In 1993, ID Software released the legendary DooM. People argue whether it created a new “FPS” genre, but it certainly did re-set the standard in the FPS genre. DooM’s simplicity and adrenaline-fueled gameplay still brings people back to it 25 years later.
Fast forwarding to 2010, more than 15 years after DooM 2 was released, XBLA decided that despite its age, it was still quality material and brought it to its flagship XBox console. Working as a level designer on it was one Russell “the castle” Meakim.
Having already established his name as a top notch level designer on titles such as Counterstrike and Medal of Honor: Airborne, Meakim was assigned as lead level designer on the exclusive expansion levels.
While working on the game, play-testing the levels, and for some time afterwards he came to a realisation: New games, like DooM, which focused purely on that adrenaline rush brutal run-and-shoot, were becoming thin on the ground.
Worse than that, the AAA games houses had become afraid of punishing the player for failure: Instant re-spawns with full gear, time rewinds on death, map markers, quicksaves, autosaves, nerfed weapons, and various other “gameplay smoothing” tricks were being added to make sure the player felt ‘in the flow’ by essentially being an unkillable teleporting battle tank.
In 2011, the mechanics of the game Dark Souls struck a chord with Meakim, planting the seeds of his later work. Meanwhile, he went on to work on more AAA games such as Subnautica and Call of Duty, all of which were lauded for their excellent design.
Then six years later in 2017, fresh from working on the critically acclaimed Warframe, he decided it was time to put his ideas, and 15+ years of experience into practice. He rolled up his sleeves and set out to make a game in the Dark Souls mold, which was both retro and modern. He wanted to create essentially a raw run-and-shoot fight-for-your-life game, like DooM, but with some modern elements to give the player a little break and perhaps even give all the murder and bullets some meaning….
On December 22nd, after a lot of work, he proudly released his game: Revulsion onto Steam.
True to his vision, it was to be a successful merging of Dark Souls and a DooM-like FPS with”rogue-lite” elements and a frisson of crafting and levelling. The result, it gleefully proclaims, is a game that:
“… takes classic Doom and Quake style gameplay and combines it with the core concepts that permeate the Dark Souls design philosophy … that is meant to challenge you without being unfair.”
Having dived into the developer’s stated aim, and reading up on his distinguished history, to say that I was intrigued is putting it mildly. So I grabbed it, and made it my Christmas game for 2017.
The game starts very similar to most FPS’s, no doubt thanks to DooM’s influence: You’re in a facility of some kind, with a pistol and a knife, surrounded by computers with helpful messages on them telling you about a Zombie invasion of a space base. You’re all alone. Now, go kill things…
The first two or three ‘areas’ serve as training for how to navigate around, jump chasms, shoot and snipe. They’re deliberately brutal because you need to learn a lesson very early on in the game: Dying is okay, but you have to go back and pick up your stuff before you die again!
It also teaches you the critical lesson that the levels are NOT meant to be attacked in a linear fashion; a departure from DooM or Quake. Your first attempt to run the first gauntlet with your pistol will fail; there simply aren’t enough bullets.
However, so long as you can slowly start accumulating weapons and armour, the next time you attack the level, you’ll have two guns, and a modicum of protection. Yeah, you’ll die. But now you’ll have three guns etc… With some effort, you might even level up and be able to use even better guns….
This will repeat until eventually you’ll have enough knowledge of the level, lots of guns and decent armour, and you’ll finally be able to make it through. For me, that took about two hours! The second area is a little more forgiving, and the third area is just plain fun…
Then, you arrive at The Sanctuary. This is your ‘home’, and will be where you return to a lot. In the sanctuary you can sell, buy, repair and craft new equipment. It’s also a place you can run to when things get too heavy.
From the Sanctuary, you launch your attacks into the main part of the game, a giant level with many varied and interesting areas. You’ll die, and have to keep pushing further and further into the level. If you’re good you’ll realise when you’re running low on ammo and “AP” and will be able to retreat to the Sanctuary in time.
