OK Boomer: These Are 10 Of The Best Boomer Shooters

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Dusk's green skies over red and brown forests.

Only the other day we were calling out Steam on its poor curation of the 14,500 games added to the store last year. Now we learn of a tiny step forward in the clumsy storefront’s usefulness: a new genre category for boomer shooters. This is the term for classic or classic-style first-person shooters with a deeply ‘90s vibe, and it’s a genre that’s bursting with greatness. So let’s celebrate some of the best.

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Let’s try to defy terms. The boomer shooter is a fast-paced FPS, usually with low-poly art, with ammo and health scattered around the levels by magic fairies, and where enemies explode into gruesome chunks and walls are lined with secret doors. You find coloured keys to open matching doors, and you unlock an ever-growing arsenal of increasingly ridiculous weapons. They either are, or hark back to, games like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Heretic.

The term “boomer shooter” first came about during the development of one of the best modern examples of the genre, 2018’s Dusk, says composer Andrew Hulshutt. It was a “cheeky” term the team came up with to describe 1993’s Doom, alluding to the idea that the people who played it at the time might have been of the boomer generation. (Yes, the games themselves are Millennials, but that’s not the point. My dad was playing Doom in ‘93, and he’d be 73 this year if he’d remembered to be alive.) The term stuck, and Dusk was described as such in its marketing, and the term—like the rebirth of the retro-RPS in Dusk’s wake—caught on.

Now it’s as official as anything as nebulous as a genre ever can be, gaining its own proper tag on Steam. (Although, in fairness, Humble did use the term for a bundle in 2022.) Which means for retro-RPS lovers like me, we can finally categorize them all together. And as such, spot any we might have missed.

Read on for some suggestions of where to start with the boomer shooter, or perhaps to fill in some gaps in your library, because these ‘90s-style FPS games are hitting it so hard right now. And please, believe me, I’ve left off some stunning games for reasons of time and space. Add the missing suggestions in the comments.

It seems only fair to start with the game that coined the genre title, and indeed reignited the desire for these fast-paced, low-poly gib-fests. (And let’s be clearly—people have been making boomer shooters in between—hell, Devil Daggers was 20166—but this was the flag in the ground.) But crucially, Dusk wasn’t just a nostalgic harkening back to the games of 30 years ago, but rather something distinctly modern too. It took the speed, aesthetics and crudeness of the originals, but doesn’t pretend like we don’t want physics in our shooters these days.

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This results in a game that’s evocative of a former time, but without dragging things down by that era’s limitations. It’s not beholden to its roots, and shines because of it.

However, it’s a game that knows where its bread is buttered, too. Load the game and it runs a fake DOS loading screen, accompanied by the scrunchy sound of a 90s hard drive whirring into life.

Dusk doesn’t stand out just by being the first big example of the type, however. It’s also a truly brilliant game in its own right, with level design every other FPS designer should study. It’s that rare example of a game that gets better with every level.

The Early Access version of Project Warlock II is already utterly stunning and highly recommended, but also not yet finished. So let’s stick to 2018’s original Project Warlock for now.

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If Dusk is a tribute to Doom, then PW is a tribute to Hexen. It mixes magic and melee fighting, although also throws in a bunch of guns, and in doing so, makes itself very malleable to your chosen style of play. It does this across dozens of superbly designed maps, each packed with so many secrets, and then throws in a dose of RPG with the ability to upgrade skills and weapons in between-level Workshops.

PW2 feels like a very different game, set in large, sprawling open levels, rather than PW’s tighter corridors. Both are equally worth playing.

When Amid Evil came out in 2019, I realized something fantastic: 2018’s revival wasn’t going to be a fluke. New Blood Interactive, which published Dusk, already had another title out from another developer—Indefatigable—and it was another stunner. 2.5D shooters were back!

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With heavy Unreal vibes, and a Heretic way of mind, this beautiful and colorful extravaganza takes things to extremes. You know, like how you can shrink entire planets and fire them like grenades.

Amid Evil is a game with excessively good weapons, and a prioritization of speed over realism.

3D Realms couldn’t really not take part. When called Apogee, it bloody invented the genre (no, I’ve decided it’s true. I don’t care about some weird vector game from 1984 or whatever. Like how all prehistoric lizards are dinosaurs now, it’s also true that Wolfenstein 3D was the first first-person shooter. Amend Wikipedia), and then as 3DR, made Duke Nukem 3D. So, in whatever peculiar bastard form the company exists today (it’s really Interceptor Entertainment in a Halloween costume), it is at least publishing more entries into the retro-FPS field. And first, in 2019, was Ion Fury.

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Now, Ion Fury was not without problems. Not problems that stopped this from being a rip-roaring super-fast boomer shooter, chiseled from blocks of stupid nonsense, loud and silly and super-fun. No, problems where the developers—among other unpleasant issues—proved to include some grim types who threatened to die on a hill over leaving their lame gay jokes in the game, and the zombie corpse of 3D Realms capitulated to “anti-SJW” mobs, and oh it was a whole dreadful thing.

