by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
BACK TO BASICS
Wrack is an unashamedly old-school first-person shooter from Final Boss Entertainment. Styled after the fast-paced run & gun action of Doom and Quake, it blasts down the door and, cigar firmly in place, faces down competition from the likes of Painkiller and the recent Rise of the Triad reboot. No-frills, retro shooting is back, so you’d better keep up.
After nearly a year on Early Access, the game is finally ready for release, but for now only the first episode – 9 levels – is available, with two more episodes to be added as DLC at a later date. Each level is bookended by comic book-style cutscenes, telling a tale of marauding aliens with plenty of panache. Adding a storyline is definitely a departure from the old-school rulebook (John Carmack famously said that story in games is ‘expected to be there, but not that important’), but there’s enough humour here to keep it from feeling out of place. Genre purists, though, will be pleased to know that skipping cutscenes is not a problem.
With end-of-level statistics and a leaderboard system begging for ‘just one more try’, Wrack encourages you to not just beat the game, but to pummel it into submission – discovering every secret, and shaving valuable seconds off your best time. No doubt completionists and the speed-running community will find plenty on offer here, but with only 9 levels, how much gameplay does it hold for everyone else?
SMASHING PUMPKINS INTO SMALL PILES OF PUTRID DEBRIS
The best way to describe Wrack’s gameplay is all-action, all the time. Armed with an array of FPS stalwarts (the shotgun and rocket launcher both make appearances), you tackle maze-like levels filled with enemies, switches, and secrets around every corner. The ranged arsenal is predictable, and includes only a paltry four weapons, but they have each been well-implemented and are great fun to use. Replacing Doom’s chainsaw is the hyperblade – a whacking great sword which takes up nearly half of the screen, and turns enemies into giblets with a single hit. The upcoming DLC episodes are said to introduce more weapons, but it’s still a shame that we don’t get many toys to play with from the get-go.
The first level is a fairly gentle affair, but it doesn’t take long for Wrack’s levels to balloon in complexity. Later areas will certainly challenge your spatial awareness, and possibly your patience, with twisting corridors, fluorescent force fields, and multi-floored arenas (complete with jump pads, of course). Every level also ends with a short boss-fight, which provide an enjoyable challenge as well as a welcome break from the standard gameplay.
For fans of classic FPS, Wrack will feel like a homecoming; it certainly won’t take long before you’re decorating every visible surface with guts and bullet holes. Even the way the enemies fight back feels reassuringly retro; you’ll find no hit-scan weapons wielded against you here, only clearly visible projectiles. Combine this with the return of health and armour counters, and it’s a welcome return to an intricate ballet of destruction; dodging and weaving to avoid the maelstrom of incoming fire, while simultaneously prioritising and picking off your own targets. In motion, and with a skilled player at the helm, it’s a thing of beauty.
As a novel twist, Wrack throws a rewarding combo system into the mix, discouraging methodical sniping in favour of running headlong into battle and causing as much mayhem as possible. Getting several kills in quick succession earns you a powerful finishing move, which is different for each weapon and great for clearing out the rest of a room in a shower of gore. You can even extend the timer by gibbing dead bodies, which is probably the best use of corpses I’ve ever seen in an FPS.
I WANT IT ALL, AND I WANT IT NOW
Graphically, the game’s cel-shaded visuals provide a strong, ‘pulp sci-fi comic book’ visual identity which will appeal to fans of not only Doom and Quake, but also Borderlands and XIII. It all adds up to a dazzling whirlwind of destruction, sure to please fans of old-school shooters, but with a unique feel of its own which I’m eager to see developed in future episodes.
Wrack has a lot going for it, and it’s already earned praise from industry luminaries like John Romero and Keiji Inafune. Final Boss have even managed to get none other than Bobby Prince – the guy who created the music for Doom – to do the game’s soundtrack, which features several tracks of predictably hard rock to get the blood pumping.
Where it currently disappoints is the lack of content available until the next episode is developed. The addition of Steam Workshop support and a built-in level editor is very welcome, and it’s entirely understandable for an indie developer to adopt this sort of release model but, selfishly, I want more. More weapons, more enemies, and more fun. There’s always the option of replaying the levels to get the best possible score, but unless you’re a hardcore completionist this may not hold your interest for too long.
One also has to wonder why multiplayer – which played no small part in Doom’s success – has been completely omitted here. The lightning speed and skill required should make this game a real competitor against the likes of Quake Live, and I sincerely hope Final Boss consider giving it the attention it deserves.
As it stands, Wrack may at first seem overwhelming to the modern gamer. The first level aside, it pulls no punches; gleefully flinging the player into ever more dangerous situations, and always pushing you to try harder. Once the style of play clicks, though, it’s an addictive cocktail of violence and strategy that keeps you on your toes and wanting more. When you die – and you will, a lot – the frustration is not because you weren’t expecting it, but because you know you can do better.
Fast-paced, challenging action. Appealing to old-school gamers. Fun combo system is a unique twist.
In desperate need of more levels. No multiplayer.