Review: “Shambles” (Freeware FPS Game)

2014 Artwork Shambles Review Sketch

Although it took place last August, I only heard of the “7 Day FPS” challenge a couple of weeks ago for some bizarre reason. As the name suggests, this was a contest where programmers had just seven days to make a functional FPS game.

Best of all, due to the time limit, most of the games which were entered into the contest look and feel resolutely retro (finally, some good “modern” FPS games?)

Anyway, apart from the “Ned Kelly’s Last Stand” game, the game that really caught my attention was one called “Shambles“. This is an old-school 2.5D FPS with zombies in it, need I say any more? (Oh and it was also apparently created by the guy who made the “Minecraft” games [although I haven’t played any of these].)

Yes!

Yes!

“Shambles” takes place on a single small level populated with zombies, soldiers and uninfected humans. The soldiers drop better weapons (a double-barrelled shotgun or an assault rifle) when they die, the uninfected humans drop much-needed health kits when they die and the zombies drop coins when they die (again), which can be used to increase your score. The game continues endlessly and the only goal is to get as high a score as possible. That’s all there is to it.

As you would expect, the soldiers tend to hang around in large groups.

As you would expect, the soldiers tend to hang around in large groups.

The four weapons in the game ( like in “Doom”, you also start the game with a pistol and your fists) handle fairly well. Although sometimes the pistol will refuse to fire when you click the left mouse button, which can make it a fairly useless weapon when you’re faced with even one zombie.

Still, the assault rifle looks and sounds suitably dramatic and it’s about the only weapon in the game that really allows you to stand a fighting chance against groups of zombies.

This looks and sounds slightly cooler in the game than it does in this screenshot.

This looks and sounds slightly cooler in the game than it does in this screenshot.

However, there is no automatic reload feature on the weapons – so you will always have to reload manually by pressing the “R” key. Whilst I can see why this might have been due to time limitations or due to the limitations of the game engine, this can be something of an annoyance during confrontations with hordes of zombies.

Another cool feature of “Shambles” is that it features old-school horizontal-only aiming too. Yes, you move around using the WSAD keys and turn using the mouse but the aiming sytem is very much like the one in classic games like “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D”. Retro gamers like myself will probably love this – but if you’re used to more modern games, then it might confuse you a bit.

The graphics in “Shambles” are surprisingly good and they are fairly similar to the digitised photo-realistic graphics in “Doom” (which isn’t a bad thing). Seriously, for a game made in just seven days, I wasn’t expecting graphics as good as this. As for the level, the textures are fairly old-school and, again, if you like “Doom” or have played any FPS games on the Gameboy Advance, then they will seem refreshingly nostalgic.

*sigh* I miss the days when games had graphics like THIS.

*sigh* I miss the days when games had graphics like THIS.

One cool effect in “Shambles” is that pretty much the only light in the game comes from a torch which your character is carrying. Whilst this mechanic can be fairly annoying and/or terrifying in other games (eg: “Slender: The Eight Pages”), it works surprisingly well in “Shambles” and it really adds to the atmosphere of the game.

You can play “Shambles” online or you can download an offline version of it, however one of the main problems I found with the game is its speed. When I tried to play it online, I chalked the jerky, frame-by-frame movement up to what was probably just a slow internet connection.

However, it still plays this slowly in the offline version too. I would blame this on my old computer, but it can run “Left 4 Dead 2″ perfectly well (albeit on the lowest graphics settings) – so it’s probably a problem with the game itself.

Whilst this jerkiness doesn’t render the game completely unplayable, it makes it a lot more difficult and a lot less fluid than you would probably expect. Still, it was made in seven days, so this is only a minor criticism.

All in all, for what it is, “Shambles” is astonishingly good. Not only is it a zombie-based FPS game, but it is also a much-needed return to the timeless FPS gameplay of the early-mid 1990s too.

Yes, it isn’t the fastest game in the world (and it can sometimes feel like playing “Duke Nukem 3D” on a 486), but there urgently need to be more games like this one made these days.

And, for that alone, it gets four and a half out of five.

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