Retro Shooter Revival
The shooters of old have returned with a vengeance
Once upon a time — long before loot boxes or kill streaks — first-person shooters represented the bleeding edge of video games; they were the kings of technical innovation, competitive gaming…almost everything, really. In many respect, it was a simpler time. Season passes were still reserved for theme parks, and the only way to spend extra money on a game was to buy a copy for a friend.
None of this waxing nostalgic should be interpreted as a suggestion that the shooters of today are inferior. In fact, they still regularly represent the benchmark for cutting-edge graphics and they still attract enormous numbers of players. Annualized franchises like Call of Duty or Battlefield clearly demonstrate that there’s still significant demand for high-quality realistic military shooters; games of this caliber simply wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t sufficient demand for them.
And yet, despite this, a quiet revolution is occurring — a movement, perhaps. Players are seemingly itching for the fast-paced twitch action that once permeated the first-person shooter genre so long ago. Developers and publishers are recognizing this desire, too. Consider that the granddaddy of shooters made a grand reappearance in 2014. I’m referring, of course, to Wolfenstein: The New Order.
The New Order flawlessly blended the brutal and lightning-fast gameplay that fans were craving while still delivering a modern look and feel. Many gamers applauded the fact that The New Order eschewed regenerating health, and the array of weapons and enemies breathed new life into the ageing franchise.
But if Wolfenstein is the genre’s grandfather, then Doom is the godfather.
Doom’s 2016 revival was met with skepticism when it was first announced. Its troubled development cycle didn’t help perceptions prior to release (not to mention the departure of id Software founder and lead programmer John Carmack). And Doom 3 — while often regarded as a fantastic game — was an slower, more thoughtful departure from the series’ twitchy roots. Doom fans had been many years without a new franchise entry that felt true to its roots — something familiar, something that took the original formula and brought it kicking and screaming into the modern era.
Of course, we know how this particular story ended. Doom 2016 was a landmark achievement — not only was it a return to form for the franchise, but it comfortably sat alongside the latest games without feeling compromised or old. Doom 2016 proved beyond doubt that old-school run-and-gun mayhem was still as popular in the modern era as it had been back in the ‘90s.
The trend gathered pace after Doom 2016’s stunning debut. Quake Champions — the latest entry in the legendary Quake franchise — landed in 2017. It was a fast-paced arena shooter that attempted to bring the once-popular multiplayer action back to the forefront of the genre by mixing classic twitch shooting with Overwatch-style “Champions” (each with their own skills and abilities. Although Quake Champions was popular at launch, it sadly failed to pick up the traction that many had hoped for — currently, the player counts on Steam are less than stellar, sitting at around 1,000 players (peak) in the last few months.
Like Quake Champions, the new Unreal Tournament (announced alongside the launch of Unreal Engine 4 in 2014) struggled, but for different reasons. The game took an open-source approach to development, allowing anyone to contribute to its progress. And while there were great strides made early on, news about the game dwindled over the years. Finally, the project was put on hold indefinitely in 2018 (with most of the core developers moving across to work on Fortnite Battle Royale). The game is currently free to play in its alpha state.
It might be tempting to conclude that the future of retro-style multiplayer games is in doubt. But all is not lost; single-player experiences are faring much better, with numerous titles debuting to much acclaim. These games strive to not only capture that breakneck brutality of classic FPS games, they revel in it. They go above and beyond to capture the gameplay, music, and art style of an FPS era that some thought was long-forgotten.
Games like 2018’s Dusk aimed to bring old-school FPS gaming into the modern era by implementing a distinctly retro art style while still incorporating modern gameplay mechanics.
A whole range of retro-style FPS games has been released in recent years. And, for the most part, they represent love letters to everything from Quake to Duke Nukem 3D. And they are built on a range of technologies (either leveraging modern engines, or, in at least one highly notable case, the original ’90s Build Engine).
But not all retro shooters are homages to the classics. Some are taking newer and more experimental approaches to classic formulae. One such example is Get To The Orange Door, an ‘80s-inspired, parkour-laden romp that blends a retro shooter atmosphere with breakneck Titanfall-style movement.
Whether we’re talking about an outright classic clone or a mash-up of old and new, this new breed of shooter is bringing life back into the genre in a big way. New — and more accessible — game engines are also allowing more and more indie developers to create higher-quality, more robust experiences. The resulting influx of retro-style shooters is testament that this unique sub-genre is on its way back.
If you’d like to check out this next wave of retro shooters (both in terms of already-released and upcoming titles), I’ve compiled a handy list of the stand-outs below.
A love letter to Quake (and even a little Half-Life), this lightning fast (and oftentimes creepy) game will keep you on your toes through all three episodes.
The love child of Hexen and Heretic, this mostly magic-based shooter aims to deliver the same kind of fun (and difficulty) as its forebears.
This is what we’d get if Duke Nukem had a daughter. Seriously. It’s even built on the same engine as Duke Nukem 3D with various modern touches.
Thick, chunky, John Woo-inspired violence. Make sure you practice your dodge rolls.
Pixely 3D carnage. Prodeus is shaping up to be one of the most polished and and exciting retro shooters to be released this year.
Another title due for release this year, this gothic shooter is heavily inspired by Quake and Unreal.