Heretic - Shadow of the Serpent Riders

While not as familiar to modern audiences as the likes of the original Doom or Wolfenstein, upon its original release in 1994, Heretic stood out among contemporary shooters by building upon the mechanics and environment design already seen in IdTech/Doom Engine shooters and wrapping up this work of technological craftsmanship  in a story-rich and lore-filled world where the motive provided for main character to kill legions of enemy demons, dark wizards and eldritch abominations goes slightly beyond “monsters bad”.

The story sees the player take control of Corvus, an Elf mage - and one of the last of his kind - who seeks to defeat the dark and mystical forces responsible for the destruction of most of the mortal realm, the wizard D’Sparil and his Serpent Rider minions. 

Much like the original Doom, Heretic takes place over a handful of episodes, each filled with a number of levels strung together along a reasonable difficulty curve with a degree of sequential storytelling through the revelation of worldbuilding lore revealed so slowly and in such an obfuscatory manner, had you have played the game blind for the first time, you might have finished it knowing less about the plot than you learned from the second paragraph of this very review.

Like most-any 90’s FPS, the player character runs around relativly flat maps filled with very rigid, rectangular, level geometry fighting off a double-digit amount of enemies from every side while hundreds of garish pixel-art projectiles fly blurringly through the air in as many different directions.

For all the limitations in creating 3D spaces on the Doom Engine though, Raven Software made sure to focus a great deal on providing a suitable atmosphere for this dark magic adventure through the artistic work that has clearly gone into the textures for walls and floors, enemy designs (lots of necromantic skeletons, golems, and devilish imps abound), and little miscellaneous setpiece details scattered around the landscape like foreboding candelabras and eerie tombstones. 

The weapons and inventory pick-ups also fit the bill, and while they, for the most part, are admittedly just the standard Doom weapons reskinned into warlock staves and magic gauntlets, everything about their look and sound does make them fun to use.

It’s a really fun game, and is satisfyingly challenging to even veteran Doomclone players in all the places it is intended to be. Picking it up on Steam is a good call, given how inexpensive it is here, and is conveniently on a platform which will allow you to easily discuss and mod the game to your heart’s content. Although Heretic is, at time of writing, twenty-six years old, and the first (and also best) episode was shareware even at the time, so you will easily be able to find the whole game free-of-charge elsewhere if you really want to. Either way, this game is highly recommended.