From solo developer Roman Glebenkov, we have Intravenous, a self-ascribed “love letter to early Splinter Cell games”. So, as you’d expect, Intravenous might offer a core focus on comprehensive stealth mechanics and dynamic and active AI within multi-layered environments.
The game shows great potential with its stealth gameplay, visual aesthetics and close attention to detail. Unfortunately, it struggles to tie all of its components together in a cohesive manner – in particular, its lack of any kind of soft failsafe and lackluster pacing.
Intravenous is available now on Steam for your regional pricing.
STORY – ROARING RAMPAGE OF REVENGE
In terms of narrative, Intravenous offers a classic payback story. The everyman protagonist endures a devastating personal loss. The proper and lawful course of justice is inaccessible or fraught with complications. So, inevitably, it’s down to the hero (or anti-hero) to dispense his own brand of morally dubious justice on all those who wronged him.
In this case, protagonist Steve suffers the loss of his dear brother Charles in an altercation with some local junkies. The authorities are useless. Steve, who also just so happens to be an unstoppable killing machine, takes it upon himself to murder his way up the local drug trade in a campaign of vengeance in the name of his dearly departed brother.
It’s a gritty, cynical and compelling enough story with a few twists for good measure. If you’re expecting anything more than a series of slightly tired clichés then be aware – Intravenous doesn’t really have much to say about anything. It builds slowly and ends abruptly. Of course, ultimately, this doesn’t matter. The plot is not the focus here. The game’s story is exactly what it needs to be in order to better highlight the game’s much more compelling core gameplay. The simplicity of it is really to its advantage. It’s less distracting.
GAMEPLAY – BEST STAY IN THE SHADOWS
Especially inspired by the early Splinter Cell titles, Intravenous is a hardcore, tactical, top-down stealth shooter. Mostly, you’ll be thrown into a level and tasked with locating and taking down whoever is unfortunate enough to be in charge that night. Intravenous promises comprehensive mechanics and dynamic AI within expansive environments. So, how does it hold up?
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. This game is hard. It has that delightfully old-school quality in just how relentless it is. Mistakes are punished severely. If you’re like me, there will be times when you’ll find yourself spamming the quick-load function. Make of that what you will. I, myself, rather like a challenge.
Every aspect of controlling Steve feels tactile, responsive and remarkably polished for a solo venture. It’s especially detailed in regard to its firearms and ballistics. You have both lethal and less-than-lethal tools at your disposal. You know a game is serious about its gunplay when it makes a point of displaying whether or not a round is chambered.
Your usual mechanics are in terrific form here. You can carry and hide corpses that – depending on how they died – may or may not leave blood trails. You can sabotage junction boxes to give you an edge or even shoot out lights if you’re so inclined. There is a solid level of environmental interaction which opens up your targets with many paths to success.
The AI is attentive and merciless. They won’t simply forget they saw you whilst muttering something to themselves about the wind or the integrity of their eyesight before falling back into their programmed path. Most of the time, they won’t charge into your meat-grinder corridor. They’ll rush you as a squad or hold a corner outside. On the whole, the stealth side of things is cohesive, challenging and rewarding.
However, I found the game’s problems are made abundantly clear the moment you’re compromised. The AI is often a little too ruthless. If you’re spotted, they’ll open fire almost immediately. They also seemingly have the added benefit of being able to spot and fire on you whilst they themselves are out of your field of view. Not great. As you’d expect, any shooting alerts everyone in the local vicinity. In some cases, this can be dozens of enemies.
There are too many instances where I found myself getting dogpiled incredibly quickly. After being spotted and having to kill half a dozen enemies within five seconds – I felt total resignation. Time and time again, I found the most practical option was to simply give in and load back a save or two. There’s nothing salvageable; there’s nothing mediatory between these two states of play. It’s either complete control or complete chaos.
The level design, too, is a little inconsistent. There are some fine exceptions, to be sure, but many of the maps are simply enormous and very often monotonous. Worse still, you’re given no direction. Intravenous would have benefitted greatly from adopting Splinter Cell’s very deliberate and extensive use of opening mission briefings and rolling radio dialogue.
This wouldn’t be so bad if there was any real incentive to explore. There are a few stocked armories dotted about but, obviously, there’s a contradiction here. The only reward for your curiosity and guile is the very thing that the game makes clear to you is actively to your detriment.
Unfortunately, whilst you progress in skill and confidence through the lengthy campaign, there aren’t any corresponding mechanics or rising stakes or challenges on the part of the game to keep you on your toes. The very first missions feel very much similar to the final few missions. Rising stakes are instrumental for pacing and player investment in any game and here it’s not quite up to scratch.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – PITILESS PIXELS
Intravenous sports a humble top-down perspective with a gritty, violent pixel-art aesthetic to boot. Whilst the textures and tiles pop and are easily decipherable, sometimes the texture and colour of the environments seem to overstay their welcome. Many levels don’t feel too distinct. Whilst it’s very easy on the eyes, it eventually can feel recycled and saturated.
The animations, especially the gorier ones, feel organic and gratifying. You can really appreciate every muzzle flash and every shell casing. Lighting is utilised incredibly well. Not only does it succeed in making otherwise plain areas look alive and immersive, but it also serves as a foundational gameplay mechanic. It is very easy to gauge whether or not you might be easily spotted in a certain area.
The sound design is equally impressive. Guns pack a punch but footsteps and other environmental sounds should maybe have been given a bit more of a stage so they can better immerse you. The original soundtrack really grounds you in the different states of play. Whilst you remain undetected, the score is subtle and roguish. Being spotted and engaged yields a boisterous dubstep piece that could easily be found in something like PAYDAY. When you’re out of immediate danger, but the facility remains on high alert, the score retreats into a cautious and less boisterous track. It’s great stuff.
Intravenous was reviewed on PC via Steam.