You can be pretty certain that you’re in for a good time when the opening scene of a game involves you jumping off a skyscraper and landing on top of a bad guy that you slice in half with your leg-mounted chainsaw. That’s exactly how Turbo Overkill begins, and that’s roughly the energy level that the game maintains from then on.
Turbo Overkill is one of the latest releases in the “boomer shooter” FPS subgenre, a style that harkens back to the lightning-paced blood-soaked carnage of 90s first-person shooters. These retro shooters are experiencing somewhat of a golden age at the moment, spearheaded by publishing studios such as New Blood Interactive, 3D Realms, and Apogee Software (the original 3D Realms – see this article for the explanation).
The hallmarks of the boomer shooter genre are lightning pacing, excessive gore, and over-the-top weapons, and as the name implies, Turbo Overkill has these in abundance. You play as Johnny Turbo, a cybernetic murder machine whose goal is to clean up the streets of the neon-saturated cyberpunk dystopia Paradise. The city has been overrun by a rogue AI called Syn, who controls legions of biomechanical monsters and mercenaries that form the roster of enemies Johnny will face. Johnny’s sidekick is Sam, the AI who inhabits Johnny’s hovercar. Sam is Johnny’s transport around Paradise, and will occasionally cede control to Johnny for the game’s vehicular combat sections.
The story is, in classic retro FPS style, mostly a vehicle for the carnage that follows, but that doesn’t mean a developer should disregard the narrative entirely. Thankfully, New Zealand-based developer Trigger Happy Interactive has recognised that, and crafted enough of a narrative to set Turbo Overkill’s tone nicely, while providing plenty of motivation for the player to stay engaged.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Shooter
Classic FPS games had a reputation for being pretty fast-paced – one need only look at speedruns like Quake Done Quick as evidence of that. One thing I’ve noticed in the boomer shooter revival is that a lot of new games tend to exaggerate that speed somewhat, sometimes using a wide FOV to enhance the effect. That’s fine, and it’s all part of the design style of boomer shooters, but very few of these FPS revival games innovate on the formula. Turbo Overkill is the exception to this.
One of the first things you’ll notice is how much of a joy it is to simply move around the game world. Gameplay is fast as expected, but further supplemented by slides, wall-running, grappling hooks, double-jumps, and more. This freedom and fluidity of movement, combined with sprawling but tightly designed levels, puts the player in the sort of satisfying flow state that only the very best games can achieve. It is abundantly clear that the developer has spent an inordinate amount of time tweaking the level design to ensure that there is seamless interaction between player movement and level geometry.
“Turbo Overkill’s masterstroke is that the gameplay makes you, the player, feel like a badass.”
Turbo Overkill is an unlikely combination of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Quake – there’s even a firefight that takes place in a rooftop skate park. Moments like flying off a jump pad into a wall run before boosting across a gap between two skyscrapers and landing into a slide with your chainsaw leg carving a path through a horde of enemies is immensely satisfying. Johnny Turbo is clearly a badass, but Turbo Overkill’s masterstroke is that the gameplay makes you, the player, feel like a badass.
Turbo Overkill is perhaps the most appropriately named game ever made. While you tear through the levels like a whirlwind made of metal and flesh, you’ve got an impressive arsenal at your disposal to help you carve a path through the enemy hordes. All the staples are present – pistol, shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher, sniper rifle – but, as with everything else in Turbo Overkill, Trigger Happy Interactive has turned it all up to 11.
All the weapons have an alternate fire mode, but it’s not always what you’d expect. The Twincendiary fills the role of a belt-fed heavy machinegun, but if the swarms start to overwhelm you, you can switch to flamethrower mode. The Boomer is a sawn-off double-barrel shotgun with an attached grenade launcher. The Rocket Launcher is an FPS staple, and its alternate fire mode is a nod to Unreal Tournament, with the ability to load up to four rockets to fire at once. There’s a nod to Doom’s plasma rifle, with an alternate fire that pumps out a web of deadly plasma tendrils. There’s also a rad-as-hell weapon that can only be described as a handheld orbital cannon.
