12:45am // 3.27.2024

There is currently a dreadful trend afoot that threatens to truly swallow up the entirety of the indie FPS scene. And no, I'm not talking just about PSX graphics... Okay, maybe I'm over stating it a little bit, but I am tired as hell of every other game pretending to be a throwback, "boomer" shooter! Especially when they make no effort to actually be like any of those actual "boomer" shooters!

Yes, yes, the classic "boomer shooter" as popularized by recent successes like Dusk (2018) or ULTRAKILL (2020 Early Access). While Dusk definitely feels like a modern take on the design principles you may have seen from any 90s FPS, ULTRAKILL just kind of apes some low-poly aesthetics and calls it a day. Instead, it focuses on hyper-kinetic action and movement tech. Hey, that's fine. It's fun and rather innovative. It sold itself as "Devil May Quake" - something very distinct from "boomer shooter".

ULTRAKILL Screenshot
Entering into the Dante's Inferno inspired hell that is ULTRAKILL (2020 Early Access).

So, color me surprised when ULTRAKILL ended up in a recent Humble Bundle these so-called boomer shooters alongside 6 other games. I've not played really any of them other than ULTRAKILL, which I wouldn't consider as relevant for this line-up, Quake 2 (1997), which is just an old game and not aligned with what boomer shooter seems to mean at the moment, and about an hour of POSTAL: Brain Damaged (2022). We're going to focus on POSTAL today, as I believe it is most indicative of the problems with this nebulous genre classification.

What is a Boomer Shooter?

So, yeah, that seems like a fair question to ask! And well... I don't really have the best answer for you as it seem to be (like a number of supposed "genres"), more a feeling than anything else. Let's first take the example of one of the titles in that Humble Bundle collection, Forgive Me Father 2 (2023 Early Access). It has an aggressively modern, cartoonish, cel-shaded art style. On a mechanical level, it looks as if it plays like a kind of Quake game - fast-paced movement and so on. "But, wait a minute, what does this have in common with ULTRAKILL then?" I hear you ask. And yes, that is a great question! For it doesn't have the same art style and, while it is fast paced, it is not a "movement shooter" either!

Forgive Me Father 2 Screenshot
Forgive Me Father 2 (2023 Early Access) - image credit indiedb.com

And the answer to that question is that well it just kind of gives you the feeling like it is a game that might've come out a while ago and is most definitely not Call of Duty or Valorant. Ergo, it's gotta be a boomer! Yeah, no. That's not good enough for me, but it seems to suit most people. As boomer shooters tend to sell decently well and find a good niche fanbase.

So, to answer the question - boomer shooters are FPS games that are not mainstream. Sure, some might be a bit more mainstream than others, but it's not the aforementioned Call of Duty, it's not Bioshock, it's not Escape from Tarkov. It's usually a level-based linear game, usually with an emphasis on speed and movement, usually with no regenerative health, usually with your classic Doom or Quake weapons, and usually with some driving soundtrack (frequently metal).

You were going to talk about POSTAL, you idiot!

Hey, stop whining at me! But yeah, let's get back to POSTAL: Brain Damaged. Released in 2022, it acts as a spinoff to the main POSTAL series. The main POSTAL games (POSTAL 1 excluded, though it shares some similar design elements) are open-world-ish FPS games with an emphasis on dark humor, freedom of choice, and simulating a reactive world with a good sense of life to it. Brain Damaged just kinda throws all that out the window and chooses to be a very linear "boomer shooter" with a bunch of wacky weapons with cool alt-fire abilities and wide open level design. It has more of an emphasis on movement and, while it doesn't get quite as bad as some of these "throwback" games, circle strafing.

So you might think that Brain Damaged might look like POSTAL 2 then, right? Oh yeah, some early 2000s Source Engine goodness! We're in the perfect nostalgia period for that... oh wait, it's not? It's... some horrible parody of what someone misremembers PS1 graphics looking like? Yes, it goes for a visual style with a little bit of flavor of PS1 graphics, Quake, some other random influences, and a whole heaping of modern graphics techniques and stuff that was probably impossible to do on computers 20 years ago. In short, a style that is completely foreign to the POSTAL series and anything else. For a game marketing itself off the back of "throwback graphics", it's disappointing that it uses a style that is neither old nor new. It feels lazy and certainly doesn't impress.

POSTAL 2 Screenshot
POSTAL 2 in all of its Source Engine glory. Don't mind me, just burning some civvies alive.

The story setup is that you're playing a version of the POSTAL DUDE in his own mind. So the levels are all "wacky" and "crazy." To settle you in, it starts you in a parody of suburban America. Green lawns, red cars, white families, and a whole bunch of raving dogs and flying fat dudes. As an opening level, it's okay. It's wide open and has some challenging arenas to conquer. There are even a few secrets, although some are lazily telegraphed with a giant floating portal (so are they even really secrets?). You get access to a chainsaw melee weapon, a pistol (with a lock-on alt-fire), and a shotgun (with a grapple hook). The shotgun is by far the most fun of these, as it serves both as a traversal mechanic (though only at specified points) and as a tool in gunfights. You can fling yourself all over the arena by latching onto enemies. It's most fun with the flying ones.

However, after this level, I decided to drop the game. There was simply something missing. The game lacked a meaningful reason for me to keep playing. Is this better than Doom? Is this novel? What does it offer me that I can't get elsewhere, better? And the answer to those questions is that it is just rather dull and uninspiring. It's junk food that you buy and you realize a quarter of the way through the meal that you didn't really want it at all and that going to McDonalds at 2am was a horrible idea. Oh yeah, and the entire first level is about killing all kinds of white people stereotypes. Like those damn MAGA Drumpf supporters! And those big fat burger eaters! Take that straight white America! Having country bumpkins in an otherwise yuppie middle class environment doesn't make sense, you say? Who cares! We hate white people, so it doesn't matter.

POSTAL Brain Damaged Screenshot
Brain Damaged reminds us that The Sims was a thing. EA seems to want us to forget!

I wouldn't care about the lazy attempt at a satire of suburban America, but it just shows this game has very little to offer anyone. POSTAL 2 worked so well because, despite the crass humor and simple graphics, it was an innovative game that pushed boundaries and tried to do something original. Brain Damaged damns itself by being UNoriginal. It is a spinoff of an existing series that mixes and matches a bunch of random, disparate elements from other, popular games. What's there is... fine. It's not horrible. It can be fun. But the whole thing just begs the question of "why"? And I simply choose to play something else instead.

Post Script: Alternative Options

As I've said, I wouldn't consider ULTRAKILL a boomer shooter, but it is certainly good fun. It has some issues, but I would also recommend Sprawl. However, I'd like to take it back a little bit further and recommend a 1999 game I never see talked about. And maybe that's with good reason, as it has trouble running on my modern rig. Trouble enough to the point that I dropped it back when I initially tried it and only recently have made the determination to see it through this time (so keep your eyes peeled for a possible article in the future!). That game is Requiem: Avenging Angel. You play as the angel Malachi, chosen by God to save earth from hell's fallen angels. You get a whole bunch of cool angel powers and get to run around cool, edgy, religious-inspired, techno-future environments. Cool stuff!

Requiem: Avenging Angel
An example of some of the cool architecture you can see in Requiem: Avenging Angel
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