If you've never heard of a 'boomer shooter,' you might have expected something a little different than what appears in a Bing search. Despite the charming nickname, these games have very little to do with the generational namesake. A boomer shooter can technically highlight several characteristics, and the 'rules' are totally flexible, just like any meme.
Generally, though, it refers to a recent trend in the first-person shooter genre that looks back to the late 1990s with rose-tinted glasses. Fighting for a place among the best PC games is tricky when developers have to contend with AAA-quality titles backed up by million-dollar budgets. Still, these deep-fried pixels appeal directly to my nostalgia, and that's often more powerful than any modern advertisements.
These are the seven best boomer shooters that dominate my evenings and the retro throwbacks I'm reminded of, and everything works on Steam Deck either natively or with tweaks. Grab an ibuprofen for your sore back, fellow oldies; we're going back in time.
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- Feels like: BLOOD (1997) - Monolith Productions
✅ Steam Deck verified
Not the earliest in the boomer shooter genre by a long way, but CULTIC is the first example that sold me from its earliest moments as I followed the development on Twitter (via @JasozzGames.) When the throwback theme started for FPS, most harkened back to the original DOOM, which is fair given its colossal influence on the industry.
However, one of my all-time favorite old-school shooters was Monolith's BLOOD in 1997, and apparently, the same applied to lead CULTIC developer Jason Smith. Pairing with a fresh revival of 3D Realms as the publisher, the game offered a free demo that cleverly received multiple updates based on player feedback. Acting as a beta of sorts, this playable preview of CULTIC had me hungry for more every time.
The visuals are crushed to a brutal degree, reminding me of pre-millennium graphics cards pushed to their limits with restricted color palettes. It's an optional effect, and plenty of colors are hidden behind the filter if you disable it.
Critically, the gameplay is tuned to absolute perfection, with thrown dynamite providing the same satisfaction as Caleb's in the original BLOOD. Run, gun, and slide through dangerous campgrounds and booby-trapped mines in this prime example of a boomer shooter done right.
2. Ion Fury
- Feels like: Duke Nukem 3D (1996) - 3D Realms
⚠️ Steam Deck playable
Like CULTIC revived special memories of playing BLOOD in my pre-Internet era of PC ownership, so does Ion Fury for the days of burning through Duke Nukem 3D. Appropriately enough, it's somewhat set in the same universe as Apogee/3D Realms' iconic retro FPS hero, but the lines are blurred just enough to avoid confusion and copyright issues.
The least subtle reference comes from Ion Fury using a beefed-up version of the same BUILD engine used in Duke Nukem 3D. Technically based on a fork of the original source code, the eDuke32 port still carries a perfect recreation of gameplay and visuals from the 1990s classic. Ion Fury benefits from its crusty engine in every way possible, from feeling like a hidden gem found in 3D Realms' archives to running on practically any modern hardware.
If you loved Duke Nukem 3D, you'd feel the same way about Ion Fury. Rather than splitting its levels into self-contained episodes, the world is mostly a sprawling, interconnected hub allowing massive free roaming. Not quite to the degree of a Metroidvania hallway-crawler, but the maps are positively gigantic. As a lifelong fan of its spiritual predecessor, it's mind-boggling to see the retro engine pushed to this level.
Ion Fury carries the same retro badass energy turned up to eleven without going into questionable Duke Nukem Forever territory. Action movie buffs will appreciate the relentless references, too. It fights for my top spot with CULTIC.
- Feels like: DOOM (2016) - id Software
⚠️ Steam Deck playable
Thankfully, I'm not the only one who claims that Prodeus is the old-school shooter you must play, thanks partly to a broader appeal as one of the best games on Xbox Game Pass. It's still firmly a great fit into the boomer shooter genre, thanks to its love letter to old-school FPS gameplay tropes, despite many modernization efforts that help attract younger fans.
Visually, Prodeus feels like the developers dropped DOOM 3, Unreal Tournament, and the 2016 DOOM reboot into a blender. The sheer amount of ludicrous gore certainly fits the blender theme, spreading blood and guts across the sci-fi environments somewhat reminiscent of Dead Space in some spots. Mechanically, it's a fast-paced murder fest, just like the space marine adventures inspiring it.
The audio is less retro-inspired, but that doesn't detract from its charm. On the contrary, the effects are crunchy and booming, sounding hilariously over the top through a set of speakers or a high-end headset. More importantly, the soundtrack, written and performed by modern FPS legend Andrew Hushult (via Spotify), absolutely rips.
