A procedurally generated FPS with roguelike elements? Didn't I just review something like that? Indeed I did – Tower of Guns, just a week or two ago. However, while Ziggurat is conceptually similar, it does do a few things differently, thankfully.
Developed by small indie studio Milkstone, the game puts you in the shoes of a magic-casting hero who's on a mission to enter the eponymous Ziggurat – a five-level dungeon that's randomly constructed from a selection of rooms each time you play it – and destroy everything that resides therein.
The player starts with a simple wand that can shoot a stream of accurate, but low-powered bolts of magical energy, and one other randomly selected weapon that fills one of the other three available weapon slots. You pick up more weapons along the way, but can never carry more than four types – a wand, a scepter, a gun and grenades. Each has its own mana pool, and specific tactical usage.
The objective of each level is the same: find the portal key that's hidden in one of the rooms, and then make your way to the final boss room, summon said end-of-level character and defeat it to open up a portal to the next level. It's simple stuff, that's of course made complicated by the fact that the Ziggurat is packed with rooms, and those rooms are more often than not packed with lots of aggressive creatures that want nothing but to see you dead.
When you enter a room, unless it's one of the rare special ones that either contains a portal key, a mystery box of loot and power-ups, or perhaps altars that you can pray at for a random perk, the door locks behind you and a minion bar is displayed on screen. To leave the room, you have to destroy every minion – a task that usually requires plenty of circle-strafing – thus reducing the bar to zero and unlocking the doors so you can exit.
The enemy AI isn't particularly smart, but it's aggressive: everything seems to be programmed to run you down, so you have to constantly stay mobile to avoid being overwhelmed – especially in areas where the enemy minions are many. The game feels decidedly oldschool in that sense. You're basically constantly running the gauntlet of things that are coming straight at you, usually while firing barrages of projectiles at you. It's hectic, but fun – and often very challenging.
Fortunately, the shooting mechanics are nice and tight, and the four different weapon types give you a decent range of tactical options, from single-streams of accurate magical projectiles to cluster bombs and spreads of missiles that are ideal for taking out large mobs of enemies.
Being a roguelike, power-ups are to be expected, and to that end, most enemies drop items that are useful. Health pots are of course the most desirable – the only way to meaningfully top off your life bar – but the corpses of your enemies also yield mana pots and objects that give you experience, which enables you level up. This happens quite quickly at the start, and each time you level, you get to choose one of two random perks from a pool of around 100. They're all pretty straightforward boosts to your character – perhaps upping the amount of life restored every time you pick up a health pot, or increasing one of your mana pools. Sometimes you might get a really useful one, like being able to reroll your weapons for more powerful items.
That's pretty much Ziggurat in a nutshell. If it sounds decidedly old-fashioned, then I'm describing it correctly. Reminiscent in many respects to Hexen, Ziggurat has a mid-90's feel about it – but it's fast and slick. It does exhibit the occasional slowdown when you kill a big boss, or you enter a room filled with enemies, but these minor glitches are nothing particularly heinous, and for the most part the game is perfectly playable, even with the occasional stutter.
What I like about Ziggurat is that it has no real pretentions. It's a straight-up shooter that offers little in the way of mercy. Like Tower of Guns, you have one life to get through all five levels, and it's no walk in the park. Games are generally short, and that makes it the perfect "snack" game, ideal when you just want a quick blast to unwind, where you know that even if you do well, you're probably not going to spend more than an hour or so playing it.
The game also has a sense of humor. While most enemies are typical, classic fantasy fare – skeletons, goblins, trolls, floating witches and the like – there are some funny monsters too, like carrots with sharp teeth, dodos, and floating monsters that look like monkfish. Some are silly, but it helps give the game its own distinct look and appeal.
With additional characters to unlock, and plenty of scope in terms of variety thanks to its wide array of weapons and perks, Ziggurat is a simple, but very enjoyable FPS throwback that's a great test of your arcade mettle. It can get a little old sometimes – especially when you have a few games where you die on the fourth or fifth level several times in succession – but that's the nature of this particular beast. This game isn't going to let you win – you really have to earn it. And when it does get frustrating, just take a break. One thing's for sure: when you come back a few days later, Ziggurat's timeless gameplay will feel fresh again.
Simple and straightforward. Feels very 90's.
The random elements keep the game fresh, and the level of difficulty is high enough to challenge even the toughest of FPS veterans.
The music and sound effects are fairly basic and generic, but they work effectively enough.
The rooms and backdrops are a little on the repetitive side, but they're nevertheless atmospheric, and give the game a brooding look.
An enjoyable, randomly generated FPS romp that's surprisingly addictive. Despite being priced perhaps a little high, and occasionally exhibiting some slowdown and minor glitches, Ziggurat offers many hours of potential entertainment for those willing to take up its considerable challenge.