There’s no question the FPS genre needs something different, but is BLACKROOM’s old-school approach enough to stand out from its peers?
Earlier today, industry legend and id Software co-founder John Romero and artist Adrian Carmack announced the start of their Kickstarter campaign for BLACKROOM, an unapologetically old-school shooter they hope to bring to the PC by the end of next year. The game promises a return to the visceral, in-your-face action of the genre’s golden days, complete with circle-strafing, rocket-jumps, and good, old fashioned showers of gibs. On the surface this all sounds great, but I have to wonder if a shooter that wears its pixellated heart on its sleeve the way BLACKROOM does stands much of a chance in succeeding in a time where shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield reign supreme.
That’s not to say I’m not pulling for it. After all, as a now grizzled thirty-something I spent many nights in my formative years mowing down Nazis with a shit-eating grin in Wolfenstein 3D. And I proudly stood knee deep in the dead, turning myriad hell-spawn into puddles of twitching gristle with my B.F.G. in DOOM on my friend Adam’s trusty Tandy. While other kids were happily spin-dashing robots into scrap metal in Sonic The Hedgehog 2, I was turning Pinkies into mincemeat with my chainsaw, the sounds of the blade chewing through demon meat and gurgling blood a symphony to my twisted 12-year-old ears.
My questionable mental wellness aside, the point is I’d love for BLACKROOM to succeed. However, there are a few obstacles this retro-centric shooter may have to circle-strafe around for it to be a success in this day and age. After all, similar efforts to rekindle the classic FPS flame didn’t exactly set the world on fire in recent years. Shadow Warrior, while a solid effort from developer Flying Wild Hog, didn’t quite generate the kind of hype you’d expect for such a beloved throwback to the Build Engine era of shooters. The same goes for Inteceptor Entertainment’s 2013 reboot of the gloriously gory 3D Realms’ title Rise of the Triad, despite it being essentially exactly what a modern incarnation of the series should have been. That said, I can’t help but wonder if gamers are just losing their interest in these more primal types of shooters in a genre that’s already been incredibly over-saturated over the past few generations.
Don’t get me wrong – BLACKROOM does seem to have a few cool tricks up its sleeve that could make the game stand out above the rest. The premise alone opens up the door for plenty of interesting gameplay possibilities. HOXAR, one of the world’s leading tech companies, has created a technology that allows people to be anywhere at any time, creating fully-realized holographic worlds that are indistinguishable from reality, all set within the confines of a giant black room. These locales range from Victorian mansions to Wild West ghost towns, pirate galleons and more. Considering the world is a digital construct, nothing is set in stone. Players can make use of their Boxel, a device only allocated to HOXAR engineers, to manipulate everything in the world, from the environment, your weapons and your enemies. Additionally, speaking in a Twitch Stream today following the game’s announcement, Romero revealed that these worlds can glitch and overlap, creating some pretty surreal experiences, especially when considering this technology is used for both military training purposes and commercial applications.
Elaborating on this mechanic, Romero described a scenario where players could be exploring a medieval castle battling era-appropriate foes, only for the world to fold in on itself, suddenly pitting you against a monster reminiscent of Oscar The Grouch in a children’s show setting as you dump shotgun rounds into his kid-friendly facade. Another example was the ability to use your Boxel to glitch outside of the game’s geometry and discover secrets in the environment (something Romero never shied from in his work with id Software).
If all this talk of holograms and digital worlds has you giddy with Lawnmower Man-inspired fever visions you’re not the only one. However, you might be a bit disappointed to learn that during the Twitch stream Romero stated there are no plans to bring BLACKROOM to VR. Considering the growing appeal of devices such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, it’s really mind-boggling to hear that a the game that sounds like such a shoe-in for such devices likely won’t be making its way to platform – at least not officially. However, with the game being touted as fully moddable, I’m sure fans won’t have to wait long for the community to take up the reigns if necessary.
The last hurdle that BLACKROOM will have overcome is the looming specter of Daikatana, a game that promised the world but ultimately went on to become one of the biggest flops the industry has ever seen. Sure, it may have been nearly two decades ago that the game was unceremoniously plopped onto the PC and N64 (with a Game Boy Color version also released in Europe), but in an industry with a notoriously long memory, it’s safe to say many who are still hesitant to let Romero “make them his bitch” yet again. Then again, maybe the industry is ready to give the DOOM co-creator the benefit of the doubt after all, as the game has already raised over $50,000 during its first day of funding. With a funding goal of $700,000, it seems very likely the game will reach its target goal in short order if this level of support continues.
All told, I really hope BLACKROOM becomes another win for Romero and Carmack. After all, in a time where shooters are so steeped in overly-serious storylines and cookie-cutter military gunplay, now could be the perfect time for the duo to use their experience as shooter pioneers to inject some time-tested carnage into a genre that’s in desperate need of a real shakeup.
I’m certainly ready to party like it’s 1995. How about you?