Tag: 3D Realms

WRATH: Aeon of Ruin – Revisiting an early access boomer shooter.

Have you ever written a critique about something, then come back to it years later to see if it still holds up? I have that feeling with a lot of things I’ve played. Since I try to improve myself as a person, sometimes I have to reassess my opinions on something or if I’ve changed. With how games change from day one to day 365 thanks to the wonders of patches and Early Access, it has me occasionally revisiting stuff to see if it’s gotten better. And in this case, it’s going back roughly 4 ½ years ago… when the boomer shooter craze wasn’t at a fever pitch. I’m gonna look back at WRATH: Aeon of Ruin.

Developed between small indie studio KillPixel Games and slightly larger studio Slipgate Ironworks, and published by 3D Realms – the new one ran by Fredrik Schrieber, not the old one that gave us Duke Nukem Forever – the game initially came out in Steam early access in November 2019, the game went through a dormant dry spell before finally being released in February of 2024, nearly five years later.

A friend had gifted me the game back during that early access period, and I was… pretty darn harsh on the game. To quote my now out of date Steam review from that time:

This game, on the other hand, has problems. Lots of questionable design decisions that don’t make sense. Enemies that take too much damage, on arenas where circlestrafing is not an option. An unwieldy inventory system which is counter-intuitive to the style of gameplay this wants to emulate. And whoever thought that reviving the “save gem” concept from Daikatana was a good idea needs to be smacked in the head with a baseball bat […] I cannot recommend the game in the current state it’s in. It needs some balancing adjustments to be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned retro FPS throwbacks.

This game definitely didn’t have it’s balance set correctly in 2019. (Taken from the Early Access period.)

Basically I lauded the look and style of the game, while also feeling the gameplay needed some improvement. By 2019, the concept of a retro FPS/boomer shooter requires a type of finesse to make it stand out from the others. A lot of New Blood’s work, like DUSK or Amid Evil, is a good example of this. This is more important 2024, when we’re in peak Boomer Shooter Heaven, where everybody’s getting in on the craze. So let’s see how KillPixel and Slipgate Ironworks did to improve from their early access version.

I feel like I’m crossing the River Styx.

A quick story primer: You play as the Outlander, an unknown figure who meets with The Shepherd of Wayward Souls, where one must find the sigils of an area before fighting a big boss at the end of three episodes. The Outlander transports to levels and defeats any monsters in their way to get the sigil at the end. Basically a little bit HeXen, a little bit Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, with a pinch of Blood and Quake for flavor. (Fitting, since WRATH is made on DarkPlaces, a source port of Quake’s engine.)

Sharp. Pointy. Zoomy.

Much like other boomer shooters, the Outlander has a myriad of weapons at their disposal. First is the Blade of Ruination, a good go-to melee that also has an alternate fire where you lunge forward, which is great for getting past gaps and doing massive damage to certain foes. Then there’s your usual FPS arsenal of a handgun, a double-barrel shotgun, a “Fang Spitter,” which amounts to the game’s rapid-fire automatic weapon, an acid-spitting launcher and even a railgun equivalent. There’s other weapons too, but most of these are in those early episodes. All the weapons have an alternate fire that can be useful in sticky situations.

Shadow Warrior: I messed with Lo Wang, and got my ass beat.

Man, remember when 3D Realms were considered one of the coolest PC publishers? Then Duke Nukem Forever happened and now they’re just a shell of their former glory only to be laughed at. Where did it start going all wrong? Probably when they thought they could make a Duke Nukem 3D ripoff of their own.

The cover even mimics Duke Nukem 3D, where Duke’s standing on top of a dead baddie.

This is Shadow Warrior. Released in 1997 on the PC, it was a first-person shooter much in the vein of Duke Nukem 3D. Sadly, it didn’t sell as well as Duke 3D did. Shadow Warrior is considered to be part of the “Holy Trinity” of shooters that used Ken Silverman’s Build engine: The others being Duke Nukem 3D and either Redneck Rampage or Blood, depending on who you talk to.

I had already bought DukeRedneck Rampage and Blood through GOG.com, but as of the time I wrote this, Shadow Warrior was nowhere to be found on that service. The only ways to buy it were through 3D Realms’ online store at a ridiculous-for-an-old-game price of $10, or hunt down a copy on eBay or local shops.

