Preview: Turbo Overkill

21 Apr 2022

The importance of a good title cannot be overstated. Given that it’s highly likely to be the first thing a prospective player sees of a video game, the ability for a developer to decide on a proper one—one that both grabs the viewer’s attention and implies its general feel—is a vital part of the process.

Many creators of first person shooters have understood this since the genre’s inception, as demonstrated with the likes of Doom, Duke Nukem, and Quake. All three titles get straight to the point and perfectly encapsulate the general ambience of the games they represent. I mention these three in particular because they’re referenced on the Steam page for Turbo Overkill, an FPS developed by Trigger Happy Interactive and published by Apogee Entertainment with a title that fits onto the list quite nicely. The moment you finish processing those five syllables, you have a pretty clear idea of what you’re getting yourself into.

I had the distinct pleasure of playing through a majority of the game’s first episode before it launches into Early Access via Steam on April 22nd, and while I knew what type of game to expect on account of the in-your-face title, I walked away from the experience excessively impressed and excited to see how the game will expand on the solid base it’s built for itself.

Turbo Overkill puts you in the laced up kicks of Johnny Turbo, a cyborg who enters the city of Paradise only to find it overrun by gun-toting minions under the control of a rogue A.I. called SYN. Johnny reacts to this like any sensible person would: he walks off the side of a bridge, falls hundreds of feet, and extends the chainsaw stowed away in his leg to reduce the unsuspecting enemy below to so much gore.

Did I mention the game is called Turbo Overkill?

This is where I would dig a little deeper into the execution of the story of the first episode’s levels, but there honestly isn’t a whole lot to chew on after learning the initial premise. There’s dialogue from various characters and SYN as you play to help shape your objectives a bit, but they never really mesh into a cohesive narrative at this point of Early Access.

On the flip side, it ultimately doesn’t matter because the gameplay is immediately engrossing. As soon as Johnny hits the ground, the game hands you the reins and you’re zooming at supersonic speed through an oversaturated neon cityscape and mowing down enemies with reckless abandon. With its blazing fast movement and gunplay, the game takes heavy inspiration from arena shooters. From the outset, the player has access to a double jump and two instant forward dashes to zip around to their heart’s content, which is a mercy as staying still for any amount of time guarantees death on even the regular difficulty.

Movement just for movement’s sake isn’t enough to cut it though, as every encounter requires you to assess which enemy types you’re up against and bob, weave, and dash your way out of their individual attack patterns accordingly. This high emphasis on movement is one of the most engaging aspects of the game, and importantly, the well-rounded mix of enemy encounters is complemented by similarly varied environmental design. It isn’t just a matter of who you’re fighting when the baddies spawn in, but where you’re fighting them as well, from cramped subway tunnels to the sprawling city streets.

But solid movement alone does not a good shooter make. You also need to have weapons that are satisfying to use, and Turbo Overkill more than delivers on this front. Many of the gun’s base forms are comparable to those found in other shooters of this type, but their alternative firing modes switch things up significantly. The starting pistols’ alt-fire, for example, sees Johnny spinning one around his finger while the other charges up and automatically locks onto five enemies before dealing heavy damage, while the shotgun’s is a laser cannon that’s great for crowd control and taking care of large groups of weaker enemies. Many of them practically feel like using a second weapon entirely—literally in the case of the dual-wielded SMGs, which has you dropping one of the guns to turn the remaining one into a higher-damaging yet slower-firing assault rifle.

Switching between weapons on the fly and deciding which firing mode you want to take advantage of is another large part of what makes the moment-to-moment gameplay so fun. Because none of the enemy types necessarily require you to use a specific one, it’s up to the player to decide which style works best for them, and when you choose poorly (because you will, especially on higher difficulties), you’re instantly back to your most recent checkpoint in the level to start off fresh, with no wasted time.

Being a cyborg, Johnny Turbo also has augments you can equip to the parts of his body that are more machine than man. Certain SYN lackeys drop money, which you can then use at vendors peppered throughout each level to get boosts ranging from minor passives (earning armor and health when sliding around on your chainsaw leg) to larger gameplay additions (the ability to double jump a second time off of walls). They’re fun, and I’ll never say no to the ability to further customize my gameplay experience, but they’re more of a vestigial part of the experience at this point. It’s exciting to get them, but the excitement is quick to fade when you realize how little difference they make in the outcome of the shootouts.

I’m also not a fan of the alt-fires being gated behind pricey vendor purchases like the augments. It doesn’t feel as though much is gained from locking half of a weapon’s utility behind both time and a currency you could spend on other items, and it feels bit at odds with itself in a game that so clearly prioritizes fun factor in all other avenues.

Each level has two forms of secret items to find: cassette tapes and tech chips. If you find all three cassette tapes nestled away in a stage, you unlock a secret level with a unique challenge, like surviving waves of enemies. Collecting all the tech chips nets more of a silly, fun reward, with the first level’s tech chips providing you with a toggleable “Big Head Mode.” Finding them is definitely a bit of a mountain to climb given the openness and length of the levels, but it’s a fun way to further encourage repeat playthroughs.

When it comes to the visuals of Paradise, the city definitely takes notable inspiration from science fiction films of the 1980s. Blade Runner is a self-proclaimed influence on the developers, but there are also elements of RoboCop and biotech body horror in the vein of Videodrome, with mounds of flesh giving way to static-displaying screens. The third of the list is also reflected in one of the enemy types, who have had their heads fully replaced with TVs and their arms spliced with blades.

I was initially unsure how to feel about Turbo Overkill’s fusion of fully 3D models and starkly pixelated textures, but the choice makes sense the second you get your hands behind the wheel and see it in motion. The sharpness of the textures in conjunction with the liberal use of intense lighting makes everything in the game immediately identifiable. At no point are you distracted by the environment and wondering what you’re looking at, which is vital because you’re also moving at 99 miles an hour avoiding a hail of bullets. The color filter that covers the whole screen when you grab a power-up could definitely be tuned down a little, though.

The soundtrack has one foot in groove metal and the other in synth-heavy electronica. It’s not quite so catchy as to reach parity with the game’s other over-the-top elements, but it’s always welcome and always fitting.

I did bump up against a few glitches inherent with a preview version of an Early Access title, specifically a few instances of getting stuck on level geometry that wasn’t set quite right and some performance issues. The former were mercifully few and far between and the latter were quick to correct themselves, but I suspect the patch being pushed out on launch day will make them even less of an inconvenience.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Turbo Overkill’s first episode. An Early Access game is only as good as its fundamentals, and the fundamentals on display here are strong to the point where it’s easy to overlook certain aspects of the game that aren’t quite as polished yet. The pace is blazing, the movement is ceaseless, and the aesthetic is as excessive as it is appealing. If you’re a fan of fast, frantic first person shooters that hearken back to the genre’s roots, you owe it to yourself to look into Turbo Overkill.

Preview beta access provided by Apogee Entertainment for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Apogee Entertainment.