Come, you masters of W:A.R.

Welcome to the Isle of the Dead. That should sound suitably ominous…as if the name of the game, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, wasn’t enough to get your attention, right? I’d say let’s dive right in, but since you arrive by boat, and you don’t float so well, let’s just take a stroll, shall we?

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is a nifty little throwback to some of the early, really good first-person shooters. For those who don’t need a Wayback machine, this game has more than just a little bit in common with Doom and Quake. If you have never had the pleasure of playing those, they’re basically “monsters in a maze” games. You are set loose in a building, a town, or wherever, and there are objects hidden all over the place, monsters around every corner, tools and weapons to find, and, typically, a world to save. You may need to meet an objective (kill an enemy or find a key) before a door will open, but you are free to wander around the level.

As you wander about, you may notice that the imagery is fitting for the nature of the story. The graphics look like a slice of 2007—not bad at a distance, but obviously pixelated and flat up close. That isn’t really a hindrance for this game, so we’ll move on to the soundscape. Here, the game does a very good job of providing background music that’s evocative and, mercifully, doesn’t sound like 20 seconds stuck in a loop. The sound effects are well done; the footfalls are a bit generic, but not bad. As a whole, the looks and sounds are pretty good.

One gripe I have regarding the visuals centers on the text. To keep from having to translate recorded dialogue into a dozen languages, the game relies on text. I’m fine with reading, but the text appears for a programmed duration, then disappears. This, for me, is a significant negative. Like most games which rely on text to communicate to the player, once you get past the dialogue of the moment, you can’t revisit the text. So, if you look away to see what new thing the cat has knocked off the shelf, you may miss something important. The text is also a bit on the small side, but it’s easy enough to read, even in handheld mode.

The Isle of the Dead is the first level and includes some tutorial information. The game will guide you to a place where you get your fist weapon; then it will send the hordes of undead things your way—good luck! If you use the more difficult settings, be prepared to die quickly if you are not well versed in this type of game. On the flip side, if you start with the “easy” setting, there is a lot of empty castle to walk through, so pick your poison. There are a couple of benefits to starting on easy: you can get the lay of the land before hacking undead creatures to bits in a non-stop flurry of blood and body parts, and you can get a bit more comfortable with the controls and the monsters to make surviving a little bit easier (that is, possible).

It takes little while, but the game will eventually give you what’s called a Soul Tether. You can use this to create save points which can be handy for where you die a lot or where you need to complete a tricky jump without having to run through half the level again. The game also provides the obligatory health kits (a.k.a. vial of lifeblood), weapon and armor upgrades, and artifacts you can use.

As a reminder, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin has a maze layout, so don’t forget to check every hallway, door, room, etc. If you can’t jump a particular gap normally, you can get a boost from your special attack (ZL button) that provides a power thrust with your blade. It also sends you lurching forward in such a way that you can effectively jump twice as far as using the regular jump button. Speaking of buttons, the controls are laid out well and easy to use. Every button has a function, but there are no overly complex combinations to frustrate the gameplay.

Any gripes I may have about Wrath: Aeon of Ruin are minimal and can be overlooked without too much effort. It provides us seasoned gamers a bit of nostalgia, but it’s a good choice for anyone seeking a first-person shooter challenge with some decent replay value (go ahead, start at Outlander level—I dare you).