Don’t worry about getting lost, though! Although the levels are huge, they’re wonderfully designed to be unique in each area, so you won’t get lost in a maze of identically textures passages. Also, the game provides you with a wonderful holographic minimap that you can summon into the air in front of you!
As you make your way through the level, you’ll find areas you can’t enter due to massive monsters, and little side-areas with fun pick-ups, interesting rooms, and lots of variety in the routes through the area. You’ll also find more teleporters, which’ll give you faster ways to get back to where you last died or ran from.
Crafting, made simple
The crafting mechanic is simple, and relies on a few source materials, “scrap metal” (used for everything), and other things like “fabrication data” which is specific to armour, or “gun parts” for guns. Given enough cash you can break down a rocket launcher, and rebuild it as a pistol if you so desired. Just get your stuff back to the sanctuary and get crafting!
You can also ‘imbue’ your armour with certain gems to make them special, or you can increase the ‘quality’ of items for a hefty fee. But the way the inventory is managed, and the weapons are laid out, you are freed from 99% of the hassle of other RPG games, and it becomes a far nicer experience.
Figuring out how well each weapon performs, and which is better than what is largely signposted for you by the weapon’s value. The relative costs have clearly been very well balanced in playtesting, as everything ‘feels’ just right.
The weapons are all voxel-style, and each one feels very different. As you progress further, you’ll find newer, bigger, weapons in the loot boxes, and it becomes a fun exercise in figuring out what combos work best for you. The weapons all have limited ammo, which perfectly prompts you to head back to safety to re-arm now and again.
Lovely blocky graphics…
The graphics are very fun to look at and play around. The majority of the levels are blocky ‘voxel-style’ graphics, but with some mesh terrain scattered about in certain areas to give a little visual variety.
The UI is a little simplistic, with flat grey buttons, and some slightly-tricky-to-read text, but it’s easy to use, and only takes a couple of minutes to figure your way around completely.
The textures are bold, bright and help to differentiate the ‘areas’ (or arenas in some cases), from each other. The level design is brilliant (as you’d expect from a professional level designer), teasing you with new areas from places you can’t get to them from, urging you onwards.
The music and sounds are excellent. Some of the tracks are straight out of the DooM or Quake songbook, and the tone is perfect for the ‘feel’ of each area.
The monsters are voxel-style as well, with simplistic running animations. Some of them, though, are like greased lightning, and really overwhelm you quickly if you’re not paying attention!
I’ve had a few issues playing the game, and have had a few discussions with the developer. He’s an amazing guy, patient, and very talented. He explained where I was going wrong, but also took a few of my points on board, and I’m happy to say he resolved all the issues I was having literally overnight in a patch, he’s that responsive.
To summarize my issues, it’s a different kind of ‘grind’ than what I’m used to. I know some people won’t get on with it, but by the time you’ve fought the monsters in the first ‘area’ of the main level half a dozen times, they’ll be dropping like flies, and you’ll feel epic 🙂
In conclusion, the game’s aim is to provide the player with a fun, rewarding challenge, in the style of DooM, Quake or Dark Souls, which is as hard as the player needs it to be. I have to admit, that it excels in this, and almost every other regard.
If I had to level any criticisms, I’d say that the very first area is a little too brutal, and can put a lot of players off because it forces you to re-do that area 20 or 30 times to get through (unless you’re lucky and just sprint). I recommend you push through, and once you’re past there, the game eases up a little because you’ve got the sanctuary and the ability to save there. I’d also say that the UI could do with some work, as it’s a little utilitarian, but works perfectly as is. If you can push through into the Sanctuary, you’re in for a fun time.
So far, I’ve been playing for around 15 hours, and I’m at level 8 of 20, which I expect to take another 15 hours or so. Once I hit level 20, I’ve got my sights set on a ‘big boss’ who taunts me in the main level! It might be the end of the game, or just the entrance into a new area, don’t know… But I’m going to have some serious fun finding out!