Raw, brutal fun that’s hamstrung by a lack of either means or ambition. Here's our Impaler Review.
Back in the 90s, when games were harder to come by, you could play the same damn game a million times without getting bored. People would repeatedly play something like Duke Nukem 3D to discover more secret places. Beat the game at a harder difficulty, try different ways of handling specific parts of the game, or set themselves challenges such as limiting a run to only using certain weapons.
Nowadays, with our limited attention spans and a constant barrage of new content every day, the aforementioned activities are limited to people like speedrunners and those looking for nostalgia hits. In such times, a game like Impaler, despite its brilliant, refreshing callback to 90s classics like DN3D and Quake 2 and 3, is a bit of a curio. Developed by Apptivus and published by Retrovibe, it can both sadly get old really quickly thanks simply to a lack of variety and also be just the kind of microdose that the modern world is fond of.
Hard on the Eyes, Weak on the Ears
The entire game is set in the same rectangular hallway with a few pillars on the sides to hide behind, with waves of enemies spawning once you’re ready for the next challenge. The room seems to be set inside a Gothic church.
Impaler borrows heavily from the imagery of games like Hexen, Heretic and perhaps a little from Blood. The visuals of the game combine elements of the Build engine, such as 2D sprites for enemies and items, and an OpenGL environment. Some of the movable assets, such as wooden pillars, can at least seem 3D at times. There’s blood and gore in spades for those fond of such action; when the titular Impaler isn’t living up to their name by impaling enemies on spikes, they’re busy shooting them to bits.
The game warns you about flashing lights when you boot it up, but it doesn’t tell you that you should stay away from it if you’re susceptible to motion sickness. The movement speed is considerably fast, you’ll be strafe-jumping or double-jumping a lot of the time, and there’s a lot of verticality to it by way of spike-jumps, jump pads, and fixed floating updrafts that you can chain together. On some levels, you can also be sent flying by saw blades that roll along the room's length at regular intervals.
A common issue with the game is that there can often be so many moving parts on the screen that it becomes difficult to understand what’s still alive and what’s dead. In other words, the screen can get extremely cluttered and chaotic.
As for the audio department, while the sounds and music are perfectly serviceable, nothing really stands out. Anyone who played Doom to some extent unquestionably remembers the music, and the same can be said about Quake. It’s not just the music either because the groan of a shotgunned Zombieman or the whoosh of a Cacodemon’s projectile are equally memorable. Impaler, however, just seems to be utterly generic in this area.
Harkening Back to Demonic Times
The game features an extremely small roster of enemies. Basic enemies include imp-like creatures that can jump like frogs, Succubi that can occasionally block shots, and a sentient green blob of toxic explosive gunk that — of course — beelines toward you to explode.
A little higher up the food chain, you’ll find flying machine gunners that fire projectiles that can also hit you after a short ricochet. There are also rocket-launcher-wielding armored guys that either follow you around or stand atop pillars that rise and fall. Finally, floating heads fire out explosive projectiles or bursts of homing flames that can follow you for a bit. The only environmental hazards are those aforementioned rolling saw blades, but watch out for them because they can do a lot of damage and knock you very high up in the air.
All the enemies except the floating heads also have bigger variants that do the same thing as the smaller counterparts, but deal more damage and require more effort to take down.
The final boss is also a floating head that fires projectiles, but it can only be killed by jumping onto the head using jump pads, and it will also protect itself with spiked floating pillars that must be destroyed before making further jumps.
On initial runs, these enemies are pretty easy to take out, but there are more of them and things get challenging on subsequent playthroughs. While killing them is fun and satisfying for an hour or two, it tends to lose its charm after a while. Moreover, the final boss is surprisingly easy to beat, the levels preceding the big baddie being much bigger challenges.
Old-School Action With a New Twist
The best thing about Impaler is definitely its gameplay. Games nowadays rarely offer the kind of frenetic, non-stop movement old-school arena shooters used to require, and it was amazing to be able to strafe jump around a map again. The implementation of a bullet-time meter is also well-done, with the mechanism triggering automatically and making you invulnerable for the duration to just let you indulge in the carnage you’re causing.
The weapons are also pretty decent, and although there’s nothing that feels like the Lightning Gun from Quake or the Flak Cannon from Unreal Tournament, it’s still satisfying when you use your shooting skills and intelligence to take down the hordes. The Harvester and Rocket Launcher, in particular, are quite enjoyable to use, though the former is awful at range.
The game also balances these weapons well, forcing you to use both the spikes and your primary weapon alternatingly by including an overheating mechanism for when you’ve fired a few shots in quick succession with either. There are also countless upgrades that you can buy from gold that you accumulate from gold and silver coins that drop when you kill monsters, open “offerings, or, later on, destroy barriers. These upgrades improve everything from your weapons to health, bullet time duration, money, quality of life and even the map.
Impaler Review Score – 7.5/10
One cannot help but feel that there’s an extremely promising game hidden within these mechanisms. The game is a flawed gem and would benefit greatly from some added content — especially more maps. This kind of game can garner a great player base from older or retro gamers, and if it gets some love from the occasional popular streamer, the developers would do well to release maps that aren’t just one rectangle. Adding multiplayer support with scaling enemies would also do wonders for the game.
Impaler is great value-for-money at prices ranging from $1.7 to $3, depending on your region. It has all the goods for a great time, but not much to keep you coming back to it again and again. It also requires very little to run, with even 10-year-old PCs able to take it on. Definitely worth picking up for a few solid hours of action and the occasional returning run.