I find it incredibly interesting that developer Jakub Cislo took inspiration from games that came out well before he was born. He was introduced to the classic first person shooters like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D and Hexen among others, and seemingly fell in love with the genre, causing him to create his own game; Project Warlock.
If you grew up with the classics listed above, you know exactly what to expect: fast paced FPS action with plenty of bullet fire and billboard sprite artwork. If you didn’t know any better, you could easy mistake Project Warlock for a game that actually came out in the same era as the classics, and that is a compliment in the best way given that’s the aesthetic and gameplay style he wanted to create.
The world is being invaded by an evil force and it falls upon the shoulders of one warlock to rid the world of every last demon, beast and machine to save the world. While it won’t win any awards for its narrative or character development, that’s not why you play games like this; you play to shoot everything in sight at a frantic pace, finding keys and secrets along the way.
Rather than be a simple clone of Doom or Duke Nukem 3D, Project Warlock introduces some modern elements into its mix with character progression, spells, weapon customization and more. This makes for an odd blend of old and new, but tends to work for the most part. Through 60 levels of action you’re going to be shooting and casting spells in a handful of different settings. Just like the classics, you can bet you’re going to have to find colored keys for specific doors, elevators and fight massive bosses with your arsenal of guns and spells.
There’s quite a few guns to be found and use, each of which can be upgraded to have alternate fire modes or passives like using more ammo to do more damage. Some are better than others and it’ll vary based on your playstyle and what weapons are best versus certain enemies. Combining the weaponry with your spells is how you’ll make the most out of your runs once you’ve unlocked a handful.
One area where Project Warlock falters is in its weapon wheel. There are two different ways to swap your weapons, neither of which are intuitive or easy to use when you’re being chased by a swarm of enemies. It doesn’t really teach you how to use it effectively either, as there’s apparently two choices for each weapon type once unlocked, but I had to figure this out by stumbling through a handful of button presses with trial and error. There’s a more classic way to swap weapons as well, but it too is also cumbersome and not very efficient when you’re in the heat of chaotic battle.
The other area that was a big letdown for Project Warlock was its minimap. There’s one in the corner, but it’s basically pointless. It’s very zoomed in to your position, which is fine, but there’s actually no way to zoom out and see the whole map, so you’ll never really know where you are where you need to go. Also, once you do find your colored keys for the matching doors, these also aren’t labelled on the map. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted simply randomly running around trying to find where to go even after I had the key I needed. If there’s going to be a map, then it needs to be functional by allowing us to see it all at a minimum.
The more modern mechanics included are a little bit of customization and RPG elements. As you kill enemies and find secrets you’ll earn XP. Earn enough and you’ll level up. When you complete a handful of levels in a set you’ll be able to come back to the hub area and spend your skill and unlock points if you’ve found any. Here you can put points into your basic stats, but interestingly, putting a set amount of each will unlock other bonus perks. While I would normally dump all my points into health early on, there were other bonuses I could earn if I spread them out a bit more, which was interesting. The same goes with your weapons, allowing you to spend points on customizing them in certain ways to suit your playstyle. Finding what works best for you will be crucial when you start to challenge yourself on the harder difficulty modes.
With tons of secrets to be found, numerous enemies and tons of blood, Project Warlock gave an odd sense of nostalgia, yet is something completely new. The enemy variety could be upped, but given you’re going to be shooting anything that moves in front of you, it’s hard to fault it given it’s trying to be like the classics. The sprite work is great, and seeing that rotating billboard effect never gets old. Where Project Warlock shines most is in its soundtrack. Its got that retro feel to it, and every level has its own track as well, so you won’t become bored with the same tunes over and over.
Project Warlock is an interesting blend of nostalgia and modern but works quite well overall, save for a few minor issues. I can appreciate someone loving a genre so much that they want to create their own take on it, but it’s even better when they succeed, like they have here. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but for those like myself that grew up on 2.5D games like these, I came away more than impressed.
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