Doom changed the face of video games. I’m sure someone would’ve come along at some point and did what id software did, but they were the first ones to do it, and so theirs is the legacy we have. Born directly from the Doom-clone era were several experimentations on what a first person shooter can be. One of those was Raven software’s Heretic/Hexen series. Instead of a gun-toting space marine, you wielded sword and sorcery in a medieval-like fantasy setting in a shooter-esque, action filled experience. No rolls for saves or excessive inventory or skill management: just gibbing enemies. That’s not something we really see much of anymore, especially as a first person game. Amid Evil builds off that legacy, and conquers the subgenre with their own take on sword and sorcery first person action.
Publisher New Blood Interactive, known for publishing the David Szymanski developed Dusk (you can see our review of Dusk here) has stayed with the nostalgia trip and published New Zealand’s Indefatigable studios’ Amid Evil. Dusk was a return to the Quake era of shooters, while Amid Evil’s closest retro analogue would be 1997’s Hexen II. But what does that mean to those unfamiliar with those now ancient games? It means action, speed, power-ups, keys, and a whole lot of enemies.
In Amid Evil you play as an axe wielding warrior who must cleanse seven lands of an evil that has enveloped them slowly over centuries. I love these sorts of premises– it makes you feel like an avenging bad ass with as little context as possible. And honestly, you don’t really need context to wreak havoc across these lands—all you need is a magical arsenal.
First person shooters can live or die by their weaponry, especially those that are solely action-oriented like Amid Evil. I’m pleased to say that Amid Evil’s range of weapons is fun. Unfortunately, there is nothing incredibly stand-out, and most of the selection is of the type you would expect. For a game in a fantasy setting, I was expecting more melee weapons. But aside from your trusty axe, the rest of the weapons you’ll come across function much like guns. . There is the spike throwing mace, that works a little like a shotgun, and the electrical throwing trident that in analogous to an assault rifle (or something similar). The weapons themselves are okay. They weren’t unsatisfying, but I never found a go-to weapon. The soul power mechanic does a lot to remedy this.
One of the many pick-ups in Amid Evil is the soul fragments left behind by those you slay. Collect enough soul energy, and you can activate soul power—a mode that changes your selected weapon’s attack, making it much more powerful for a short time. It’s great for clearing out rooms of enemies, or dealing massive damage to bosses.
Amid Evil has a bunch of different enemy types–and each of the seven realms has their own unique enemies to fight. There is a fair amount of variation in their behavior, too. It doesn’t feel like you’re fighting re-skins. I do wish boss battles were somewhat more interesting, but that isn’t to say they aren’t a spectacle.
Being a retro shooter, expect power-ups. There is also key hunting (with the accompanied door hunting) and the occasional secret to find. There are a few interesting power-ups that can be found in certain spots, but for the most part, most pick-ups are relegated to the different colored ammo that fuels your various weapons.
One of the first things that popped out to me was Amid Evil’s amazing art style. It’s retro-themed, but it’s so much more than that. It’s as if a retro game was given a whole lot of retro-style, pixel art-like graphical bells and whistles. This artistic style extends into the level design, some of which is truly stellar.
Amid Evil’s level design is some of the best I’ve played in a retro (or retro style) first person shooter. There were a few times where I wish there was some more clues where to go, but I wouldn’t be stuck for more than a few minutes as I backtracked to find which passageway I missed. The levels themselves are like art, though, with entire sections that move and interlock like giant machines. Each realm is differently themed, too—from the high fantasy, to the surreal, and even a touch of sci-fi.
Despite my love for the overall level design, I hated the last realm. It’s abysmal. I really liked where they were going with it thematically, but it’s just not fun to play. Gone are the usually impressive vistas or interestingly constructed buildings. They are replaced with platforms in empty darkness. It occasionally looks cool, but that’s it. Even most of the enemy types are frustrating, and it really puts a damper on an otherwise amazing experience.
We also need to talk about Amid Evil’s soundtrack. It’s exactly what the series calls for, but it’s not what it needs. I was tempted to turn down the in-game music in exchange for a more appropriately driving soundtrack that matches the carnage on screen, but I left the game’s music going for purity’s sake. The music isn’t bad, it’s just very solemn. It adds to the (somewhat) Gothic ambiance, but not to the action.
Amid Evil, like Dusk before it, transcends homage and takes ownership of the games it is emulating. If you like first person shooters, Amid Evil is a must. If you want a modern take on Heretic/Hexen, Amid Evil is that—but better.
Amid Evil is available now on Steam
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