The New Trend of Retro Throwback FPS Games

In 1998, Valve Corporation released Half-Life. It was a first-person shooter that revolutionized the genre known at the time for open and segmented level structures by creating a slow linear set-piece-driven narrative experience that literally put you in its protagonist’s point of view. Its new use of the medium was an unprecedented innovation in the way stories were told not only in FPS games but games as a whole. The rest of the industry was quick to take notice and soon, Half-Life’s approach to narrative could be seen everywhere. Deus Ex, Halo, the early Call of Duty games, Bioshock and many more are all great games made possible by standing on Valve’s shoulders. First-person shooters had been taken to a new exciting level.

And yet… they were missing something. It was as if the haste to adopt the new linear plot-centric direction for the genre had caused the classic style of FPS games to be left behind. The days of fast movement through open levels that would easily leave those not paying attention lost seemed long gone. Until now, that is. We’ve recently seen a resurgence of FPS games that follow the design ideologies far beyond being mere tributes, and we’re here to take you through the hottest titles of this new trend.


Dusk

  • System: PC, Mac, Switch, Linux
  • Publisher: New Blood Interactive
  • Developer: David Szymanski
  • Release Dates: December 12, 2018

This game is arguably the inception of classic style FPS games’ return and wears its heart on its sleeve. The horror theme from Doom and the movement of Quake combined with its deliberately low-poly graphics mean that there’s no confusion about where its inspirations lie. Originality is still everywhere in the game, though, with creative level designs, inspired usage of powerups, badass enemies, and even better bosses. But what will really be keeping players coming back are the fluid movement and gunplay that perfectly manage to hit that sweet spot of being both fast and precise that gave classics like Quake or Unreal the legacy they have today.

And if you miss the sheer hype that was first-person shooter soundtracks in the nineties, you’ll be happy to know that the Dusk’s music was composed by Andrew Hulshult, a household name to FPS junkies thanks to his contributions to the 2013 Rise of the Triad remake and Brutal Doom. His work here runs the gamut from exciting headbangers to ambient immersion and it consistently displays a production quality that outclasses even many AAA releases.


Amid Evil

  • System: PC
  • Publisher: New Blood Interactive
  • Developer: Indefatigable
  • Release Dates: March 12, 2018

Another thing about golden age first-person shooters that seems lost to time is the fantasy FPS subgenre. We don’t mean things like The Elder Scrolls, where they’re traditional fantasy games in first person, but honest-to-god shooters all about knights and swords. That may seem needlessly counterintuitive to some of you, but Brian Raffel showed us that this concept could not only work but could do so wonderfully, with his 1994 opus Heretic and its sequels. Amid Evil's aesthetic isn't just some straightforward swords and sorcery, however. It mixes it with dark fantasy and cosmic horror to create easily the most surreal environments on this list. And interesting environments go a long way in this game since it displays a steady commitment to the labyrinthian side of classic FPS level design, so expect to spend a lot of time in its levels.

That will be time well spent, though, because just like Dusk, moving and shooting is slick as can be, meaning that circle-strafing your way to victory stays exciting. Also like Dusk, Andrew Hulshult helms the soundtrack, flexing an aethereal vibe with culturally diverse influences that make for just the right kind of epic feel for this game.



Ion Maiden

  • System: PC
  • Publisher: 3D Realms
  • Developer: Voidpoint, LLC
  • Release Dates: February 28, 2018

One legend among the FPS community is the Build engine. This proprietary software from 3D Realms graced the world with the holy trinity of Duke Nukem 3D, Blood and Shadow Warrior whose technical innovations brought them to a level of environmental design never before seen in the genre. Levels were no longer a series of hallways with a few textures to add some idea of a location but fully realized cities, spaceships, hellscapes, and dojos thanks to unprecedented freedom of design and environmental interactivity. These games were like the Ocarina of Time for first-person shooters and Ion Maiden is dead-set on reminding us how great the Build engine was, not just by borrowing a few elements, but by being made in it.

As some of you may know, Ion Maiden is a prequel to Bombshell, a mediocre top-down action game from 2016, but it plays nothing like it. It’s lighting, color, spritework, and sound are all shattering the limits of what this antiquated software can do and it can all be experienced through smooth movement and surprisingly deep level design considering it’s still in early access. Plus, just like all the great Build engine heroes, protagonist Shelley “Bombshell” Harrison brings tons of awesome snarky quips to the bloodbath. It’s pretty hard for us to choose only one of her quotes to showcase here, but we’d probably have to go with her reaction to making an enemy explode with one of her homing bowling bombs: “cleanup on aisle: your ass.”


Prodeus

  • System: PC
  • Publisher: New Blood Interactive
  • Developer: Indefatigable
  • Release Dates: 2019

Let’s finish by looking at a game that reps the greatest franchise among all yesteryear shooters. That’s right, Prodeus is an unabashed Doom homage building on all its most visceral elements, and we’re not just talking about the viscera of your enemies that covers the screen as you fight. The game really wants you to explore its levels just like its forefathers, but unlike them, it gives you an entire 3D render of the level as your map, so that going off the beaten path never has to be a headache and it frequently rewards curiosity by letting explorative players get awesome weapons that will feel at home in the hands of any fans of Doom. Not only do a lot of weapons (and enemies too) closely match those of Id’s most beloved franchise, but developers Mike and Jason even hired Joshua “Dragonfly” O’Sullivan, a famous Doom modder best known for Eviternity, one of the most fun of the thousands of Doom mods out there. It certainly plays like it was made by a Doom genius, and the meaty sound design only makes the affair more satisfying.

Speaking of sound, Andrew Hulshult returns once again for the soundtrack leaning heavily into aggressive heavy metal to get you pumped for some good old violence. We can’t say much more about his work for this game yet, since it’s still in pre-alpha (though we’ll be damned if we’ve ever seen a pre-alpha that felt even nearly as complete as this one) but based on his track record and what we’ve had the privilege of listening to, it’s safe to say you can expect a smash hit.


Final Thoughts

Old games and engines may go out of style, but good design is always in vogue. Be sure to let us know which of these games you have in your crosshairs in the comments and look forward to more coverage of classic-style FPS games here on Honey’s Anime.

Amid-Evil-game-Wallpaper-500x287 The New Trend of Retro Throwback FPS Games

Writer

Author: Will Bertazzo Lambert

I’m a 21 year old writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba who does fiction, media critique and everything in between, currently studying English and rhetoric. I have influences ranging all the way from Henry James, to Stephen Greenblatt to Nintendo Power and after years of fanatical devotion to the coverage of anime and video games, I've finally tossed my hat into the ring and decided to give writing a try for myself. Will this be the dawn of a lifelong career or a small footnote on an otherwise unrelated life? Only time will tell, but I would like nothing more than to have you join me on the journey to discovering the answer.

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