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Friday, April 12, 2024

This offbeat FPS traps you in an arena shooter-themed afterlife where something is going horribly wrong

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Unreal 4, Unreal 5? No no no, take me back to the old Unreal: Facing Worlds, unbeatable soundtracks, “Yes, this is a screenshot,” now that’s the stuff. Upcoming FPS Ghostware turns the indie boomer shooter renaissance’s propensity for reinterpretation and revitalization of old classics on Epic (Megagames)’s original hits, using the vibes and visuals of classic arena shooters to stealthily present a story-heavy, single player game.

You wake up in what seems to be a conscious recreation of a ’90s shooter within the game’s fiction. The “Wizard,” a game master with the so-cringey-it’s-charming bearing of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, has trapped your consciousness in this digital world, and wants you to duke it out for eternity with your fellow amnesiac, quirky, anime-style prisoners.

The setup reminds me a lot of Neon White, and like Neon White, the dialogue’s a little, uh, goofy. That’s not a problem for me though⁠—I’m an ideological Sardaukar warrior who will always take up arms to defend Neon White’s goofy dialogue, and I already find Ghostware’s self-conscious Toonami dub dorks growing on me.

And the shooting underpinning it all feels great. There’s always been something to recommend just loading into an arena shooter with a bunch of bots and going to town, but adding in story and a campaign structure really makes it pop. Ghostware does a great job of emulating the cadence of arena shooter gameplay, and your opponents all nail the particularly squirrely, slippery nature of such a game’s AI opponents.

Ghostware also blends genres and goes off the rails in interesting ways. In between levels, you can chat up your fellow players in a hub area, check collectible lore entries, and revisit empty maps in search of secrets. This last feature reminds me of the Haunted PS1 game, No Players Online, and similarly captures the eerie loneliness of being on an empty multiplayer server. While you hunt for boomer shooter level secrets, a kind of Slenderman-y, glitchy poltergeist slowly pursues you, ensuring that you can’t dawdle.

Similarly, there’s a more puzzle/exploration level inserted toward the end of the demo and presented as “unfinished content” you’ve glitched into. It has a great eerie ambience to it, and the demo culminates in a fun boss battle that feels like a more easygoing version of Ultrakill’s V2.

Ghostware also has a great Y2K vibe to its menu and UI: most of its interface has that translucent, chunky, aero vibe of Deus Ex’s UI elements, while the main menu is a cheeky mockup of a Windows 98-style desktop. Ghostware  is set to launch in early access on April 12, and you can currently wishlist it and check out the demo on Steam.

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