Reviewed on: PC
Developer: Roman Glebenkov
Publisher: Roman Glebenkov
Available on: PC
(To note: While the original review was scheduled to come out on the day of the game’s release, due to several factors, this has been pushed back to today and thus, the version of the game being played is 1.0.18)
Intravenous is a top down, action-stealth game with an emphasis on the stealth being difficult to maintain. Created by indie dev Roman Glebenkov and set in a pixelated yet detailed environment, the game features a gritty tone and has rough gameplay to match. You play as Steve, who is looking to avenge his recently murdered brother. Helping you is, Accomplice- they have also recently lost someone near to them from the same druggies that killed Steve’s brother. You infiltrate their bases, looking for the killers.
Opening the game gives you some great, calm spy-like music. Feels almost James Bond-esque, even if it is a dark take on chiptune. Past the opening, the game does a good job by giving the player a lot of options before going into the level itself. It clearly explaining the differences between difficulty settings and some interactions in the game. There are currently four levels of difficulty, with the second hardest being the ‘True Mode’, the way that the developer intended the game to be played.
After a short prologue teaching the player some of the game’s controls, it leads you through to the start of the game where you see your brother murdered and you meeting Accomplice via telephone. Accomplice shows you around the warehouse, teaching you the controls and some of the interactions you can perform when you start the game.
The game gave me some strong Hotline Miami vibes, especially with the top-down nature, seeing where enemies are in the room and bashing open doors to knock them over. Glebenkov himself has said that he doesn’t like the comparison to the game, especially in terms of the gameplay. I think it is easy to see why people are making the association, though.
The dynamic lighting mixed with the detailed graphics was really a pleasure to look at. It felt fluid, alive and fun to move. After I had taken some time to get used to the general controls, I had a look at the options I had for guns to take into missions. The game doesn’t provide a ton of stealth options, meaning you have to find more creative ways to take down enemies later on which is a fun yet frustrating challenge as I will get into briefly.
After perusing the options for guns and any additional controls that I may have missed, I snuck my way into the levels with a stealthy loadout including a tranquiliser gun, taser, suppressed pistol and empty mags to throw around (other than the Motion Mine).
I didn’t realise it now, but I was for a hellish time.
Intravenous, even on ‘Normal’ is very difficult. I knew it would be tough- I was starting a bit way through the campaign when I first played. I had seen no combat and I had a large arsenal of weapons which I would have to trial and error while working out how enemies interacted with the environment and the player’s actions. The demo is great for people who who’ve got the time to figure these things out, this quickly became a frustrating, love-hate experience.
First thing that I quickly picked up with the game is that it can take a bit of time to get used to is how the game mechanically works regarding its level design and art. For instance, the game has these low ledges that can be climbed over, typically into buildings. Enemies can see the player at a small distance away, even if the player’s body runs parallel and is laying prone against a wall. While it makes sense in the real-world, the attention to detail here is quite staggering for a top-down game. While this isn’t a huge issue, there are small instances of this in the game all over the place. Enemies being able to see over cover that I would assume would be too high like dumpsters are also put into question, too.
With the game being quite dark too, it can be sometimes hard to decipher what you’ll walk into versus what you can walk through, leading to instances where you may walk into tables and walls and get stuck. In more frustrating instances, leading to your death. Another small annoyance included getting stuck on doors quite often when in a small room. This was alleviated in my normal playthrough when I found the button for the night vision goggles- deciphering things suddenly became a lot easier.
Simply put, the levels are too big. The current mission objectives I’ve had are either go to a place to find someone or to kill all the enemies. No real exploration reward other than the odd bandage to heal, different gun or ammo box. I would have loved to have seen side missions to also increase difficulty, similar to Goldeneye 007 on the N64.
The game’s gunplay overall is great, I’ve had a listen to some of the developer’s commentaries and it’s very clear he’s a huge enthusiast about guns. This really shines through in the game- with each gun having different firing modes, accuracy, damage, penetration on armour and reload times. All of which being carefully crafted to provide a life-like experience. One of my favourite small details is the amount of time it takes to reload a gun if the click is empty or not, with it taking longer to reload if the gun still has a bullet in the chamber etc.
