Amid Evil might be an FPS with fantasy weapons roughly equivalent to Doom's archetypical arsenal, but its new expansion really wants you to punch things. It makes this clear in two different ways. First, it makes punching really fun.
Second, through the Gauntlets of the Platinum Star, Amid Evil makes the act of putting fist to face an unapologetic Jojo reference. If you know even a little about the anime, it does not take mystical foresight to guess what the gauntlets do in their powered-up Soul mode.
I've been waiting several years for The Black Labyrinth, an expansion for one of 2019’s best retro shooters, and if I were to be awfully reductive I'd say it's more of the same. For your $12, you get nine more levels, two new bosses, a single set of fresh enemies and a pair of alternative weapons that replace the original game's first and final slots. It is more of Amid Evil, at a slightly premium price. But that would be selling The Black Labyrinth short.
This is a showcase of just how New Zealand-based indie studio Indefatigable has grown since the base game's launch. While these nine levels only took me around four hours to play on the highest difficulty, they are almost all superior to anything in the original game. The enemies are a more thoughtfully balanced bunch, the environments are more varied and detailed, and the bosses are multi-phase slobberknockers that really elevate the midpoint and finale.
Roughly split into two episodes, The Black Labyrinth is narratively a prequel to the original game, although there's so little story being told that it doesn't really matter. As a burly-armed barbarian type, you're off on a quest to the fabled labyrinth, said to contain a powerful magical axe—the starting melee weapon that you use in the original game. Half of the expansion is the long road to the labyrinth itself, and the remaining maps are the magical obstacle course there to test the worthy. It's the lightest of narratives but it sets the tone nicely for another magical hack 'n' blast adventure through some very fantastical environments.
Dark blue stone temples ringed with purple rivers.
A series of glassy coastal towers overlooking a perfectly mirror-shiny sea.
One late-game map in what feels like the world's biggest historical Roman bathhouse, packed with strange water-pumping mechanisms and ornate mosaic work.
Environments are a highlight of The Black Labyrinth; these maps are filled with a full new set of enemies, including lightning-firing horned clouds, storm knights that buffet you around with wind attacks and extremely aggro hellhounds that take extra damage from the 'pistol' slot's water wand.
Of the new enemies, my favorites were the magical archers that fill the basic ranged grunt role. The basic ones fire incendiary arrows that leave a puddle of flame, forcing movement, while the elite ones fire bouncing, fizzling projectiles that explode with a satisfying pop like fireworks. While damaging, the explosions always made their attacks feel like a celebration as I rushed in to punch them.
Speaking of punching, The Black Labyrinth wasted no time getting me back up to speed with its full arsenal. The two 'new' weapons are variants on the old Axe and Aeternum from the original, and while mechanically similar, they're more satisfying to use. The Void Scythe (the new superweapon) cuts through rooms of enemies normally, while its Soul mode has a genuinely mesmerizing effect where you cut through reality itself, disintegrating every nearby enemy into a cloud of cleanly bisected purple haze that fades into nothingness.
The real stars are the Gauntlets of the Platinum Star, which satisfyingly smack enemies normally, or pummel everything into soup with a flurry of extremely anime blows in Soul mode. While a good melee weapon and useful the whole expansion long, the gauntlets also enable a new map gimmick—purple punchable switches, which do a variety of things, most of them entertaining.
Sometimes purple punch-targets activate mechanisms. Sometimes they cause you to rebound in the opposite direction at comical speeds. At their best, they just let you smash something extremely hard, like punching a 20-foot-tall statue 50 feet through the air and through the floor of a distant arena, opening up a new route.
Pressing buttons in an FPS is boring. Punching open a new path is not. This is a lesson I hope that all shooters take from this expansion.
While Amid Evil had some memorable sequences (especially the entire psychedelic final episode), The Black Labyrinth features some truly spectacular ones, playing into the improbable high-fantasy scale of the game's world. While combat encounters are consistently well designed here, the most memorable parts were these showcases of creative level design.
My favorite sequence was climbing the side of a mountain by hopping between gigantic building-sized swords as they're thrown from somewhere on the distant horizon. These colossal blades skewer the mountain and the fortress built into it with impossible force, but each one provides a fresh foothold. Boiled down to its core mechanics, the sequence is an easy bit of platforming, but the vibes, as they say, were immaculate. It's the highest of fantasy, halfway between pulpy barbarian adventure novellas and the impossible, abstract worlds rendered in early '90s showcases like Beyond The Mind's Eye.
Speaking of, if you've got the hardware for it, Amid Evil continues to be one of the prettiest raytraced games around. While no slouch normally, adding real reflections to these frequently metallic and glassy worlds just elevates them further. It's not realistic in the slightest (bordering on the lurid, even) but Amid Evil doesn’t traffic in the gritty, and is all the more impressive for it.
I had a grand old time playing The Black Labyrinth, even on its highest difficulty. My only real complaint is that the expansion currently isn't supported by Amid Evil VR. As spectacular as it was on my ultrawide monitor, I desperately want to experience the dizzying sense of scale again in the way that only fancy future goggles can deliver.