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Turbo Overkill review: a relentless retro FPS, best enjoyed in bursts

Toke the nitrous

The player confronts two goons with chainsaws strapped to each arm in Turbo Overkill
Image credit: Apogee Entertainment

Having given retro-styled, cyberpunk FPS Turbo Overkill a Bestest Best badge back when it first launched in early access, it's been nice to polish off the chainsaw leg again now it's hit 1.0 and get back to grinding mutant flesh like I'm Terminator Hawk, Skynet's latest sports scholar. In this full release, there are now three episodes in total, all with new guns, enemies and the like. There's also a multiplayer mode and mod support to round things off. All of this begs the question: does its 1.0 release cling onto its Bestest Best badge?

Ehhhh… I'm afraid I'm going to have quietly peel off the Bestest Badge with sadness in my heart. Hands down, Turbo Overkill is a blistering halfpipe through a meat market, and its sheer wealth of guns makes bursting baddies a wonderful thing. But its relentless pace is upset by an episodic structure that feels like a deliberate yank backwards. Hindsight is both a wonderful and frustrating thing.

The player flies through the air to land on a building rooftop where a gunfight is breaking out in Turbo Overkill
Image credit: Apogee Entertainment

Johnny Turbo is a streetcleaner, not the type who plucks cigarettes off concrete and carefully plops it into plastic bags, thanking those who shuffle their feet out of the way so he can perform the activity without hindrance. No. Turbo is the streetcleaner who drops cigarettes to the floor having ground it into a mutant's eye socket. He has a chainsaw for leg. And he lives to eradicate a rogue AI called Syn that's taken over the city.

The game's broken up into three episodes, each consisting of several levels that'll have you coating plentiful surfaces with the innards of your victims. Grimy streets, glowing neon halls, sewers, glitzy skyscrapers, the bonnets of hover-cars stretching across a futuristic autobahn... All are carefully constructed with pads and ramps and little ledges to slide between. With dashes and chainsaw-leg slides, too, fights are such a chaotic joy I'd imagine it accurately represents what it feels like to be a red water rafter cutting through a torrent of entrails.

Amid the waves of blood, a story is… present. To be honest, it does enough to facilitate your ultra-violence and that's all that really matters. You're not here to ball your eyes out or consider how the bloated cyclops you've just exploded might have had a wife and kids at home. You're here to latch your crosshair to a target and the AI-gone-rogue narrative offers something, anything, to direct your fury towards.

Johnny Turbo slices an enemy into bits with his double-chainsawed legs in Turbo Overkill.
You can augment Johnny's body with mods that give him a triple jump or more health for sliding through enemies with his chainsaw leg. My fave? Another chainsaw leg. And there's yet more to come when it comes to chainsaws and limbs. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Apogee Entertainment

And in this early access age, I totally understand why the game's been cut into manageable story chunks. I also get that it's an homage to Doom and Quake and other FPS games of yore and their also-once episodic releases, when Doom's first episode was free shareware, and you'd have to get its later two episodes through mail order. With those early id games, you could play each episode sequentially, but you'd start them all afresh, with only a pistol, 50 bullets, and your health back to rookie numbers. Turbo Overkill, however, adheres more to the Doom II school of FPS episodes. The episodes are there in spirit, but Turbo's story motors forwards and you get to keep all your guns and augments as you progress. There's no reset, and new guns and ways to upgrade them trickle in over time.

However, as it contends with its longer, 1.0 run-time, Turbo Overkill feels unsteady when it comes to sustaining that initial episode's rush of momentum. Many of its flashier abilities such as the grappling hook and cool slow-mo button feel like they arrive too late for my liking, and my initial feelings of excitement were quickly superseded by disappointment that I didn't get to use them earlier. One of the most novel late additions is a rail gun that lets you highlight enemies and then teleport into their guts, helping you bridge gaps and explode them in one trigger pull. It's fantastic, but doesn't get nearly as much air-time as it perhaps deserves. By the end, you do eventually spend a fair chunk of time with a fully-kitted-out Johnny, but the rest of the time his ascendancy feels like a painfully slow rise.

Johnny Turbo fires a minigun at a huge lad with a smiling TV for a head in Turbo Overkill.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Apogee Entertainment

Don't get me wrong, I do think Turbo Overkill is a super fun time. Its pace is fast and frenetic, sometimes chucking in smooth platforming sections where you've got to combine hops, dashes, wall-runs, and the grapple to nab whatever coloured key is next. And when you've got lots of weapons, your hands act like a deck of barrels you can shuffle through and know they're all aces capable of a good gibbing. Occasionally, you get to pilot a ship and fly about a bit, or slam the accelerator on a bike kitted out with miniguns. Some of my favourite moments lie in power-ups, like the one that grants you a power-fist, letting you mulch even the strongest mutants with a pummel from your iron-propelled knuckles.

Again, though, I think there's an irony to the game's pacing. There's a real flow to levels as they send you and your whirring, extended chainsaw leg flying out of chutes into arenas built like skateparks, filled with jump pads and a smattering of enemies both acting as beef to mince and meatsacks to goomba stomp. Fast, fast, fast. Hop, hop, hop. Except I longed for breaks in the rhythm, a twist on the relentless bound between fast and furious. But this happened rarely. One sequence funnelled me through a network of dingy vents, where veiny muscle men with smiling TV heads would sprint at me. Another saw me enter a boss arena through a shattered realm where I had to hop across what looked like large shards of glass. When it gives itself time to breathe, it's capable of some wicked surprises. It's just a shame there aren't more of them.

Johnny Turbo floats amid a swirling space of debris in Turbo Overkill.
Wow factor-wise, bosses - especially in the final episode - deliver. But as you reach the crescendo, they only take on the guise of a powerful presence, where in reality, they're bullseyes to be shot periodically between the waves of critters they spawn in. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Apogee Entertainment

Turn to the game's Endless Mode and you'll find another way to keep up the game's fast fast fast. It's an undeniable treat when you're able to set all the parameters yourself - from starting guns to enemy density - and challenge yourself to surviving as many hordes as possible. Although, I wouldn't say it's fleshed out enough to be any more than a quick toke of the nitrous if you've not got the capacity for a lengthier session.

Then there's the level editor, which seems a fairly intuitive tool to snap your creations together from drop-down lists of assets. The real standout is the ability to view other people's creations and give them a go. One of my faves called High Rise wouldn't have been out of place in the campaign, with fun choices, well-placed enemies and plenty of grapple points to hoof it about. Others... aren't so good. Sorry "Very Cool Level", you did lure me in with great marketing, but you weren't very good.

As a whole, though, Turbo Overkill is action and style cranked up several notches higher than it has any right to be, with levels that really let your chainsaw leg sing with a brrr. But with its relentless pacing comes a frustration in how long it takes for Johnny to truly get going, while its constant barrage of baddies coalesce into a samey red noise that makes you desperate for a bit of creative downtime. Still, if you'd like to coat vents and ceilings with copious entrails over the course of, say, 15 hours, then Turbo Overkill could absolutely be for you. Just play it in bursts, otherwise you might burn out quickly.

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