Splicing old-school FPS tropes with contemporary mechanics is a tricky balancing act. On one hand, you might get the sublime cocktail of MachineGames’ Wolfenstein games. On the other, you might get Duke Nukem Forever. Tinker with the formula too little, and you get divisive results, such as what’s currently happening with Quake Champions (admittedly, it’s still in Early Access), where the consensus seems to be that the Quake parts work, but the Champions bit isn’t as organic as developer id Software intends it to be.
There is a way around having to struggle with this balancing act, though. Don’t try, and keep it exclusively old-school. That’s the approach of two New Blood Interactive games I’ve been previewing recently, both of which feel reminiscent of classic FPS juggernauts, and both in very, very good ways. Amid Evil, from developer Indefatigable, may have a 3D Realms-like release date on Steam of “Soon” (read: when it’s done), but its clear inspiration from the Heretic games is immediately evident.
Instead of leaning too heavily into pixelated graphics (which is what Dusk does, but more on that later), Amid Evil looks pretty enough, while still maintaining a distinct look, even if it is a little over reliant on a grainy look to the textures at range. The moodiness of the environments feels more Quake than Hexen—but that’s mainly because Heretic looked like Doom with magic—with similar gothic architecture, but the emphasis on magic and melee weapons over more contemporary ordinance stops it from feeling like a Quake homage.
My first minor quibble with Amid Evil is that it won’t let me switch monitors, even if I try to force it by changing my main display in Windows. That minor gripe aside, Amid Evil is pure pick-up-and-play fun. Red orbs are health. Blue orbs are mana for powering magical weapons. And enemies drop souls for overcharging your magical arsenal. Simple.
Unlike other old-school-like corridor shooters, the fact you start with a melee weapon puts an emphasis on forward momentum, rather than backpedalling. It helps that this particular melee weapon is a brutal double-edged battle axe that gibs basic enemies with a single swing. The gore is a nice touch in terms of providing meaningful feedback to the oversized axe but, like Strafe, the blood-splattered floors are a great way of letting you know you’ve visited an area before.
I’ve found myself more drawn to Dusk, though, because it feels like a spiritual successor to the original Quake, both in terms of its look and how it plays. The faux-DOS-like splash screen is sure to get a smile from older gamers, and it plays nicer with my multi-screen setup so I can have it on my preferred screen. Not that it really matters, mind you, unless you’re chasing higher fps, because Dusk looks like it was made in the ’90s.
While playing, I’d find myself instinctively hitting ‘R’ to reload, but all that does is spin the weapons. It’s a neat in-game reminder that Dusk is pure old-school shooter and hasn’t adopted more modern features such as magazine reloading (even if the inclusion of a physics engine does help to keep things a smidge more dynamic in your firefights). This keeps the action rolling forward, with a good mix of power fantasy fulfillment (especially once you unlock some of the heavier-hitting weapons), and moments of strafing/backpedalling as you fight off swarming waves of foes.
There are coloured key cards to find, secrets to sniff out, and minor environmental puzzles (mostly of the navigation variety) to solve. But mainly it’s about shooting the pixelated red stuff out of baddies of different archetypes. Everything that moves in Dusk is out to get you, from towering creeps with chainsaws, to pesky ankle-biting rats that tend to appear and gnaw on your digital shins when you’re on low health.
There’s a campaign to play—which, at the time of preview, encompasses the first two episodes (which you can also get if you pre-order it on Steam)—but I had the most fun with the Endless horde mode. As the name implies, you fight against never-ending waves of enemies, which increase in quantity and difficulty as you destroy each wave. Because you’re fighting in a tight arena, you have to constantly move and shoot, and it’s a great place to start mastering the game’s arsenal for specific situations.
Shotguns shred up close. The crossbow works like an acid-tipped sniper rifle. And the grenade launcher is great for crowd control, because of course it is. You can score a special pick-up that lets you fire impossibly fast, which is the right thing to nab when you’re running shotguns akimbo and backed into a corner. This mode is also the quickest way to learn the quirks of the various enemies you’ll come up against in the campaign.
Back in the ’90s, when old-school shooters reigned supreme, we played them for hours on end because we weren’t bombarded with alternatives. Nowadays, old-school linear shooters still have their place, but they’re the kind of style of shooter that are best enjoyed in burst mode, rather than full-auto hours of play. Whether your old-school appreciation extends more to Heretic or Quake will depend on whether you’re more or less drawn to Amid Evil or Dusk, but as far as this Quake fan is concerned, they both hit the right notes.