It’s Urgrim up North: Rune

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Hello! Ragnar son of Jarl here, to tell you about my adventures.

An average Ragnar moment.

So, I’m at home in the village, about to be formally sworn in to join the Odinsblade for proving myself as a warrior. Ulf insists on fighting me first, because he’s like that. Was like that. That’s the next bit, see. Soon as I’m in, we get word that Conrack has betrayed us and razed Kopperud, so we sail over to stop him. Turns out he and Sigard are have thrown in with Loki – actual bloody Loki, no less – and kill the lot of us with an evil spell.

Next thing I know, I’m miles under the earth in a flooded cavern, face to face with Odin himself. “Warrior,” he says, “you don’t die here. You’re my main guy now. Conrack wants to begin Ragnarok, so I need you.”

“What must I do?” I ask him, all respectful like. He pauses. Good with the pauses, is our Odin. Then he looks at me. “Ragnar, you’re a Viking warrior, the last of a clan murdered by a traitor.

Fuck shit up.”

I paraphrase. But barely.

You don’t get much clearer than that. He didn’t even need to elaborate, and it’s not like you can really argue with the all-father. So, I picked up whatever weapons I could find, climbed through those caverns and ruins, and plain rampaged across pretty much the entire known world, murdering absolutely everything in my path. It was a lot of fun, I’ll tell you that right now.

It might sound simple, and sure there were a few times where I ran out of momentum and got a bit lost, or stuck trying to fathom where the hell I was supposed to be climbing next. More than once, I felt like I wasn’t quite in complete control of my body, and my arms refused to grab onto obvious ledges, and it felt like I’d died a dozen times in this spot before, through no fault of my own. But the sheer joy of swinging and hacking and leaping and occasionally flinging swords was irresistable once I’d got into it, and while puzzles aren’t my thing, they helped break things up and gave me time to catch my breath.

It’s very much like a late 90s FPS, but with swords instead.

After escaping from that cavern, I fought my way through Hel (easily the worst part, those bloody undead warriors getting up again every time without a perfect decapitation. Screw Hel), the goblins, the dwarves, Conrack’s human lackeys (this was a highlight. I dunno, humans are just more fun to fight. Plus we do better mead), and on and on, picking up bigger and better weapons the whole time, until that final confrontation with the Trickster. It felt like a real epic adventure, befitting the situation and the threat facing the world, and by epic I mean “like an epic”, not just pompous and bloated to absurd length. Each new realm led comfortably to the next, with big dramatic appearances from Odin or Hel or a particularly shouty Viking popping up now and then, and everything felt enjoyable cartoony and melodramatic, from fending off warriors to chugging healing mead and shattering the flagon on the floor in one smooth motion. I even managed to beat one guy to death with his comrade’s arm, and made a habit of throwing heads around just because I could. Sound sick, but it was all too colourful and charmingly silly to feel gruesome. I wasn’t a Viking warrior, I was a VIKING WARRIOR!!

Lop off a skellie’s head and he’ll run around swinging blindly.

Odin helped by knocking over a few obstacles with his laser eyes (because let’s face it, of course he has laser eyes) and guiding me to his Runes of power, which gave me more life force or magic, and imbued each weapon I found with a new magical attack, one launching massive boulders, another adding their life force to mine. I could have done with more of that, really, as it was a bit hard to find much magical energy. Variety was a bit of a problem too, I soon found a couple of weapons plain better than anything else, and once the dwarves showed up, there was no point even trying to use anything but the giant weapons. That first couple of hours in Hel got pretty tedious too, there’s only so many times you can fight the undead before getting bored. The scenery was surprisingly nice, but soon became another reason that breaking into a new area couldn’t come soon enough. It did at least give that moment when I broke free to the surface a bit of extra impact.

The platforming set pieces are occasionally frustrating.

Still. I can’t say there’s ever been an experience quite like it. Typically when you pick up a sword, you’re in for a nerdy experience about having bigger numbers than the other guy, or don’t even have direct control of your swings and movement. This, though? This was all me. Running and leaping from platform to platform, climbing ropes while the cavern below floods with magma, dodging in and out of arm’s length to block an axe and clock an opponent on the bonce, that’s what fighting should be. None of that combo memorisation, light and heavy attack nonsense. Just move and swing and jump and do whatever it takes to see your blade connect. It was a refreshng change, and while certainly a challenge, there was an underlying sense of humour to it that kept things from ever feeling too serious. When I fell for a simple trap set by some goblins taking advantage of my curiosity, I couldn’t help but laugh and admire their cunning, and bludgeon them both to death in a distinctly friendly way. It’s not exactly sophisticated, but what can I say? Sometimes all you need is an endless parade of righteous, over the top violence and magic, egged on by the giant rumbly head of Odin.

