Many, many moons ago, there existed a world without annual Call of Duty releases and waves of formulaic hero shooters. In fact, the concept of the first-person shooter was still in its infancy, brought to life in 1974 by a one-frame-per-second shooter called Spasim. But that’s going too far back, because it wasn’t until 1991 that id Software revolutionalized the genre with Wolfenstein 3D, unknowingly creating what we know now as a boomer shooter.
When you think of modern first-person shooters, what are the first things that come to mind? They’re kind of clean looking, right? Maybe a little too polished for the gritty world they’re trying to depict. They’re so perfectly 3D and full of mechanics that go beyond just pointing a gun at the bad guy and firing. There are massive interactive setpieces that typically result in a thrilling cutscene and a tragic plot point.
None of this is to say the idea of the modern shooter is bad. Just maybe a little bloated, at least when compared to the classic era that they were spawned from. Even if you didn’t grow up in the 1990s, chances are you still know the simplicity of games like Doom (1993) and Hexen. The pixelated simplicity featured none of the above elements of modern shooters, and, in some cases, didn’t even include an option for vertical aiming. While these games originally sold well because they were the best of their era, they’re still popular today because they match the entertainment value of big-budget AAA releases. But what exactly is a boomer shooter?
Boomer Shooters Explained
To explain it simply, a boomer shooter is a retro or retro-styled FPS game that belongs to or is inspired by the pre-COD arena shooters of the 90s and early 00s.
Models are typically blocky and polygonal for a larger emphasis on performance over resolution, with modern boomer shooters favoring the 32-bit or 64-bit aesthetic.
Many boomer shooters also don’t allow ADS (aim down sights) and require players to pick up health rather than waiting for it to generate, as well as a high level of difficulty with the player character often being killed in just a few hits.
While we can’t pinpoint who exactly coined boomer shooter as a term, we do, generally, know what it was meant to do — generalize old-school shooters and the oldies that remember the “good ‘ole days” of first-person firefights.
It’s really a misnomer, considering elder millennials grew up with classics like Doom and Heretic in their floppy drives, but we won’t get caught up on the technicalities as we explore the concept of boomer shooters and how they differ from the graphics-heavy romps of today.
Classic boomer shooters released in the 1990s and early 2000s include titles like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Unreal Tournament, and Serious Sam. Many of these titles, Doom and Wolfenstein included, have ultimately joined the ranks of 21st-century first-person shooters (though you can make the case that Doom still held true to the boomer shooter style).
Boomer Shooters of Today
Tired of revisiting the same old boomer shooters? Thankfully, the genre is far from at the end of its life cycle. In fact, some of the best boomer shooters have been released in the past two or three years.
In 2020, indie developer Bounding Box Software released Prodeus, a hyper-violent first-person shooter that blends elements of modern and classic shooters, including a level editor reminiscent of Doom’s user-created WADs.
Two years before Prodeus, David Szymanski invigorated the genre with Dusk, which features fast-paced first-person action that would make Doom’s creator, John Romero, blush.
However, it’s ULTRAKILL from Arsi “Hakita” Patala that is perhaps the most prevalent and beloved modern boomer shooter. The chaotic, frenetic FPS has remained in Steam Early Access for a good few years, but has cultivated a huge, dedicated fanbase due to it being influenced by character action games such as Devil May Cry.
For more of that hyper-violent, pixelated 1990s entertainment, check out Ion Fury, Nightmare Reaper, Amid Evil, Dread Templar, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
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