While the genre has morphed over the years, slowed down its pace, and generally turned into something completely unlike their Quake grandparents, developer Mad Ram Software is hoping to jolt some life back into classic arena shooters with Wickland. Like the ’90s shooting games it draws heavy influence from, there is no story, no overly-complicated game modes, and nothing getting in the way of you and fragging other players online until you forget what day it is. Wickland stays faithful to the arena shooter to a slavish degree, which is going to make the game a dream come true if you love arena shooters, and a hellish fishman-filled nightmare if you don’t.
To put it simply, Wickland is Quake with a twist. In a normal arena shooter, no matter how far back you date it, you are dropped into a maze-like level, given guns, and told to go shoot as many people as possible. Where Wickland differs primarly is what you use to do the fragging. There are no actual “guns” in the game, outside of your crossbow-wielding human form, which you start each match as. The main goal of each match (or 1 on 1 duel) is to find beast transformations that are scattered throughout the satisfyingly complicated levels.
These transformations give you different attacks in lieu of traditional weapons. Hanzo the scorpion for instance, is similar to a sniper with his extremely slow and long-range poison dart that he fires. All told, there are seven transformations each with a primary and secondary attack. The aforementioned Hanzo fire’s his sniper-like weapon and also has a smaller rapid fire option similar to a pistol. There is also a fishman named Tass who fires a continuous stream of lighting or a ball of energy, Ursus who is an ape that fires high-impact shotgun blasts, my personal favorite Ixi who can throw balls of green fire at enemies or throw an explosive line of them, and more. The most unique fighter is Neymar, whose primary attack is the ability to go invisible, and his secondary is a strong melee attack.
Should you die while in the form of one of these beasts, you lose points along that form, but continue playing on. So the game takes on a unique aspect of having to balance the health and ammo of all your transformations. It takes a bit to get the hang of, but once you do it’s a fun layer of challenge added to an otherwise mindless fragfest.
It also helps that character designs for each of the beasts are just phenomenal. Wickland’s atmosphere is generally one of medieval horror, and the characters all fit well into this, despite being goofy on the surface. The character models are detailed and creepy in their own ways, with each being unique enough to distinguish between in battle after a few matches. It is not the high-polygon and ultra-realistic look of many of today’s games, but the art style is an extreme throwback to older, simpler times and it just works so well most of the time. The only real downside of this simplified art style is that it brings up one of the same issues that were prevalent when the style was big – things blend in too much. While your eye starts to get trained after a few matches to tell where an enemy is after a few seconds, things can quickly get muddled with multiple drab fighters in a drab environment, which leads to several untimely deaths.
Even the attack animations, with simplified look and limited frames, harken back to the arena shooter’s origins. If you’re really not into the genre, however these affects are just going to seem cheap. Along with the cheap-looking effects, the game’s total lack of feedback into what kind of damage you are doing to other players will be a major downside for a lot of gamers jumping over from modern shooters. Outside of some blood splatter, there is almost no way to tell what kind of, if any damage, you are doing. Being that you’re not firing guns, there is also no sense of recoil of feedback on your end either, so battles can feel extremely disconnected. Couple that with the extremely fast-paced shooting, and battles can become frantic and confusing. As a fan of arena shooters, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but again, if that’s not what you’re into the game is going to be extremely off-putting.
That is essentially what all of Wickland boils down to. If you like arena shooters, and throwbacks to the best of them in the ’90s – you will love this game. There is enough of a twist in the beast transformations and varied weaponry at their disposal to make it not seem stale. But with that said, if you don’t like arena shooters or are just casually interested in them, Wickland may not appeal whatsoever. At only $9.99 currently on Steam in Early Access it’s not a terribly high level of investment if you’re just curious or want to tag-along with the game as it develops. With only two game modes (one of which is just a free-for-all warm up phase), and two maps, definitely consider it an investment into the future game and not just buying the game outright now. Kudos to the developers for pricing it so low, though. There are already more maps planned and other additional content on the way, so it’s a decent price to jump in now before it goes up, if it does at all.
As a side note, by far my favorite minor detail about the game is the warp mirrors. Like many arena shooters, Wickland gives you a way to quickly wrap around the map, but they use mirrors that you “jump” into. You may not notice at first, but you can actually watch other characters through the mirrors, and when someone warps into it, you can watch them run off. It’s just a small touch that the developers didn’t need to add, but they did, and it’s great.
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