Tim’s summer shooter (Zortch or Kvark?)

In the mood for some nostalgic first-person gun-play I trialled two new retro FPSs yesterday. One generated predominantly yawns and sighs, the other produced mostly grins and glee.

To be fair to Kvark, a Czech Half-Life homage, I only played it for an hour before deciding that I’d had enough. The dearth of interesting foes was a major factor in my premature departure. During the sixty minute session, 95% of the threats that I clouted with my monkey wrench, and riddled with my pistol and assault rifle were hazmat suited goons who either charged straight at me waving melee weapons, or remained at distance, firing handguns.

Some clever or original level design might have persuaded me to linger longer. Instead, there was predictability wherever I looked or went. Multi-cubicle shower room in which all the cubicles are empty except for the one furthest from the door? Check. Explosive barrel next to doorway = indicator that enemies are about to emerge from that doorway? Check.

Being something of a Czechophile, the slogans, posters, and working radios that dot the game’s underground nuclear power station/labour camp, should have been a delight, but inspecting them simply reminded me of HROT (pictured above), an FPS that does Československo nostalgia, whimsical asides, and retro violence far better.

I sampled Zortch, the second candidate for ‘Tim’s summer shooter’, via a startlingly generous multi-level demo.

While Kvark’s main inspiration is blindingly obvious from the get-go, Zortch manages to evoke several classic shooters during its opening stages and simultaneously establish a personality all of its own. The notes of Unreal, Duke Nukem 3D, and Serious Sam are amongst the easiest to detect.

Wise developer Mutantleg understands that an FPS without varied, challenging foes, and a colourful armoury is a sorry thing. Shambling zombie-like robots quickly make way for much nimbler opponents, and it’s not long before you’re slaying with projected grenades, bouncing energy bolts, manually triggered demo charges, and bursts from a long-range sniper’s rifle SMG, as well as shotgun blasts, spanner swings, and steel toecaps.

Flamethrowers, circulars saws, missile launchers, miniguns…. Zortch’s hostiles wield a dizzying array of kill kit too. Quite a few of them can leap like grasshoppers which makes engagements in spacious outdoor and indoor levels, seriously fun.

And if, like me, you’re a little tired of retro shooters that wallow in the demonic and the decayed, Zortch’s humour-flecked sci-fi setting should please.


  1. I recently went back to the classics and replayed Doom I & II thanks to the Enhanced/Unity-based releases and they stood up remarkably well.

    There’s also a retro Build Engine game called Ion Fury that has some very positive reviews but I haven’t tried it yet.

  2. We’re definitely in a golden age of retro-shooters, and all manner of retro styled games.

    It’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff though, with so many games being made in so many distinct niches.

    Yet somehow, my own desire for a tight resource & combat management game focused on an extended campaign of asymmetrical warfare continues to be out of reach…

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