cracks in the world begin to show. Literally. I actually found cracks in the world where the levels didn’t connect right. The deeper you go, the more the logic of the game flies right out of the window. Enemies spawn behind you, quests are given with no logic towards completion, gear tier rating becomes pointless, and the item descriptions descend even further into idiocy.
I struggle to find words to describe just how absolutely bullshit this game gets. At floor 6, you’ve already put a few hours into a run, so when you get a tier 3 hammer that describes itself as “It’s almost like no one thought what it would be like to walk around carrying this thing,” you begin to wonder if the “humor” is getting in the way of gameplay. When you get to floor 8, you will literally be unable to walk 10 feet without several dozen enemies spawning directly out of your ass. By floor 10, you will be wondering why the fuck you are still playing.
I have found very few reviews that actually had the fortitude to beat this game. If you read a positive review that says something like “I made it to floor 7” or “I was too busy admiring the pretty cel-shaded scenery to finish,” ignore it. You do not understand how much of a waste of time this game truly is until you spend 6 hours and several painkillers to get to the final level, beat it, and get a congratulatory pat on the back and invitation to do it all over again. I cannot remember a single roguelike in years that just ended after you finished it. These games are meant to be replayed by fundamental design. Why would you give absolutely nothing to players that actually stuck it through?
It’s a frustration you’ll only encounter if you are lucky enough to beat the game. It’s certainly not hard, but between the numerous bugs and abysmal controls is still quite the feat. Locking onto enemies is both necessary and suicide, with imprecise lumbering attacks and a lock on system that somehow is worse than that of its inspiration. You will absolutely die because your camera just refused to lock onto the right character, and it will delete hours of your progress. The one thing they got right is that falling off of the map doesn’t instantly kill you, which is practically mandatory given the baffling enemy spawns and inconsistent level design.
There’s a flaw to the fundamental design of Necropolis. This is a game that wants to style itself as a fun, funny, explorative, casual roguelike alternative to Dark Souls. And hell, Dark Souls certainly isn’t known for being the most balanced and functional game on the planet. But in Dark Souls, you die and lose maybe 10 minutes of progress. In Necropolis, you lose hours.
Losing a whole afternoon of effort isn’t a system that works well with Necropolis’ whacky, no numbers approach. There is not a stat displayed across the various gear, spells, and potions, aside from an ambiguous “tier.” Potions and spells aren’t too bad, describing basically what they do and accessible from early on. Weapons, on the other hand, are a nightmare. Figuring out the exact bonus, strengths, and weaknesses of every weapon in Dark Souls is fun because of how quick and rewarding the testing process is. In Necropolis, it can take up to 5 hours to even get to one of the weapons. It makes science fucking impossible.
There is absolutely no way that this is a finished game. The first few floors feel good, followed by a solid few hours of total bullshit, and then another well designed final floor with a boss. It’s clear they had a vision, and just never realized it. They made the basic functional programming, designed a decent end, and then just filled it in without making it fit.
That is exactly why I say that this game is insidious. It’s not meant to be sold based on merit and consistency. It’s designed to be based on soundbite comparisons from idiots who never put the effort into exploring the whole package. It’s the perfect E3 demo: tight, interesting, full of promise. It never delivers past that.
I might sound salty, but this game was actually painful for me to play. I wanted to like it. I really did. I argued with friends that it was good. The more I went in, the less I could deny it. It’s a great idea that unfortunately is just unfinished. I don’t want to call it a failed project that’s just trying to recoup cash, but I don’t see what else this could be. If you find it for $5, go ahead and check it out. At $30, just don’t.
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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