Warlock, stock, and barrel.
Very few people will deny that picking up a gun in a video game and killing monsters is an oddly relaxing experience. But what’s even more puzzling is how the relaxation factor is increased tenfold when you swap out your shotgun for a stave. Ever since Heretic and Hexen graced our CRT monitors all those decades ago, the concept of a sorcerous slaughter remains ever appealing. Fortunately, we’re got no shortage of choices when it comes to archaic annihilation, and the latest contender to throw its hat into the ring is Project Warlock.
This game doesn’t much attempt to have a plot. You’re a Caleb-style gunslinger who is rather well-versed in magical arts. You travel to five distinct worlds, each seemingly existing in their own time and dimension, and destroy an eldritch abomination at the end. The locations on offer are diverse, from a creepy Egyptian tome to a post-apocalyptic city, and our main Warlock protagonist gleefully mixes guns and spells.
Do you fancy some science-fantasy?
Though this game was initially marketed as a Wolfenstein 3D clone, the truth is that it goes in its own direction, mixing and matching all sorts of ideas and tropes from prior games. The action is still furious and requires players to deal with multiple enemies at once, but the pace is a tad slower than in, say, Doom. It’s also not just a continuous frag-fest, requiring instead that players conserve ammo, find secrets, and carefully choose their perks. Behind the bloody pixels and big bangs lies a game of calculation and ruthless effeciency.
In between levels, players are afforded the chance to upgrade their stats. We’re talking more health, or the ability to carry around mana, the go-to fuel for all magical weapons and devices. Weapons may similarly be altered, such as changing an axe to steal health points from enemies and pass them on to the player. Other upgrades alter the weapons in such fundamental ways that they, for all intents and purposes, function as an entirely new weapon. It’s fun to experiment with, and multiple playthroughs are required if you truly want to see what all upgrades off, as many of them do not stack.
Speaking of multiple playthroughs, those won’t exactly be a walk in the park. Project Warlock is tough. Not the toughest game, mind you. It’s not Dark Souls, and certainly not Cuphead. But expect to linger dangerously close to death on more than one occasion, and die more often than not. Added to this dilemma is a lives system, straight out of the 8-bit era. That’s right: there are no manual saves here. Progress is automatically saved between levels, and the Warlock’s path is littered with a multitude of checkpoints. On my first playthrough, I managed to get to the boss of the first episode, only to subsequently waste all my lives and start over. It was disappointing, though I did not consider it unfair. However, if the idea of permadeath is not exactly your cup of tea in a FPS, even an RPG hybrid, then there is an easy mode which eliminates it. I do nonetheless recommend trying the standard difficulty for the most rewarding experience overall.
Visually, Project Warlock has a retro yet very distinct look. It’s pixelated, though it makes extensive use of black outlines and shading. There’s also a large palette, but the game employs and deliberately muted and washed-out look to increase the atmosphere. Everything is flat and cardboard-like, and it’s wonderfully charming. The soundtrack is more of a mixed bag, mind you. It’s at its best when it takes on a droning ambiance, but it occasionally gets a bit too noisy and busy for its own. Still, it largely works without any particular standout moments. And the sound effects more than do their job.
Project Warlock is a very solid shooting experience behind its flat levels and pixel artwork. It may boast being influenced heavily by 90’s shooters, but this game actually has an identity all its own, and its a marvelous sight to behold. I’d even dare to say that its one of the more cerebral offerings in the new “retro-FPS renaissance”. It’s a moody, blocky joy to behold, with a ton of love and creativity poured into it. If you’re a retro FPS fan but also wanna try out something that’s not trying to be a carbon copy of Quake and Doom, Project Warlock is definitely the game for you. It’s currently available solely on GoG.com for the time being, and you can secure your sorcerous copy by clicking here.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (GoG.com) ; Publisher: gaming company ; Developer: Buckshot Software ; Players: single-player ; Released: October 18, 2018.
Full discloure: this review is based on a GoG.com key for Project Warlock provided by the publisher.