Take back your personal space, Ragnar.

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Necrovision: A subgenre No Man’s Land

This post was made possible by my backers on Patreon. Thank you! Backers currently get access to all funded posts at least one week, but sometimes several months early. You can back me here.

Help me out here, readers. I’m not entirely sure what to say about the state of shooters today. There’s no feature or setting that really defines the era. What qualifies as old-fashioned (I’m not saying “skool”, hit me all you want) varies from person to person, and we’ve far too much history of games, even post-internet, to split any genre into such broad ages. Just look at the inevitable argument about RPGs on every forum in the world for proof.

I say this because Necrovision (2009) invites comparisons to Painkiller, a game long considered a celebration of The Old Ways, and now itself a pretty old game. But even aside from the disingenuity of cutting down history so, dismissing Necrovision as just another throwback FPS would be unfair. It’s more novel than that.

A solid kicking option is absent from too many shooters.

We “Be” American soldier Simon Bukner at the Battle of Verdun, where he immediately sees everyone (surprise) slaughtered , and must fight through “German” soldiers to safety. Note that this is no period drama – I enquoted above because those soldiers are absurdly Nazi-esque, uniformly evil sadists or at best violently insane. A few buck the trend, but are invariably killed off in scripted events. It’s basically too hammy and stupid to be offensive or insulting.

Things take a turn towards Deathwatch territory as undead monsters show up to shake their manky bits around and shriek – you know what monsters are like. Naturally, it falls to Simon to re-massacre them, then push on to fight phantoms, ogres, and eventually an underworld of warring vampires and demons. And that’s all very 90s FPS, right?

Not-nazi zombies. How novel.

But while it’s related to (and developed by The Farm 51, founding members of which worked on) Painkiller, it feels less… artificial. The initial historical setting lends it more weight and structure, so it’s less like being locked in a series of fake rooms to mechanically circle strafe around and herd nasties like bloodthirsty anti-sheep (though this does become necessary later, and immediately in the Challenge Room mode, where success at dispatching monsters in specific ways adds bonus weapons to the campaign). There’s some of that from the start, but it’s often about peering down rifle sights and taking cover between potshots. A curious bridge between two styles.

Most human guns disappear early on, disappointingly.

Though the core of Necrovision is absolutely about storming messily through swathes of enemies, it plays more like an experiment in taking some Medal of Honor eggs and breaking them into a drunken Serious Sam omelette. Soldiers use cover and careful aiming pays off, even as you’re encouraged to build up your “rage” by laying into enemies with combined shooting, booting, and uh… bayon-ooting attacks. There are bosses with big health bars and secret areas to ferret out, right alongside partially regenerating health, iron sights, and soldiers’ miserable, despairing letters to serve as audiologs. The opening third in particular could be mistaken for an early CoD campaign mixed with a fleshed out Nazi Zombie mode. But it’s never serious, and the methodical xenophobic Whack-a-Mole style (which is only systematic, with none of the military cheerleading) gradually gives way to gory, over the top hack and slash crowd management as your weapons are replaced by bladed gauntlets, fireballs, stakes, and freezing attacks, and chaining enough combinations regenerates health and energy to power them, turning you into a perpetual murder machine who gains bonuses for taunting enemies.

“Hello, sign my petition?”

What’s surprisingly apt is how the protagonist’s story mirrors what the player is doing. As Simon descends into the depths his outbursts become increasingly gutteral, sadistic, and inhuman. His horror and confusion in the opening give way to fatalistic wallowing in hatred and carnage as it becomes increasingly clear that he’s no mere man with a gun, but an unstoppable force of death. The narrative never soars, but it pulls the game along well. It feels more like a journey than being told outright that you’re special for no particular reason, or it never being clear why you, a regular human, are able to tirelessly rampage through hundreds of battles. You have to earn it, you know? Starting out as a regular guy makes the power you gain more appreciable, and to players who are otherwise left cold by games like Painkiller, serves as a comfortable introduction rather than dropping them in and just assuming constant carnage is enough of a draw on its own.

While it might prove unpopular to say it, that latter point has always stuck for me. I don’t like games based around combo attacks or building chains. I find it distracting and proscriptive. But with Necrovision, once I adjust to its strange pace and style, I find the combos coming naturally, because they tend to correspond with useful attacks anyway. Jabbing an enemy with the rifle’s bayonet, then papping a bullet in while they’re recoiling? That’s not just a fancy combo move; it’s a practical way to use the weapon.

Ooh, it’s a skaven! KILL IT WITHOUT MERCY.

