A review code for Impaler arrived with the recommendation: “a fun break between playing big AAA titles”. In that regard, it’s a great example of what an indie developer can achieve with a small budget and smart, minimalist design. It’s a retro-inspired, rogue-lite FPS that offers 20 to 30-minute sessions of escalating arena battles. The premise is simple but thanks to a versatile spike launcher, a ton of unlockable perks, and some rogue-lite RNG, there’s enough mechanical depth on offer to keep you coming back – at least for a while.
Kill, kill, kill…
I’d usually discuss any narrative elements first, but Impaler keeps it simple – so simple I had no idea there was any narrative context until I defeated the final boss for the first time. My reward was two sentences confirming I had defeated the “Skull King” and their minions but this was “not the end”. Now maybe there is a secret boss or ending once you’ve unlocked everything on offer or performed an elaborate sequence of actions, but I don’t think Impaler was intended to provide a compelling or well-told story. Instead, it offers you a novel and sadistically gruesome way to deal with hordes of demonic foes.
I’ll admit, first impressions can be underwhelming when you’re dropped into a creepy gothic cathedral, with a basic submachine gun, no perks, and small groups of enemies spawning sequentially – easy targets for a few rounds to the demonic face or a spike in their demonic rear. Aggression is encouraged as all weapons operate on an overheat system rather than ammunition and, rather than ADS, the right mouse button brings up a targeting overlay for your seemingly infinite spike launcher.
There’s decent fun to be had watching enemies crumple under sustained fire or be thrust up in the air, impaled on a spike, and gorily slide back down while spewing out health orbs or coins. However, that’s just the basics covered and it only gets better the more you play.
…with extreme style
Given you’re always battling in the same cathedral-ish hall, Impaler tries to spice things up by mixing up demon spawns – think melee rushers, grenade launchers, floating gunners, or duplicating slimes – and modifying the environment by spawning walls of pillars, floor traps, jump pads, explosive barrels, and even treasures that burst into gold coins – if you find the time to push them into the right spot mid-battle.
Staying mobile and using the spike launcher is key to survival. Impaling an enemy with it releases health orbs; you can create temporary barriers to block enemies or projectiles; and – most importantly – firing directly at your feet launches you into the air. Getting airborne allows you to escape encirclement, circumvent obstacles, slam back down into an enemy for a quick kill, or slam into the floor to release an AoE shockwave.
In addition to the spike launcher and a suitably diverse assortment of guns – think shotguns, plasma rifles, and rocket launchers unlocked by completing in-game challenges – you’ll dash about collecting coins that allow you to purchase passive skills between rounds. Some perks alter your weapon projectile behaviour; some improve your spike launcher by extending its range or adding life-steal; some make you tougher or move faster; others increase coin gain. Perhaps the most useful are those that affect a slowly recharging “bullet time” mode that’s a godsend when you’re swarmed or close to death. It allows you a few seconds to plan a speedy escape, line up some easy impales for health orbs, or pick off priority targets. At first, these perks are random picks but you’ll slowly discover each variant and can better plan your build in subsequent runs.
If I had to pick a direct comparison, the gunplay and focus on mobility had me thinking back to the original Quake or, more recently, Dusk.
All these systems come together to create a gameplay loop that’s a mixture of skill, strategy, chaos, and a bit of luck. For a few hours, you’re constantly unlocking new tools to make each run more efficient or survivable, and that gameplay loop is backed up by an authentically retro presentation – excusing the stock UI – with some nice sprite work for the weapons, monsters, and props. You can even enable fancier lighting and particle effects for more spectacular gore and atmosphere. That said, after several runs the lack of assets became noticeable and the eclectic soundtrack – often an integral part of any retro FPS – failed to leave any lasting impression.
So wrapping up, Impaler is a great little diversion that costs the same as a cup of takeaway coffee and will provide way more demon-slaying satisfaction – just so long as you avoid long sessions that’ll highlight the limited content.
A review code for Impaler was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Impaler (PC) ReviewImpaler (PC) Review
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
- Perfect for short, intense sessions
- The gruesome, gory, and versatile spike launcher
- A fun mix of conventional firearms and impactful perks
- Cheap as coffee and will run on almost anything
- Long sessions highlight the limited enemy roster and environmental diversity
- No standout music tracks