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The Adventures of Square is a must-play free retro FPS

Adventures of Square

The moon is made of cheese, and The Adventures of Square is at least 80% terrible geometry puns by weight, so an ideal candidate for RPS coverage. Built on the open-source GZDoom engine by BigBrik, a team of the best and brightest in the Doom modding scene, this free FPS borrows inspiration from old-school shooters far and wide but also feels like the missing link between the childish whimsy of Commander Keen and the unrelenting violence of the Doom series.

If you’re a fan of Doom and its derivatives you might have heard of The Adventures of Square before and wondering why we’re only covering it now, today marks the release of its years-delayed second episode. While the new version (the secant edition – I did warn you about puns) includes a polished-up version of the first episode, the real star of the show here is the new slab of content, which may be some of the finest PG-rated, mostly-kid-friendly ultraviolence I’ve played.

Square feels like a little bit of everything. It’s foundation is obviously Doom for its pacing and enemy swarms, but there’s a little bit of Duke Nukem here in its verticality and setpieces and a dash of Strife in its weapons. There’s something fresh in there, too; maybe it’s the extra-dense packs of baddies that melt like butter under your spray of paintgun fire, collapsing into a heap of colourful goop and googly eyes. Maybe it’s the unrelenting commitment to terrible geometry puns, of which you can turn down the frequency if you have no soul. Maybe it’s because Square is an incredibly polished standalone production and completely free when it could easily be charging $20 or more.

For those who have already completed the first episode and are returning to see what the fuss is about, the second part of the game is longer, tougher and more ambitious than the first. While you start the new levels stripped of your arsenal, you’ll quickly be fully armed again, and facing down old enemies in greater numbers than ever before as well as a few new baddies that don’t quite fit the shape-based theme established in the first episode. You’ll also be spending much of your time navigating space, protected from the harsh vacuum by handy respawning and generously air-filled goldfish bowl helmets.

The Adventures Of Square knows exactly how to capitalize on its software foundation. Sloped surfaces are used sparingly, and textures are simple, clean and consistently cartoony, but the detail poured into the levels is impressive considering their scale. While the first episode has more traditional corridor crawls, the second episode focuses on sprawling non-linear environments combining up-close room-to-room fighting through buildings and longer-ranged encounters with flying foes over rolling hills, cheesy lunar steppes and spires jutting out of bubbling rivers of lethally super-heated dairy products.

Yes, that means you’ll have to be doing some platforming, but thankfully the outdoors environments – most being on the surface of the moon – are blessed with low gravity, resulting in a floaty bit of airtime in the middle of every jump and high air control, not entirely unlike Metroid Prime’s satisfyingly arcing leap. Most main-route platforms (some secrets make exceptions) are large, easy to land on and give you a wide margin of error. That said, you should probably quicksave before any platforming section.

Unlike many modern GZDoom-based projects, The Adventures Of Square doesn’t auto-save except at the beginning of each level. Combine that with Episode 2’s long and open maps and you’ve got a recipe for frustration if you don’t go and manually save occasionally. Just a friendly tip, because I like you all and don’t want you to be upset when you inevitably get startled by an ambush and fall into an instant-death pit, like I did. Repeatedly. It’s one of the few gripes I have with Square, but it shouldn’t get in the way of your fun if you go in forewarned.

On top of the two regular episodes, the game contains a handful of deathmatch maps which can also be played solo as time-attack horde survival challenges. While sadly incompatible with the Zandronum engine (a ZDoom variant with better netcode), you can at least play it LAN-style with friends or with relatively local online buddies. Hopefully large-scale multiplayer will be an option by the time Episode 3 is released, as this game is just begging for an Invasion-style co-op mode.

You can grab The Adventures Of Square on its official site here, or via Itch.io.

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Dominic Tarason

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