A retro-inspired first-person shooter… set in socialist Czechoslovakia? Admit it, that wasn’t what you were expecting from an indie FPS. HROT is the brainchild of the one-man developer Spytihněv, who manages to pull off not only the old school shooter aesthetic, but the general feel of classic nineties shooters as well. Its demo proves to be a very satisfying taste of potentially brilliant things to come.
At first glances, many would make the educated, and justifiable, assumption that the game was made in the Quake tech engine (or, if you’re a fan of obscure shooters, the same engine that the Russian-made Quake-clone Chasm: The Rift was made in). After all, the simplistic, 3D models seem like a dead giveaway, and its excessive use of drab, brown textures looks all too familiar. What’s even more impressive is, according to the store page, it was made in “a custom engine written in Pascal imitating 1990s software-style rendering with unfiltered textures and polygon jitter.” The fact that it could’ve been passed off as an id Software title is commendable, in itself. Even the smooth movement and controls feel uncanny.
There’s a pretty effective selection of weapons on offer, like a Tokarev for long-range combat, an SMG, a shotgun with an abundance of ammo on offer, a rocket launcher, mines, a lightning gun, and a sickle (you could deal more melee damage to an enemy by slapping them in the face with a wet sock, in comparison). You can even toss grenades while using any of these guns, though these things bounce around like rubber balls. Most of these weapons are satisfying to use, but ammo tends to be a bit scarce for most of them. In any case, the arsenal isn’t particularly creative, but one can hope that a feature like alternate fire modes may be implemented in the future to remedy this.
The events that took place in HROT are shrouded in mystery – who knows why there are crazy gas mask soldiers armed with shotguns and rifles, hell bent on more than just stalking you? Most of the enemies will absorb a fair bit of damage before going down for the count, which makes them a bit bullet-spongey. The shotgunners fall over when hit with certain attacks, and, like every other foe, can be set on fire as well. The chunky, chainsaw-swinging blokes also toss grenades, much like the Ogres from Quake, and they’re none too easy to dispatch. Then there are dogs, spiders, ghosts that blind you with their projectiles, and even mad horses with gas masks on. Seriously, seeing these rushing at you from out of nowhere will likely make you scream and laugh in rapid succession.
The demo features single level, ‘Vyšehrad’, which is said to be, much like the rest of the game, inspired by real-life environments from the Eastern Bloc. There are no inexplicable floating platforms, fireball-spewing traps or the like. Instead, you’ll trundle through the sewers, a warehouse, and a small park before plundering the chapel undercroft and through even sewage before escaping. It’s an eloquently designed mission with a realistic layout, albeit with secret areas and monster closets tossed into the mix. It’s fairly linear, but it does have some spacious areas to battle in.
Upon completion, you’ll unlock survival mode. It takes place in a condensed version of the same map as before, albeit with random weapons spawning in and very few health pickups. Not much to say about it, except it’s well worth revisiting if you’re in need of a chaotic fight for your life. You’ll get achievements if you reach wave 5 and 10, respectively.
The brilliance comes with a catch, however. While I didn’t stumble across any apparent glitches or the like, it was still prone to crashing. This happened multiple times for no apparent reason, during both the campaign and survival mode, and that really began to suck the fun out of things.. Of course, this is coming from personal experience, but it’s best if you save your game often where possible.
HROT is a solid take on the ongoing retro-chique FPS craze that almost looks and plays like it came out in 1998. Damage-absorbing enemies and a fairly unremarkable roster of weapons are its most notable issues, but the level design, visuals and combat in general are all on-point and very fun. Plus, the wave mode should be a nice incentive to encourage you to return for a bit more until it drops, providing it’s not gonna conk out on you repeatedly. It may be a lengthy wait in the breadline before we get our hands on it, but if the rest of the title will be like this, albeit with a bit more polish, it’ll likely be worth it.
Check out the free demo for HROT on Steam.