Who remembers the 90s? Princess Diana alive and well and driving around London in her open-topped Bentley, throwing fistfuls of rare Pogs to her adoring public. Tony Blair flying around the sky in his personalised Concorde, throwing hundreds of rare Pogs down to his adoring public. Bill Clinton, unimpeached and still full of beans, kicking back in the Oval Office, proudly showing off his collection of rare Pogs to any foreign leader who will indulge him. The most popular new baby name is “Ross From Friends”, and everywhere, everywhere, is ankle-deep in a layer of nerf darts covering the entire surface of the planet.
KillPixel, the developers of Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin, certainly remember the 90s. This classically styled run and gun shooter puts its best retro foot forward with what I will generously assume is an authentically vapid name designed to evoke the unrelenting Gothy vibe of the era, a name so instantly forgettable I had to alt-tab back to the store page five times over the course of typing out the four words that make up the title. Right now, already, I could not tell you the name of the game I’m writing about without glancing back up at the top of this paragraph, and I’m supposed to be a professional. So well done, genuinely. Really good work.
Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin is being published by the escaped serial killer who is standing outside your bedroom window on a stormy night and wearing the skin of 3D Realms. It is laser-targeted to scintillate the tattered nostalgia glands of anyone who has ever spent 16 hours straight playing Quake 2 on a fag-stained CRT monitor at a LAN party in Sheffield.
So you’ve got abandoned mausoleums and labyrinthine crypts rendered in as many scant polygons as a stressed out Pentium could ever have mustered, muddy textures illuminated by simple point light candelabras, and blocky weapons with wibbly floating-point vertices. Up above is a stretched-too-thin bitmap of an unfamiliar night sky, a pair of jagged moons hanging in the air like arcane beacons. It looks just like you're certain Quake always has, but like all of these projects it’s partly a fun trick of the memory. This is Quake filtered through the glamorising lens of your foggy recollection, digested by our superpowered modern hardware and spat back in your face in crystal clear 4K.
You could forensically deconstruct the genetics of Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin, send some of its DNA off to 23andme to isolate its ancestry, and argue at length over precisely how much of it is descended from Doom, which parts are Hexen and which bits Unreal, and whether the lack of proper strafe-jumping should bar it from inheriting the Quake family fortune. But it’s enough to just keep mentioning 90s shooters until you get the larger point that Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin feels a certain way. Like most things from the early 90s, back when our carefree lifestyles were so fast and loose that we poked a hole in the ozone layer, it’s punchy and quick. Press W and you accelerate forwards at velocities that would snap the brittle necks of modern FPS protagonists, with their lumbering gaits, indulgent headbobbing and regenerating health.
The badly lit mausoleums you’re rocketing around are littered with classic health vials and armour pick-ups, as well as runes that grant you temporary abilities like vampirism and invincibility. The handful of different types of enemy are each exponentially more dangerous than the last so that, when faced with a menagerie of them, it is appropriate to kill them all in the correct order of operations. This is when Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin feels most inspired by Doom.
Shambling zombies are your low-priority target practice, green oozy men lob damaging but easy to dodge glowing cyst grenades, but soldiers with a massive blade for one arm and a shotgun for the other can pop you with fast-moving projectiles. There are little hovering pink things with tails and blue flaps, who attack from above with magic frazzles. And there are three headed floaters similar to, but legally distinct from, cacodemons.
All of them are tuned to imprint their distinctive silhouettes and vocalisations in your mind as you play, and many of them can be blown apart limb from limb with a series of satisfyingly blasty weapons, leaving great big puddles of blood and body parts strewn all around the place. It’s the kind of low-resolution ultra-gore that would have had BBFC censors reaching for the smelling salts back then. Now it’s just the kind of wholesome dismemberment you’d see in a particularly raucous episode of Dora The Explorer, those ones where she falls foul of the local cartel and has to fight her way back to the American embassy.
The fundamentals of shooting monsters to death are all present and accounted for, but Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin is still very early on in the development. There’s a hub area connecting up what will eventually be a whole bunch of levels, but right now all but two of them are blocked off. The ones available to play today are a claustrophobic snow-themed crypt and a slightly less restricted forest-themed crypt, and both can be completed in around two hours. Levels feel hand-crafted, designed to meander and branch off, winding back on themselves in ways that can be disorientating given the consciously restricted texture packs in each area – one snowy sarcophagus is easily mistaken for another – but a lot of thought has gone into intelligent monster placement and pacing. This is far from a mindless shooter. Pick-ups lure you into deliberate traps and enemies spawn in surprising, but not unfair places.
Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin is too light on content to recommend purchasing just yet. Wait to see if subsequent releases of new levels and monsters can eke a bit more variety out what is, in early access, a barebones throwback to the golden age of running around in very brown rooms looking for secrets and thinking about Satan.