The demo for HROT launched on Steam yesterday so I put in a few runs last night to get a feel. If you’ve played this kind of oldschool-inspired first-person shooter before then I’d say it’s going to take about 20 minutes to get through on your first run. The map has eight secrets to collect but I was only able to obtain four so I can’t say I’ve seen everything in the demo but after three runs on various difficulties and a bit of time in the ‘endless’ mode, I’m super intrigued to see where this game goes with episode one when it launched later this year!
HROT is set in 1986 Czechoslovakia after an unspecified disaster. To quote it’s Steam page:
“You start in a civil defense shelter deep under a Prague Metro station. As a proud holder of the military readiness badge you know what your duty is: put on a non-functioning gas mask, load the vz. 52 pistol and protect the peace and your socialist homeland from the strange intruders [i.e.] Madmen in raincoats, killers in protective suits, autonomously attacking dogs, horses and goats”
… and this is exactly how the demo starts! Albeit, it does seem like you just rise out of an elevator in the ground but I dig it. It’s a cool, creative choice that gets the player right into the action!
You start with a pistol and about 25 bullets. That’s enough to take down the first enemy but you’re going to need to scavenge for some ammo or a new weapon basically right away. However if you can’t find anything to work with, you do start with a sickle that’s pretty capable of getting the job done. Do this successfully and you’ll manage to clear our the shot gunners in the area while finding a few secrets like this hole in the ground containing land mines or a driveable motorcycle. All these interactions with the environment gave off strong Build engine vibes — you know, the engine that games like Blood and Duke Nukem ran on.
Next, you drop down into this water drain, tunnel thing and you’ll bump into some madmen in gas masks and raincoats looking to gun you down. They’re a lot easier to kill than the shotgunners but the next enemy you encounter packs a punch! You might recognize him too — he’s basically an ogre from Quake wielding the iconic grenade launcher and chainsaw arm. I think he’s a good enemy type; he deals healthbar melting damage but it’s easy pretty easy to dodge his projectiles and chainsaw swings.
If you’re clever, you can have him fire a grenade that’ll explode this cracked wall (another Build-like feature) to unlock a secret and more importantly a rocket launcher. Take him out and you’ll climb this ladder up to what I consider a storage-like… catacomb-like… tunnel maze? This was the first and probably only area that I wondered about its purpose for existence. Maybe a bit more environmental design and enemies in this area would shape it up but it seems just big for the sake of being big.
At the end of the room is a narrow corridor that leads to another store room. This one is just teaming with enemies; a shotgunner, a madman and… I still don’t know what to call these grenade launching guys so orge it is. Anyways, the orge’s projectile has a tendency to chase you down and explode right in your face so remaining in the corridor is a bad place to be. I found it best to fire the rocket launcher a couple times down the hall in hopes of killing the crew or atleast damage them enough that I could fire a few shots while still in the corridor to take em all out.
The next interaction is pretty clever. If you run into the room, you’re going to get flanked from behind by another ogre but if you turn around to fire at him then a dog will attack you from behind. On my first playthrough I got lucky and dodge the ogres grenade just in time for the dog to run into it. Take out the ogre and you’ll probably notice a medal up on a crate with no way to get to it. I’ll come back to this thing later. If you push to the next hallway, more dogs will attack and this is where I learned that they will leap HELLA FAR just to pounce. I found it’s best to hit em with a grenade early enough for the splash damage to effect neighboring enemies.
At this point, you’re probably noticing just how much HROT is like Quake. I wouldn’t disagree but let’s not call this a clone just yet. I mean, you’ve got ogre, yes, but the guns are more like weapons you’d find in Return to Castle Wolfenstein given that they’re vintage contemporary for a 1986 East Bloc. Also, the level design seems more inspired by Blood with it’s dense, contextualized environments plus all the destruction and interaction. I mean the dev went out of there way to add flushable toilets and breakable light bulbs, that’s classic Build engine shenanigans — not to mention how zero parts of the map so far seem to stack up on each other similar to how the pseudo-3D engines had to design levels. The comparisons are obvious but I just don’t think this game can’t be locked down as a clone of any one boomer shooter.
Another quality that’s just hard to miss is how brown the color palette is. Now of course this is all by design as it’s meant to look dated but… I just really hope that the rest of the game isn’t as brown as this. Everything else fits well like the jagged polygons and jiggling textures. Look, everything is great but just… can we have a little less brown in future updates?
Back to the action, a little ways into all this exploration you’ll find a gold key and a path to the main area. I kind of lost it at this point considering among the enemies that found a new home here is a giant fucking horse wearing a gas mask. Did I miss something? Was I suppose to be expecting this? It doesn’t seem like the horse is more than an enemy in this situation either. I cleared everyone else out and did a used a lot of quick saves to try and figure out if I was suppose to dead it somewhere or what. If you kill it, more enemies will spawn in its place so this horse is just an enemy that’s very good at controlling lots of space.
Since the game is practically memeing, I used the motorcycle to get to the door that uses the gold key. Inside the structure is a radio playing some jams. I tried to change the channel on it but I got nothing… so I blew it up and grabbed the ammo next to it.
The next area has some shotgunners that need to be slain and what’s this? A statue of famous Czechoslovakian composer Antonin Dvorak? I wonder what this could be here for — oh. A switch on the back. Got it.
Approaching this statue, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of it. I was optimistic that it was going to say more about the story or hint at this game being set in an alternate timeline from history but I think the statue is just set dressing. At the very least, environmental touches like this get me excited to see what else the world of HROT will provide!
