Project Warlock is akin to classic FPS games from the early ’90s but different. While it has familiar trappings like secret areas, diverse weapons, and items to pick up off the ground, it also has RPG elements built in with some Hexen inspiration. When you mix the genres together, you get a unique and fun title to experience. However, there are a few things that hold it back from shooter nirvana.
The role-play, looks, and sounds of Project Warlock
In terms of plot, Project Warlock has very little. You, the titular warlock, are thrust into a starting area once you begin your adventure, learning the basics. Once the tutorial is done, you enter a workshop that brings what this game has to offer to light. You are able to upgrade three categories here: Stats, Weapons, and Spells. Weapons and Spells are enhanced via upgrade points, which are little stars you find throughout levels. These two settings share the same resources, so you must be conscious of what you want to amplify and when. In Weapons’ case, you must choose between buffs with different advantages, like giving a staff lightning or freezing properties. Stats are augmented via experience points you build up from finding treasure, discovering secrets, and vanquishing enemies.
Graphics-wise, Project Warlock utilizes hand-drawn sprites. Foes have a cartoony vibe and have impressive animations for when they attack you. There’s a ton of variety, too: You’ll battle bats, spiders, succubi, mummies, cat deities, scorpions, and yetis, to name a few. This diversity is due to the number of domains you visit: medieval times, the Arctic, ancient Egypt, and more. Project Warlock always feels fresh when you hop across time. I just wish the locations weren’t all flat.
The music in this game is unbelievably good and quite catchy. The tunes always fit the terrain you are in, an added benefit of having unique locales to visit. There’s rock, industrial, metal, organs, synth… something for everybody. I just might buy the soundtrack for my own personal use!
The feel of Project Warlock
How does Project Warlock feel to play? The gameplay loop goes thusly: Each domain has five levels with a certain number of stages each (60 altogether). You blast your way through the maps, picking up any spells, guns, treasure, and hidden goodies along the way. Progress saves upon completion of each level when you return to the workshop. This means you must complete the stages in one go in order to not only record your adventure but your experience points, as well.
The action is frantic. You’ll zip through corridors, collect keys, and open doors while fending off baddies from all sides. Mixing melee weapons, guns, and spells is the key to success. Ammunition can be a little sparse, so using your ax or knife can be beneficial if you want to build up your bullets before spraying lead. Likewise, casting a freezing spell can immobilize a handful of monsters so you can shatter them with fewer shots. A bit of strategy goes a long way.
The drawbacks of Project Warlock
Unfortunately, Project Warlock has a few knocks against it that slightly diminish its positives.
The difficulty is one factor. On Standard, you start with three lives. You can pick up extras while exploring the terrain, but once you hit zero, you lose all your progress and must start over from the beginning. Thankfully, Casual does away with the concept of lives completely. Regardless of the mode you choose, though, enemies hit hard and often. Your health diminishes in seconds if you get swarmed. There are a number of levels that start you off getting assaulted from the get-go, too. Quite unfair, especially early on when you don’t have any boosts.
There are some technical hiccups as well. While a weapon wheel is used to choose between your tools of destruction, it can be a bit wonky. A few times, I’d be holding a melee weapon and then try to switch to a gun, and the game wouldn’t register the change. Also, choosing the ax has a slight delay that hinders your swing. At times, I definitely swung it point-blank range at an adversary and the hit did not connect. And why on Earth would I want to automatically switch to a dangerous explosive after I run out of shotgun shells?!
Building your stats, while a fun concept, can make the game easier as you progress further. Maxing out your strength, health, etc. makes the late game almost too manageable. In addition, you can unlock perks that give you more ammo, decrease damage taken, move at blinding speeds, and even walk through opponents. Combine all of this with devastating spells and you become god-like. It seems Project Warlock is either too hard or too easy; it struggles to reach that sweet spot in-between.
All in all, though, Project Warlock is a reminder of the retro FPS with just a smidge of RPG elements thrown in. The title has a wonderful aesthetic, fantastic music, and enjoyable gameplay. While there are a number of little things that annoy me, it’s unique enough to get a recommendation. Buy it if you grew up loving Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, or especially Hexen.
A review code was provided by the publisher.