Fighting games don't get a lot of love from the mainstream video game industry these days. So when someone -- anyone -- comes along promising to bring back the supremely gory glory of 1990s-era arcade classics like Mortal Kombat into the modern era, genre-inclined gamers will listen.
Necrostorm, an obscure Italian studio that mostly trades in a gruesome sub-genre of indie horror movies known as "splatter films", has gotten a lot of people hooked this way with its game Death Cargo since it was first announced in 2011. Judging by footage Necrostorm claimed was from beta gameplay, Death Cargo looked like it was exactly the kind of gorefest fighting game fans have been hungry for.
The only problem? It's not clear if Death Cargo actually exists. After pushing the game's release back several times, Necrostorm said that it launched in March of this year. Ever since then, however, customers who either pre-ordered the game or tried to purchase it on the company's website haven't received working copies. Many have taken to popular fighting game forums like SRK and Test Your Might (TYM) to air their grievances, saying that when they tried to bring this to Necrostorm's attention of the game's official forums, they were issued bans and threats of legal action.
One such customer who showed me records of his attempted purchase and his correspondence with Necrostorm had his and his girlfriend's PayPal payment blocked when he tried to buy the game. The customer told me that he was blocked from the company's forums after pointing out many issues he had with the game's beta way back in 2012. His experience matches that of other customers who posted similar messages on SRK and TYM.
I reached out to Necrostorm yesterday to see if they could help me get my hands on a working copy of the game. A representative from the studio assured me that it does exist and has been available since March 2014. Her communications with me became heated very quickly -- accusing customers who said they couldn't play the game of being "trolls" who are "starting to annoy us." When I asked why so many gamers seemed to be having trouble just buying the game -- let alone getting it up and running -- she asked me to provide her with their information "in order to proceed legally."
Here's an excerpt from the very first email she sent in response to me asking these three questions: "Is Death Cargo available? If so, why are so many people having trouble accessing it? Do you have any plans to address these user complaints?"
To Necrostorm's credit, the company doesn't seem to be taking people's money with no return as much as it's simply failing to provide them with working copies of the game. A member of the TYM forum who said he hasn't tried to play Death Cargo but has several friends who have told me that Necrostorm has actually been very responsive when it comes to issuing refunds.
"The real issue continues to be the questionable ethical conduct of the company in dealing with it's consumer base, the denial of service for questioning/criticising the aforementioned conduct, ongoing suspicious release of information related to the game, and confirmation of people actually receiving the game," the TYM member told me in an email.
Death Cargo is currently only available for purchase through Necrostorm's website. I purchased a copy of the game for €14.99 (around $US20) this morning and so far, my experience has mirrored that of the forum critics. For starters, just trying to download the thing is an incredibly arbitrary and complicated process, as outlined in this email I received shortly after my payment was approved:
So far I've made it past step six. Necrostorm told me that all of these steps are anti-piracy measures, and it can take up to five days for the "file creation" process to be completed.
Note the statement at the bottom of the email I received in bright red saying that I cannot upload pictures or gameplay footage "before the official trailer release." Many dissatisfied customers have identified this as another way that Necrostorm is obscuring the fact that the game doesn't actually exist -- at least in any working form.
It hasn't been five days since I pressed enter, so I can't say with 100 per cent certainty that Death Cargo isn't truly functional yet. But it does seem odd that I also can't find convincing statements from customers saying that the game actually works either. Those that do, the TYM member told me, have only appeared on the company's own forum, and they're "from newly created accounts that speak the same abusive broken English that the developers do." And, again, none of these offer up evidence of actual gameplay since Necrostorm has issued repeated aggressive threats of legal action to dissuade people from posting any such material.
"There's also been some beta/demo releases throughout development, so the speculation is that Necrostorm attempted to develop this game but at some point, they got in over their head but persisted with the appearance that it was being launched/developed," the TYM member continued. "That's just speculation though. We really don't know what happened outside of sparse communication and a few blurry screencaps."