This game is available for and was reviewed on PC.

Apocryph is a dark fantasy shooter, that, according to the developer, pays homage to Hexen, Painkiller, Strife and Heretic. Full disclosure, I’ve never played any of those games. It’s made by Bigzur Games, a developer I had more trouble than usual finding any info about. In the end I discovered that whilst the studio is seemingly based in the UK it’s actually a Russian company which seems to only have mobile titles in its rap, consisting of a bunch of slender man mobile games, a Russian dating app, a 3D shooter and a clicker game.

Now let’s talk about the actual game itself. The game drops you into a level and you have to reach the end. Of course between you and it are monsters and locked doors, so you have to go around gathering keys in order to reach the end portal, killing any monsters that stand in your way with either your fists or various magical weapons you find around the maps, ranged or melee. The weapons each work with certain types of mana which you find as pickups. Some mana is more rare than others. Speaking of pickups, the game is full of them, there’s health , there’s armor, there’s mana, there’s weapons, there’s keys, there’s mushrooms. The functions of those items is not explained. Some are obvious but some you just have to waste just to see what they do. Items are carried over from one level to another.

The gameplay is straightforward. You run around killing stuff. Health exists both as an instant pickup and an item you can hold onto. If you have picked up armor you’re more resilient, which you can find as items that increase it in various percentages or gain it by killing monsters, so long as you do it fast because the meter slowly starts to deplete if you’re not killing. You can play it safe, which is sometimes prudent because certain areas are full of monsters, but generally speaking you’re better off rushing everything in sight. In typical old school shooter fashion, your character moves around ridiculously fast, and you can even sprint and go even moreily ridiculouslerly fasterly{typos for comedic effect}, so even if a room is full of monsters you can run straight into them and run circles around them whilst blasting them with whatever you have on hand. Depending on your weapon there’s a different spread pattern to your projectiles and the fire rate but you can always use your trusty kick whenever you’re in between shots so you can blast and kick through almost anything, taking advantage of a stunlock. You also move around very fast but with no weight so changing directions to dodge something is easy, even if you’re mid air. However whilst the controls are decent you’ll often find your character clipping to level geometry and stopping dead in your tracks just because you tried to go up a set of stairs or jump to a platform or just hug the wall and go around a corner. This is really annoying when it happens mid combat or during some of the light platforming the game offers.

When you start the game the menu is very barebones, but before you begin the game does ask you what difficulty you want. Despite their threatening names, I picked the second to last one and I didn’t really find the game to be particularly hard. Sure recklessness will get you killed and there’s always the odd new enemy to catch you off guard but generally speaking it’s not as hardcore as it is being marketed. There’s also the issue that the AI is not particularly good, which is in part responsible for the game not being as hard. Fast paced old school twitch shooters like this are made or broken by their AI. It has to be challenging but not unfair and it has to keep you on your toes all the time. In Apocryph there’s various enemy types with different skills but their behavior is very limited. They either charge you, or shoot projectiles at you. Ranged enemies will try to move away from you at not even a quarter the speed you can move and melee enemies will come at you at not nearly the speed you can backpedal away from them while shooting their faces. They will also very easily be confused by walls, elevation differences and glitches with level geometry and various objects on the ground like body parts. Also whilst enemy projectiles work fine, melee attacks do not, hit detection is bad and you will often see enemies hitting the air in your general vicinity and registering as a hit on you.

Speaking of body parts, this is the main selling point of the game according to the developer, their gore system. The finishing blow on an enemy, depending on the kind of damage, will cause visible damage be it having visible injuries or dismemberment. Those corpses remain on the map for a while, giving you the chance to turn around and look at the meat carpet you’ve made for a moment before you rush off to go killing again which is a bit satisfying, but the system is nowhere near as groundbreaking as the developers make it out to be and falls flat amongst the overall unsatisfying feel of the combat. Your character’s attacks have no weight to them and the enemies react minimally to your attacks, melee or ranged. Also the sound design is pretty basic, which also takes away from the feel of the combat. The weapon sounds are just there, and the music is either basic ambient music or repetitive heavy metal riffs that abruptly kick in when you’re in the vicinity of multiple enemies and abruptly cuts off when they’re dead or you have moved away. I guess that’s some sort of attempt at dynamic music. It’s no DOOM that’s for sure.

The graphics are meh. They’d be amazing if the came had come out in 2002, but otherwise they just do their job. Things are there. You may think they’re kept simplistic to make it easier for systems to keep up with the fast pace of the game but it still suffers from frame rate drops at random times. The game is going for a dark fantasy hardcore gore aesthetic but it just looks like every other generic dark fantasy setting. There’s also the obligatory old school graphics mode but I could not get it to work. There’s no story to speak of, unless you make the effort to go to their website and read a paragraph of lore.

Now before I reach a verdict there’s a problem I’d like to address. When it comes to judging the quality of an “homage” game, especially when it comes from an indie studio, the lines between paying homage and copying are blurred. Are they bringing back an old game genre or simply recycling something so old it’s new again? Are they not adding anything new to maintain the feel of the old game or do they simply have no idea how to improve a 20+ year old game in any way and can only copy it? Now as I said previously, I have not played the games Apocryph draws inspiration from, so I cannot say for certain, but having watched a decent chunk of gameplay from each of them I can say that, on a superficial level, Apocryph does a good job imitating the feel of those games. However it’s not quite there, aside from the technical issues and the bad AI there’s just something missing from the overall quality and design that makes it really hard for you to fork over the 20 euro price. It’s also worth mentioning that while the game is not listed as early access on Steam, it is still in development, with the developers actively adding in new content and fixing issues. Will that be enough to elevate the game once development is done? Who knows, time will tell.

So is it a shameless cash grab by a developer? Passion project by people trying to revive games they possibly grew up with? Who knows. What I do know is that Apocryph is not a bad game, it’s fun, but even if you do assume that the technical issues will be fixed as the game nears completion I can’t help but feel like it’s not worth your money.

5

Pros

  • Stays true to the genre
  • Still fun despite shortcomings

Cons

  • Various technical issues
  • Falls short of quality standard set by the games it’s inspired by and its competition
  • High asking price for what is offered

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