If you wish the recent DOOM games still looked like their original counterparts, Prodeus is for you. One of the most approachable boomer shooters of recent times, thanks to its modern feel mixed with a retro aesthetic. Brutal.
4. Amid Evil
- Feels like: Heretic (1994) - Raven Software
✅ Steam Deck verified
If you felt underwhelmed by the lack of color in previous suggestions, Amid Evil has more than enough to compensate. Probably the most straightforward shooter in the list, you can switch your brain off and play what feels like an interactive music visualizer mixed with elements of 90s classics like Heretic and Hexen from Raven Software.
Hopefully, your muscle memory is up to the task because Amid Evil is anything but relaxed. A trippy journey through the cosmos, like something from a Doctor Strange movie, is one to play on a big screen with headphones. Bonus points if you have ambient lighting like the Govee AI gaming sync box, beaming the galactic chaos around your room.
So dedicated to its authenticity, Amid Evil can get a little confusing at times. Given the sprawling levels are mostly a trip on the senses more than a series of memorable breadcrumbs, it's easy to get lost, but at least there are gorgeous visuals to enjoy as you wander the walls and yet another appearance from Andrew Hushult for the soundtrack.
5. Turbo Overkill
- Feels like: Serious Sam (2001) - Croteam
⚠️ Steam Deck playable
Do you remember that chainsaw-hand scene in Evil Dead 2? What if it was your leg, instead? That's basically the entire premise of the fast-paced, demonic cyberpunk speed shooter Turbo Overkill. Visually, it's more akin to a cross between Cyberpunk 2077 and Unreal Tournament.
Still, the relentless onslaught of enemies feels more like the old-school Serious Sam games mixed with the movement from Quake 3: Arena, a delicious cocktail. Visually, it's not as crunchy as some of its siblings on this list, but it still oozes the charm of the post-Quake revolution of fully 3D FPS.
The intense action is accompanied by powerful vaporware synthesizers and fantastic voice acting, like a first-person twist on Hotline Miami. Sliding around with your chainsaw leg extended and rarely lifting your finger from the trigger makes the Turbo Overkill name more than appropriate. Grab it if neon-soaked gunplay is your bag. You won't be disappointed.
6. Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun
- Feels like: DOOM Eternal (2020) - id Software
🔧 Steam Deck with ProtonDB tweaks
The biggest surprise for me since I had less than zero knowledge about anything related to Warhammer, but after reading Alex Cope's Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun review on the site, I was sold. You don't need to know anything about the tabletop game to have fun shredding pixelized versions of Chaos goons. In fact, there's barely any deep narrative in the game at all, which is exactly how I like it.
Like the chainsaw-hooking antics of DOOM Eternal, the bladed equivalent in Boltgun locks onto enemies and charges the player toward them. Mostly, it's brain-dead violence from the first person, which more than suits the boomer shooter aesthetic. It's not entirely hollow, however, as I'm assured the game is filled with references to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but I wouldn't know. I just know to shoot.
It's tough, especially relating to its bosses, but you're assisted by a forgiving quicksave system. Besides, being thrown back into the fray isn't frustrating when the gameplay is this satisfying. Brutally violent, it's convinced me to look further into the Warhammer 40,000 universe, at least within this space marine subgenre.
- Feels like: Quake (1996) - id Software
⚠️ Steam Deck playable
This will sound particularly scathing, but I mean it in the kindest way possible: HROT is the ugliest game on this list. It makes absolutely zero effort to hide its inspiration from the original Quake, looking like an alternative dimension spawned a Soviet equivalent of id Software. Gas masks, brutalist architecture, and the color brown. That's HROT.
Die-hard fans of Quake will immediately recognize the homage, from its logo to the low-polygon modeling of its weapons and enemies. It goes deeper, too, with even the heads-up text mirroring the old-school era alongside the usual tropes from the early days of 3D FPS. More than anything, it's critical to understand that HROT is weird. Bizarre, even.
Without spoiling anything, certain bosses are entirely unexpected. The game's general aesthetic follows a very particular trend, but occasionally, some of the strangest enemies grace your screen. If you want to run around and shoot stuff, you won't put much thought into the unusual design direction, and that's the perfect way to approach HROT. It's Quake, but somehow even weirder.
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Ben is the channel editor for all things tech-related at Windows Central. That includes PCs, the components inside, and any accessory you can connect to a Windows desktop or Xbox console. Not restricted to one platform, he also has a keen interest in Valve's Steam Deck handheld and the Linux-based operating system inside. Fueling this career with coffee since 2021, you can usually find him behind one screen or another. Find him on Mastodon @firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions or share opinions.