Project Warlock by Buckshot Software is another release in the new wave of “boomercore” shooters. Shooters that draw inspiration from 90’s classic first person shooters such as Doom, Quake, Hexen, Blood and such. And called such because they almost exclusively appeal to an older audience who grew up with these games, or were old enough to experience them when they were new.
And when I say wave, that’s an appropriate term. Games such as Dusk, Amid Evil, Ion Fury, Hedon, and the upcoming Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, have all recently been paying strong homage to the decade that gave birth to the FPS genre. So how does Project Warlock stand out from the crowd of other games?
Well, for the most part, it has to do with what kind of style it focuses on. While other games such as Dusk, Amid Evil and Ion Fury have paid more homage to the latter half of the 90’s, Project Warlock feels distinctly early 90’s in its presentation. With its Wolfenstein 3D inspired levels, it has more in common with early 90’s shooters such as the aforementioned Wolfenstein 3D, Blake Stone, Rise Of The Triad and Corridor 7.
Rise Of The Warlock
Project Warlock has five distinct episodes to play through. Each episode is further divided into “chunks” of levels. Unlike most FPS’s you cannot actually save your game at any time, and progress is only saved when you complete a chunk. Each episode ends with a boss battle level, where you will face off against a massive creature.
It gives the game some challenge in the fact that if you die or mess up in a level, you have to restart it from scratch. On the highest difficulty you even have to play the entire game again if you lose. Though the lack of a quicksave does keep the game from feeling entirely oldschool.
Each episode has its own theme and distinct time period; the first episode takes you to medieval times, the second takes you to an Antarctica themed set of levels, the third episode takes you to Egypt, the fourth episode takes you to an industrial themed city, and the final fifth episode takes you to hell.
The variety in levels is definitely one of the strong points of the game. It never feels like it gets too repetitive since there’s always something new around the corner.
Between each chunk of levels you visit a workshop where you can upgrade your weapons and abilities. The workshop also acts as the only save point in the game. Using a point system you can upgrade different stats that affect how your character plays.
Strength affects your melee damage, with each point in it upgrading your damage by 0.25. Life affects your health, each point in it adding +10 to your max health. Spirit affects your mana by adding +5 to your maximum mana, decreasing the mana drain and improving the spell cabilities. Capacity affects how much ammo you carry.
You can also get different perk points that add additional effects. Perks basically give you boosts to different stats. Such as Melee Master which boosts your strength, or Toughness which increases your max health by 30 and decreases incoming damage by 20%.
In the levels themselves you can pick up upgrade points to use in the workshop. Whether you want to use them to upgrade your weapons or unlocking your magic spells is up to you. Both new weapons and spells are found in the levels themselves.
A Warlock’s Arsenal
The weapon selection in Project Warlock is pretty awesome, and as much as the game itself pays homage to oldschool influences, so does the guns themselves. For melee you have the axe and the dagger. Both of these can actually be pretty powerful weapons depending on how many points you put into your strength. A high strength character can easily deal as much damage with these weapons as a rocket launcher.
On the second slot you have the staff and the pistol. The third slot has the shotguns, in both a single and double barrelled variety. Slot four contains the SMG and the minigun. Dynamite and the rocket launcher occupies the fifth slot. Slot six is exclusively for the crossbow. A flamethrower occupies slot seven. The laser gun can be found in slot 8, and then finally the game’s BFG, the chain reactor, is in slot 9.
All the weapons can be upgraded as well. Similar to Doom 2016, each weapon has two possible upgrades. Though unlike Doom 2016 you can only choose one of them for the entire game. This, combined with the RPG mechanics and amount of level secrets, gives the game a fair amount of replay value.
One thing that kinda did bother me playing the game is how you change weapons. Usually I prefer using the mouse scroll wheel to switch weapons, so I had it set to mouse wheel down for the next weapons, and mouse wheel up for the previous one. But for some reason, this does not seem to change anything. Mouse wheel up was bound to next, and mouse wheel down to previous, regardless of what I had it actually set to in the options menu.
It didn’t stop there either. Choosing weapons with the mouse wheel is finicky to say the least. Just a simple scroll ends up just giving you the same weapon you had. You have to keep scrolling to move forward or back. This, combined with the fact you apparently cannot even rebind the mouse wheel, made me stick with the keyboard’s number keys as the primary method of switching gear.
