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Selaco is a phenomenal new shooter built on the retro Doom engine

A beautiful fusion of FEAR, System Shock 2 and the original Doom.

dawn fire key art for selaco
Image credit: Altered Orbit Studios

Behold, the beauty of destruction: as enemies home in on your position, you pull the trigger and marvel as the screen fills with particles, smoke and destruction... and as the air clears, you're left with an eerie calm. This ebb and flow between the quiet and the loud serves as the fabric of Selaco, a new FPS developed by a small team and derived from 26-year-old technology.

The game's technically in early access, but you'd never guess it - the included campaign has a lot of meat and the experience is impressively polished. It's also more distinctive than most modern boomer shooters, almost a union between Monolith's seminal FEAR, Irrational's System Shock 2 and id Software's Doom. It's that latter point that is so crucial. Selaco is built on GZDoom, a fork derived from ZDoom, which itself was created thanks to John Carmack's release of the original Doom's source code in 1997. This makes for a fascinating game, with creative use of older technology combined with flow and design that we haven't really seen applied to a sprite-based shooter before.

Arguably the most impressive aspect is the sheer volume of interactivity and destruction. Each level is packed full of surfaces and objects designed to be shot or interacted with, with the game inviting you to play with its dense environment by destroying smaller objects outright with gunfire or progressively damaging larger voxel-based objects. This is all accompanied by impressive and often unique sound effects, layered on top of the game's soundtrack, which moves from atmospheric exploration to the driving beats of combat. There are neat visual effects here too, with fire extinguishers releasing powder that's lit by nearby light sources for example, and there's even the option to have destruction persist through loading screens. It's satisfying to be able to tell where you've been through the trail of destruction that you've wrought.

Here's the full breakdown of Selaco's tech in its current early access release.Watch on YouTube

Despite the destruction and chaos, Selaco doesn't play like Doom. Instead, it's a more tactical shooter along the lines of FEAR, with your health bar draining quickly even on easy difficulty and therefore requiring you to use cover and flanking to take out your foes. If you always run in guns blazing, you will die. The enemy AI is surprisingly robust too, with a system that varies the aggression and intensity of foes. The key here is that enemies will flank you and hunt you down, and dealing with this is a huge part of the challenge. This is where tactics play a role. This isn't Rainbow Six, but dealing with these enemies requires you to take advantage of the environment and clever positioning, which I found engaging.

Beyond the strong AI opponents and destructible environments, the visual design is a huge triumph. While the game benefits from the continual evolution of GZDoom over the years, developer Altered Orbit Studios has managed to push well beyond what I thought was possible, even in 2024. It feels like Selaco is one of the first games to completely nail GZDoom's more advanced features, such as slopes, advanced lighting and voxel objects. Take lighting, for instance - there's dynamic lighting, complete with muzzle flashes and muzzle flash shadows, as well as heavy use of static-coloured lights to fill in spaces, lending the game a late 90s aesthetic a la Unreal.

Selaco also supports more complex level layouts, reminiscent of what the Build Engine can deliver. Thus you get actual sloped surfaces, as well as things like faked reflections, where scenery is drawn below the main map and revealed via transparent textures. The developers are perfectly walking the fine line between retro and contemporary. As a result, Selaco winds up looking unlike anything else I can think of. Textures and lighting feel modern, but you'll still see the limitations of sector-based map design if you look closely. While GZDoom allows certain things that wouldn't be possible in Doom itself, many of the maps still manage to adhere to those limitations.

I think one of my favorite elements is the work poured into the sprites and weapons. It's labour-intensive to manually create each unique frame, but it does give you the opportunity to perfectly pose each one. This is most evident in the weapons which, for my money, are among the best I've ever seen: realised entirely in 2D imagery, but drawn at a very high resolution and affected by lighting and effects from within the scene. Every frame of a reload feels precise, and certain frames even simulate motion blur or depth of field. The sheer quality of the animation and the punchiness of every frame mixed with the particles... I can't praise this enough.

As the game is based on GZDoom, I wasn't surprised to see a densely-packed options menu - but what did surprise me was the quality of the UI itself. It feels wholly bespoke, with a huge amount of graphics options for tuning both for performance and for your visual preferences.

Naturally, I wanted to test Selaco on the Steam Deck - but the game is more demanding than I anticipated, likely down to a CPU bottleneck inherent to Doom Engine titles. Selaco does include Steam Deck specific menu options and presets, though, including a performance and quality mode. Even using these though, I found it impossible to get a 90fps lock on the Deck OLED, and even 60fps was a challenge. For smoother and more consistent feeling combat, it could make sense to limit the game's frame-rate to 45 or 50fps on the Deck.

Selaco shown running on Steam Deck, with the performance overlay active
Selaco's dense options menu
Selaco plays well enough on the Steam Deck, but a CPU bottleneck seems to keep even a locked 60fps off the table - despite offering a dense options menu for tweaking performance and setting the game up for your preferences. Locking the game to 45 or 50fps on Steam Deck provides a more consistent experience. | Image credit: Digital Foundry

The final thing I want to discuss is the gameplay and design. I already mentioned that it's a more tactical game, but there's also the matter of level design and general flow. This is where the System Shock comparisons arise. Selaco's not an immersive sim like that game, but it shares certain elements which I feel enhance the experience. There are puzzles to solve at points, key codes and cards to find, and other environmental challenges, all of which fleshes out the overall experience and encourages exploration.

The only words of caution here are that the game's first couple of levels are the most confusing. Once you get your head around them, they're fine, but I struggled with navigation early on due to how dense and object-packed they were, making them hard to parse quickly. After you break free of the hospital labs, this element improves, where exploration is still required but feels more rewarding.

All this is to say that, while Selaco isn't perfect, it's still one of the coolest games I've played this year. It's rare to see a retro game that doesn't simply lean on the past and instead manages to combine classic elements with new innovations that feel fresh in 2024. The game is still in early access, of course, but the included campaign is already well worth your time.

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