For me, there is nothing like taking a break from all the cover-based shooting, open worlds and stealth mechanics with a well-crafted first person shooter. These games are like the taking shots at the bar: They may not be as fancy as wine or as intricate as a cocktail, but they are hard, fast, and guarantee a night to remember!
However, I am hardly thinking of the AAA military shooters that cause angry fans to break the internet every year. No, no. What gets the heart pumping are shooting arenas, an arsenal that would make a warlord humble, and legions of monsters begging to be introduced to your shotgun. What is needed is a classic, arcade shooter.
I was therefore excited when Buckshot Software revealed their latest indie shooter named Project Warlock. It has been some time since I tasted that sweet violence only this genre of games can provide, and Project Warlock seemed an excellent place to ‘get back into the game’ so to speak. Ferocious enemies, perilous environments, many weapons to choose from… its all here!
Unfortunately, my experience with this game fell tragically short of my anticipation. While it boasts all the right features on paper, Project Warlock ends up tarnishing its own experience in the attempt to pay tribute to its source material.
Shoot first, ask questions later
Much like every run-and-gun FPS on this planet, the story counts as much as crust on pizza. You play, you guessed it, an unnamed warlock that has to rid the world of evil monsters and their overlords. Players will basically just shoot the crap out of everything across five main worlds ranging from medieval castles, frozen wastelands, Egyptian deserts and urbanized dystopias, before facing off against the ultimate source of all evil in hell itself.
Each world features 5 main missions with one boss fight. These 5 missions are then divided further into smaller gameplay episodes generally lasting around 6-8 minutes each. You will spend your time massacring monsters, searching for multicoloured keys, and making your way through the maze-like levels while keeping an eye out for secrets.
The reason why Project Warlock’s missions are so chopped up is that this game takes a rogue-like approach by offering absolutely no checkpoints or quick saves. Your progress is only saved at the ‘Workshop’ once you complete an entire mission. If you die during an episode, there is the option of using an extra life to restart the episode from the beginning. No lives? You have to replay not just the episode, but also the ENTIRE mission.
As you’d expect, most players will find out soon that this game is seriously challenging; even on easy difficulty, most enemies can kill the warlock in a few hits. Unless brutal challenges are your idea of a turn-on, playing on the hardest difficulty must be an exercise in outright masochism.
What Project Warlock absolutely nails down to the last pixel is its visual presentation. By using an art style based in low polygonal environments and sprite based enemies, the graphics do an excellent job of emulating the ascetics of the classic FPS games that laid our foundations, namely Doom, Heretic and Wolfenstein.
As such, textures, objects and particle effects appear as if they have been plucked straight off an old Pentium 1 machine, but Buckshot Games have used the Unity Engine to add some modern 3D effects. Much like Octopath: Traveler, the final effect is a pleasant fusion of flat sprites that have an incredible sense of depth.
Players are even given the option to activate additional visual features like even more heavily-pixelated textures, or classic CRT styling if you really want to go old school. These small little touches shows how Project Warlock strives to be authentically retro in its presentation, and it honestly made me feel like I was a kid again at times. Yes I am THAT old!
The darkness descends
Most unfortunately, Buckshot Games wasted the game’s visual potential by making many environments too dark. I get they wanted to give the game a more somber tone, but I often struggled to see what was going on. This was totally unnecessary as Project Warlock would certainly have been more visually appealing if it had a more colourful and varied texture palette.
To make matters worse, some levels take place in almost total blackness. The game does provide the player with one spell that throws a small circle of light, but this cannot be used simultaneously with a weapon. Seriously, have we learnt nothing from the whole Doom 3 flashlight fiasco!?
The light spell was not the only useless magical trick. In fact virtually all of the spells I unlocked in the workshop were all a waste of upgrade points (which are really hard to find by the way). A ball of lightning that floats in mid-air and shocks individual enemies sounds cool, until you learn it barely does damage.
So you opt for the magical axe that can be summoned to slash at your foe, right? Might as well wack yourself with the worthless thing for all the good it does. The final nail in the coffin is that I often experienced a bug upon first loading any level where the spells even refused to go off. Not good.
Just shoot me
The one thing that has always defined arcade shooters since Doom in 1993 is that they make you feel super powerful. When Duke Nukem or Serious Sam pick up their guns and put on their sunglasses, you know its on. Given the ridiculous irony of not choosing to use magic in a game called Project Warlock, the gunplay better had be very good, and for the most part it is top-notch.
The sound design in particular is impressive. The guns create delightful booms and bangs which later had me casting apologetic looks at my subwoofer… before taking aim at a flying devil lady and KABLAM!
Every enemy that appears on the receiving end of your gun explodes into a gorgeous mess off flying giblets and blood everywhere, which really adds the cherry on top of a great shooting experience. The warlock even has a wood cutter’s axe as a melee weapon that makes a wonderful ‘WOOSH’ sound right before chopping whatever is bothering you in two.
Descending into Hell
Still, the engaging gun action and nostalgic visual impact fail to distract from the really inexcusable flaws at play here. While the opening sections of the game show a lot more attention to level design and gameplay, it is as if the developers just lost their perspective (or ran out of time) as they were creating the final areas.
Dark Souls games have taught us that a game cannot just be hard for its own sake. A game’s difficulty must exist as a fair challenge for the player to do better. The player might not have the skills to overcome certain obstacles yet, but they must have the means, otherwise the game spills over into artificial difficulty.
However, when I flip a switch and four robots capable of killing with one or two shots spawn all around me in pitch darkness, that is neither fun nor exciting. That is just awful enemy placement rather than a enjoyable challenge. Don’t forget: You will be forced to replay the entire mission from the start if you run out of extra lives.
I really do not understand why the developers thought it wise to insert these scenarios so frequently into the game’s latter half since it essentially ruined my whole experience. The only challenge I got from all of this was trying not smash my keyboard through the screen.
The simple addition of a quick save option might have alleviated much of the ham-fisted difficulty curve, and it was therefore a silly but crucial oversight. I know that is not how things were done in the olden days, but Project Warlock paid enough respects to the past through its visuals. It is not essential to bring in every single aspect of retro shooters just for the sake of authenticity.
Then there are the horrid boss fights. Did Buckshot Games never play Serious Sam? Now THAT is how you make a player face off against a colossal enemy. What you don’t do is give the boss hit-scanning weapons while endlessly spawning lesser enemies on the ground. Worse still, even if the boss fight might be a separate level, dying means replaying the entire previous mission if you want another go at it. Another design choice that simply baffles me.
This game could have been an excellent homage to everything that made the proto-FPS legends the quintessential video game experiences of their day. Sadly, what little potential it shows cannot outshine its numerous design faults. As it stands, I find it unmanageable to recommend Project Warlock to anyone other than people who absolutely relish difficult games, or maybe those running out of patience for the next Doom mod to arrive.
- Nostalgic art style
- Sound design
- Variety between levels
- Satisfying gun play
- Poorly constructed boss fights
- Warlock game with useless spells
- Frustrating difficulty spike
- Several levels are too dark
- Shoddy enemy placement
Playtime: 8 hours total for single player campaign
Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using GTX 1070, i5 4690K, 16GB RAM