It seems that when I said “I’ll have to try it some time” I was referred to literally ten minutes after posting that update. I’ve now finished Project Warlock, currently a timed exclusive on GoG but soon to be available on Steam.
tl;dr I like it and I had fun playing it. It’s a great game although it isn’t a game-changer. It’s not an evolution on the formula or a brilliant return to form, it doesn’t blow me away, it’s just a solid game. For the price you pay for it it’s worth getting.
I settled into a rhythm and didn’t stop till I was finished, running from room to room killing everything that moved. It wasn’t very difficult, and I found myself enjoying it, but not getting immersed in it like I did with DUSK or Ion Maiden. A lot more thinking is required to play through those two, compared to Project Warlock.
Project Warlock uses low-res textures and chunky, cartoony sprites. The artwork is retro-inspired, not retro. Monsters are chunky cartoon-styled sprites that are about as detailed as you’d see in the 32 bit era. The textures are low-res, and give the world a weird almost GameBoy style feeling (there’s even a filter in the menu that can give all the colours a GameBoy filter).
Project Warlock uses pre-built levels that tend to be flat and grid based like Wolfenstein 3D. The engine can clearly do more, as room over room, platforms, elevators, and slopes appear at various points in the game, so this appears to be a stylistic choice. The levels flow well and don’t feel limited, like Chasm The Rift (a game that shares a lot of thematic similarities with Project Warlock).
After finding enough treasure and killing enough monsters, you level up and can spend upgrade points on increasing Strength (more melee damage), Life (more health), Spirit (more magic power) and Carry (hold more ammo). The spells are not actually very useful (except for ammo generation). You’re far better off sticking to guns, which are for the most part very satisfying to use. There’s a nice feeling of progression to the guns as well, and you can also upgrade them at your character’s workshop in-between missions.
Generally the graphic design in the game is good. The final episode has a particularly evil and oppressive feel, where you journey through strange corruptions of previous episodes, it almost felt like a ‘corrupted game’ creepypasta at first. Episode 1 is a slow burn as you gradually take over a medieval fortress. Episode 2 is much more enjoyable, and is a great homage to The Thing. Episode 3 is a little dull, taking place inside endless underground tombs in Ancient Egypt, while Episode 4 a frenetic battle in a dystopian city against increasingly powerful enemies in Appleseed inspired power suits and mecha.
Balance is an issue, with the game becoming significantly easier as you upgrade your high-tier weapons (even with the final episodes significant bump in enemy power). The bosses are impressively sized and look great, but are unfortunately too easy. The first boss of the game is the hardest by far; everything after that pales in comparison as by the time you reach the end of Episode 2 you’ve gathered enough upgrades to handle most challenges. The boss of Episode 4 was an absolute joke; dead before he could attack me once, and the final boss feels like he should have about twice as much health. [Edit: The latest patch has updated the final boss and made them significantly harder, although the Episode 3 boss is still a complete joke]
The final gun, a BFG homage, isn’t even that useful. If you have a hyper-sonic rocket launcher and the ‘Sammunor’ ammo generation spell, you won’t need to fear enemies again. This was part of the reason I was able to turn off my brain and play; I never really felt like I was in danger. After completing Episode 2 I only really remember my health dropping below 50 once, and I didn’t even notice it until the end of the level (where I escaped with 2hp remaining) – I think it needs to be more obvious when you take damage.
So that’s my impression of Project Warlock. The shooting is fun, the levels mostly flow well, the secrets are satisfying to find. Some of my critiques may get fixed by the devs soon, as they seem to be quite active fixing the game. They’ve already altered light levels by the looks of things, which a lot of other reviewers have mentioned, and a huge optimization patch is coming out very soon too.
Project Warlock has clearly been made by people with a lot of love for the game. Sneaky references abound. It’s something that deserves a look if you’re a fan of the genre. It’s a competently made and interesting game. It won’t change your life, and it doesn’t redefine the genre, but you’ll enjoy playing it.
Worth the price of admission.