Some games introduce themselves well, others remain strangers. Project Warlock does a poo on your doorstep, kicks your cat, then invites itself in to bake you a lovely cake.
Project Warlock‘s first four levels are so infuriating that you’ll feel like banishing it to the underworld. Not only does this retro-themed shooter contain two sewer levels, each sub-stage is so narrow and labyrinthine you barely have room to move. So, when Project Warlock decides to auto-switch your weapon to dynamite, you’ve blasted off your face before you can blink. Factor in the lack of quick-saves (forcing you to restart a level each time you die) and you’ll quickly loathe every pixellated inch of those levels.
But then, something happens.
“A glorious, gruesome outing”
You discover that, far from being the horrible trainwreck you thought it was, Project Warlock is actually good. Really, really good. So good, in fact that, as you shotgun your fifth Shoggoth in the head, you’re willing to forgive its sewer-related excesses; particularly since you’ve spent the last half an hour gleefully blasting your way around three ice levels. You’ve racked up a body-count that would put Naughty Dog to shame and you couldn’t be happier.
“Project Warlock channels the gore-heavy mayhem of 90s shooters, resembling a mash-up of Hexen, Blood and Wolfenstein 3D”
Project Warlock channels the gore-heavy mayhem of 90s shooters, resembling a mash-up of Hexen, Blood and Wolfenstein 3D. Enemies have the intelligence of a housebrick but they descend on you in such numbers you barely have time to breathe. Matters are simplified by the fact that each level takes place on a single plane, a la Wolfenstein 3D, which you’d think would get annoying but never does.
It helps that each of the twenty or so areas (grouped into five worlds) have an aesthetic all of their own, accompanied by a superb soundtrack. Logically, you know you’re roaming round a monster-filled maze, split into narrow corridors and open kill-boxes – but when your foes pour in, you’re fighting through ancient Egypt with just your shotgun and a few spells standing between you and total annihilation. There’s a story, but it takes a backseat to watching the pixellated corpses pile up, which end up being a better navigation aid than the game’s auto-map.
“The further you push into Project Warlock, the more curve balls you have to deal with”
However, if it was all about the gore, Project Warlock would wear out its welcome pretty quickly. What elevates this shooter is its enemy design. Yes, they’re ostensibly brainless, but the further you push into Project Warlock, the more curve balls you have to deal with. Each level has its own unique-looking foes and while some are clearly reskinned versions of previous monsters, there’s enough variety to keep you on your toes. I hurled a stick of dynamite at the man-shark who was trying to bite my head off, watching his arms disappear in a cloud of blood, convinced that he was no more. Five seconds later, I was frantically backpedalling as, missing those limbs, he continued to advance on me.
Project Warlock’s levels are short enough that if you do die at the hands of one of the nasties, you’ve rarely lost more than five minutes. And it’s nearly always your overconfidence that leads to your downfall. That, or the horribly clunky weapon wheel; it’s currently one of Project Warlock’s few real flaws, but it’s being patched imminently by the developer.
“A blood-splattered love letter to retro-shooters”
Being able to hurl spells is a bonus, though a couple of them seem a little overpowered; Project Warlock’s experience system means you can rank up certain aspects of your character. But there are enemy-related pitfalls here, too; I grinned like an idiot when I turned my pistol into a flare gun, able to tag foes and stand back as they burst into flames. Then, five levels later, I discovered that it was now useless against flamethrower-wielding foes. Ouch.
Project Warlock is a blood-splattered love letter to retro-shooters, but still there’s plenty here to hook you even if you’ve never experienced the titles that inspired it. A glorious, gruesome outing, Project Warlock is sometimes unforgiving, but once you push past the first few levels, it’s a bloody joy to play.