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I had no idea about Project Warlock until my friend Matt texted me a link to a thread about it on NeoGAF and I thought it looked pretty cool. Funnily enough, that very same evening we received an email from the publisher of Project Warlock simply called “gaming company” asking if we would be interested in reviewing it. We said yes and received the review code the day before it released. We want to extend our gratitude to the people at gaming company for giving us the opportunity to review this for free. Developed by Buckshot Software and published by gaming company, Project Warlock was released for PC in October, 2018. And as of this review, it’s only available on GOG but we are told it’s a timed exclusive. Project Warlock is a retro-style first-person shooter that claims fans of Doom, Hexen, and Wolfenstein should enjoy.
I really don’t know what the plot is since the story is almost non-existent. There are some cut scenes that contain text, similar to how the original Doom games told their stories. Apparently, you’re battling the forces of Hell and you’re goal is to defeat the Lord of Hell. The game plays out in episodes with multiple levels per episode and multiple stages per level. As indicated on Buckshot Software’s website, there is no focus on story or plot but for a game like this, the gameplay is the real meat of the experience and I’m happy to say it’s a lot of fun.
What makes Project Warlock somewhat unique compared to the games it claims to be influenced by is RPG elements. You run around the stages blasting away enemies with a decent arsenal of weapons and as you kill enemies, you gain experience. Acquiring the treasure littered throughout the stages also grants you experience and when you earn enough experience you level up and earn a stat point. You can also acquire Unlock Points scattered around the stages and after finishing all the stages within a level, you’re brought to the Workshop where you can upgrade the protagonist and his weapons. You can distribute your stat points into different stats like Strength, Life, Spirit which will increase your mana and improve spell capabilities, and Capacity which will increase how much ammo you can carry. After earning five stat points, you’ll be rewarded with a perk point that can be spent on various perks like increased health and mana, the ability to move through monsters, extra ammo from ammo pickups, and other things to aid you in combat. The Unlock Points you acquire can be spent on both weapon upgrades and spellbooks.
Project Warlock is a first-person shooter and not only will you get to fire different kinds of weapons, but you can also cast magic spells. You first have to acquire the spellbooks which are located in the stages, then spend Unlock Points to buy them. I do think the magic is more of an aid than an alternative to firearms. One spell lets you to illuminate your surroundings, another lets you to cast a giant orb that electrocutes nearby enemies, and another lets you hurl magi-propelled dynamite. There’s a few others and my favorite is the Freezing Blast which will temporarily freeze enemies allowing you to shatter them. It’s a very helpful spell towards the end of the game. You also carry a magic weapon called the Warlock Staff which can be upgraded to a lightning or freezing staff. The staff will drain mana when used but mana pickups can be found throughout the environments, as can ammo and health pickups. You’ll want to be on the lookout for health pickups because if you’re playing on the Standard difficulty mode, you have a limited number of lives. Additional lives can be acquired as you play. The Casual difficulty mode provides you unlimited lives and the Hardcore difficulty mode only provides you a single life, monsters are faster, you’ll receive double damage from attacks, and your progress resets upon death.
You start the game with some kind of blade that can be thrown or used to stab enemies. You’ll get to chop enemies with an axe and eventually you’ll acquire more powerful weapons, most of which are pretty typical for a shooter like this. You’ve got your pistol, shotgun, double barrel shotgun, crossbow, SMG, minigun, flamethrower, rocket launcher, laser rifle, and you can throw dynamite. The deadliest weapon is easily the Chain Reactor which fires balls of energy that can decimate groups of even the toughest foes. But what makes the weapons interesting is the upgrades. Almost every weapon can be upgraded to something more powerful and you’re provided two options for each. For example, you can upgrade the double barrel shotgun to a harvester or flak cannon. The SMG can be upgraded to be dual wielded or a nailgun and the shots will bounce off surfaces. The Rocket Launcher can be upgraded to fire napalm rockets or supersonic rockets. And the minigun can be upgraded to an autoturret or heavy bolter. Maybe you want to upgrade your laser rifle to a railgun and your dynamite to proximity bombs. The upgrades you choose will depend on your play style and some weapons are better for certain situations and enemies. You can only choose one of the upgrades per weapon so the upgrade system does add some replay value to the game. If situations get too tough, your magic spells can be a big help and the game does get more challenging as you progress. More and more enemies will be thrown at you and you’ll be dodging projectiles frequently. Project Warlock can be very fast-paced at times and the action can get really hectic.
