Amid Evil is ostensibly a first-person shooter but it feels more like a racing game. Most modern shooters with a fondness for old school values are fast, but everything about Amid Evil, from the level design to the head bob to the tenacity of its foes, feels like a 1980s straight-to-VHS horror with fast forward locked on.
It’s also, as you’ll quickly cotton on when watching the trailer, hugely indebted to Heretic – the Raven-developed fantasy FPS developed in Doom’s engine. I never played Heretic 2, but Amid Evil feels like how Heretic would play in Quake’s engine, developed by someone with… maybe an unhealthy guarana habit. Or something much worse.
Developers Leon Zawada and Simon Rance – both involved with the 2013 Rise of the Triad reboot, among other things – have been tinkering with FPS engines since they were young. “We started out when we were 7 years old making mods for Doom and things like that,” Rance said. “We’ve been doing this our whole life, now we’re making an actual game, which is wild.”
Amid Evil’s most striking quality is its presentation. It definitely looks “retro” but not in a laboured, overly-referential way. While the team has worked on some neat visual tricks involving 2D sprites for both weapons and their projectiles (you’ll quickly notice that all collectibles are 2D sprites, too), the game doesn’t feel too anchored to the past. The lighting, in particular, is gorgeous and very much a 21st century phenomenon.
No, Amid Evil is more concerned with the “spirit” of early true 3D FPS level design, and the most obvious marker of this spirit is the structure of the levels themselves. Environments often shirked any pretense towards realism in favour of what felt good. And this (as well as technical limitations) resulted in levels that were strange and illogical, weird even, which dovetailed nicely with how bracing it was experiencing them in the ‘90s for the first time. Playing Amid Evil, with its speed, its bullet hell pace and sharp-edged hell-inspired worlds, feels like a fever dream.
“We wanted to up to abstractness of it,” Rance said of the hand crafted levels, which are spread across seven episodes, each with three levels and one “boss” level. “Old levels prized fun gameplay areas over the way they looked. Who cares if it doesn’t make sense if it looks cool? A part of the feel of those games were the otherworldly spaces. The fact that they didn’t make sense made them feel more unreal.”
Still, Amid Evil won’t be a bunch of shooting intercut with a key hunt – Rance was careful to emphasize that the level design wouldn’t be as blandly labyrinthine as some early FPS levels could sometimes be. “It’s not like you’re going through a maze to get to them. And once you have it, you know that the door is right there.” There will also be set pieces – which won’t simply be based around ambushes, a common trope in the first Doom and Quake games.
Developed in Unreal Engine 4, the game feels similar to its publisher stablemate Dusk, but while that game looks like a gritty reboot of Redneck Rampage, Amid Dawn is dark fantasy through and through. The seven weapons (which you can carry all at once) range Heretic-esque crossbows through to battle axes through to precision-oriented magic staffs. Enemies will chase the player throughout levels and can even jump and vault in pursuit of you, which has taken new players aback, according to Rance. Add to that a lack of fall damage and hugely vertical worlds, and it feels unlikely that anyone who played an FPS in 1996 couldn’t find something to love in this.
While it all sounds quite orthodox, Amid Evil does a few tiny things to elevate it above the iconic games it apes. It looks better, of course (I can’t emphasis that enough) but each weapon also has a soul mode. When enemies are felled they drop souls, and once you’ve filled the relevant meter the equipped weapon will go into carnage mode. For example, the battleaxe rotates like a jackhammer, tearing through foes with ease.
Published by New Blood Interactive, Amid Evil is due “soon”. Check out a gameplay walkthrough recorded during PAX below.