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Project Warlock (PC) artwork

Project Warlock (PC) review

"Unity sucks."

Project Warlock Image (PC)

One look at the screenshots for Project Warlock will probably tell you all you need to know, as to whether you will like it or not. It is a first person shooter with a retro aesthetic. It features plenty of blood, guts, and over-the-top violence. It is reminiscent of games like Wolfenstein 3D, Blake Stone, Rise of the Triad, or perhaps Build engine games like Blood and Shadow Warrior. It is a love letter to these games, as evidenced by the disfigured corpses of FPS heroes found within its secret rooms, including Serious Sam, Caleb and Lo Wang. This is a tradition started by 3D Realms, wherein Duke Nukem discovered the disfigured torso of the Doom Marine in a secret chamber in Duke Nukem 3D. Thus, Project Warlock is a "reference to a reference" of sorts, and it is very up front about its influences.

But what is this game about? It's kind of vague, to be honest. There is no intro sequence to explain what is going on, you are just thrown into the action right away. You are apparently a badass warlock who uses magic and also guns. You blow away some enemies in the first level for unexplained reasons, and then you return to your secret lair, where there are crafting stations for weapons and spells. There is also a cool-looking river of lava flowing underneath your base, just because. Once you are done crafting, a teleporter will take you to various "episodes." This is another reference, this time to the shareware distribution model of the 1990s.

The episodes themselves are kind of nutbar. The first is a medieval fantasy realm filled with demons and monsters. The second is a modern-day Antarctic military base. The third is set in ancient Egypt. The fourth is a dystopian industrialized city. What do these things have in common? Not a lot, but apparently these exact four places are centrifuges of evil that must be cleansed before you can proceed into Hell and kill Satan himself. Iím not kidding Ė Thatís the actual plot of this game. This is explained in brief walls of text provided at the conclusion of each episode, but they don't explain much more than that. The English is passable, but obviously translated Ė probably from the developers' native Polish.

Project Warlock Image (PC)

Whatever. You're not here for the story anyways. All you need to know is the enemies are bad and you're going to kill them, and it is a lot of fun to do so. The shooting mechanics feel quite good. Enemies erupt into showers of blood that coat the walls and floors as you dispatch them. Ranged attackers will lob projectiles and grenades at you, while melee fighters will simply try to rip you limb from limb. You have to utilize your dodging and strafing skills to survive, as there is no way to jump, vault, climb, or use cover. The game stays on a single plane most of the time, except for a few instances where an elevator will take you up or down. Mechanically, Project Warlock feels most akin to Wolfenstein 3D, although you do have the ability to look up and down if you want to (you don't need to).

And within that simple framework, Project Warlock is a highly ambitious, creative and prolific piece of work. There is a plethora of weapons, monsters and environments to entertain you. You start with a set of basic weapons (a knife, axe and staff) and you can find up to eleven additional weapons to fill out your arsenal. Most of them can be upgraded from a choice of two options, and these drastically change the way it functions, which makes a total of thirty-eight weapon types (though you will not see them all in a single playthrough). There are also eight spells, both of the offensive and defensive variety, so there is a lot to play with here. Similarly, there is a huge variety of monsters Ė 72 types in total Ė including skeletons, robots, bats, tanks, scarabs, Egyptian demigods, wizards, nude succubi, flamethrower-wielding soldiers, Lovecraftian tentacle monsters, et al. Each episode features completely unique enemy types, which means that you are provided with new challenges and surprises as you progress through the game. All of these creatures are hand drawn and animated, which is quite a feat for an indie studio.

Additionally, each episode ends with a battle against a boss who is huge, intimidating and difficult to beat. You will probably lose many of your extra lives during these encounters. I should explain that you aren't allowed to save scum in Project Warlock, so if you lose all of your extra lives, itís game over. Thus, every time a boss kicks your ass, you are pushed that much closer to a fail state. This encourages you to get your shit together, play better, and do what it takes to win. Thankfully, it only took me a few tries to beat each boss. The difficulty level can be described as "challenging, but not frustrating," which is exactly where it should be.

Project Warlock Image (PC)

Despite its simplistic aesthetic, the environments in Project Warlock are actually highly detailed and interactive. Most objects in the game can be damaged or destroyed, and most have multiple frames of animation denoting various damaged states. Blasting a tree with your shotgun will blow a limb off of it, for example. Blasting it a few more times will reduce it to a stump. Throwing a stick of dynamite into a room will obliterate all of the objects at the center of its blast radius and only damage objects at the edge of it. The enemies, similarly, will register visible damaged states that affect their behaviour. Blowing the arm off a cyborg will ensure that he can only shoot you with one of his arm-mounted miniguns instead of both. Blowing the legs off a towering military robot will cause him to slowly crawl across the ground, but he will struggle to shoot at you all the same. Again, this attention to detail is very impressive.

I should also mention that the soundtrack is nearly 5 hours long (!). Every level has a unique music track, and there are 60 levels in total. Most tracks are only a few minutes long, and some are forgettable or even experimental in nature, but most of them are quite catchy or downright good, which is another incredible feat for an indie developer like this.

My only real gripe about Project Warlock relates to technical concerns. I noticed significant frame drops when I was playing on certain levels, especially when transparent textures were present, such as windows or fences. I also experienced even worse frame drops later in the game, particularly in the Hell levels, where I was frequently swarmed by enemies (and rightly so). The choppiness was so bad that it actually became difficult to aim and dodge, which was not fun at all. There aren't many detail options available in the menus, but I tried turning all of them off anyway. This had no effect on improving performance whatsoever.

Project Warlock Image (PC)

Out of curiosity, I decided to check my systemís loads and temperatures. I was shocked to find that my GPU was operating at 82į C, or two degrees above the ideal safe operating limit. Full disclosure: I own an NVIDIA GTX 1060, and not even The Witcher 3 or Doom Eternal make it run that hot. I scratched my head in puzzlement. Why the hell was this game cooking my GPU, when it is about as detailed as games from the 90s that only require 16 MB of RAM?

The answer, of course, is Unity. Developing in Unity is probably why the developers were able to focus their efforts on creating a ton of cool sprites, maps and music without having to "reinvent the wheel" and code a 3D engine from scratch. I understand that Unity is a cheap and attractive option for developers for this reason, but that doesnít change the fact that it is largely a piece of shit. I have experienced similar performance issues in just about every Unity game I have ever played, except for those of the most basic 2D variety. Unity is just a bad engine, and Project Warlock is proof of this Ė it can't even handle basic geometry, 64x64 resolution textures and simple sprite-based objects without melting your hardware and killing your frame rate.

Itís a shame, too, because Project Warlock is a lot of fun. The developers have thrown a lot at the wall here and most of it sticks. It is a derivative work, but intentionally so, and very self-aware of that fact. It is a labour of love, a tribute to all of the best things from the first person shooters of the 90s. It looks and feels great until the clunkiness starts. I recommend you play it, but only if you happen to have a military-grade supercomputer that is cooled with liquid nitrogen.

Nightfire's avatar
Featured community review by Nightfire (November 15, 2020)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access.

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