I'm a sucker for a nice main menu gag, especially one where you transition right into a cutscene with no loading (looking at you, Spec Ops: the Line). The demo for the upcoming retro FPS, Coven (opens in new tab), kills it here by having the main menu overlaid on a scene of a crowd of medieval peasants staring at you. Starting a new game sees a priest come forward and light your pyre aflame, condemning you to a gruesome death. The first level then begins with you digging out of your own grave to get revenge.
Coven (first spotted by Alpha Beta Gamer (opens in new tab)) definitely had me feeling a little queasy at times with its overpoweringly grim content, but the low-fi throwback graphics (strongly reminiscent of New Blood's Dusk) helped maintain some welcome psychic distance there, and its fast paced FPS combat is too fun to stay scared for long.
Coven's weapon selection is solid, with a couple standard FPS offerings getting shown up by two stars. The "axe pistols" do not live up to their bad ass name for me. There's not a lot mechanically separating them from other FPS pea shooters, but the sound effect for their retort is so wimpy, it just harshes my buzz. Ditto for the standard shotgun, though the boomer shooter de rigueur super shotgun was definitely fun enough for me to use regularly.
The default melee weapon, an axe and shield combo, is where the party's at. It works similarly to the broadsword weapon in Dusk, with a short charge up swing insta killing most enemies on normal difficulty. Coupled with the block function, you get this fun little dance of weaving in and out of crowds of enemies, insta gibbing them one at a time (and the insta gibbing never stops being extremely satisfying).
Coven's crossbow is similarly sick, though you don't get it until fairly late in the demo. It's a one hit kill on headshots, and bolts will completely decapitate enemies, pinning their heads to the next wall. It's an absolutely gnarly effect, and similar to the axe combat never gets old. I'd also be remiss if I failed to bring up my favorite little detail in the game: its flashlight. In Coven you get a little clip-on hand lantern like the one in Bloodborne or, I guess, actual history. It cheekily hangs from the upper left corner of your screen, jostles around with your movement, and I just really, really dig it.
You can also eat up enemy corpses for health regen a la Cruelty Squad, an hp-restoring mechanic that's equally gross-yet-hilarious in Coven. Developer Gator Shins is also working on magic spells to round out your arsenal and really sell the "witchy" thing, but for the moment the only one available is a sort of "witch vision" for some light puzzle solving.
The demo's levels are very distinct from one another, with the first, a romp through an autumnal medieval village, starkly contrasting with the second, where you go deep underground into some pagan catacombs. They're both solid, well-designed shooter levels with ample secrets and backtracking, though the first one set in the village is definitely my favorite.
Coven's demo is well-worth checking out, and you can wishlist it on Steam (opens in new tab) in anticipation of its planned 2023 early access release. Realms Deep 2022 was a real smorgasbord of killer throwback shooter demos (my favorite remains Fortune's Run (opens in new tab)), and the Coven demo is a perfect little romp to get you into that Halloween spirit.