Developer: Buckshot Software
Publisher: Crunching Koalas
Platforms: Steam, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Speed, aggression, skill, and observant backtracking. These were the skills necessary to survive the earliest first-person shooters. From Wolfenstein 3D to Doom, Rise of The Triad, Shadow Warrior, and Disruptor, the earliest shooters were action-packed festivals of unending carnage for those that dared. In these early days, there were no checkpoints or autosaves, and there certainly was not auto-healing of any kind. Players had to fight for their very survival, rationing bullets, and searching every nook and cranny for health pickups. Project Warlock from Crunching Koalas is one such game, forgoing high-end graphics and robust multiplayer for classic shooting and blasting. Project Warlock has been around for some time, as I first played it at PAX EAST in 2018. After a strong release on PC, the game has arrived on consoles to light up the summer. Featuring exciting gunplay, a classic visual style, and a wide world to explore, Project Warlock is one of the best games released this year and a strong contender of one of the best shooters of 2020.
Project Warlock has you as The Warlock. Demonic evil has ripped across the cosmos, using untold magics to spread evil across the land. Only you, the Warlock, stand a chance at ridding evil from the cosmos by facing it head-on. As a warlock, you aren't just gifted with the use of arcane magic but you happen to be skilled in weapons, and having a trusty shotgun will be just as important as having a magic staff.
Project Warlock is a first-person shooter that is woven into the fabrics of older games. Players choose their preferred difficult and soon set off upon their first mission. Players fight a variety of demons, with some being stronger than others and others being unique to their world's. As each demon is defeated, the Warlock levels up, being awarded points for leveling up their spells as well as their abilities and attributes. Additionally, each weapon collected is upgradeable. The goal of each level is to fight demons, collect keys, and find an exit in the labyrinthian levels. The levels are packed with secrets to uncover and weapons to collect. Project Warlock plays its levels in chapters, spread across several dimensions. Some chapters are several stages long, with no save point in between. Players collect extra lives to stay alive further and be given further chances. Upon the end of each chapter, players return to the workshop to upgrade their characters and embark on the next mission. At the end of each dimension, a large boss fight appears. Much to the tradition of the shooters before it, these bosses are immensely powerful, requiring agility and precision to put down.
Project Warlock is a love-letter to the shooters that it is inspired by, while becoming something new and original. Shooting in Project Warlock is remarkable. Each weapon has a real deal of impact and ferocity, from the high-caliber handgun to the "Groovy" shotgun. Even if players choose a melee weapon, like the ax, the weapons look and feel deadly, giving the right amount of excitement that players are meant to feel in shooters. There's an entire assortment of weapons to choose from, and with the weapon wheel, fighting in Project Warlock feels remarkable.
The enemies are no pushovers, however, as they come in all different shapes and sizes, and some require a lot more lead to destroy. The enemies are varied and grotesque but given a sharp degree of depth and design. When defeated, enemies fall in gory animation. Other enemies transform and receive visible damage when wounded. One enemy had their armored ripped away, after receiving a storm of bullets, exposing their skeleton and innards before finally being put down. It's a strong presentation, reminiscent of a thick, bloody graphic novel, with strong lines and design.
Controlling The Warlock felt sublime as well as the movement speed felt great and control layouts felt prime and fine-tuned. I knew what each button did and used the layout to great effect, especially when things got hairy.
Accompanying your weapons are magic. Over time, more spells become unlocked, such as an explosive spell that materializes a magic grenade and lobs it directly at the target for maximum destruction. At the beginning of project Warlock, the only magic available to you is a Torch spell to light up dark areas and a magic staff that can either fire charged pulses of magic or smaller orbs at rapid-fire. This is a good fall back weapon when ammunition is expended.
One of the biggest bright spots of Project Warlock are the levels of customization available to players. Some of these older shooters were quite difficult, but fortunately, Project Warlock has multiple difficulty settings, making the game remarkably accessible to newer and older generations of players. Higher difficulties turn Project Warlock into an older fashioned arcade experience, where losing all lives leads to starting over from the very beginning of the game. Casual difficulty, the easiest, allows for no loss of progression but is still quite the challenge. Seeing these setting is refreshing as it's clear the developer wished for Project Warlock to be experienced by as many players as possible, and these settings open the window to various players eager to rid the universe of evil.
Visually, Project Warlock is storming, and as mentioned before, it represents a dark, mature graphic novel with its thick lines and robust designs. The world's feel as if they have depth and evoke a feeling of darkness. Form castles to icy caverns there is a solid, diverse array of levels to explore. Keeping in line with celebrating the game that came before, Project Warlock has a customization option for its visuals. Even on console, players can change the visual scope of Project Warlock. One setting has the game appear as if it were on an old CRT television, with Gameboy colors and effects. Playing around with these setting only enhances the experience of playing Project Warlock.
While Project Warlock isn't perfect, there isn't anything wrong or broken with the game. Project Warlock could certainly use more levels, boss fights, and weapons, but for the price, it's a solid package. Although, one observation I made was with playing the game on Casual. During one session, I faced down a boss, and grossly underestimated the gargantuan demon. Naturally, I died and lost all my extra lives, being forced back to the main menu. As I did so, I saw no continue option. In that moment, I winced with shock, thinking that my progress was completely gone and I'd have to start from the very beginning of Project Warlock. It was odd, as dying on casual eliminated progress loss. I discovered that in order to continue, I had to go to a single level select, select the last level, and then continue. I was relieved to see my progress had indeed been stored, including my weapons and leveled up attributes. It was a minor inconvenience, though worth noting for those playing on Casual. Project Warlock ran as smooth as melted butter, with no technical issues or broken mechanics.
Project Warlock is one of the best indie games released in 2020. It's combination of a nostalgic, yet original orientation, coupled with exciting weapons and gameplay, make Project Warlock an exceptional FPS for all players. Whether you have never slain a demon before or have fought Hells most deadly foes, Project Warlock is a hell of a great time.