ULTRAKILL is the badass boomer shooter of your memories

When you think back on 1993’s DOOM, subject of much nostalgic reflection and obsessive optimization (you’re probably familiar with the classic “DOOM on a calculator”), odds are you think of a blood-soaked fast-action spectacle, a frantic bullet ballet of demonic slaughter. You recall inhabiting the role of the Doom Guy for the very first time, beating your opponents into a fine red mist and unleashing terrible chaingun combos.

That is not the original DOOM. The original DOOM kicks ass, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also frequently slow, confusing, and tragically dated. The level layouts are unintuitive, the enemies are slow-moving, and the ammo is limited, ultimately leading to less “rip-and-tear” and more “walk-and-shoot, sometimes.” I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but, for as pleasant a trip down memory lane as it is, the original DOOM is not the game you remember. That game doesn’t exist.

Well, okay, yes it does. That game exists in a PC game now in early access on Steam, called ULTRAKILL. This beautiful retro-inspired “boomer shooter” (a genre that is not super clearly defined, but generally means “looks like DOOM”) is what you remember from your early days playing Quake, DOOM, Wolfenstein 3D, and any number of 90s FPS games. The only difference is that ULTRAKILL is shiny, new, not held back by the technology of the early days of PC gaming. It really is a fast-paced bloodbath of enemies who were foolish enough to cross your path, only to be launched into a meat grinder, blasted with a railgun, or simply punched to death.

ULTRAKILL incorporates a combo-chasing system not dissimilar to the Devil May Cry series, encouraging the player to play with an energized intensity. You might be tempted to hang back and snipe a room full of demons before waltzing through, to ensure your safety, but you won’t get the exceptionally satisfying flashing combo counter, or the much-coveted namesake of the game, the “ultrakill.” You could pick one gun and stick with it for as long as it works, but think of how many extra style points you could earn if you spent a little while mastering the game’s coin flip, a supremely fun method of launching a target into the air that you can blast your bullet off of, leading to a chaotic ricochet. ULTRAKILL could get away with the simplicity of its forefathers, but where’s the fun in that?

In addition, ULTRAKILL gives you other prompts to master and harness chaos, including the game’s healing system. As a text prompt tells you when you open the game, “MANKIND IS DEAD. BLOOD IS FUEL. HELL IS FULL.” Pay close attention to that second point, because the only way to regain health in ULTRAKILL is to get up close and personal with your enemies and absorb their blood. You won’t get away with taking cover and picking off the bad guys one by one, as in so many modern shooting games. No, if you want to make it through ULTRAKILL, your only real option is to utilize punches (similar to DOOM 2016’s glory kill system), shotgun blasts, and any other kills that will bring you within kissing distance of a big, grimy demon.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of ULTRAKILL, though, is the infinite ammo. Playing other shooters, I often find myself holding back on the hell I want to unleash, for fear that my limited resources will run out, leaving me defenseless. ULTRAKILL pulls no punches in that area. You can’t run out of bullets, and resource management is nonexistent. All you have to do is point, and shoot. In removing resource scarcity altogether, ULTRAKILL let me pull off the extraordinary machine gun demon massacre of my dreams, and encouraged me to guiltlessly experiment with every tool it handed me.

ULTRAKILL is the boomer shooter perfected. Cover, limited ammo, uninspired enemies — these are things of the past. In their place are systems that encourage experimentation, style, and frenetic action, each of which makes ULTRAKILL feel uniquely delightful. The extreme low-poly violence I remember is beautifully recreated in a package that goes farther than taking inspiration from what its predecessors are, instead forming a beautiful testament to what its predecessors felt like.

You should go play ULTRAKILL, now available on Steam.

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Sorrel Kerr-Jung

Sorrel Kerr-Jung

Transgender pop culture fiend, gentlewoman thief