Anyways, follow the path out and you’ll be back in the main area. The once locked chapel in the center of all the action now has its doors blown wide open and spewing forth are these floating head-type enemies that remind me of a cross between the Medusa heads in Castlevania and the Cacaodemons from Doom. A side profile shows that these guys might actually be machine-powered reanimations of Vladimir Lenin. They aren’t that toughed to take down but they hit about as hard the shotgunners. I can imagine that fighting off multiple of these guys while dealing with grounded enemies could be a real challenge.
Sometime between grabbing the first key and clearing out the chapel, a really awesome synthy-metal tune started playing to heighten the moment. Other than this track, I don’t recall hearing much of anything else besides game audio. I hope more tunes like this make it’s way into the final game because the composer did a really great job with this track. It brought a real Hulshultian vibe to the ripping and tearing.
Speaking of audio, let’s discuss the sound each gun makes. Personally, I think they don’t have the punchiness you’d expect, instead it feels like you’re firing pellets. Stopping and listening to the sounds themselves though, you can hear that these aren’t bad samples or anything, they just seem to lack the proper EQ. They might be a bit too treble heavy and need a richer mid and bass adjustment. Not every FPS wants to sound like Doom Eternal nor should they but I’ll just say that presently, the gun sounds don’t match the rest of the game.
In addition to sound, just the general feel of killing an enemy seems off. I like the minimalist blood particles that spray from enemies after a hit but nobody flinches from being shot. Giving the enemy a reflex to being fired upon let’s the player know that you’re really hurting them and SHOULD keep firing. Not only is this more believable but with weapons like the machine gun or automatic pistol, having the enemy stunlocked a bit helps player accuracy with these weapons that burn through bullets. This could be very useful when fighting the horse or any enemy we’ve yet to see that likes to close the distance between itself and the player.
Moving on, after you clear the chapel you’ve got a switch puzzle with a platforming segment. Upon completion, you’ll open up a route under the chapel’s alter. Try not to step on the remains of the dead while the spiders are leaping at you. Explore far enough and you’ll find a rusty key and a switch that will unlock a few paths to get you out of here — one takes us right to the door that needs the rusty key and the other will let us climb atop those crates from earlier and grab a gold medal.
I wish I could tell you why we’re collecting so many of these things but in all my playthroughs, I never discovered a reason. My guess is they’re like the gold coins in older Mario Bros. games where if you collect enough, you’ll unlock a power up or something. Maybe when Episode 1 releases we’ll be better filled in.
If you drop off the crate, you can navigate back to the door that rusty key opens. This leads us to another water way with a few shotgunners and a valve puzzle to complete while this little shark fuck nibbles at your feet. This will open up a new path which leads to something like a giant pool of water with more valves for you to open. After each one gets activated, more and more enemies will spawn in including another giant horse, some more Lenin heads and a new breed of madmen that teleports around blasting your ass from a distance. For some reason they kind of reminded me of the Wizzrobe mini-boss from Majora’s Mask. If you manage to survive the attacks while opening up each valve, an underwater path will open up, leading you to the end of the level.
It did seem like the ending was a bit abrupt considering I had actually walked right by a door that needed a Silver key right before the exiting the level. That’s definitely my fault however since I know I missed half the secrets here. It seems like each level is going to be a new, unique environment to explore similar to how Blood or even Dusk handled this. Excluding time spent between deaths and quickloads, I finished the map in around 9 minutes on my first playthrough. Once you know the map, you can probably knock this down to about 2 minutes and I’m pretty content with that. This map wasn’t some big maze, just a well crafted environment with a manageable amount of objectives.
By the end of it all, my character had picked up an SMG, shotgun and rocket launcher in addition to the pistol, grenade and sickle they started with. The game’s description talks about finding an experimental soviet weapon that shoots a ball of lightning. Seems like something that would have been very handy to have when fighting enemies in that big pool of water but I’ve yet to find it in any of my playthrough.
Unlike Doom and other games where everyone knows you kill certain enemies with certain weapons, no moments ever felt like this even on the highest difficulty. Ultimately, I think I used the shotgun for basically everything since ammo was so plentiful. Grenades and rockets were great crowd control devices and I always seemed to have just enough relative to how many enemies I was fighting. I will say that the enemy AI has some pretty weird path finding though. Blasting them directly with rockets was hard because sometimes they’d start moving in the opposite direction or just turn their backs to me in a fight. Because of this, jumping up to fire rockets at the ground around them worked fine but I thought this was just really weird.
After completing the demo level, the player is treated to an endless mode. You remember how Doom multiplayer was just an ordinary Doom map with doors unlocked and weapons on respawn timers? Well HROT’s endless mode is very similar to that except it’s wave-based PvE instead of humans. I think this is a really awesome way to let players experience the game but the one map in the demo did get boring pretty fast. Aside from harder enemies or new guns, I think it’d be awesome if the devs include more advanced techniques players can practice while in endless mode; movement options like bunny hopping, backwards running or just some good ol’ rocket jumping.
I think a lot of people who play this are going to compare it to the shooters that came before it so I really can’t stress enough how unique of a take on the formula HROT provides. Its like the dev new what they liked about each of these old games and put a pinch of each into their own creation while still leaving room for their ideas to flourish. I mean, the health item you pick up is a bag of milk — a goddamn bag of milk! I think this developer is just thinking three steps further than any of us as this point.
I mentioned it earlier but this demo does announce that the developer is shooting for what I’m assuming is an earlier access launch before 2020 is over. If you want to follow their progress on the day-to-day, I encourage you to hit them up on Twitter @kotolout or if you just want to know when the game comes out, be sure to wishlist their game on Steam.