Turbo Overkill is the bombastic synthwave retro-shooter developed by Sam Prebble (aka wadaholic) with Apogee Entertainment. Before Turbo Overkill, Sam was a modder who made the remarkable, standalone-quality total conversion for DOOM II, Total Chaos. Read on for our review of Turbo Overkill, and a brief look over Sam's modding success story!
In Paradise, everything dies - including you, many times over. You're a tough-as-nails robo-mercenary with a bounty on your head and a chip on your shoulder. Neon streets and Cyberpunk-inspired aesthetic lives in every corner of this bloody, unforgiving world, and justice - in the form of good ol' fashioned violence - is yours to dish out. Turbo Overkill is a love letter not only to retro shooters, but to Blade Runner, Synthwave, and classic 80s action. It's Apogee Entertainment's first FPS in 25 years, from a team of individuals behind industry legends like Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, Max Payne, and Prey.
Ten minutes in, I knew this game was something special. I'm somewhat of a retro shooter fanatic, playing every one I can get my hands on to chase that fantastic "fun zone" feel that only adrenaline shooters can match. Games like DUSK were nailing fast-paced classic action before DOOM Eternal rolled around and put a triple A sheen on the whole concept, but I still feel the most creative takes on this formula are in the indie sphere - and Turbo Overkill proves that sentiment totally right.
A good cyberpunk aesthetic is a world both glisteningly shiny and grossly corrupt; where technological advancement and bright colours don't always mean good things for people. Paradise - the setting of Turbo Overkill - is a city gone rampant as a rogue AI creates nightmarish flesh-and-metal hybrids in a quest for consumption. Meanwhile, you're no longer all man yourself - with a chainsaw leg and more synthetics than you can shake a metal stick at. Slide into enemies to carve 'em up, and collect upgrades that will bolster different gameplay styles so you can go hard into the way you see fit to enjoy the game.
Enough about setting and concept - we all know that games like this are built on combat. So how is it?
Gunplay is fantastic, with a variety of weapons and alternate fire modes you have to earn. Each weapon's alternate mode generally counteracts a weakness - like the Boomer Shotgun, which, better suited for individual targets, also has an alternate fire that loads explosive EMP shells, killing groups of weaker enemies and stunning larger androids for a follow-up attack. I've not yet finished the game, but all the usual favourites are here - pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, miniguns, and SMGs - with their own aesthetic spin. My personal favourite is the double barrelled shotgun, which benefits from zipping in, taking a shot, then back-pedalling whilst pumping the enemies full of plasma rounds from your dual-wielded SMGs.
The game has some very light RPG elements with buying upgrades not only for your weapons but also for yourself. You can specialise heavily into the chainsaw leg and carve up even the biggest beasties, or focus on utility upgrades that will increase your general effectiveness. You gain currency from particularly stylish kills and whilst not available on higher difficulties, struggling players on the lower skill levels can buy resources like health and ammo from vendors scattered throughout levels to eke out survival into the next encounter.
Dashing, double jumping, and sliding are all available from the get-go in Turbo Overkill, and you'll need to use them all. As every enemy is technically projectile-based, your movement can let you evade theoretically all damage - bobbing and weaving between mindless zombie-like enemies and intelligent, brutal powerhouses. In reality, some enemies shoot projectiles so fast and in such quantities you'll be taking a lot of hits, and on the higher difficulties (for this review, I played on the second hardest), you've got only a handful of mistakes before it's right back to the latest checkpoint.
My complaint when it comes to shooters that are extremely difficult is the downtime between "attempts". Adrenaline shooters rely on reaching that focused state of total combat-fuelled zen, and when you're there, every encounter is a frantic ballet of blood and bullets; but when you're not, it's a series of frustrating and seemingly undeserved deaths (DOOM Eternal's main flaw, I feel, is the sometimes minute-plus of downtime between respawn and combat). Turbo Overkill, however, has no such problem - reminding me a lot of ULTRAKILL, it ships you to the latest checkpoint and back into the action within seconds after each death. Extreme difficulty is totally fine when you can keep slamming your head against the problem until it cracks open, and you move on, feeling like a badass.
Turbo Overkill consistently channels all the best parts of adrenaline shooters, shoving you into bombastic and brutally difficult arenas again and again. I keep finding new upgrades and new weapons that spice up my approach to encounters and new enemies that first feel like minibosses and then become above-average mooks reveal that the Sam's philosophy contains all the right lessons from his previous works. Now comes the part where you might be wondering - why the review? For us, it's because this is a case of a modder achieving their dream and making something incredible. We love success stories - so here's where it all began.
Sam's story has humble beginnings, as is the case for many indie developers. His internet nickname - Wadaholic - is pretty self-explanatory as a long-time and experienced DOOM modder. Fast-paced retro shooting, then, suddenly makes a whole lot of sense in that context, and many of his previous work follows through on the action-packed nature of Turbo Overkill. One WAD released over ten years ago now named Shotgun Frenzy features many demons and, you guessed it, plenty of shotgun action.
Perhaps the most impressive of Sam's work as a modder, however, directly predates his work on Turbo Overkill - Total Chaos, a DOOM II total conversion that takes a horror focus. With an emphasis on slow-paced, methodical combat, crafting, and inventory management, the mod is a far cry from the action of its engine namesake both graphically and in a gameplay sense. We've covered Total Chaos before as something to enjoy around Halloween, but truthfully, horror like this is hard to find even in the commercial gaming scene and worth a go any time of year.
What I particularly enjoyed about the mod was how it just kept surprising me with new enemies and mechanics - how it kept me on my toes so when I eventually got comfortable dealing with one scenario, a new one would throw me again. There's a "weeping angel" kind of enemy in the game, for example, that moves when you're not looking at it. I got used to juking this thing and finding a way to circumvent its insta-kill attack, but then, later on, you're locked into a cramped apartment complex with three of them at once. What followed was a mad dash to a shutter door that, as I squeezed through, was followed by the rapid tapping of footsteps just out of view...
One thing that does clearly follow through into Turbo Overkill is a solid understanding of art direction - echoed in Total Chaos with enemies that are all horrifying in unique yet similar ways, and industrial grunge played for grim atmospheric effect. Turbo Overkill's body-horror androids have a surprising amount in common with the beasties from its predecessor, and some industrial environments in either game could fit the other just fine. Even if not told, I'm pretty sure I - eventually - would've put 2 and 2 together and thought of Total Chaos - at least tangentially.
To say Sam came a long way would feel back-handed as a compliment, because his earlier creations were still incredible and achieved their goals nicely. Nonetheless, his career progression is incredible, and something to be held as an inspiration for modders of all shapes and sizes for where the hobby can lead.
A Bright Flashy Future
Working in a small team of passionate developers, Sam's studio Trigger Happy Entertainment has made a remarkable splash in the indie shooter world and with mod support on the way, we'll be watching and waiting to see how these once-modders will pass on the baton to their own modding community. Turbo Overkill is currently in Early Access over on Steam for $19.95 USD/£15.49 GBP, though if you ask me, there's plenty of content already in the game to enjoy. The team are targeting later this year for a 1.0 release that will see the game make it to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One as well.
Until then - I'll be shooting, gunning, and chainsawing my way through this neon hellscape.