Back in the '90s video games were more of a cult thing. The stigma of 'PC elitism' was in full effect, with teenagers and young-adults spending hour upon hour in the basement or locked away in their rooms, glaring at a computer screen, making friends in chat rooms talking about who got the most frags and what mods were available at the time. Shooter fans back then were playing Doom, and later Quake, and we spent many hours with Quake 3 Arena, choosing between whether we wanted to be Homer Simpson or Johnny Bravo, or deciding if we were going to go straight for the rail gun. But that was then and times have moved on.
We don't really get a whole lot of fast paced arena shooters nowadays, at least not collectively popular ones. But that seems to be changing (Unreal Tournament, Quake Champions). Step up Toxikk, a skill-based first-person shooter from the minds of German developers Reakktor, a game that reminds us of yesteryear and everything that was both great and terrible about the genre, in almost equal measure.
At the main menu straight away you're met with the usual assortment of menus, options, multiplayer, single-player etc, however there is also an in-game worldwide chat that appears in the bottom right of the screen, here you are able to interact and play matches together with other Toxikk players. It's not exactly a ground breaking feature, but one that we found smart and responsive.
As with all great arena shooters we started out by checking out the real meat of the game, the multiplayer. In Toxikk that boils down to what you'd expect. Modes include the usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag variants, and are accessible through an in-game server browser that lets you choose mode type, host, and what kind of ping a game session has. It's pretty standard stuff, if not a little disappointing that these tired arena based modes weren't infused with more modern ideas. Maps do fare a little better here, with there being a selection of 12 varied arenas available across all of the game modes. In each of these maps you'll be able to play matches in the likes of Cambodia, Russia, and the USA. Although you're more or less doing the same thing they can offer vastly different experiences due to the level of verticality and the weapon placement throughout.
Speaking of weapons, we found that the general variety of weapons lacking. You start with a pistol that doesn't do a lot of damage, but if you're good at dodging and jumping (we weren't!), you can definitely put up a solid fight. Apart from the pistol the weapons are all genre staples, you have different variants of a shotgun, a laser gun, or a sniper, each with its own alternate function mapped to the second mouse button. It feels very by the numbers and not very inspired.
That's not the only thing that feels uninspired; certain aspects of the gameplay, although not damaging the overall experience and level of fun, do in fact lack a certain layer of overall polish. One example being the hit indicator audio effect that we found to be annoying and distracting whenever it was heard.
Completing matches rewards you with experience points which accumulate and let you level up your character. Levelling here gives you multiple customisation options for your character; much like in a game like Halo 4, you can unlock new helmets, arm pads, chest plates and the like. It's not a particularly big thing but it has just enough pull to keep you levelling up and unlocking new gear.
Apart from multiplayer, the other big part of Toxikk is solo mode. In solo you have two options, the first is boot camp, which is basically equivalent to the tutorial. It serves its purpose, nothing more. Whereas the other mode, Contracts, fares a bit better. It's a very loose campaign which consists of matches you would find in the multiplayer but with bots. Contracts gives you not only a chance at honing your skills against quite capable A.I. but also lets you sample each of the game's 12 maps. Not only that but it's also a good way of getting experience and unlocking things if you feel multiplayer might still be a level above where you're at.
Toxikk has been available for over a year now via Early Access and in that time through content updates and fixes, the game has improved. This is mainly due to the Steam Workshop which Toxikk supports. In this instance we have mixed feelings on whether this is just a quick and almost lazy way for the developers to make it so that it's the community adding content and character to the game, or if it's the opposite and they understand that playing the game using Quake weapons or maps is really cool, because it is! Maybe it's a bit of both. Downloading and using mods breathes new life and replayability into the experience. However, you should always expect a full experience right out of the gate, and this felt very bare-bones, even if those bones were competently put together.
Toxikk is very much a love letter to the arena shooters of old, an homage if you will that almost tricks you into thinking it's a better experience than it really is. What's here is good, make no mistake, the shooting and movement all feels like you think it should, fast-paced and crazy. Not only that but it's easy to get into matches and the maps are varied. However, it comes across as trying too hard and quite bland, almost as if the developers had a check list of what a Quake-style arena shooter should be and didn't deviate from the formula in any meaningful way. The weapons are basic, as are the game modes, and no amount of community input should have to give the game that much needed character.