Among the retro-throwbacks of the current indie renaissance, first-person shooters harkening to the golden era of id and Build engine titles are up there as one of the most commonly occurring iterations on a genre. They tend to be an easy format to recreate: hand the player an armory of guns then turn them loose on a labyrinth of gnarled hallways and rooms stuffed to the brim with enemies lying in wait. Varied enemy types are mix-and-matched in myriad hordes thrown at the protagonist, the interplay between their varying tactics forcing you to stay on your toes as you adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.
You have fun twists on the genre with games like STRAFE and Tower of Guns throwing rogue-lite procgen into the mix, or simply hardcore returns to form with something akin to DUSK. There’s bullet-hell injected MOTHERGUNSHIP, as well as arcade styled Devil Daggers. Of course, along with the overwhelming amount of solid titles fleshing out the FPS space, one can explore more experimental takes on ripping and tearing with things such as DRL, which reimagines DOOM as a pure rogue-like experience. Further down that path, there’s modding tool ZKVN which turns the engine into a host for visual novels.
However, buried knee-deep in the swathes of callbacks and remixes, lies BUTCHER from Transhuman Design. Taking the game loop to its core components of speed and hectic gunplay, BUTCHER places the action on a 2D plane with elements of platforming integrated into the experience. Trapping you in multi-layered rooms, you’re pitted against hordes of enemies and traps filling your screen, murdering you time and again until you can masterfully flow from the chamber’s nadir to zenith while coating every surface in gibs and gushing blood.
What’s interesting to note, however, is that it manages to take the trappings of DOOM and Quake to create something wholly new with their respective formulas. Wrapped in chunky, abstract pixel art that feels akin to an Amiga title turned up to 11, it explodes stylistically across the screen. Its tough-as-nails difficulty and gory dismemberments lean into DOOM, but the invocation of dashing about its verticality brings a dash of spicy Quake flavour. Moreso, it breaks into its own by exploring settings beyond the initial hard sci-fi “space platform gone awry” or “surreal industrial complex” of FPS past by having its third act thrust the player into a dank jungle filled with monstrous animals, edging closer to something more akin to Turok… right before descending into the bowels of a volcano’s lava floes that give way to a hellish setting, returning to the referential roots it pulls from.
All in all, BUTCHER stands as a testament to the glory that can come from experimenting with seemingly disparate genres and playmodes. Influence can be worn on your sleeve, but intent and execution are what matters. Nostalgia can only carry a game so far. BUTCHER manages to subvert being a misstep of game design by not blinding itself with the rose-tinted glasses of childhood enjoyment from titles like DOOM or Quake, instead infusing the game with something new, something that elevates it to a new place that it makes all its own.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.