Project Warlock Review | Retro FPS Throwback

Review code graciously provided by Buckshot Software and Crunching Koalas. This will have no bearing on my review, opinion or recommendation. Rest assured, integrity is what Games With Toasty is all about. Review is based off of the Xbox One port.

At The Dawn Of Time…

Before our ‘Lord and Saviour’, Call of Duty, during the Dark Ages of gaming, there was this mystical, almost lost, genre of gaming now known as the ‘Classic First Person Shooter‘ (CFPS for short). These games predominantly dominated the industry throughout the 90’s, before mostly dying out. Games like DOOM are much beloved, and their influences can most certainly be felt to this day. Luckily for old farts, and young queefs everywhere, indie developers are working tirelessly to bring this venerable genre back, and Project Warlock is the latest in this brutal revival.

As is to be expected, being heavily influenced by CFPS’s, Project Warlock has a story, you are just not exactly privy to the details of said story. Instead, you are graced with very brief excerpts, every now and then, that give you a quick rundown during various intermissionary periods. That’s it – that’s all you’re getting. Will it win awards? Probably not. Does it give you a valid excuse to indulge in your primal urge to brutalise everything in sight, exercising extreme prejudice? You’re damn right it does. What’s more, it gives the developers a ‘lets go anywhere’ care, which is a beauty of a card that brings infinite possibilities when it comes to level design and theme. Not to spoil too much, but you will be blazing a trail through everything from built up cityscapes to ancient egyptian pyramids.

This Ain’t No TV Series

The game comes loaded with a number of ‘Episodes’, with each episode comprising of five levels. Each level has two or so mini stages, with the final level being an epic boss fight as a much appreciated reward for ‘good’ behaviour. It would be very easy for Project Warlock to consist entirely of the same copy and pasted enemies (an unfortunate trend in the old days), however the game flips the bird to that. Each episode struts through the metaphorical door with a whole new cast of gribblies to slaughter, aforementioned themes to explore and music to bang too. You could be fighting naked, sexy, succubus demons one moment and beefy, buff, burly yetis the next. Each enemy has its own attacks giving the game an immense amount of variety.

Arguably one of the most controversial aspects of Project Warlock is its ‘lives’ system. Essentially you have a limited pool of retries before you are forced to play the whole episode again. No checkpoints. No mid episode saves. This may sound, and can actually be, horrifying, especially to those who remember how ballbusting these games could be back in the days of yore. Project Warlock however is rather generous with its health pickups. Providing you don’t do too many stupid things, too often, you shouldn’t find yourself raging too much, if at all. Interestingly, when the game removes lives, which happens when you boot up the harder difficulty settings, the horror is exemplified. This is actually because if you die once, you’re done. It’s over. It certainly adds challenge if that is what you want. I would have liked a harder difficulty that retained lives however.

Its Time To Lock and Load

Enough prattling about the little things, how does the game actually play? Luckily, the combat is satisfying in a way that only a CFPS can really pull off. This may make me sound like an old man, shaking my cane and screaming “back in my day…” to the neighbourhood nerdowells, however as someone who wasn’t actually around during the FPS heyday, I feel like this statement actually holds a tad more weight. There is something uniquely satisfying to the mechanically driven murder of this subgenre, that Project Warlock successfully taps into. A combination of spine-tingling explosive weapons, sound effects, graphical design and a hefty amount of…heft, results in something truly special. Unloading your gun into smaller enemies results in satisfying viscera infused explosions. Tackling larger foes boils down to literally blowing them apart, piece by piece until there is nothing but goop, or ash, beneath your boot. There is a real weight to combat that makes even the humble pistol feel like a deadly dealer of death. From the moment you get your hands on your first gun, to the moment you lay your controller down after being overcome with euphoria, the combat will hook you.

