Leave them Quaking in their Boots
It’s very likely you’re familiar with titles like Doom, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D. These games give players a rush of power with big guns to shoot and bigger enemies to mow down, but they also intrigue with intricate level design. Level design is the most important element of classic first-person shooter games.
Amid Evil is a successful throwback FPS because its levels have been designed ingeniously. In addition, the weapons are fun, the enemies are varied and challenging, and the overall visual and audio aesthetic is wondrous. From beginning to end this is an engaging masterpiece. At base, it's the spiritual successor to the 1994 release Heretic, but in practice, it goes far past that. While old-school FPS fans should not miss this, Amid Evil isn't just a treat for them. This is a masterpiece any gamer can appreciate and a testament to how great the medium can be.
Right when you start Amid Evil you see the old-school inspiration. The main menu bears a familiar style if you've played games like Heretic or Quake. Speaking of Quake, the start area of Amid Evil is a difficulty selection straight out of that classic FPS. You have a hallway for Easy, Medium, and Hard, and a hidden entrance to an "Evil" difficulty.
Unexpectedly, Amid Evil continues channeling Quake just as much as Heretic. The full 3D graphics and high fantasy aesthetic are culprits, as is the importance of in-air physics throughout the entire game and the need for Gold and Silver keys. One of the weapons, called the Celestial Claw, shoots planets and acts as a rocket launcher. Using this you can rocket jump - or, more properly, planet jump - so you’ve got even more what feels like a Quake mod.
There are also power-ups, like Invisibility or Invincibility. There's no Quad Damage equivalent, Quake's quadruple-damage power-up, but there is a soul-mode that activates once you've collected enough souls from fallen enemies. It's like the charge-mode out of Painkiller, and you can choose to engage it manually or have it begin automatically.
So there are plenty of callbacks to old-school shooters, but, as stated in the intro, Amid Evil is its own game. Its art-style is unique for this genre. Though high-fantasy, its aesthetics don’t hearken to medieval Europe, like those of Heretic. Amid Evil's are more inspired by Central American and Middle-Eastern art and architecture. It’s hard to pinpoint specific examples because so many of the levels are abstract in structure and are a mesh of various styles. The main takeaway here is that this isn’t a world of castles and wizards.
Paired with its beautiful amalgam of visual art is impressive audio design. The cool, moody beats of the soundtrack complement the visuals and the gameplay. Andrew Hulshult has proven he can compose just about anything. Here he goes beyond the metal-dominated work of his on previous titles like 2013's Rise of the Triad or last year's Dusk.
Blessed Level Design
The crux of this game’s greatness is its level design. Each map shows careful attention to detail and bears unique characteristics. They offer variety as they fall under one of seven episodes that each hold to different themes.
The first three episodes are tighter and feel more directly Heretic inspired. The second episode, “Domain of the Sentinels,” is the most faithful to old-school level design. Its second level, “Citadel of the Watchers,” looks vaguely like the Heretic map "The Storehouse" at the start. There appears a big room with an open sky above, columns across, a wall to the left and an opening to the rest of the level to the right. You start in the same corner on each map, too. It may well be a coincidence, especially as the other areas of the map did not bear such resemblances, but this one scene stood out. The rest of the episode feels like one of Quake’s mission packs.
The fourth episode has the fantastic “Tower of Light” map – perhaps my favorite level in the whole game. It consists of a large climb upwards on various types of platforms, stairways, and wind funnels. It is as close a callback to the original Quake as I’ve experienced in one of these throwback shooters.
The last three episodes transition to crazy. The fifth episode, called The Forges, has a factory aesthetic to it and spikes in difficulty. There are highly challenging enemies here. One can grab you with a hook shot and pull you towards it. Another is a highly annoying spike-ball that rolls straight towards you. In addition, jumping puzzles amidst moving machinery abound, so if you don’t like first-person platforming you won’t like this episode.
The sixth episode goes into abstract space, with floating islands and structures, and the seventh and final episode is completely devoid of reality. I much prefer episodes 1 through 4 for their tighter, more nostalgic feel. The last three episodes are no less engaging, but their outlandish design I found less appealing.
Each episode has four maps, so there’s plenty of content here. There’s an additional horde mode (complete with Unreal Tournament-like announcer) if you’re into fighting waves of enemies. The length of play, the variety in aesthetics and design, and the overall genius in the structure of each map make Amid Evil a masterclass in game design. It has more content and more ingenuity than most AAA games I’ve played. In all, the experience reminded me of the day when first-person shooters and action games contained tons of levels, hours of content, brilliant level design, and captivating art style. Amid Evil’s greatness is a testament to the era it calls back to.
It Gets Difficult – and Scary
Amid Evil is a superb throwback FPS and it’s one that’s not afraid of a challenge. Classic FPS games can be difficult, but the ones that are truly difficult, like Blood, stand out for a reason. You’ll come to your tricky map or tough boss fight occasionally, but overall the classic FPSes gave players the joy of constant progress. I remember getting stuck a few times in Unreal and Half-Life, but overall my childhood memories with FPS games don’t include the same frustrations platformers or JRPGs gave me. Amid Evil stopped me quite a few times, though.
Even if you’re a veteran of the genre you’ll want to play on Medium your first time through. Enemies throughout the game, especially in the last three episodes, can deal lots of damage in a small amount of time. Several times I went from 100 health to death in a few seconds because of one mistake or missed opportunity. There is a lot of first-person platforming in the later episodes, as well, and at least one very challenging boss fight. Psych yourself up.
Beyond just being hard, it becomes scary as well. This is personal for me: I have a fear of large, open spaces, and of large things in those large open, spaces. The sixth episode’s boss is a nightmare for me because of this. So petrified by it I had to use a cheat, “AEWIZARD,” to skip the level – otherwise, I would not have been able to finish the game. (TechRaptor may have had its first writer pass out in the line of work.) Readily available cheat codes, accessible from the main menu, is another pleasant familiarity for longtime FPS players. Back in the day you could easily activate cheats and not feel bad about it – it was just part of the experience.
The entire final episode had me on edge. It was ironic that the same boss that so terrified me at the end of episode six appeared again in the final level. Thankfully, here, acting on a tip from a YouTube video, I was able to put half of it away quickly with a soul-charged Star of Diamond attack, and then run past the other half. Be warned that if you have the same phobias I do, it will be very difficult to play through the end of the game.
Amid Evil Review | Amid Greatness
Allow me a simple charge: if you like great games, play Amid Evil. If you like old-school FPSes, you already should have. If not, rectify it now.
To call Amid Evil only a throwback shooter for the old-school fans belittles it. This is a masterpiece, a great game for anyone of any generation. That this kind of design is called “old-school” or “throwback” demonstrates how the gaming industry has left behind something special. The design in Amid Evil is timeless and inspiring. It should not be consigned to any one era or one group of gamers but celebrated by all for all times as one of the best ways games can be made. Amid Evil is this medium at its best, and a testament to the experiences games can give that no other art form can.
TechRaptor reviewed Amid Evil on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
- Excellent Level Design
- Beautiful Visual Aesthetics
- Great Audio Design
- Satisfying Amount Of Content
- Late-Game Is Not Friendly To Big-Space Phobias
- First-Person Platforming May Frustrate