by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Not Just an Imitator
The beauty of Project Warlock is that it isn’t content to throw out some simple graphics and repetitive hallways and call it a day in the name of nostalgia. Too often, it seems, during this era explosive indie retro-vitis, developers seem to think that this is enough. Raw imitation isn’t enough to warrant most games’ existence, though, and the titles we still talk about more than a few days after their release bring something fresh to the table to supplement what they’re borrowing. I’d be hard-pressed to say that Project Warlock re-invents any part of itself, but it does seem to actually care about standing on its own as an experience instead of leaning on an aging demographics memories of the past.
Now, I’m just young enough to not have grown up during the heyday of games like Doom or Wolfenstein. Without this added level of nostalgia, one question immediately popped to mind when I first peeked at the game’s promo material: “what can this game offer that the AAA titles can’t?” A few years ago these type of gauntlet-shooters were largely out of favor, replaces by FPS’s with huge, open levels and complex enemy AI. Those are certainly still around, but with the success of games reboots like Wolfenstein (and its sequel) and Doom, the indie scene is no longer the place to get your simple adrenaline fill. Well, having played through Project Warlock, I must say that I became quite smitten by it’s undeniable charm. It still hits a sweet bit of nostalgia even without growing up on the game it borrows livelihood from, harkening back to a simpler (but equally satisfying) time.
Small Levels, Big Guns
If you’re coming to Project Warlock for an enthralling story you’re likely to be disappointed, which is to be expected in this type of project. Looking at a few screenshots and the game’s title probably tell you everything you need to know: you’re a warlock, and you’ve got to use a combination of big guns and big spells to battle through a few different environments and purge the world from evil. There are light RPG elements that let you upgrade spells and weapons, and those do offer a nice little bit of gameplay customization, but it’s not so much that you need to worry about your spec allotment or making build mistakes. There aren’t any big twists. There’s no meta-commentary. There’s just a lot of this that go boom, and a lot more things that that get boomed- and that’s ok.
Levels are short, generally lasting no more than about 10 minutes, and most of them work the same. Run through hallways, look for keys to unlock doors, blast everything you see, and keep your eyes peeled for secret rooms. Then repeat. The repetitive nature of the levels and general lack of differentiation in gameplay can make the experience a poor one to marathon in the way you might other titles, but it also makes it a fantastic one to jump into for 10-30 minutes now and again on a lunch break, week night, or in between other things. In the vein of older titles, save-points also aren’t a thing. If you die, you start the level over. If you run out of lives, which you’ll only have a few of, you start over the the larger mission section you’re on. Now 5-10 minute levels aren’t much, but replaying 10 minutes to keep dying at the same point near the end, or playing through three missions only to keep dying on the fourth, will test your patience, (not to mention a decent number of “gotcha” moments with enemies right behind closed doors) and I’m torn on my thoughts about it. On one hand, sure, pay homage to the older games that operated in the same way. On the other, sometimes trends change for a reason, and, especially on the normal and easy difficulties (which are still challenging), I’m not sure it’s the best call. I’m sure opinions will vary.
Looking to the Past
To end on a note that I don’t normally bring up in my reviews, the options menu in Project Warlock is surprisingly robust. Not only do you have your standard control options like mouse sensitivity and axis inversion, but there’s also a suite of visual filters and sliders that let you customize the way the game looks to an impressive degree. By default, the game is absolutely beautiful. He old-school graphics are sharp, and modern lighting adds palatable depth and contrast to the enemies and environments. Beyond be able to tweak lighting and resolution, you can also edit the color scheme and filter effects to make the game look like it’s running on a number of old gaming systems (including the original GameBoy!). These options are completely unnecessary, but they’re also super cool little details that help make the experience seem more memorable and polished.
There really isn’t too much to say about Project Warlock because it’s really quite a simple game. There aren’t a ton of bells or whistles, but runnin’ and gunnin’ both feel solid. It may prove frustrating for those bothered by some of its old-school sensibilities (for better and for
Light RPG elements work well, level design is perfect for quick pop-and-play sessions, great visuals and visual options
No mid-level saves gets a bit frustrating, some instances largely require dying once to figure out.