In the mood for a retro-style FPS, I dug around the new releases on Steam, and poked at a few, not really clicking. Until, that is, I found Hands Of Necromancy, and then played it all weekend. This is a Hexen-like FPS, with enormous, sprawling maps, a whole bunch of weapons, an array of enemy types, and some fresh ideas original to the genre.
In three chapters, like all such games should be, the game’s 21 maps are spread between these via three hubs. Each hub has a collection of portals, unlocked by completing tasks in one or another, and dashing between them all as you find keys, new abilities, and so on. It gives it a little flavour of Metroid in amongst the fast-paced frenetic combat and exploration.
What I really love here is that Hands Of Necromancy doesn’t feel beholden to Heretic and Hexen, but rather inspired by them to then be its own thing. So as you would hope, there’s a mix of ranged and close-up combat, with a sword and fireball in your starting line-up, then ever-expanded upon as you progress. You find a whirlwind spell that lets you unleash mini tornados, that swoosh enemies backward, and if pinned against a wall, really takes the life out of them. There’s a freezy ice wand, a scythe of rather impressive power, and even a gun when you get far enough in.
Enemies are an amazing mix, with creepy-crawlies, floaty magic-wielding wizards, flying bats (that aren’t impossibly annoying!), and stomping golems. By chapter 2 this same gang is joined by all manner of even more deadly beasties, until fights can be a crazed barrage of colour and gore.
It’s all in 2.5D, but with some very pretty lighting, the whole thing built in GZDoom. The pixel art on the creature designs is fantastic, and while the game leans too much toward gloomy environs, the locations feel detailed and interesting to explore. And more importantly, level design is top-notch, focused on large locations to explore, packed with underground chambers, maze-like crypts, and puzzle-filled towns.
Your character, himself an evil sorcerer, is no hero, out here looking to expand his range of abilities, and fighting not to survive, but because you just want to fight. This obviously doesn’t hugely impact the experience, until you’re reminded of it when picking up a powerful weapon and letting out a villainous cackle.
Oh, and as you progress you gain the ability to turn into various enemy types, including the little snake, the punchy golem, and a horned devil-like beast. This can be used for puzzle solving and secret finding, but also just to fight in a different way. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an FPS give the character the ability to transform into the enemies, and it’s such a splendid idea.
The game estimates a 7-hour play-time, which is completely bonkers. I spent almost that long on just the first chapter, exploring every nook and cranny, trying to find secrets, and having a whale of a time. I guess you could blitz through it much more quickly, but that would seem such a waste.
This is tremendous stuff, a game that could absolutely have been released alongside Raven Software’s mid-90s fantasy shooters and held up. (Although people would have been mystified by the lighting tech.) Admittedly, you can get Hexen for a buck-fifty right now, but there’s a good chance you already did. Hands Of Necromancy is a welcome addition to that fold, and developers HON Team have become a name to follow.
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