The majority of weapons are progressively revealed through the first episode with some satisfying scripted sequences. In a scene that had me high-fiving the air, Johnny’s discovery of a double-barrelled shotgun has him hack the barrel off with his chainsaw leg. The Rocket Launcher is announced with a scripted sequence featuring the most bad-ass rocket jump in FPS history. There’s also a cheeky nod to the infamous marketing for John Romero’s Daikatana (2000), with “SUCK IT DOWN” painted on the side of the rocket.
Weapons are upgraded at terminals scattered throughout the levels, using currency picked up from your slain enemies. These terminals also allow you to purchase additional ammo, health boosts, and upgrades to your augmentations.
It’s a leg. With a chainsaw. Chegg.
Turbo Overkill is packed with irreverent humour, and nothing personifies the tone of the game better than the Chegg. This leg-mounted chainsaw is one of the stars of the show, and it’s not just a token melee weapon either – you’ll regularly go sliding into packs of enemies with this thing deployed, carving a path of blood and gore.
Johnny has multiple tools and augmentations that he acquires during the course of the game. In addition to the Chegg, Johnny has his wall-running boots, Turbo Time™, the Micro Missiles, and of course, a grappling hook. This isn’t just any videogame grappling hook though. You can grapple to almost anything, including your own rockets.
The Micro Missiles got me out of more than a few scrapes during my playthrough – this weapon has a long cooldown, but when activated, it allows you to launch a barrage of guided missiles at multiple enemies, with Johnny flipping the bird as a satisfying final farewell.
One thing that classic FPS games can suffer from is a lack of replayability – once you’ve conquered all the difficulty levels, there’s often less of an impetus to come back to the game, even one as fun as Turbo Overkill. Luckily, Trigger Happy Interactive has thought of that too – the game features a horde mode called Endless, an easy-to-use in-game level editor, and an upcoming Multiplayer mode.
At the time of writing this review, multiplayer hasn’t been released yet, but that’s slated for inclusion in the 1.0 release on August 11. “Extended” multiplayer support is also included on the post-release roadmap alongside console support, so we may see some sort of cross-platform support there. According to a Steam forum post by the developer, the only planned multiplayer mode is cooperative. That’s a bit of a shame – I feel like Turbo Overkill has some amazing potential for deathmatch – but as the developer highlights in the post, the speed of the game and small hitboxes present some challenges for multiplayer that would probably require a bit of a mechanical rework, which might undermine the very thing that makes Turbo Overkill so much fun.
In the meantime, I’ve gotten plenty of enjoyment out of Turbo Overkill’s Endless mode. There’s a handful of maps on offer at the moment, and you can tweak things like difficulty, weapon availability, and wave frequency to customise the sort of adrenaline rush you’re chasing.
The Level Editor is also pleasingly easy to use. You’ll need to do a bit of experimentation and reading before you start putting together levels on par with the quality of the main game, but if level design isn’t your cup of tea, then there’s already a sizeable selection of community maps in the custom level browser. In a nostalgic throwback for players like me, raised in the era of Doom and Quake, you “rent” these community-made levels like VHS tapes.
The assets on offer in the level editor are pretty basic at the moment, but undoubtedly the community will step in with custom assets in the coming months. I’m very excited to see what sort of madness the modding community can put together in the future.
With dozens of custom maps already, a powerful and easy-to-use level editor, Endless mode, and the upcoming cooperative multiplayer, Turbo Overkill is poised to have plenty of replay value.
In case it wasn’t clear already, I love this game. It’s mechanically tight, complemented with exceptional level design. The entire experience is oozing with retro shooter style and irreverent humour. The weapons are familiar yet fresh. Admittedly, there’s more work to be done – we’re yet to see how this performs on console, and how multiplayer unfolds – but from everything I’ve seen so far, Trigger Happy Interactive is clearly a developer that values attention to detail. This is a fine-tuned experience with one of the most satisfying flow states I’ve ever experienced in a game.
Turbo Overkill isn’t just one of the best boomer shooters on the market right now – this is one of the best games on the market, full stop. If retro-style shooters are your thing, then this is a must-buy. No game is perfect, but Turbo Overkill is about as close as it gets.