The FPS genre experienced its peak golden age shortly after the inception of the category itself, with Wolfenstein 3D laying down the blueprint of the genre that we all know and love today. While the FPS shooter has since shifted to global competitive multiplayer and an Avengers-style cast of heroes, during the heyday the shooting took place in maze-like single player epics. Recently though, old school FPS titles have found their stride on modern platforms, with Project Warlock being one of the recent titles making its way onto Xbox One and other consoles.
People often forget how generous developer id Software used to be with their games, long before Bethesda took reign of them. Back in the good old days, the likes of John Carmack and John Romero would not hesitate to make the code behind games like Wolfenstein and Doom completely open source, making it accessible to anyone willing to have a go at it. The end result was a legion of clones and knock-offs that created an enduring subculture within the gaming community. Project Warlock, for better or for worse, most certainly feels like a homage to this fascinating and oft-forgotten period in gaming history.
This can be both a compliment and an insult, but Project Warlock feels like a fan-made Wolfenstein clone with a few superficial whistles of its own. It attempts to merge the ideas of Wolfenstein, Doom, and even Hexen into one incoherent mess of an FPS soup. As a whole, this feels like a rather amateurish project resembling the many, many freeware id Software shooter clones from the ‘90s, with that most apparent in its bland and cheap presentation.
When you get into the game itself, there’s nothing really offensive about Project Warlock as a shooter because it certainly gives players plenty of guns, spells, and weapons to play around with, all as they take on hordes of generic but vibrant looking enemies. The action is frantic and straightforward, demanding the same skills and precision as genre classics from yesteryear. Still, the action doesn’t feel rewarding, as the game very early on simply swarms the player with wave after wave of random foes. And inconsistently too.
Project Warlock may have the madness and bullet spraying action of golden age shooters, but it lacks the thoughtful design which allowed the classics to stand the test of time even to this day. There’s really no rhyme or reason in the level design here, even with the maze-like levels filled with secret rooms. All the levels feel like they were assembled with a random map generator, and the experience is basically a suffocating corridor shooter where players simply battle an overwhelming swarm of foes. The level design doesn’t improve much later on either, instead becoming increasingly incoherent and chaotic.
The core gameplay mechanics are quite good for the most part, with a selection of killer classic weapons and even a magic/spell system of sorts, harkening to the still unexplored gameplay systems of Hexen. The controls and shooting are quite fun and engaging for the most part, but menu navigation can strangely feel a little spotty and unresponsive at times; the basic function of cycling between weapons doesn’t work as smoothly as one would like. However, at the time of writing this review this issue has been picked up by the developers and will be patched shortly after launch.
While the enemy sprites are quite fun and vibrant, the overall visual and music presentation of Project Warlock is rather low-key and amateurish. There are a few superficial ideas thrown in as an attempt to give the experience a little substance, but the RPG systems don’t really belong in what is a hectic Wolfenstein-esque shooting romp. If anything, the difficulty scaling and the RPG progression simply don’t add up logically.
Project Warlock on Xbox One is a run of the mill clone of classic shooters, but it doesn’t incorporate the ingenious and thoughtful level design that made its forebearers such timeless classics. Where recent entries in the genre on Xbox One, most notably Ion Fury, successfully situated classic FPS sensibilities in a modern gaming context, games like Project Warlock function like the many, many freeware clones that id Software gave their blessing to back in the day. Anyone after a Wolfenstein-style classic romp will likely enjoy the offering here, but there are far better FPS options on Xbox One right now, both in classic and modern flavours… some of them even being compelling as a mix of both.