Getting to some of the UI elements, there’s a lot moving at once. All this information can be vital when making your next move and so keeping an eye on all of it is important. This can sometimes be a bit intrusive, for instance, in the bottom right image, the circle ahead of the character indicates that they are right in front of a wall and can’t shoot. This is a minor issue, but it ties in with another issue, the indicator that comes up if you’re aiming at a wall. This indicator can sometimes look like the result of an action the player is attempting to perform. For instance, the player chooses to place a mine by the door, but there is little indication besides the ammo count dropping by one and a small sound that can easily be missed. If you don’t realise that you’ve placed it, you may end up blowing yourself up which happened to me several times. A louder planting sound or clearly different indicator would be useful to stop this from happening.
While this is a lot of information, there should be one more dynamic element to this. A quicksave reminder. This would have seriously helped me. As I’m get sucked into the gameplay and focus on staying stealthy, I forgot a ton of times to use it. Having to take myself out of the flow and force myself to think about whether I should quicksave really wasn’t fun. I would love to see the addition of a dynamic reminder to quicksave. This could appear in different circumstances, for instance, if the player has just killed an enemy or has traversed a large part of the map. This reminder would have served me very well during gameplay and would have alleviated a lot of stress.
Similar to its UI elements, the game struggles with overcomplicating things from the start. As I previously said, I enjoyed the general movement, but the game doesn’t really ease you in too much, providing you all the controls, gadgets and mechanics all in one go. While these can be practiced in the warehouse between missions, it would be nice to have reminders about choking out enemies, melee attacks and holstering. To aid this, it would have been great to slowly unlock weapons while proceeding through the campaign- possibly tying in a mechanic as well.
The game’s design is very focused on working against the player to be stealthy. On the surface, you have limited options- however, the game challenges you to find some unique ways of staying hidden while taking out enemies. Bashing doors to knock down enemies, using a taser, silenced pistol, maybe creating a diversion with a bottle or mine somewhere else on the map, or, one of my favourites, staying in the bathroom. I’m not sure if this was a bug or not but it was very amusing to me that I could have four rotting corpses in a bathroom in a small house and not have to worry because the eight other assassins who came in refused to come into the bathroom.
However, these enemies are not to be taken lightly. They are quite intelligent, and they are quite deadly. When I originally played, the enemies were a lot more accurate, and it felt almost unfair. They had an insane range and snapped to you almost instantly. With post updates, this has been tuned down and has made the game a lot friendlier. Enemies are still quick to react though and will not hesitate to fire if they clearly spot the player. They listen out for sounds and become agitated if hearing loud or unusual sounds, checking the location, and often bringing another enemy with them for backup. Having them talk with one another is a great addition- it really adds another layer to each enemy without them being visually different. If you are camping in a location, killing a line of them, they will retreat and wait for you to come out, often also taunting you. However, I would like to see the removal of one of these taunts. One of the lines uses the word ‘fag’ and I’m honestly quite confused why its being used. It felt out of place in the game and took me out of the experience.
The last criticism I have is with experimenting. The developer himself has said that this is a big part of the game and so I’m inclined to believe him. However, the issue I’ve had is that in a specific scenario, enemies appear to make different choices on actions that they are otherwise not able to see me make. This means that if I want to experiment, I have to get lucky that the enemy goes the way that I want them to.
To conclude, Intravenous is a fun but sometimes frustrating and unforgiving game. Regardless of what sometimes feels like a cobbled together level design, with some small but important changes to its user interface, enemy AI and progression, the game could seriously set itself apart from how people are currently labelling it as something similar to Hotline Miami. Despite all its issues, the core gameplay loop when in flow is very satisfying- easing players in would take this a step higher. Developer Roman Glebenkov has done a pretty good job with the game, and I look forward to seeing what updates are made to improve it further.