EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Samuel Corey
previewed on PC
Wait... I've Heard This One Before
There's nothing new under the sun, and even the most startling and creative work of art can point to at least a few earlier influences that helped give it shape. That said, you'd be hard-pressed to defend Dread Templar, as anything other than a shamelessly derivative knock-off of Doom and Quake, as it follows the exploits of a heavily-armed warrior descending into hell on a mission of vengeance. Moreover, the game is made in a style that deliberately apes the technological limitations of those early boomer-shooters, albeit with some of the more egregious technical shortcomings patched up (you're able to look up and down unlike the original Doom). It’s safe to say that Dread Templar won’t be winning any points for originality.
That said, Doom and Quake rocked, and Dread Templar has inherited a great of their charms. The action is a fast-paced frenzy where you’ll find yourself surrounded by swarms of grotesque monsters as you zip around huge maze-like levels at speeds normally reserved for low-flying aircraft. Tactics are simple enough, so long as you keep moving, utilize what cover you can find, and keep shooting you should be alright. Especially dangerous encounters might call on you to bust out the tried-and-true circle-strafe technique. That’s not to say that combat is a breeze, as enemies can quickly overwhelm you with numbers and fill the screen with so many bullets you’ll struggle to breathe in the newly lead-rich atmosphere. Top it all off with a thunderous heavy metal soundtrack and you have the recipe for game of the year 1997. If you’re a middle-aged gamer that can dimly recall playing those ancient shooters on DOS, I can all but guarantee that Dread Templar will evoke a warm haze of nostalgia.
Some concessions to modern first-person shooter conventions have been made as well, like the air-dash move that adds a dimension of verticality to the combat. There’s also a bullet-time ability that seems more like a fun little distraction from the main gameplay rather than a significant addition. Still, while the developers were adding features I’d wish they’d put in a map, as the levels can get rather sprawling and at times it becomes difficult to tell which way to go. The problem is especially acute when you find a key at the end of a long pathway and have to struggle to remember where the hell you saw the corresponding door.
Tellingly, the biggest problem with Dread Templar is the saturated market it finds itself in. If you want a modern spin on the classic boomer-shooters of the 1990s, you’re already spoiled for choice. Beyond direct descendants like Doom 2016, Doom Eternal, and the recent Quake remaster you have plenty of modern indie takes on the subgenre like Dusk and UltraKill. The fact that Dread Templar leans so heavily on its forebears for its plot and setting does it no favours either, as demonic imagery and settings are so common in this niche as to be all but passé. A novel setting, be it a bus depot or an art museum, would have given Dread Templar a bit more of a unique identity.
Stay Awhile and Listen
Reliving the glory days of retro shooters is all well and good, but Dread Templar slips up in the way it delivers its story. At the start of each level, you’re given a brief snatch of expository white text on a black background. There are no slick animations, no detailed backgrounds, or even a voice-over narrator reading the words. It’s a form of storytelling so basic I’d expect to see it in an NES game, rather than a modern release. Indeed, the text doesn’t feel like a final product at all rather it gives the impression of merely being a placeholder for a future scripted sequence, and given the fact that this game is still in early access, it might well be.
Moreover, the story of Dread Templar is so threadbare and simple there’s hardly any need for this explanation; had the game done away with these sections I’d be more than able to fill in the blanks by myself. I’m clearly playing an angry bastard with a lot of guns, and I seem to be trying to kill as many demons as possible. It’s not exactly Ulysses, now is it? Indeed, it would be both more enjoyable and more interesting if the game had woven its story into its levels and focused on using the environment to narrate the templar’s descent into the depths of hell.
A Work in Progress
Judging Dread Templar at this juncture is a bit tricky, as it is admittedly an unfinished game. Only two chapters have been released, and beyond additional levels, any number of changes are possible before it leaves Early Access. That said, it’s a safe bet that Dread Templar is not one of those vaporware scams. The developer seems to have a legitimate passion for their work and it seems safe to assume that with coming releases and patches the game will continue to grow and improve. As it stands now, the game is a solid, albeit uncreative, Doom-clone reasonably priced at $15. Another year in early access may see it blossom into a damn fine boomer-shooter.
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The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.