Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin review: sometimes the old FPS ways can still work

I’ve had to look up…. goddamn it, hang on. I’ve had to look up Wrath Colon Aeon Of Ruin every day to remember its utter nothing of a name. Such a weak title deserves a much worse game, but this captures the feeling of its late 90s FPS influences as they actually were, and ends up just familiar enough to work, and just original enough to refresh the formula. At times, it’s a little too accurate, but even with its annoyances dialled up by the pressure of playing it too hard for the sake of review, I’m impressed with the balancing act it’s struck.

Age Of Wrath is most obviously inspired by Quake (I’d argue more Quake 2, right down to the biomechanical grunt lads who fill the role that’s just a touch above cannon fodder right to the end), but there’s a hint of Unreal too, especially in the first of its three worlds with its palette of muted metallic blues and soggy green-greys. Even Exhumed gets a shout in the sandy tombs and snotmonster temples of world two, before the well-realised but conceptually kind of disappointing finale in Hell. There are touches of story in semi-secret text scrolls, and a spirit guide who says some things that even the writer probably doesn’t remember when you return to each world’s hub between levels.

But the story and setting matter as little as they get in the way. You’re here to shoot weird monsters with cool weapons in elaborate, demi-realistic places full of optional secrets, and Aeon: Rage Of Ever absolutely delivers. The standard FPS arsenal is here, with a weak but accurate pistol, chaingun, railgun, and eventually fancy energy weapons reserved for the biggest lads or trivialising a swarm of lessers. There are thematic twists, too, like the “grenade” launcher that fires sticky cysts of evil snot like Unreal’s bio-rifle, and the crystal cannon that turns victims into purple statues. Weapons are a strange case of being functionally standard but feel good and varied enough for the lack of oddball options to matter.

A screenshot from Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin that shows an energy weapon pointed at a crystalline monster.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/3D Realms/Fulqrum Publishing

If the shotgun is still the measure of a good FPS, Fury Ruined Colon delivers again. It’s powerful and enough of a workhorse that the couple of levels that starve you of shells only make it shine all the more brightly. The delay between shots is just enough to make for panicky moments when you miss or it’s not done enough damage, and its alternative fire is a long-ish range rocket/flak hybrid launcher that punches way above its apparent weight, but takes skill to time and aim properly. Best of all, right clicking and releasing before it fires make a little chak-chik sound without spending any ammo. Yes thank you I will take some stimming with my stimming.

Skill is really the key here too, as each of the game’s monsters and weapons has distinctive behaviour and patterns that complement your competency. They’re initially frustrating, then an acceptable challenge, then opportunities to experiment with new gun combinations, and finally you’ll integrate their deaths into the rhythm of the wider gunfights you’re in. Ammunition is also exceptionally well balanced, as you’ll always have enough for several viable options, but little enough that you have to rotate regularly and thus learn the ins and outs of every gun and enemy. You’d think the invisible spiders were the annoying enemy, but I retain a deep hatred of the little electric-eyeball-launching robot things who explode on death. You will hear their buzzing, infinite vision attacks early and IT WILL NEVER CEASE.

Power ups (artifacts) in theory feed into all this too, providing a localised shield, melee-denying electricity, or the tantalising black hole grenade. But as a natural hoarder and absent-minded dolt, I almost never used them beyond the sometimes-necessary “heal on kill” one, and the “temporary god mode but afterwards you drop to 1hp” one. The most entertaining one transforms an arena into an amusing reprieve, turning monsters against each other with bimbo gas while you hang out and smoke under the stairs. But these options come into their own more on hard mode, which I should probably have moved up to earlier.

A screenshot from Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin that shows a shotgun pointed a statue.

A screenshot from Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin that shows a shotgun pointed at a lavafall.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/3D Realms/Fulqrum Publishing

A screenshot from Wrath: Aeon Of Ruin that shows a flaming monster run at the player.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/3D Realms/Fulqrum Publishing

FPS enthusiasts and those who do not daily contemplate the bleak inevitability of entropy will, I think, be well served by the game’s normal difficulty, but if you’re merely okay or kinda good at shooters, medium provides a good hit of friction and frustration. Crucially, it’s also well paced, with levels that fit well into playing two or three then leaving it for the day, providing reprieve within levels with a bit of exploration or jar smashing, rather than constant overwhelming action. Even the occasional level where I got completely lost in some labyrinth was the kind of frustration that receded rapidly with hindsight.

There are frustrations, though. Skipping the early ones where I needed to learn the monsters, Aeon Realm Of Something revives the ancient habit of getting annoyingly stuck on vertical corners yet insisting on coating every horizontal edge and curve with soap. This is really compounded by the third act, and a greater emphasis on jumping over lava challenges while you’re being bombarded, with added enemies that could teleport in at any moment. All exacerbated by a dash move that requires awkwardly swapping to your sword and using its alternative attack. Oh, and there are occasional crouch jumps. I thought we agreed to never speak of them again.

Quicksaves are a limited, collectible resource too, an interesting system with a slightly wonky UI that soon became irrelevant as I’d gathered dozens before long. I’d estimate that 70% were used to get around the tedious backtracking that comes of falling off ledges, and another 15% from getting trapped by a wall mounted lamp while a legally distinct cacodemon ate my face.

Wrath Colon Aeon Of Ruin could tighten up a few things here and there, and it could have been a bit more outlandish, and it should probably not have led with some of its drabbest levels. But where many of its peers merely ape the loud and obnoxious reputation 90s FPS games had, it’s a solid shooter that remembers how they actually played and why they worked.

This review is based on a retail build of the game, provided by developers KillPixel Games and Slipgate Ironworks.


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