GZDoom is quite possibly the most impressive game engine out there, not because of its technical capabilities, but because of what people are able to accomplish with such ancient tech. Case in point, Beyond Sunset.
Prepare for a dazzling display of visuals running on the modified GZDoom engine, as well as gameplay and design that feels modern rather than antiquated. Beyond Sunset makes an impressive debut for an Early Access release, but, as is the case with most in-development games, there are a few issues that need to be addressed before it's truly great.
Become a Street Samurai in Beyond Sunset
Initially, I pegged Beyond Sunset as a boomer shooter, but that's not necessarily the case. It certainly has retro flavoring baked in, but the open-world design of Beyond Sunset's first world took me by surprise.
This first chapter takes place within a sprawling cyberpunk city, and your current objective is to assassinate a target -- the thing is, the way you get to this target isn't clear at first. There's nothing else you can do but explore, and you might find yourself getting lost in just how big Beyond Sunset's city is.
Talking to various NPCs and such will give you some extra info on the game world you're in, and eventually, you'll find an arms dealer who needs a job done. Arming you with a katana, it's finally time to explore the other areas of the city and find your target.
While there is a pre-determined set of goals you need to achieve in order to unlock access to your target, the exploration feels non-linear. There are several different sections within Chapter 1, and some NPCs put you on side-quests that are optional.
Despite its open-ended structure, it can be easy to get lost in the game world. I spent a decent amount of time wandering around, trying to figure out what my next objective was. As it turns out, I was supposed to hack certain computers to unlock the gate to my target's opulent estate.
Looking at Beyond Sunset's Steam page, there's a screenshot for a journal to keep track of progress. I certainly wasn't able to find a journal in Early Access, so Beyond Sunset could definitely use some way to help players keep on track with the several tasks they are given.
Slashing and Shooting in Beyond Sunset
While exploring, you'll encounter plenty of enemies ranging from goons with katanas or guns, as well as various robotic foes. With only a few weapons to choose from, I'm hoping for more variety in the future, but on top of your katana, there's a pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle.
The pistol has unlimited ammo and shoots energy rounds, but it can also charge up a strong shot and take out beefier foes and also counters shields. The shotgun and assault rifle are pretty standard as far as FPS weapons go, but they all sound powerful and feel great to use. They all do a lot of damage, so I didn't find myself feeling underpowered at all.
In fact, it's not a stretch to say players feel a bit like the Doom Slayer, since with the katana you can execute enemies for extra health and ammo. Once your gauge is full, players can slash through enemies. As it is easy to get overwhelmed by the numerous foes in these levels, it's key to stay mobile and take advantage of executions to keep yourself topped up.
Beyond these weapons, you'll gain money as you slay enemies, which can then be spent on upgrades. Upgrades might increase ammo capacity of your weapons, while others grant increased health. The more intriguing upgrades give your character powers over ice and poison.
I opted for ice, and in between shots with my guns and slashes of the katana, you're able to freeze foes in place. Right now, I enjoy the concept of these elemental powers, but they don't feel all that powerful or useful just yet. With more time to cook, there could be some fun powers waiting for us in the full release.
Beyond Sunset's Insane Game World
Beyond Sunset's relatively open Chapter 1 is fairly unique compared to Chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 is more linear and cramped, and Chapter 3 was where I began to see why Beyond Sunset was very much an Early Access title.
I was quite excited to see what Chapter 2 had in store for me, as it takes place within a gigantic, corporate tower. Typical cyberpunk, sure, but the amazing retro, vaporwave aesthetic really makes Beyond Sunset stand out. Chapter 2 is, on an aesthetic level, superb, but it's held back by lackluster design of combat areas.
When combat inevitably breaks out in the tower, you're often locked into a small, cramped space with dozens of enemies. There's little room to traverse around and take advantage of your environment, so battles became quite tedious and uncompelling.
Chapter 3, on the other hand, asks players to complete a bunch of puzzles via hacking into turrets, and this simply isn't compelling gameplay. It's a tonal shift from the first Chapter, which was heavy on action and minimal on puzzles. Now it seems like the reverse happened in Chapter 3, where it's more puzzle, less action.
I'm not a huge fan of the puzzles in Beyond Sunset either. Your character is transported into a virtual reality space and can shoot out two projectiles that look exactly the same -- one to combat a different type of enemy in this hacking area. It's just not super compelling gameplay compared to the rest of Beyond Sunset
Beyond Sunset Preview | Final Thoughts
I won't be too hard on Chapters 2 and 3, only because the first Chapter left me very impressed. Clearly, there's some work to be done in polishing these up to the same level as the introduction to Beyond Sunset.
Nonetheless, what developer Metacorp / Vaporwave (awesome name, by the way) achieves with GZDoom is nothing short of remarkable. I hope gameplay can feel a bit more exciting later on, but if the latter half of Beyond Sunset gets on par with Chapter 1, it's going to be a wild ride to the finish.
Beyond Sunset was previewed on Steam Early Access on PC, using a copy bought by the reviewer over the course of 7 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of the preview.