Of course I can’t just lightly touch on the available weapons, like a limp caress – that would be a disservice to the incandescent brilliance of the arsenal. You start out with a couple melee weapons for those moments you royally messed up and expended your ammo reserves – or you fancy swinging your mighty axes around for a bit (a fun, and effective strategy). Your basic pistol packs a solid punch, gibbing smaller enemies with ease and will be your go to emergency weapon if melee isn’t an option. Your final starter weapon is actually a magic staff that launches piercing lightning bolts which turn enemies into corpses with surprise efficiency, in exchange for mana (more on that later). So far, so good, but what about the workhorse weapons? Well you have access to two shotguns, an SMG and even a minigun giving you some serious firepower for mowing down the endless horde.

Rolling In Guns

If things get a hairier than my face during lockdown, you can whip out your big boy/girl guns, which come in the form of a rapid firing rocket launcher and Project Warlocks interpretation of the BFG (Big F’ing Gun), which both do exactly what you’d expect them to do. Need to clear a room of enemies in an instant? Sorted. Beefy boy in your way? Deleted. Heck, a room full of beefy boys? Well, you get the point. Rounding your selection out to keep things interesting is a crossbow, a handy-dandy flamethrower and a laser rifle, but let’s be honest, those are just extra topping on an incredibly tasty cake already loaded with toppings.

A game with ‘Warlock’ in the title would imply you can get your grubby mits on some snazzy spells. Whilst this is the case, this is also the only real place Project Warlock really falls down. Acquiring spells requires a hefty investment which will negatively impact you in other areas, meaning you are very much pushed into dedicating your whole game around them. That is all well and good, however the choice between running and gunning and spelling and slinging is not really a choice – the gunplay is just too satisfying to pass up, and the spells are nowhere near as honed, or refined in comparison. Sure, I can invest in a freeze spell that allows for one hit kills, but you will sacrifice a lot to get to that point, and you could have spent that time boom sticking your way to happiness. I honestly found the gunplay too enticing to give up, and even in playthrough where I specifically went magic heavy, I found myself giving up and going back to my old ways. Project Warlock is quite literally too good, for its own good.

When you are not murdering and/or dying, you are progressing in avenues, more specifically, through Project Warlocks RPG mechanics. As you move further through the game, you will gain points that allow you to increase various attributes such as, health, melee damage, mana and ammo capacity. In addition, you can also upgrade your weapons, oftentimes transforming them into a whole new beast. Want a devastating magnum? Drop invest in your pistol. Want your pump shotgun to be an assault shotgun? Do it, and even bask in the glory a whole new gun model. A wonderful touch indeed. What is even better is that at no point in my playthrough, pre or post upgrades, did I feel weak or underpowered. Instead, I felt incredibly powerful and slowly transcended to Godhood.

Beautiful Brutality

Gore and violence aside, Project Warlock’s most striking feature is its presentation, namely its pixel graphics. Pixel art is incredibly divise nowadays, with it often coming across as either artistic and gorgeous, or cheap and lazy. Project Warlock easily lands in the former category with visuals that literally blew me away. There is some serious talent on display here. Enemy designs are creatives and varied, the games effects are impactful and the detail packed into each environment is staggering. The most impressive aspect is the outstanding lighting system in place. Darkness is a real enemy in Project Warlock, so having your weapons dynamically light a room, or spells that give off a persistent glow bring these scenarios to life in a way games of yesterday (and even current year…) couldn’t achieve. This is all topped off with an adrenaline pumping soundtrack that keeps the action going, even if it lacks memorable tunes.

I went into Project Warlock expecting nothing more than a run of the mill retro throwback to a genre that has sat mostly dormant. I left Project Warlock blown away by a combination of eye wateringly good looks and gameplay so honed, so tight, that I am questioning the legality of me playing it. If you play one FPS, heck, one game, during lockdown, it has to be Project Warlock. This is one game you absolutely cannot afford to miss.

Toast Seal Of Overwhelming Approval

If you’re interested in classic FPS, I have recently reviewed the original DOOM, which if I do say so myself, is a corker of a read. If retro games in general are a thing, why not sneak a peek at one of my retro marathons? Castlevania and Mega Man come to mind.

Follow me on Twitter @gameswithtoasty, or join the Games With Toasty Facebook page here for exclusive updates on the future of the blog, as well as notifications for when the latest articles drop. Happy gaming.

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