Dread Templar feels like falling into a time machine. Modern-day shooters aping their ’90s forefathers is nothing new, but Dread Templar feels like it was released in that golden age, with only the way your enemies collapse into gore-soaked body parts hinting at modern technology running under the hood.
It’s a love letter to ’90s shooters, and was designed by someone’s 12-year-old self, immediately after playing Doom (or Hexen) for the first time. All of the weapons are things a kid in the ’90s would think were cool: dual katanas, akimbo silenced Uzis, a super shotgun, a cool bow, a rocket launcher daubed in fire. The enemies are cut from the same cloth, floating eyeballs that spit acid, giant spiders that spit acid, other enemies that may or may not spit acid.
The weapons are a big part of the reason it succeeds. The silenced Uzis and super shotgun are both riotous fun, which you would expect from a game that’s all about strafing and dropping rounds on people. However, the Black Bow is surprisingly fun and having to draw back your bow and time shots for maximum damage adds a nice frisson to the combat. Then there’s the trap launcher, a trap fired from your glove that electrifies and stuns enemies to give you a little time to reposition. I also found a bizarre love for the dual katanas, your base melee weapon, which had an alternate fire mode that sticks the two together and lets you throw it like a spear. Hit an enemy with this and chances are they’ll turn into chunks immediately, but lining up a shot and hitting several enemies at once is euphoric.
You’ll also prowl through tight arenas designed to throw you and your enemies into close-quarters deathmatches and hunt out secrets – rewarded by “you found a secret” text appearing on the screen – to get upgrades.
These upgrades, along with a bullet time feature, Dread Templar, largely feel superflous and the game was better when I ignored them. The upgrades require you to find both the rune and a resource to unlock a slot to put the ability into. This could boost the amount of ammo you can carry for a specific weapon, lower a cooldown, or up the damage or firerate. These are silver runes – they are all fairly mundane. The golden runes might let you, say, turn your shotgun into a sniper rifle. However, it’s so much work to get access to these golden runes – which require a special, more expensive, golden slot – that many may not even bother.
The pacing of the combat remains fairly decent throughout. Occasionally, during a close quarters firefights, I found myself wishing some enemies would die a little quicker as i’m in a spot where everything is dead but one big, ineffectual, monster and i’m just pumping round after round into it with basically no risk to myself. In arenas it just hurts the pacing, whereas in corridors it can lead to some deaths that feel unfair.
Some players may find frustration with the lack of combat feedback in terms of the player, however. Outside of the protagonist grunting there’s very little to indicate that you have been hit, meaning death can sometimes feel like it’s come out of nowhere, when actually you’ve been tooling around with a handful of hitpoints for several minutes.
It’s a forgivable issue and didn’t hinder my enjoyment at all, whereas Dread Templar’s soundtrack had me going straight for the sound options. Within the first hour, the soundtrack had become a huge irritant, and I found myself turning the volume right down. The music feels repetitive but it’s also quite generic. However, these are minor smudges on a fairly polished shooter though, and Dread Templar has a lot to offer.
Dread Templar is a fairly shallow experience, but this isn’t a criticism. Dread Templar is at its best when there’s nothing but you, an arena, and some monsters for you to lazily circle strafe. Sadly, the additional systems just add fat to a game that doesn’t need the padding. Still, it’s absolutely worth playing, whether you’re a fan of shooters or just looking for something simple.
- Cool weapons
- Pleasingly old-school combat
- Buckets of gore
- Some enemies are overly durable
- Upgrade and slow-mo feel superfluous
- Soundtrack wears out its welcome quickly