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Dread Templar Is a ‘Boomer Shooter’ for Fans of Doom, Quake, and Soundtracks that Feel Like They’re Attacking You

There was a cheap bundle of “boomer shooters” on Humble a while back, which I’ve been playing through a bit at a time. It turns out that a lot of them make the same Doom-inspired argument: the wailing denizens of the pit have had it too good for too long. Don’t wait for hell to invade Earth; head down there with a sawed-off shotgun to show the Ars Goetia squad what the fuck is about to go down.

Dread Templar, which came out of Steam Early Access in January, is a fairly textbook example. 20 years ago, a demon killed your character’s grandfather. Now he’s busted into hell on a mission of revenge, in full ‘90s antihero cosplay, with a plan to kill almost everything he sees.

Dread Templar nails the basics of a good retro FPS right away:

  • You can carry around at least a half-dozen long guns at once.
  • Your character can’t move at a speed below a dead sprint.
  • When an enemy’s killed, it explodes like a trash bag full of jambalaya. Dismemberment is optional but encouraged, especially if I get to punt-kick severed heads around the map afterward.
  • The protagonist only speaks between stages, if at all. (Terminal smartassery is reserved for games made with the Build engine, i.e. Ion Fury.)
  • Every level should look like an Iron Maiden album cover.

DT loses points on this scale by requiring you to reload your basic pistols, submachineguns, and big fuck-off Infernal Revolver, but it goes for extra credit with one of the most oppressive metal soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s a sonic mugging. It’s the sort of thing I’d have listened to in 1993 exclusively to piss off my mom. It’s the sort of thrash metal you come up with when you’re trying to make fun of thrash metal. When I had to take a break from DT, it was because I was tired of the soundtrack bludgeoning my inner ear. Between that and the first few stages, I initially wasn’t feeling DT.

It’s got a couple of things that set it apart, like an air dash, bullet time, and a trap launcher that lays down anti-demon taser mines, but the first five episodes of its campaign have a real problem with being Just Another Quake Clone.

As you play through it, however, you pick up Runes, which can be equipped to your basic weapons to augment them, and Blood Gems, which can be spent to open up more Rune slots. At first, this doesn’t mean much besides a little extra attack power or being able to carry more ammunition. You also have to clean each level out to get as many Gems and Runes as possible, which means taking on side challenges and finding every secret cache.

Once you’ve got enough extras to expand your arsenal, including the rarer but game-changing Gold Runes, DT gets much more interesting. Gold Runes’ powers make significant changes to your basic weapons, usually by turning them into some seething red-and-black nightmare.

Now your basic pistols do significantly more damage and blow through everything in each bullet’s path, or your SMGs become “Hellscreams” that can put 400 rounds into a target in 1.5 seconds. The basic shotgun can be upgraded into a pump-action sniper rifle, or infused with frost so it slows down anything you shoot; the trap launcher suddenly becomes one of the best weapons in the game, as your traps are upgraded into demon turrets that target and kill everything they see for the next 30 seconds.

At the same time your arsenal’s getting more flexible, Dread Templar’s level design also gets steadily more ambitious. Once you get through its first chapter, the game starts to lean into the surrealism and horror of ‘90s-style video game hell, and it quickly improves.

The problem with DT ends up being a lot like the issues I had with 2020’s Doom Eternal, where it treats all the fun parts of the game as optional parts of its upgrade path. There’s a genuinely fun, manipulable retro FPS in here, but it’s hidden behind a few bad stages and starts you on the low end of its power curve. If DT started closer to where it ends up, it’d be an easier recommendation, but if you can stick it out past the first episode, it turns into a solid, gory, fast-paced FPS.

Dread Templar might be for you if:

  • You get an intense, borderline-sensual thrill from circle-strafing monsters to death.
  • You regard yourself as a “child of the ‘90s,” but are okay with games adding a few improvements to that formula.
  • A dude in a longcoat dual-wielding hell to death sounds like the sort of thing you drew in the margins of your English notes.
  • You’d have liked Doom Eternal better if it looked more like a Sega Saturn game.

It might not be for you if:

  • Listen to the soundtrack on YouTube first. If you can’t handle that, you can’t handle Dread Templar.
  • You barely got out of the Xbox 360/PS3 “brown = realistic” years with your sense of aesthetics intact.
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