“ALEX! What happened,” my partner cried out, having a mini heart attack thinking some cataclysmic event had happened. It was only natural, since I’d sworn loud enough to catch the attention of our apartment block, the block next door and about half the street with it.
And I was right to curse to the almighty heavens, because the absolute worst thing had happened: the sewer level in a video game.
Sewer levels are this classic trope from early ’90s and ’00s games, one where developers force you into small, cramped areas where you’ll inevitably get ambushed from both sides, surrounded by a sea of rusted grey and dogshit brown. And just the idea of playing in a sewer sounds awful. It’s full of shit. Real shit.
On top of that, there’s just not a lot of room for level diversity. But Project Warlock, a ’90s-style FPS that first released on GOG in October 2018 and is now part of this month’s Humble Monthly offering, found a neat way to spice the monotony of endless, faecal lined corridors.
By having enemies emerge from the sludge when you least expect it. Even after clearing a room – or section – full of enemies, you’ll go to do something simple, like pick up a health potion.
And – SURPRISE! – another enemy roars, rising from the sea of brown just in case you hadn’t completely shit yourself yet.
Project Warlock, which you can grab now for $17, is a pretty decent hark back to the days of Hexen and Heretic. Your aim is locked in the game and the movement speed is super quick, so much of gameplay is spent carefully checking around corners, weaving in and out to dodge projectiles, and doing the occasional slash and button mash against walls looking for secret rooms.
Structurally the game is split into a series of episodes, which are broken into a series of levels underneath that. The sewer segment is part of the game’s first episode, with two levels of its own. It’ll take you about 20 minutes tops to finish both levels together the first time around, out of caution: Project Warlock gives you a set amount of lives to complete each episode, and if you run out of lives at all, you have to restart from the beginning.
Unlike Amid Evil or DUSK, Project Warlock stands out by introducing an RPG-like levelling system, where killing monsters and collecting treasure earns XP that goes toward skill and perk points. Skills are fairly standard, boosting your HP, melee damage, ability to carry items, spellpower and so on, while perks are the nice cherry on top (like a bonus random skill point every time you level up, or reduced damage taken and increased health).
The main decision you’ll have levelling wise is whether to prioritise guns and ammo or spellcasting, as the same currency you use to buy spells is shared with the currency for upgrading your weapons. And you’ll definitely need more firepower, because when things get frantic, the screen looks like this the whole time:
I like Project Warlock a hell of a lot. It’s more of a grounded maze hunt like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, but there’s great variety between the episodes, weaponry and the monsters you come across. The game is absolutely geared towards flinging a spell at one enemy, quickly pulling out the dynamite for a few shielded beasts, and then grabbing the double-barreled shotgun for close quarters combat, and the moment-to-moment loop of clearing out corridors and weaving around enemy projectiles is fantastic.
But early in the game? You don’t have all those cool toys. You’ve got an axe. It’s a good axe. It does a ton of damage. But that still means you have to get up close and personal – which means you’ll always have the shit scared out of you by some undead arsehole clawing up from out of the toilet water.
I hate sewer levels.