Each episode varies in theme and contains their own set of monsters which can drop items when killed. Some of the monsters in each episode share the same or similar behavior but others are more unique or are just simply more dangerous. There are enemies like spiders and bats that rush you, some enemies have shields, you’ll encounter Evil Glaciers, some enemies spawn other enemies, and later enemies like the Tough Mummies can fire rockets. Later in the game, you’ll encounter what I think are robotic enemy types, some of which are huge and can fire lasers. Some enemies will seem familiar whether it’s their appearance or name which is revealed after beating the game. Shamblers, Hell Knights, Terminators, The Thingy – yeah, there’s definitely some nods to other games and popular films. This is the kind of game where you should always be moving and strafing and always be careful because you never know what’s around the next corner. Outside of the minimap on the top left of the HUD there’s no larger map to reference and you’ll never know what awaits you. Every episode ends with a boss battle and they can be tough. I did notice that if you have heavy firepower, the bosses don’t take very long to kill. You might even say they’re a bit on the easy side.
When you first start playing, Project Warlock may feel more like Wolfenstein 3D than anything else. And that’s because most stages in the beginning of the game are full of corridors and tight spaces. The more open stages appear later in the game which also come with a lot more enemies. The stages are maze-like and it can be easy to get lost but luckily none of them are extremely large. They’re all pretty small and confined. There are environmental hazards you need to watch out for like some kind of thorny plants and lava late in the game. Explosive objects are littered around the stages and blowing these up is a good way to kill multiple enemies at once. There’s also objects you can break like crates and sometimes they contain items. You will have to find colored keys to open doors, you’ll ride elevators, use teleporters, and push buttons to progress. Most of the stages have a claustrophobic feel to them and the varied themes of the episodes is what keeps them visually interesting. You’ll traverse through Medieval areas, one episode is set in Antartica and another in Egypt, and you’ll navigate through industrial-themed stages before blasting your way through Hell. If you take some time to explore, you may find secrets that always house treasure, ammo, and/or mana and health pickups. The maze-like design of the stages isn’t anything like the Heretic series so it’s not like you should be running around in circles for hours, however, many times I got lost because I simply couldn’t see and make out exactly where I was. The one spell that illuminates your surroundings makes it easier to see but you can’t use it with a weapon equipped so I would often swap back and forth between firearms and the Magic Light spell.
Project Warlock is aiming for the retro look like many games do nowadays but it definitely has it’s own style which I like. The sprites and textures were created using an 8-bit color palette. But there’s plenty of visual options to tweak. You can apply a retro shader and choose from multiple color palettes, adjust pixelation, and even apply different CRT effects if you’re into that. The all around detail in this game is pretty damn great. The monster and weapon designs look fantastic and I think the visual effects really help to enhance the action. Spider webs will briefly stick to you when you walk into them, muzzle flashes are bright and illuminate dark areas, sparks will fly from explosions or projectiles hitting surfaces, blood splatter will cover areas, and the lighting in general is excellent. Now normally in games I like to leave certain settings at default like the brightness and in this case, that results in some areas being pitch black. I didn’t really mind, it kind of added some tension, but if you’re not a fan, you’ll want to raise the brightness. I really appreciate all the little details like skeletons hanging around, some enemy sprites will change based on damage taken, you can even blow the limbs off certain enemies, you can destroy the various objects scattered around, and light will shine through specific areas of the environments. Now the music is pretty good. Most of the tunes are catchy and rhythmic. Some of the songs heard at the end of the game are bit more intense, there’s some excellent headbanging tunes heard in a few levels, and it all compliments the action nicely. Much of the soundtrack has a brooding and atmospheric quality which adds to the tone and feel of the game. The sound effects are phenomenal. Explosions are booming, weapons fire is loud, and all of the firearms sound powerful and have a nice punch to them. The monsters make all kinds of growling and hissing noises and they’ll often screech when killed. On the technical side, I think the frame rate dipped on me a few times but overall it ran smooth and I didn’t notice any bugs or serious issues.
There’s a lot of games that like to throw the term “retro” around but Project Warlock actually nails the retro feel while modernizing the gameplay just a touch. While the RPG elements aren’t anything new for the genre, they do make Project Warlock stand out a bit. It manages to capture the feel of the classics like Doom with a mix of Heretic or Hexen but it’s also a bit more claustrophobic in it’s level design compared to those games. The action is confined, fast-paced, and fun. Project Warlock is a fun game. Period. The multiple difficulty modes, secrets, upgrade system, and around stages already offer a decent amount of replay value and I had a blast playing through this. But I would love to see more content and I think the most important question is what about mods? As you may know, games like classic Doom are still alive today thanks to the modding community and I would love to see what people could do with Project Warlock. I don’t know if the developer plans to open this up for modding or if it already is, but if not, I think it would be a good idea.
In an industry full of procedurally generated content, regenerating health, and developers wanting to tell an epic story, Project Warlock does none of this, although I think taking down the Lord of Hell might be pretty epic. The environments are hand crafted and your wounds don’t magically heal automatically. The game is simple and to the point. Doomguy would be proud. Project Warlock is an excellent shooter that immediately throws you into the action and doesn’t hold your hand. It’s kill or die, it’s fun, it’s action-packed, and it pays homage to the classics without blatantly ripping anything off. I would absolutely recommend Project Warlock to fans of first-person shooters. This is a game you should definitely check out.