The past few years have seen the emergence of what has been termed the “boomer shooter.” While the term doesn't strictly make sense (I highly doubt my mum is spending her weekends playing Amid Evil or Quake), it's catchy and is descriptive enough to give some indication of what it refers to. The term “boomer shooter” defines a subset of the first-person shooter genre that emulates the style of classic FPS games from the 1990s, a generation of shooters that old farts like myself were raised on. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and a yearning to return to the “good old days” has been a significant driving force in the broader retro revival of the past decade.
In their Top 100 Shooters of All Time, IGN quite succinctly states, "When you look at the history of first-person shooters, it all breaks down pretty cleanly into pre-Half-Life and post-Half-Life eras." Post-Half-Life featured a rising trend of deeper narratives, scripted sequences, realism mechanics (iron sights, reloading, cover), and slower pacing. Boomer shooters harken back to the mechanics of classic shooters from id Software and Apogee/3D Realms — namely, over-the-top weapons, lightning-fast pacing, heavy metal sensibilities, and ludicrous gibs.
The following is a selection of five modern boomer shooters and the classics that inspired them.
Apogee Software originally conceived 3D Realms as a marketing label and adopted as their trading name in 1996. In 2008, under Apogee founder Scott Miller’s leadership, 3D Realms sold the rights to the Apogee name and associated IP to friend and collaborator Terry Nagy. Then, in 2009, the “original” 3D Realms shut down. This kick-started a long period of legal tug-of-war over the Duke Nukem IP and 3D Realms and its associated property changing hands. As a result, both Apogee Entertainment, headed by Scott Miller and Terry Nagy, and 3D Realms, a Saber Interactive subsidiary in Denmark, now exist.
For clarity, when referring to the original 3D Realms below, I will use “Apogee/3D Realms”. When referring to the current Saber Interactive studio, I will simply use “3D Realms”
Voidpoint | 3D Realms | 2019
For boomer shooters with “retro” credentials, it is hard to look past a game made in the Apogee/3D Realms’ Build Engine, made famous by games such as Duke Nukem 3D (1996) and Blood (1997). Ion Fury, originally named Ion Maiden until an absurd legal dispute with the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, fully embraces the iconic features of the Build Engine. It boasts expansive, meticulously crafted environments that are both visually stunning and interactive.
This game is a fantastic example of how you can make a game look stunning without relying on the latest graphics tech. Voidpoint’s attention to detail in the cyberpunk environments and exquisitely detailed sprites help the in-game locations come to life.
Inspiration: With the Build Engine under the hood, interactive environments, and a smartass protagonist, Ion Fury wears the influence of Duke Nukem 3D on its sleeve. There is also the narrative link to Duke: Ion Fury’s protagonist, Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison. Shelly was at one point Duke’s NPC sidekick in earlier iterations of Duke Nukem Forever.
David Szymanski | New Blood Interactive | 2018
Both David Szymanski and New Blood Interactive are names that have become synonymous with the boomer shooter, and much of that can be attributed to Szymanski's DUSK. Without a doubt, DUSK is one of the must-play games in the subgenre. As you'd expect, it's packed with the sort of balls-to-the-wall speed, violence, and gore that you'd expect, and the old-school geometry and texture work perfectly captures the essence of the classic 90s shooters it takes influence from. There's also a heavy dose of the horror genre, masterfully woven into the frantic pacing.
Inspiration: DUSK has some broad inspiration behind it. The low-poly 3D engine has echoes of Quake, but some of the themes are reminiscent of Monolith's Blood. There are also echoes of Redneck Rampage in some of the earlier levels. DUSK has many influences, but has established its own unique (and creepy) legacy.
Jasozz Games / 3D Realms / 2022
One of the newer titles on the boomer shooter scene, Voidpoint’s CULTIC released in October 2022 to glowing praise. Like many of its contemporaries, CULTIC weaves frantic retro shooter pacing with a persistent sense of dread from the macabre setting. Voidpoint cleverly executed the level design, with dozens of secrets to find and multiple ways to use the environment to defeat the hordes of foes. There are also plenty of scares. Crawling caves filled with corpses with only your Zippo lighter to guide the way leads to some genuinely terrifying moments.
Inspiration: Blood, Blood, Blood. CULTIC’s influence is all Blood, the 1997 Build Engine classic from Monolit h Productions. The tone, environments, and enemies all pay homage to Monolith’s masterpiece. CULTIC takes a more horror-driven approach, although still making use of dark humour and an undead protagonist with a witty personality. CULTIC is the very definition of a spiritual successor – capturing the best of its influences while simultaneously finding its own voice.
Buckshot Software | Gaming Company | 2018
Project Warlock is another title that spearheaded the retro shooter revival. The levels are compact, while the RPG-style skill progression adds a modern twist to the classic formula. Project Warlock is a mix of fantasy and science fiction. The gameplay is fast, gory, and aggressive — all the elements one could hope for in a retro FPS. Creator Jakub Cislo is living proof that boomer shooters are not just for nostalgic old gamers (like me). He was still at high school while the game was in development, and it was his father who exposed him to classic shooters like Doom and Quake.
Inspiration: Project Warlock, much like DUSK, draws influences from various classic games such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Heretic, and Hexen. However, it establishes its own distinct identity, making it a unique experience in its own right.
Bounding Box Software / Humble Games / 2022
Prodeus is sick. The first words that come to mind when I play this sci-fi boomer shooter are those sorts of descriptors. Gnarly. Wild. Rad. The gameplay is so fast-paced and fluid; the style is ineffably cool, and the violence is sensationally exaggerated. Prodeus is a lot of fun to play and is a beautiful game to boot. It’s a perfect example of how visual communication in games has matured to a point that a considered style and aesthetic is often far more impressive than technical complexity.
Inspiration: This is a tough call. Though the subject of Prodeus isn’t exactly unique, the games that it draws influence from are hard to pin down. Doom looms large as it does in most boomer shooters, but in some ways Prodeus feels like a “demake” of more modern shooters.
A Golden Age
The retro FPS revival is far from over — in fact, there’s a powerful argument to make that we’ve yet to hit its peak. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day to try all of them, and even less to write about them, but with the success of games like Boltgun and promising new releases on the horizon like Turbo Overkill, Coven and Core Decay, it’s a damn good time to be a fan of classic shooters.
In the words of the marketing material for John Romero’s infamous Daikatana, get ready to Suck it Down.
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