That’s not to say it’s outstanding. There are rough edges and confusing plot points, and while Simon’s earnest, likable Southern delivery is fitting more often than not, much of the voice acting is poor (although in the case of the Not-zi soldiers, this works in its favour as they’re more cartoon villains than anything resembling real victims of war). Cut scenes have a bizarre habit of repeating a conversation with slight variation, sometimes not precisely reflecting events in-game, and worse, for a game dependent on melee attacks, there are collision detection issues with some enemy/attack pairings, and one or two misaligned sights.

“Okay girls, let’s really throw into that degagĂ©, and… er, FOOLISH MORTAL!”

This is hard to excuse, particularly in the Challenge Mode, as are the controls, which are a little uncomfortable, and at times reluctant to respond, an effect which is exacerbated by the way many weapons are grouped together under one button – switching from a shotgun to a flamethrower requires cycling through every weapon in between for no good reason. This becomes a major source of frustration late on, when most of the weapons look very similar.

But none of this is ever distracting enough to ruin the experience, and Simon’s oddly inconsistent attitude – one minute he’s recoiling at the horrors of war, the next he’s snarling “death and death and death and DEATH!” or flippantly mouthing off to immortal spirits – epitomises the reason Necrovision feels like more than either a themed, demi-realistic shooting gallery or a tongue-in-cheek arena shooter: its tone.

Cut scenes are narrated stills, not unlike the early Thief games.

In an age where neither po-faced military shooters nor campy arena larks, not to mention strongly themed genre pieces are particularly dominant, Necrovision bears the strange distinction of being very secure in its identity. It’s neither serious nor flippant, and it’s simultaneously grim and campy. Somehow, the devs captured a real sense of horror and doom without sacrificing the tongue-in-cheek humour or destructive goresplosion fun of yer Bullet Sams and yer Serious Storms. Tonally it should be a mess, but it’s dark enough to be atmospheric, and exactly silly enough to be fun. It’s all a bit nebulous, and purist fans of either subgenre may find that it flatters itself with contrarieties of pleasure, but Necrovision offers a valiant attempt at occupying a seldom-breached middle ground.

“High fi-oops! Shit, sorry. Are you alright?”

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England’s Moronic Leave Vote just Saved Scotland: a Thought

Think ye now on the relative power of Scotland, Westminster, and the EU, and compare it to 2014 in the context of an independence vote.

In 2014 Scotland voted by a relatively small margin against independence, largely on the basis that England promised more power, resources, and EU membership. But since then, England has delivered none of what it promised. And now, to add insult and injury to insult and injury, Britain may leave the EU. England has utterly invalidated the 2014 vote, and no longer has any right to claim anything over Scotland. It’s objectively true that they have completely failed to uphold their obligations, and misled the Scottish people into a disaster that threatens to set their country back several decades.

But that much is obvious. What’s more interesting is where the EU comes in. In 2014, a major question hanging over the independence vote was what would happen to Scotland’s resources should the outcome be Yes. The likelihood was that England, being England and therefore bastards, would maintain a strong hold on most of them. Scotland wouldn’t be able to do much about this as it wouldn’t be in a very influential position globally. The EU would naturally prefer stability, and thus likely support England. What’s more, the EU would be ambivalent at best about Scotland’s efforts to join the Union – encouraging other independence movements across the continent would be unpopular and risky compared to giving preferential treatment to England instead.


Now, England (with some extremely baffling help from Wales) has decided to cut its own arms off in a bid to magically grow some better arms out of nowhere with the sheer power of blinkered idiot nostalgia for a time that never existed. With Britain poised to leave the EU, everything has changed.

Not only does Scotland have every right and every incentive to vigorously pursue independence, the EU has every reason now to welcome them with open arms. No longer are they a rebellious trailblazer setting a dangerous precedent by breaking away from a stable member state; they’re now a vessel by which the EU can salvage part of its gigantic investment in Britain. And England, for its part, is vastly diminished. England is responsible for this utterly pointless political and economic catastrophe, and Scotland is the sensible party just trying to prosper in peace along with everyone else. Scotland is now blameless, and England, without its access to the EU, really has no right to claim the lion’s share of Scottish resources, which Brussels will eager to see back within the common market. It’s also in the EU’s best interest to punish and humiliate whatever’s left of Britain as much as possible, not just to make an example of them but to prove how unnecessary they were all along.

So, consider again the wider strategic significance of Scotland’s new position. Why would the EU reject Scotland now? Who could reasonably oppose Scottish independence now (aside from the English, whose opinion on the matter is even more irrelevant than ever before)? What could England really do about any of it?

Scotland has every reason to leave, England has no right and far less power to stop them, and the EU would have the spirit of a saint if it didn’t make a sport of encouraging Scotland to take the bloodiest pound of flesh possible out of the idiots who caused this whole mess in the process.

In short: if you’re English and didn’t vote to leave, do the smart thing, and get yourself married off to a Scot right now.

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