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Necropolis

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Hare-Brained Schemes
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: RPG/ Action/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:

Necropolis stands out from the crowd right away with graphics that would feel right at home in a throwback vision of the future like Tron. This is a dungeon crawler that looks like the dungeon of the 24th Century, although your character and the creatures youíll encounter clearly draw inspiration from D&D Monster Manuals. The juxtaposition of styles is an interesting choice and although the overall color palette is limited, youíll unlock a wide array of accents for your character that offset your generally gloomy surroundings. Fashionable attire and character customization is part of the fun here, notably from unlocking content as you delve deeper.

Music and sound deserve special mention, and not just for being great. Many games feel predictable in this dimension or have content that triggers so consistently you either stop paying attention or start turning down the volume out of annoyance. What happens in Necropolis is something different. The first playable sequence is a great example, when you encounter the disembodied pyramid-with-eyes that tasks you throughout the game. Entering the room triggers a swelling of scary music that dies back down as you get acclimated. There are other moments like this, often triggered by enemies, that punctuate the soundtrack to your exploration. Think Minecraft with some genuinely spooky bits. And if youíre freaked out easily, the enemy sounds are especially jarring. Happily (or horribly) though, enemies donít just walk around the dungeon making noise, they only start up when they see you coming. All this makes for a sense of immersion that moves Necropolis past a simple dungeon crawl.


Gameplay:

A big selling point of Necropolis from a gameplay perspective is that your gaming experience is never the same twice. Levels draw from a suite of design styles youíll begin to see repeated as you play more, but the layout of each level is generated on the fly as you enter the dungeon, keeping things fresh. Enemy placement is similarly random, with the caveat that early levels include the same set of weaker enemies, whoíre replaced by harder variations as you progress. Local multiplayer isnít available (bummer), but the ability to run through dungeons with your friends on XBox Live is an awesome addition to the game.

There are a set of starting characters, ranging from a heavy brute to a more nimble fighter, and you can choose both male and female variations. As you unlock the clan colors mentioned earlier, they become available as accessory options for your character, one of the few things you can carry over between deaths. Oh, didnít you know? Death in this game is the end, no reloading or save points here. The only other items you can carry forward after death are unlocked books of power, called codexes. A codex will confer a special buff that helps you speed through some of the gameís earlier levels on your way to greater fortune. A series of missions given to you by that weird pyramid-head we mentioned earlier have much to do with how you earn your rewards.


Difficulty:

This is meant to be a game where death just means youíll get to tally your accomplishments up to that point and have another try. Much of your survival depends on skill and good judgement rather than racking up a massive inventory or building up your character RPG-style. Other than the codexes and the colors youíll start fresh each time, and you wonít even have the advantage of knowing the layout of each level. Necropolis is designed to appeal to people who like their game challenging, where the reward is the experience of exploration and discovery.

Enemies are almost never easy, but as you progress through the game, youíll collect loot and powerful buffs in the form of potions and scrolls that help you defeat tougher monsters. Mastering the controls is key to staying alive to see the end of even the first level. Each level will be host to stronger enemies, but they are often variations on earlier forms that you learned to defeat. Knowing when to attack and fall back are important skills, and youíll find that the Brute character tends to be stronger and more forgiving for inexperienced players.


Game Mechanics:

The controls in Necropolis arenít really forgiving for any players, and take quite some getting used to. Once you learn them, youíll feel okay about your abilities, but youíll probably never feel overpowered. Attacks feel slow, and as your vigor runs out, youíll occasionally find your character rooted in the ground and unable to put up even a sluggish fight. Evasion is possible and is hugely important to survival, so youíll master the run-in/roll-out strategy quickly if you hope to survive. Use of items isnít instant and requires some character animation that eats up precious time when youíre attempting to flee from an enemy horde. Triggering traps or forcing enemies to attack each other often makes the difference between survival and quick death.

Necropolis is a great game with high style that breathes some fresh life into the dungeon crawling genre. Itís not an RPG in any real sense, but you have every motivation to keep unlocking new content and improving your character. Itís not an "infinite" game in the sense that thereís a procedural maze youíll never find your way through. Thereís a definite end and a boss, but the fun is all about the journey. Games like Necropolis show why we need to balance sequels and big budget titles with interesting creative and conceptual approaches. This one works extremely well, even if it never goes beyond its niche audience.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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