Fans of classic first-person shooters live one of their best moments; For a few years now, installments that emulate the glory days of titles like Doom, Hexen, Blood, and Duke Nukem have flooded game stores around the world. Dread Templar is the latest exponent in the movement known to some as the retro FPS renaissance and to others as boomer shooters. This current began with the celebrated Doom of 2016, but it was adopted by a growing legion of developers from the debut of DUSK at the beginning of 2018. Since then, it is that the classic FPS is said to be back.
back to basics
This lineage of games uses the aesthetics and design school of those classic FPS, that is, a rustic visual presentation (product of its time), intense soundtracks, labyrinthine level design and a wide arsenal. Dread Templar meets those requirements to the letter.
The presentation emulates the aesthetic of the time, with locations and enemies with rudimentary geometries, and a minimalist color palette leaning towards ochres and muted tones, without being a game of a single tone. I became aware of this throughout the campaign, as I first visited underground locations such as crypts and ancient ports with ghostly ships, forgotten nightmare towns and even the gates of hell. As you can see, the variety of locations is one of its best features.
Dread Templar’s soundtrack is of the highest caliber and manages to keep the mood and excitement high with industrial notes and distorted electric guitars. I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack, courtesy of John S. Weekley (@PRIMEVAL), as it’s much more than just a rumble that accompanies you during combat; on more than one occasion I ended up with the melody of the music in my head and following the rhythm.
The level design complies with the delivery of the genre: there are 5 campaign episodes and it follows the classic format in which large labyrinthine maps witness a frantic search for switches and keys that open new sections of the stage. Dread Templar begins soberly, first introducing crypts and undergrounds, then there’s a dimension-hopping, and on occasion, the creator’s imagination conjures out-of-this-world locations to deliver memorable moments of action. It gave me the impression that its length is acceptable, however, some of them were too long and complex.
Dread Templar keeps you on the edge of your keyboard and mouse
When I decided to stay longer my goal was to find the easter eggs and secrets scattered on the stages. I found a scroll with drawings of prison cells crossed out and other similar paper that were a warning to connect the dots and find the secret. On another level, I found a shovel and my obsessive behavior led me to every mound of dirt on the stage to see if it was any use. My curiosity was often rewarded, so Dread Templar has more than one trick up his sleeve outside of combat.
And just regarding the combat, I will say that it complies with the fundamentals that make classic FPS fun and interesting in which each weapon fulfills a function; For example, the shotgun is one of my favorites, as it’s an all-round tool for dispatching weak enemies, but my favorite for taking down bigger threats is the double shotgun. Also, I really enjoyed the fact that my fingers got knotted juggling pressing commands in sequence to string shots together and deal the most damage in the shortest amount of time. Total destruction. Additionally, the bullet time mechanic slows down time to allow you to empty your clips on a powerful opponent or to easily dispatch waves of enemies in tight situations.
Dread Templar has RPG elements in the form of abilities that modify the properties and, in some cases, the behavior of the weaponry. I found it to be a harmless implementation because after ignoring it I preferred powers that made my loadout slightly more powerful or allowed me to carry more ammo; I only stopped for a second to check if it had any updates; I seldom experimented with others and returned to my rich assortment of favorite skills.
Get the job done…
In every sense, Dread Templar meets the letter of what a game needs to belong to the renaissance movement of classic shooters, however, I think it lacked a step to distinguish itself from the crowd. I think it could benefit from a deep movement system to round off the retro experience you are looking for with a flourish. The character gives a certain feeling of ethereal lightness because it seems that he has no presence on the map, as if he floats on the stage. It also seemed to me that they didn’t dare to offer unconventional exploration, since it’s incompatible with advanced techniques like the famous rocket jump, let alone advanced concepts like strafe jump.
I don’t want to say that Dread Templar is an average game, since it stands solidly on its own as a good execution of a genre that is dangerously beginning to become saturated with repetitive and very similar deliveries.
To be clear, one of my complaints is that the game takes a while to get off the ground as a classic FPS, perhaps because of its skill curve; I found it monotonous facing the same enemies with the same 3 weapons over and over again. Dread Templar is a 1 note experience for the first few hours. Even boss fights only require the ability to walk in circles while emptying your entire arsenal without thinking twice about another strategy. Fortunately, this changes as you accumulate hours of play and the enemies and weaponry gain variety, and that’s when you can see their strengths. The reality check hit me as soon as I started a new episode, walked through a portal to a Twilight Zone and was greeted by a horde running towards me in a frenzy and I had to meet them with a charge and a blast from my entire arsenal. After lethargically making it through the first few levels, this section woke me up and stoked my interest to continue playing.
Easter eggs everywhere…
Another aspect that made me desperate was its save system. You’ll see: Dread Templar lets you save the game by interacting with artifacts in specific locations, as well as having automatic save points. The problem was not to find the special locations, but that the controls are complicated and that action cannot be solved quickly. You had to use your mouse pointer and click on the save file. It is a very cumbersome action that could be solved automatically.
Another unexciting detail is the boss fights. Dread Templar tries to stand out with epic battles against huge bosses in special arenas, where the challenge is to stay alive. It’s interesting to learn the attack patterns or some other special mechanic, but to kill the bosses you just have to press the fire button and the side scroll command. I didn’t feel like there was anything special about the bosses, though their designs are eye-catching and fear-inducing.
Something attractive about Dread Templar is that it works as a round pack that will give you many hours of fun. I estimate it took me 10 hours to finish the levels, however they can easily increase if you want to exhaust all possibilities to find every secret and upgrade; it will even be more if the difficulty is higher. After finishing the campaign a New Game Plus mode is offered, where you can go through the campaign in which there will be more enemies, but you can keep your weapons and upgrades. And that’s not all: it also includes a Horde mode. As you can see, you and only you decide how long you are going to play Dread Templar.
Long live the classic FPS
I liked my time with Dread Templar, especially when the game took off and began to offer a challenge on par with the best exponents of the young retro FPS subgenre. What is truly surprising is that, for the most part, the project was developed by one person; just a static screen of credits was enough to show those who worked on the game and half is for the distribution team. Truly amazing. On the other hand, I think it needed a bit of work to really stand out, perhaps by handling the upgrade system or the boss battles in a different way. In any case, Dread Templar is a good installment that understands the classic fundamentals of the genre and contains moments full of adrenaline in combat polished and full of emotion. Without a doubt, a solid delivery that I recommend trying.
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