Review – Dread Templar
The terribly-named “boomer shooter” trend is going strong nowadays, with some really great titles being released over the past few months. There have also been some massive duds that really show how actually hard it is to make a game in the scene feel retro and fresh at the same time. Thankfully, we have a positive entry in the subgenre being discussed today. Dread Templar is the perfect case of a retro shooter that might look and feel like it came from twenty-five years ago, but features enough gameplay elements and quality of life improvements that take advantage of how the FPS genre, and gaming as a whole, has evolved over the past decades.
Dread Templar is a game that might actually feature a setting and a story (and sadly, it tries to convey it through some really poorly voiced cutscenes in between chapters), but it’s not at all meant to be part of the core experience. This is your typical meathead shooter: labyrinthine levels, brutal enemies, weapons that pack a punch, Satanic and demonic imagery, fast-paced movement, and a crap ton of utterly amazing, adrenaline-inducing, heavy metal riffs.
In this case, Dread Templar goes for a more Quake-esque approach than your average retro DOOM clone. You can move and aim with the mouse in all directions, jump around like a hyperactive Mexican jumping bean, and the overall imagery just looks very Quake-ish in nature. Everything is polygonal, going for a late 90’s aesthetic. Not just because of the sheer amount of edgelord vibes in the whole presentation, but in the sense that, despite looking dated, it feels like it came from that era when graphics cards and consoles were just starting to become beefy enough for polygons to look like what the concept art wanted it to represent.
Dread Templar looks retro, but that doesn’t mean it looks like crap. There is a sheer distinction between both. It takes a gargantuan effort for a game to look like it was the peak of design from its era, like Prodeus, and not just utter low-poly garbage, like God Damn the Garden. While it’s far from being the best-looking retro shooter I’ve played in a while (again, Prodeus does take the cake), I really enjoyed Dread Templar‘s overall presentation. It also helps that the game runs at around eleven billion frames per second, making everything feel stupidly smooth, fast-paced, and responsive.
The key to making a successful retro-styled shooter is to make it look like an old FPS from the glory days of early 3D graphics accelerators, but with enough quality of life features to make it feel fresh, and not so dated to the point of testing your patience. This is where Dread Templar absolutely shines. It does play just like a shooter from 1999 would, and its level structure couldn’t have been more DOOM-esque in nature (its first level is even called E1M1 for crying out loud), but the extra additions add the necessary spice to make this bad boy shine as one of the better shooters I’ve played in years.
First of all, I need to commend the quality of the level design. Even though most shooters from that era were intentionally claustrophobic in nature (GPUs couldn’t exactly render a Battlefield level back in 1998), Dread Templar perfectly alternates between creepy corridors full of enemies eager to meet your shotgun, and more open areas plastered with foes who can easily shoot you from afar. As a result, you are encouraged to use your dash ability (awkwardly tied to the left Shift key) to dodge these moves, as well as a bullet time mechanic which felt useful, but not as much as the game made it look like it would. Spatial awareness and constant movement were the main survival methods. Well, those and being aggro as hell.
The other main addition is a small, but interesting skill tree. The gist is simple: every now and then you’ll be able to find some heart-shaped stones, which can unlock new slots for you to fill in with additional runes scattered throughout the map. Most of them are actually well-hidden, being the prizes for completing platforming challenges or exploratory sections. These range from your classic health and ammo increase, to passive buffs for some of your weapons. It’s not exactly deep, but adds an extra layer of strategy and customization to an otherwise excessively meat-headed (bear in mind, this isn’t criticism) game.
The mishmash between retro aesthetics and modern quality of life improvements creates a game that doesn’t innovate at all, but never needed to. Dread Templar is a stellar retro shooter that shines with its fast-paced gameplay and utterly stellar level design, with most of its issues being minute things such as poor (but very occasional) voice acting and some bizarre key mapping. All in all, this is one of the best retro FPS released in recent memory, and one you definitely need to add to your collection if you’re done with every level (both original and fan made) from Prodeus at this point.
It looks just like a shooter from the Quake era, but with infinitely larger maps.
It’s a fast-paced “boomer shooter” that demands spatial awareness and quick thinking from players. I loved its combat and its level design. Its movement-based gimmicks are also fun, but tied to odd keys.
Some of the best metal tunes included in a game in recent memory are very occasionally interrupted by some admittedly terribly voiced cutscenes.
Fun Factor: 9.0
The visceral combat, great level design, and strategic elements make Dread Templar one of the best retro-infused shooters out in the market.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Dread Templar is available now on PC.
Reviewed on Intel i7-12700H, 16GB RAM, RTX 3060 6GB.
A copy of Dread Templar was provided by the publisher.