As time drifts on, most of that’s been forgotten, and the reality is—as unpleasant as some who made the thing seem to be—it’s still a tremendous FPS game. It just has two tiny, barely noticeable dumbass “jokes” in it, that make you sigh and wish for better. But around that is a lot of superb fun.

Oh this is so much fun. These games are just so good! I’m just plucking another out the list, and then excited to ramble on about how much fun I had when I first played it.

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Prodeus is a gloriously gory, faux-2.5D gibs of enemies exploding all over the place, in challenging levels that require you to piece together button presses and keys to find a route to their finish, mixing in verticality with ultraviolent combat.

There’s a sort of overworld, from which you select (or reselect) levels, and options to upgrade, and new abilities make revisiting older levels worthwhile, as inaccessible secrets enter your path. It’s a thoroughly modern take on a retro shooter, and one I keep returning to.

(Disclaimer: I have previously worked on games for Prodeus’ publisher, Humble, although never had anything to do with this game.)

Never mind that Wizardum is in Early Access, I’ve spent so many hours playing this game. It’s another Hexen-influenced shooter, with magic as the main focus in your weaponry, but set in an enormous world that you can spend forever exploring.

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It’s just plain cool that you can cast fireballs from the palms of your hand, and its pretty inexplicable that all games don’t feature this, including Civilization and FC24. But it’s perhaps more important that this is an involved approach to the genre, always an FPS game first, but with hints of something more narrative around the edges.

It also comes with a level editor, and it’s not even finished yet!

OK, so I confess, this is one of my gaps. However, it’s also the highest rated boomer shooter on Steam, with an astonishing 82,000 reviews resulting in a coveted Overwhelmingly Positive rating. I’m literally installing it as I type this.

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It’s another game published by New Blood Interactive, this one developed by Arsi Patala, who has been developing it in Early Access since 2020. Progress has been enormous, the three-act game now featuring the first two acts and a six-level prelude in their complete form.

While a lot of these games inspired by the Build and id Tech 1 engines tend to have a familiar look, ULTRAKILL (a game that seems to deserve its bellowed all-caps title) goes for something that looks like Descent and a broken camera lens had a baby in a rainbow.

I might be pushing my luck including Super Buff HD, given its art style doesn’t perhaps meet the criteria. However, its ethos certainly does, and absolutely no one played this joyful craziness.

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This feels like the game Strong Bad would have made if he had a more powerful Lappy, a deeply weird and weirdly animated shooter that’s clearly influenced by Homestar Runner. But also by Duke Nukem 3D, which is why I believe it deserves a spot here. (And why I just added the “Boomer Shooter” tag to its Steam page.)

This would be such a violent game, except that instead of blood and gore, scrawled words come out of enemies when you shoot them. Oh, and sometimes you’re fighting sentient trash cans. Or weird paper men whose bodies stretch out like glitching polygons. And the whole world is bouncy!

This is ridiculously fun to play, and you’ve almost definitely never played it.

Another excellent FPS that hasn’t received the widespread adulation it deserves is Hands of Necromancy. This is far closer to the more traditional boomer shooter, although spins off in its own direction by taking the Heretic model in a Metroidvania direction.

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What immediately stood out was the size of its levels, 21 maps across three chapters, explored via three hubs that let you portal between them as you gain new abilities and items.

It mixes ranged and melee combat as any Heretic-inspired game should, and rather brilliantly casts you as an evil sorcerer, killing everything because you’re a dick, rather than a hero. But as you play, you also gain the ability to transform into a snake, golem and devil-like creature, each of which affords you new abilities and access to new areas, but also to fight on in new and interesting ways.

It’s tremendous, and the developers—HON Team—are already working on a sequel.

There are so, so many more games to mention. There’s Cultic and Turbo Overkill, Rise of the Triad’s remaster, or Forgive Me Father. Or what about 2-bit zombie shooter Waves of Rotting Flesh, and the amazing rear-view camera of Hellscreen? Oh, and you MUST play the 2.5D Metroidvania based on the surrealist artwork of Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński, Vomitoreum. But for the sake of stopping, I’m going to end with Nightmare Reaper.

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When I first played Nightmare Reaper, I didn’t get it. It was good, I was having fun, but it felt like something was missing. And then I died. And in death, I discovered what this game is really about: it’s a procedurally generated boomer shooter, with generation good enough that everything feels like a hand-crafted, unique level.

Oh, and even better, every three levels the assets all change, the environments are new, and you’re advancing as if playing a bespoke shooter. There are so many weapon types, from sawblades to rifles, rocket launchers to chain whips, magic books and super-kicking boots.

And then, when you level up, you use the coins you’ve gathered to play minigames based on classic arcade games! There’s even a mini-Pokémon game hidden in here!

Nightmare Reaper is huge, and hugely fun, and like nothing else on the list.

 

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