Well, luck was on my side when I finally found a copy at a Goodwill recently. After a little cajoling with DOSBox to get it to work properly, I was ready to play Shadow Warrior, told by the man himself that “You no mess with the Lo Wang.” I had heard from friends that this game wasn’t very good. Was this gonna be a repeat of the Blood II debacle, where I found enjoyment in a game everybody else hated? Well, not really.

“Zilla sends his regards…” with ninjas that will quickly die to my fancy katana.

The game starts out in Lo Wang’s dojo, where some goons come in from Master Zilla, who apparently wants you dead after you find out he wants to rule the world or something to that effect, and even kills Lo Wang’s master in the process later in the game, forcing Wang to avenge his death and kill Master Zilla. Granted, this was pre-Half-Life and pre-Deus Ex. Shadow Warrior was made when stories in first-person shooters were there just to make the unrelated levels connect to each other somehow. I can’t fault 3D Realms for the paper-thin storyline.

Wouldn’t be a 3D Realms game without a poke at other games in it.

Unlike Duke Nukem’s claim to fame from stealing from Roddy Piper and Bruce Campbell, Lo Wang doesn’t crib from any kung fu movies, so we get wonderful lines like “Howsa that for Kung Fu Fighting you Chickenashit?!” to “Cocks and balls, squashy penis,” even saying “Ancient Chinese secret!” any time you find a secret area. The jokes come off flat, crude and mostly unfunny. The voice of Lo Wang, John Galt, gave it a shot, but Lo Wang just doesn’t hold a candle to Duke in terms of cheesy one liners.

Since this game is a pastiche of Asian cinema, there are references all over the place that don’t quite fit. It has dojos, references to eating animals, fortune cookies as health boosts, plus weird anime references before anime was even a thing in the US. I can give them effort for trying, but in a sense this comes off as a bit culturally insensitive. Granted I’m the whitest person around, so I cannot really give my piece about some of the game’s questionable elements.

The game loves throwing tough foes at you even early on.

The game is also punishingly difficult, with many enemies being able to do rapid amounts of damage and small enemies that are a real nuisance to hit. Granted, Build engine games can be tough for many different reasons, but Shadow Warrior is considerably harder due to enemies that can easily whittle down your health pretty fast. Not only that, armor is considerably scarcer in this game. I usually don’t have problems with Blood or even Duke Nukem 3D, but the quicksave button got a lot of use while playing.

Ah, the days when you could make a blatant Speed Racer reference and *not* get sued.

Despite my frustration of this, there are a few good things going for it. The art style’s good in spite of the Asian stereotypes, Lee Jackson’s soundtrack is filled with goddamn bangers, and some pretty unique interactivity where you can drive RC cars by using your mouse and keyboard among other drivable vehicles. This was pretty cool stuff for 1997, all things considered.

There were going to be three expansions, which only two — Twin Dragons and Wanton Destruction — got released; the other one would be cancelled after the poor sales of the original game. Both of these are freeware now, so if you wanted more Wang, there you go.

No, Lo Wang isn’t gonna try to eat the rabbit. He’s trying to snatch a fly with those chopsticks.

I feel a little bit bad for 3D Realms. They clearly wanted this to be the next Duke Nukem, going a big marketing blitz, complete with novels based on the game, which I heard are worse than even the Doom novels. But it wasn’t enough as people were already enamored by id Software’s Quake and its innovative 3D engine, and nobody wanted these old looking “2D” shooters.

When I look at this, I see a shooter that despite some cringe-worthy moments like mostly naked anime girls and terrible stereotypes, is actually alright. It does justify its place in the “holy trinity” of Build engine games. It’s tough as balls, but still fun in the end. That’s really all that matters.

If you wanna play it now, it’s freely available on either GOG or Steam, but this is the original game in a DOSBox wrapper. If you want something a bit easier to handle on more modern machines, there’s Shadow Warrior Classic Redux, which was ported by General Arcade. Either way, Shadow Warrior is worth a look at least, in spite of its issues.

Oh well, at least 3D Realms got better after this, right?

Balls of steel, indeed.

 

Nope, they did not.

Updated 1/16/2020 for grammar and tone changes. Added screenshots from the more recent Redux release.