Once the loading screen for Project Warlock had done its job, I was sitting in front of a CRT monitor, sipping on a Fresca and eagerly waiting for my subscription to PC Format to deliver some new jokes within the hidden folder on the cover disc. That’s the kind of game that Project Warlock is: Old school shooting, visuals that look like they’d run fine on a Voodoo Graphics Accelerator 2500 and a feel for action that feels like a highlight reel of the glory days of the retro first-person shooter.
A bowl of Duke Nukem 3D with some Hexen spices added for good measure, Project Warlock’s flavour is one of lengthy corridors, endless hordes of unspeakable horrors and a hint of magical weapons that creates a game which appears unique in the current genre of action…but doesn’t truly bring anything new to the table.
What Project Warlock does do bloody well however, is create a sense of action that takes the frantic nature of the past and dial it up to 11. Stabbing cyborgs with bullets from a satisfyingly chunky sub-machine gun, fine-tuning the pitch on a laser rifle and stabbing the demented nightmares of another dimension in the face with an almighty axe makes for good fun, and a pace which feels breathtaking when you start throwing a few fireballs at snowmen who rocked up to the wrong fight.
Combined with an absolutely killer soundtrack and meaty sound effects which hammers home the sound of every bullet you pump into a Succubus or any of the million nasty spiders skittering towards you, Project Warlock doesn’t skimp on the nostalgia that powered many an afternoon at a LAN cafe. The problem here, is that Project Warlock relies a little too much on trial and error.
While it is fun to dig into a game whose 2D sprites are ostentatious and never interrupted by the hint of a tutorial, more often than not you’ll find yourself befuddled by ideas and gameplay mechanics which can easily be overlooked or even forgotten. This isn’t a case of there being zero hand-holding present, but a genuine lack of information unless you dig into the options menu to discover that your arsenal has more to it than meets the eye.
When you’re chipping away at foes and you’re woefully unaware that you may have just picked up a powerful new spell or death-dealing weapon that could make the experience better, that’s just bad communication from the game itself. Likewise, the drive to earn experience points so that you can pump them into perk points once you level up, is a painfully slow slog that doesn’t respect your time.
Then there are the bosses themselves, absolute cheap-shot bastards who throw an enormous difficulty spike your way, in comparison to the mobs of cannon fodder you’ve been working your way through. Even on normal difficulty, these biblical beasts can wipe you out within a few hits, with salvation only coming from casual mode’s infinite lives setup that allows you to live and fight another day.
It’s a pity, because Project Warlock is a looker. It’s art style and focus sets it apart even from a legion of similar games currently rising up to nail a certain niche within the genre. When it hits a certain pace and combines its action with pulse-pounding music comprised of rock, metal and EDM, it’s an absolute blast.
But as a game that references the best of the past, it also brings with it some archaic hang-ups that fuse with it to create an alright experience at best.
Last Updated: June 17, 2020