A most welcome intrusion
Lots of retro-style first-person shooters have been released recently. Nostalgia for more primitive and purist gameplay is at an all-time high, with various titles attempting to recapture some aspect or another of a bygone era. It begs the question: how far back do we go, and what’s the logical conclusion of primitive design? The answer lies in Intrude, a surprisingly engaging FPS that models itself on the original Wolfenstein 3D.
The game casts you in the role of a soldier sent in to investigate mysterious readings from a secret base that has been abandoned for ages. It turns out that the base is not as desolate as once thought, having been commandeered by a murderous group of grunts all wearing similar head gear. It’s up to you to infiltrate the base, murder everybody, and collect data on their activities. All standard FPS stuff, really, and it could have easily been the plot for a Far Cry game.
What sets Intrude apart is how faithful it is to the design of Wolfenstein 3D and other games based upon its engine, such as Blake Stone. Levels are a single plane constructed of walls all at 90-degree angles. Map structure is labyrinthine, with endless mazes and corridors. Enemies are only rendered from the front when attacking and appear to always face the player. There are locked doors that require keys, and the ultimate objective is to flip the end-of-level switch.
There are a few noticeable things that Intrude does differently, which almost always result in an improvement over the standard Wolfenstein 3D formula. Most significant is the fact that doors remain open once used, making it far easier for players to determine where they’ve been and considerably reducing the feeling of being lost in a maze. It incorporates modern touches like mouselook, which remains comfortable and useful even though there’s no z-axis to speak of. The weapons and ammo types are a bit more varied, including a shotgun and a rocket launcher. And there’s plenty of more interesting traps and gimmicks, such as laser fields, destructible walls, and exploding barrels, the latter of which even counts towards an end-of-level tally.
The gameplay itself is rather absorbing, and it’s loads of fun to navigate each map’s mazes while mowing down the waves of pixellated enemies and searching for secret rooms. It’s also quite challenging. The game entirely eschews manual saving and save-scrumming, and there are no checkpoints to speak of. Every level must be tackled in a single, continuous sitting, and if you die, you start all the way back at the beginning of the map. Running out of ammo remains a very real possibility, while health kits are neither rare nor abundant. You can expect to die a lot unless you approach each situation with a bit of a tactical edge. I noticed that one of the unlockable achievements is for beating the game without dying once, and I can assure you that it’s definitely an achievement well-earned.
It falls over itself in a few areas, though. The biggest offender is the lack of variety in the textures. The vast majority of the game consists of dark grey brick corridors, and while it’s a great showcase of pixel art, it gets repetitive very quickly. Even Wolfenstein 3D had far more interesting and varied textures, so the primitive approach is not really an excuse. Enemies too aren’t very interesting; they’re generic grunts and they lack visual variety beyond simple recoloring, though this is compensated by the fact that their behaviors greatly vary. I particularly enjoyed the enemies that rush towards the player for a stabbing attack, as they’re pretty fast and present quite a reasonable challenge, especially in large groups.
Despite the lack of visual diversity, the graphics are very clean, functional, and attractive. It’s especially amusing to see such basic pixel art contrasted with modern technologies like high resolution and wide screen, and it all comes together really well. On the audio side of things, the sound effects are adequate but unremarkable, though the music is fittingly harsh and moody. They’re gruff, high-fidelity recordings as opposed to simple midi tracks, and they sound great.
Intrude is a surprising experiment in primitive FPS design that actually works really well. It achieves what it sets out to do without apology or pretense, all while making you realize how much you miss the original Wolfenstein 3D, if indeed you grew up with it. It’s essentially the true Wolfenstein 3D sequel that we never got, and while it certainly has its share of flaws, it remains a worthwhile nugget of game time at a very reasonable price. Strafe your way to its official Steam page to unlock a copy of your very own.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Michal Kruba ; Developer: Michal Kruba ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 1 August, 2016.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a review copy of Intrude given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.