Monday, 22 September 2014

Review - Ziggurat (PC) Awesome Old School Fantasy FPS

Don't be a Heretic, play this new fantasy FPS!

Fantastic news for those of you whom, like myself, adore the classic old school first person shooters of yesteryear. None of this Call of Modern Halo Fighter 4 bullshit for me thanks. I want fast paced, satisfying action, not tedious, po-faced military shooters filled with lengthy cutscenes and constant Q.T.Es. Games such as Doom 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake 1 - 3 and Half-Life are still yet to be bettered and play exceptionally well many years after their original release. It's no wonder all of those titles are still supported by talented modders, with a wealth of exciting and original content to spice up the solid mechanics and gameplay provided in the original titles. Many indie developers have tried to recreate these classic games, but always fail - seeming to miss out the vital ingredients that made the games they are trying to emulate so special. This could be down to poor level or character design, weedy guns that provide zero satisfaction, boring environments to explore, or the addition of unnecessary gimmicks. Both Wrack and Rogue Shooter are recent examples of how not to pay tribute to the classic FPS, and now we have Ziggurat to show us that a decent indie old school FPS is indeed possible.

This time, the inspiration is not Doom nor Quake, but slightly lesser known title Heretic and its sequel Hexen. These games were published by Id Software, but were actually developed by Black Raven with assistance from John Romero himself. Heretic and Hexen both threw out the sci-fi horror setting, replacing it with a fantasy world featuring magical weaponry and spells. This is what Ziggurat has clearly been inspired by, as its frantic pace and no-nonsense blasting action using magical projectile weapons is pure Heretic. The first thing you notice are the incredibly beautiful visuals. So much so, that the wheezing cadaver I call my PC nearly had a nervous breakdown when I played it and I had to reduce the graphical settings. If you are the owner of a decent PC gaming system then you are in for a treat. The dungeons look great, the lighting is mesmerising and the amount of detail on everything, from the enemies, weapons and projectiles, to background items such as skeletons and glowing mushrooms is astounding. 

Ziggurat also uses the popular roguelike elements seen in... well, pretty much every indie game of late. Each time you start a new game the levels are procedurally generated resulting in a fairly new experience each time. Each floor is connected by a series of rooms, and it's up to you to locate the spell book, then find the room which houses the floor guardian. Along your way you will encounter different types of rooms. Some contain scrolls which provide some amusing anecdote, some magic chests that offer extra mana or weapons and some that are filled with traps such as spikes or fiery pits. Mostly though, they are filled with enemies, named minions. Once you enter the room, the doors lock behind you and the minions' energy bar appears at the top of the screen. You must then fight for survival, laying waste to any of the hideous (and often rather humorous) creatures that appear. As you destroy them the minions bar depletes and once empty the room is cleared and you can continue on your quest - they also drop XP, ammo and health for you to collect as they die. It's simple stuff, certainly, and many of the rooms repeat as you play through, but it never becomes too repetitive thanks to the exciting and fast paced combat that sees you strafing around the screen, firing your magical projectiles at a plethora of ground and air based foes. It really keeps you on your toes, and it is always with a sigh of relief and sense of satisfaction that you defeat the last foe and reopen the doors. 

Like any other roguelike game, death is permanent and requires starting from scratch. Initially this seems brutal and progress is slow. But once you begin to hit the kill targets for unlocking new characters and weapons, as well as obtaining perks that can be used in your next playthrough, things become slightly more forgiving. Once this happens you will be hooked and will continue coming back again and again to try to beat that last boss who killed you before you could see what the next floor had in store for you. You will become more accustomed to the enemies attack patterns and behaviour and you will soon be whizzing through the levels, jumping over traps and mowing down minions left right and centre. The addition of levelling up  and choosing new perks during the game in order to boost your chances of survival is a welcome one, made even better by the vast amount of perks you can choose from, new ones of which are unlocked as your hit monster kill tallies.

Ziggurat certainly doesn't feature the same single-player structure as the games that inspired it - there are no intricate levels to explore and switches to pull to open new paths here. This may disappoint fans of Heretic and Hexen who wanted something similar to those great games and, to some extent, I include myself in that category. But I found myself enjoying Ziggurat too much to worry about what it could have been, instead focusing on enjoying what it is - a fantastically retro FPS that is heaps of fun to play, extremely challenging yet rewarding and wonderful to look at. The only chink in its armour is the length of the game. After several days of being defeated by the third floor guardian I made it to the fourth floor. I was disappointed to see that the stages still all looked very similar as I was hoping to see some outdoor stages, maybe a huge library, a clock tower, anything really. The disappointment was magnified tenfold when I got to the fifth floor and was informed it was the final stage. Only five floors? This seemed pretty tight-fisted to me. Sure, the game is hard and it took me several days casual play to reach the final stage, but I was left yearning for far more content. After a recent update there is a now a Game+ mode, unlocked upon completion of the game, which adds a sixth floor and increases the difficulty substantially. This should keep the hardcore occupied for a while longer.

Despite its short length and lack of variety in the levels, Ziggurat is the most complete and solid 'early access' game I have played so far, and wouldn't have been surprised if this was sold as the finished article. But with the potential for further updates and improvements, this game can only get better. If you yearn for the classic days of 1990's first person shooters then you will love Ziggurat and I urge you to head over to Steam and splash out on it as soon as possible. You won't regret it!

*Ziggurat is constantly in development and receives regular updates that refine the gameplay, tweak the visuals and add new content. This review is accurate as of 21st September 2014. I will bring you news of any major updates in future posts.

Title : Ziggurat
Developer : Milkstone Studios
Year : 2014
System : PC
Price : £8.99 (Early Access)
Genre : First Person Shooter, Roguelike

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