As time marches on, the games that inspired developers to enter the industry become more recent, and improving technology means small indie teams can make games to match the favourite games of their youth. For example, you can most clearly see this in the platformer space, where the 2D platformers, many with retro-flavoured sprites, have been joined by 3D platformers with low-poly graphics. Super Mario Bros and Mega Man have made their way from Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie.
You can also see it in the recent rise of the boomer shooter – indie first-person shooters that take both visual and gameplay influence from the FPS greats of the 90s such as Doom, Quake, Hexen, and Duke Nukem. Despite the boomer moniker, the devs making the likes of Dusk and Prodeus aren’t quite that old, and the next generation of FPS fans grew up in the post-Half Life 2 era (2005 onwards). For some, it can be hard to think of the Xbox 360 and PS3 as retro without feeling like you are about to crumble into dust, but they are 18 and 17-year-old consoles, respectively.
With all that in mind, here we have Trepang Studios, a Canadian dev with a core team of four members that clearly have a love of mid-2000s first-person shooters and a load of talent. With their new game, Trepang2, the elevator pitch is that it is an indie version of F.E.A.R. While I thought this was self-explanatory at first I quickly realised the last mainline game in that series was released in 2011, and that it fits entirely in that PS3/360 generation of games that I mentioned above.
In short, for those unfamiliar, F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon, if you’re wondering) was a series that mixed the kind of linear, action-packed FPS that was popular at the time with elements of psychological horror that are heavily inspired by Japanese films like Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge. Also, it had bullet time, which was a somewhat common mechanic at the time.
The first entry, in particular, is well-loved, with the sequels seeing diminished results. Developer Monolith Productions (not to be confused with the Xenoblade devs Monolith Soft) would ultimately move on to the Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor series in the next generation. Personally, I sometimes yearn for games like F.E.A.R., not so much because I’m a huge fan of the game (though it holds up quite well), but I wish there were more AAA action games with single-player campaigns that are 8–12 hours long and then end. See, it counts as retro because I can say, ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to.’ But the thing is, Trepang Studios have made one like they used to, and absolutely nailed it.
In Trepang2, you’re an amnesiac super soldier that has been broken out by a mysterious syndicate so that you can fight against the Horizon Corporation, who are experimenting with their own mutated super soldiers, as well as a group of cultists Horizon is in cahoots with. Your character, named 106, is armed with the standard array of guns (pistol, SMG, shotgun, rifles, etc) that can be modified and eventually dual-wielded, and two powers – a cloaking ability for stealthy take-downs, and bullet time.
Each main mission is fairly long and linear, and sees 106 and his expendable crewmates infiltrate a location in the hunt for a particular target. The action is fast, frenetic, and a bloody good time (in both senses). The core shooting combat feels great, and it’s very satisfying to blast away room after room of Horizon goons, cultists, or zombie-like attempts at super soldiers. Along with bullet time, you can make good use of slide kicks both for advancing and retreating, as well as the ability to grab weakened enemies for finishing moves or use as temporary human shields. There’s room to play in a push-forward style like you would in the most recent Doom games, as well as pulling off stylish slo-mo manoeuvres in the style of Max Payne. It feels like a faster, slicker version of F.E.A.R's combat system.
In the downtimes between firefights is where the horror elements come in, so there is little respite for the player. It is not the Japanese-style horror of F.E.A.R., which is probably for the best. Still, it works quite well, particularly as the tense build-ups end in an action climax such as a boss fight or an encounter against mutated enemies. The action is the star of the show here, with the horror and the narrative the extra flavour on top rather than sharing the focus, so these set-ups work, especially because the boss fights are largely enjoyable – no easy feat in an FPS.
In short, Trepang2 is very much the F.E.A.R. reboot that we will likely never get. Its modern graphics and high production values set it apart from most of its contemporaries. Perhaps 2019’s Bright Memory: Infinite is the closest, which I have previously mentioned and compared to the 7 out of 10 FPS games that were F.E.A.R.’s competitors. But overall, there isn’t a lot like Trepang2 out there at the moment in that higher-budget indie tier that has taken over the AA games of the 2000s.
Honestly, I’m surprised there aren't more indie shooters taking Trapang2’s lead, particularly that there aren't more Half-Life homages. Of course, with games of such a high pedigree, it can be a daunting task to try and put your own spin on it. Perhaps it is better to take Trepang Studios’ approach and take inspiration from games with singular themes or mechanics rather than genre-defining epics. To use an example from another genre, my favourite of the retro-inspired 2D platformers is Shovel Knight. The visual style and level structure is heavily influenced by Mega Man, but the movement is based on the pogoing Scrooge McDuck from Ducktales. There are probably more boomer shooters taking direct visual and thematic influence from Hexen and Heretic than Doom. There’s no lack of 2000s shooters that had great ideas, even if they didn’t all entirely nail the execution. An indie version of The Darkness, anyone?
It’s not like there are many AAA studios willing to take a risk on a linear single-player FPS, apart from the campaign portion of the Call of Duty juggernaut. This gap in the market is where boomer shooters have come in and taken advantage but they are a kind of game that feels largely PC-focused. Trepang2, which is slated to release on PS5 and Xbox Series later this year, has the modern sheen and impressive set pieces to potentially make a big splash.
I wonder, if it is a hit, whether there will be more shooters taking inspiration from the big FPS games of the 2000s? I certainly hope so, both because I think that Trepang2 wholly deserves it, and because I want to see more games like it. I know I’m not the only one fatigued by the AAA shooters that cost so much to make that they have to try and cater to everyone while having endless hours of content. I think there is an audience for people who want an action blockbuster without the bloat (and the US$70/AU$100 price tag). And with hindsight, the not-so-great parts of 2000s games can be jettisoned, such as ‘realistic’ brown colour palettes and tacked-on multiplayer modes. But for now, enjoy Trepang2 for the brilliant reworking of the past that it is.
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