Another thing that bothered me is the HUD and how there’s no information on how much ammo you have left. With classic shooters like Doom and Quake, you always had the option to see how much ammo was left on each weapon. But in this game you have to select each weapon group to assess how much ammo is left. The HUD also never shows you the names of the weapons you have chosen.
Magic Trix Are (Not) For Kids
Guns are not your only means of defending yourself in the hostile world of Project Warlock though. You also have a fair amount of spells to use. Your first spell starting out is the Magic Light spell, which illuminates your surroundings. You can pick up more spells by finding spellbooks in the levels. Though simply picking them up is not enough to let you use them, as you also need to unlock them using upgrade points.
Magic Spells are a bit more diverse than guns, since while some of them have destructive capabilities, some can have more utility. One of the spells literally refills your ammo, and another launches dynamites at enemies which essentially gives you a grenade key.
One spell I think would’ve been nice would be one that converts mana to health. There is a spell that works as a shield, but having a means to regain health without relying on health pickups would be nice. So overall the magic system feels a bit underutilized, even though what is there does give some utility to magic.
The level design in Project Warlock is distinctly early 90’s. While the levels have some height differences akin to Doom, the levels feel made up of sharp 90 degree angled blocks, similar to Wolfenstein 3D. Generally the objective of each level is very simple. Find all the keys and get to the exit, while killing as many enemies as you can and gather as much treasure as possible.
The gunplay and combat is generally what makes it awesome though. Pretty much all the weapons feel really powerful, and I never felt like any of them were less useful than others. It generally depends on what situation you’re in. Explosives are great for dealing with groups of enemies or larger enemies, and the SMG is great for dealing with smaller encounters.
The game is also bloody and gory as heck. It’s on par with Brutal Doom in just how much guts and blood you can paint the levels with. This makes everything just incredibly gratifying and I had a hard time putting down the game and just wanted to see how much destruction I could deal to my enemies. And not to mention what kind of enemies the game would throw at me.
The enemies are pretty fun too and pretty diverse in terms of design and behaviour. Some summon lesser enemies, some have additional forms as you damage them, and some are just huge and can deal a ton of damage to you if you stand still. I definitely felt the game had its best moments when you’re running around, dodging attacks and blowing up enemies left and right. And just firing away until nothing is left alive.
One thing I did notice at times was how the framerate tends to tank at times. Generally it seems a bit unstable and can vary a lot. I don’t know if it’s cause of my PC or configuration, but I did struggle to get a smooth 60 FPS in the game. Which is surprising given its visual simplicity. But it is a Unity game, and Unity is notorious for resulting in unoptimized games.
Gorgeous And Brutal
I will say that the game’s graphics style is very appealing. While the pixelated style has been a bit overdone at this point, it does aid the game’s retro appeal. It’s not 100% authentic or true to the limitations of older game engines, and I did notice a fair amount of graphical glitches as a result of more modern graphic effects. But as a whole, the aesthetic is very attractive.
Sound-wise, it’s pretty good. The weapons all sound really chunky and satisfying. Though I did find some things were either missing or a bit lacking. One annoyance is how it seems sounds can easily “stack” on top of each other, making some loud noises at times when too many sounds play at once from the same source.
I also found the game was very lacking in voice acting. Sure there are some grunts and enemy vocal sounds. But the trailer had me lead to believe the game would have one-liners akin to Duke 3D. This is not actually in the game itself, which is kinda disappointing. Of course, it’s not the type of game that NEEDS voice acting but it would’ve been nice, especially when it feels half promised.
The music was also a bit mixed. Some of the tunes are very rock oriented and very well mixed. I especially love the main title theme and some of the music in the final episode. But in between the music was of very varying quality to me. Some of the tunes just sound like they’re shoddily mixed with some really cheesy sound choices.
If they were going for a more authentic 90’s sound, I think they should’ve used like AdLib chiptunes or something to that effect. Just some FM synthesizer sounds would’ve gone a long way in actually giving it a proper 90’s feel. So I feel music wise there’s a lot of wasted potential here.
A Fun And Intense Experience
All in all, despite its shortcomings, Project Warlock is a great game. It’s a great homage to early 90’s FPS’s, when not everything was about marines and terrorists. It pays homage to a ton of classic influences, and just the nature of the levels and mechanics makes it very fun to replay. So if you’re a fan of classic shooters and horror movies, I highly recommend giving Project Warlock a try.