Supplice looks set to join the top rank of retro shooter

When Doom hits its 30th anniversary in December of this year, it will mark three decades of possibly the most remarkable community in gaming. Even now, fans continually add to a vast repository of maps, mods, and utilities for the venerable shooter classic. Supplice, now out in Early Access, should be seen as a milestone in that history – being as it is an accomplished new FPS built on the Doom engine and made by community veterans.

Remarkably, Supplice has been in development – on and off, and in one form or another – for almost half of Doom’s history. What was once intended as an ambitious mapset or “megawad” is soon to be a fully-fledged game developed by Mekworx and published by Hyperstrange. The personnel involved have contributed not only to revered Doom mapsets like Back to Saturn X, but also to commercial games like Ion Fury.

This long-awaited Early Access release is on a fairly modest scale; it comprises the game’s first episode, which amounts to just five maps. Be under no illusions, however – even in this partial form Supplice pushes the engine to its limit and delivers easily some of the most complex and impressive environments that have ever been built on Doom’s technology. There are subway tunnels and waiting rooms, underground labs and city streets; explorable towers loom over the fifth map, connected by skybridges. Anyone who has worked with the Doom engine will know immediately how difficult it is to achieve what Mekworx has done.

Supplice screenshot
Mekworx work wonders with their high-quality assets and sprawling level designs

These sprawling complexes are what remains of the doomed colony world of Methuselah, which plays host to a reimagining of Doom’s premise. While retro shooters rarely earn praise for their narrative, Supplice has more ambition in this area than usual. The player is cast in the role of Zorah, one of the only survivors following a disaster which allows bloodthirsty aliens to enter via the colony’s jumpgate. While cutscenes can be achieved in derivatives of the Doom engine, Supplice achieves a surprising amount using only screens of text accessed via consoles. Frantic requests for help, wry observations from powerful AIs, and all-too-human betrayals are all well-written – but sometimes a bit too verbose for their own good.

In all other respects, the gameplay adheres closely to the familiar Doom feel and is no weaker for that. Progression through the large, ambitious maps rests heavily on finding security keys; but there are also more novel forms of traversal. Secret areas are unusually rewarding because they often provide lasting buffs to health and armour capacity. The handful of weapons available here are a pleasure to use, especially a rotary shotgun that can optionally unleash all three of its barrels at once – the tradeoff being a longer reload time.

The enemies, too, comprise mostly familiar fare but the sprite designs are excellent and the maps in episode 1 are full of carefully constructed encounters. The epic conclusions to maps 3 and 5 are a thrill to play, showcasing the whole roster of enemies and weapons. Two technical limitations should be borne in mind, though. The first is that the Doom engine automap can struggle to make maps of this complexity comprehensible, and can be easy to get lost. The second is that, for now at least, it is possible to have a reliable framerate, or V-sync – but not both at the same time.

These issues are understandable, given that Supplice arguably does for the Doom engine what Ion Fury did for the Build engine – pushes it about as far as can be imagined. What Mekworx have accomplished here is truly impressive and while this EA build takes only a few hours to tackle, the team promises new episodes every couple of months. In time, it seems almost assured that Supplice will join the hallowed list of the very best retro-style shooters, alongside games like Amid Evil, Ion Fury, and last year’s Cultic. There is so much more to look forward to, and it can’t come soon enough.

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