The last few years saw an uprising of oldschool first person shooters in our industry. Titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order, Doom, Dusk and Amid Evil succeeded in bringing the 90s fast paced fps formula to both younger and older audience alike. Apocryph is the latest title in a line of modern ‘oldschool’ fps promising to bring all that you love about the shooters from the mid 90s. Let’s see how it did, shall we?
Apocryph is a first person shooter developed and published by Bigzur games and released for Microsoft Windows via Steam on 27 April, 2018.
Story and Narrative
The story of Apocryph is set in a dark fantasy world. In Apocryph you play as the Arbiter, an exile from the Xilai religious cult. The Xilai are skilled are renowned magic practitioners who worships the goddess of Death. In the name of their goddess, the Xilai raids worlds to reap souls. You return after many years to the Xilai fortress, only to find the land overrun with demonic spawns and monstrosities. You then go on a murderous rampage to find the reason behind the demonic invasion and your exile.
The above part on the story is based on the Steam store page. Apocryph, like many shooters from the 90’s doesn’t have a strong emphasis on the story or narrative. Heck, there’s not even an intro in the game. You’re just thrown straight into the action. It’s not a bad thing and I wouldn’t hold it against the game. Ultimately what matters here is the gameplay.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Like mentioned above, Apocryph is an oldschool fps with a strong emphasis on fast paced gameplay and slaughtering dozens upon dozens of enemies. Of all the games Apocryph takes inspired from, Raven Software’s Heretic and Monolith’s Blood bears the closest resemblance. You can read our retro featurette on Heretic here. The gameplay of Apocryph revolves around exploring maze-like environments to find a way to get to a locked door/area in the map while fending off hordes of enemies. It’s the basic 90’s fps formula. The devs originally promised a total of 30 levels in the game. But as of now, there is only one episode consisting of six levels available to play (at time of writing this review, a patch containing the first level of the second episode was released.) You can complete the available content in around 3 hours. The devs said that they’ll be releasing the rest of the levels in the following months. The fact that they opted for a full release and not an Early Access release for an unfinished game is just baffling.
As is customary, there is a hefty arsenal of weapons for you to play around with. They follow the traditional fps loadout (melee, pistol, shotgun, rifle etc). Since Apocryph is a fantasy game, the weapons get a dark fantasy makeover (just think Heretic). So instead of a pistol, you get a staff. The weapons look good and controls well. Some of the weapons could also be upgraded by finding the better variant within the levels. However they lack the punch and kick one would expect from such scary looking tools of destruction. I’ll talk more about it in the audio department. Aside from the main weapons, there are an assortment of power ups and other pickups like grenades, health packs, armor, the game’s version of Doom’s berserk and a few more. Good thing is that all of these can be stored in your inventory for future use. There are cleverly hidden secret areas in the game, as well as monster closets. If you have played any of the mid 90’s shooters, you’ll fit right in.
Combat, while generally solid is dragged down by several missteps. First of all the enemy A.I and pathfinding is downright terrible. I don’t expect them to follow clever tactics in a fast paced fps, but I don’t expect them to get stuck in terrain either. When you move your camera, there is a slight delay between the movement of the crosshair and the weapon model, which can get quite annoying. There’s a bullet time mechanic where you can slow down time, but it sticks out like a sore thumb here. There is no autorun option and you have to hold shift every time you want to run (which you will want to since you walk at a snail’s pace). Movement often feels clunky as well.
The game also has a lot of bugs and glitches like enemies not spawning, clipping issues and the likes. Not to mention the game randomly resetting the language to Russian when you change something. I wanted to like the gameplay of Apocryph, I really did. The core of the game can be enjoyable. But it feels like for every good step the game takes, it also takes two steps back.
Graphics, Performance & Sound
Apocryph isn’t going to win anyone over with its looks. The problem here is the inconsistent art style. Some parts of the game really looks great and is filled with a dark fantasy ambience and mood, while some other parts feels like glued together mess. Take the first level for example. The dimly lit monastery is visualised very well and looks really immersive. The second level, which is set in the middle of a lava pool is so poorly designed that it feels like a badly made lego fortress. Weapon and enemy designs however are pretty neat. The game also features some nice gibbing animations and gore system.
Apocryph could really use some optimization. There are random fps drops even on above recommended specs (The recommended GPU is a GeForce 9800GT). Even though my game was running at 75 fps on a GTX 750 (most of the time anyways), the gameplay felt very choppy and not as nearly as smooth as it should be. My graphics settings would often get overwritten and I’d have to go back and change them every once in a while.
In terms of music, it’s serviceable for the most part. The music loop that plays in the background doesn’t always match the situation you’re in though. Especially the first level. Think about all the classic 90’s shooters. What did all of them have in common? They all started with a kickass music score to inspire you to do badass things. Apocryph does do that, although not all the time. The sound effects, especially for the weapons are really weak and lacks the necessary beefyness and bass. It translates to the weapons feeling very underpowered. All the other sounds including the ambience are just standard stuff.
Beneath all of Apocryph’s problems lies a somewhat fun game. With a lot of work it may very well turn out to be a good game, but not today. Apocryph looks and plays like an early access game, yet it is sold at a price of ₹ 565. The amount of content available now doesn’t justify the price. Moreover the gameplay is serviceable at best and choppy and frustrating at worst. The developers should interact with the community to fix the issues and focus on delivering everything they promised in the store page if they don’t want Apocryph to wash away in a current of better shooters.