Mini Review: “XXXI CyberSky” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

2015 Artwork CyberSky WAD review sketch

Well, a day or two after I wrote my previous WAD review [Edit: (14/1/16) Oops! Sorry about the dead link. The review I’d originally linked to was recently rescheduled for later in the year and I forgot that there was a link to it’s old address in this article, sorry about this], I was still in the mood for playing some enjoyably challenging “slaughtermap”-style levels for “Doom II”.

If you’ve never heard of this type of “Doom” level before, these are levels that contain a lot more monsters than you can actually fight – meaning that you actually have to use tactics, strategy, perseverance, knowledge of the game and careful planning to succeed.

So, after a bit of searching, I found a rather interesting-looking single-level WAD called “XXXI CyberSky” that took me about two hours to complete on the “hurt me plenty” difficulty setting.

As usual, I used the “GZDoom” source port whilst playing this level. Due to the size, complexity and number of monsters in this level, you’ll need a fairly powerful source port like “GZDoom” to be able to play it.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “XXXI CyberSky”:

 Well, THIS is a good sign...

Well, THIS is a good sign…

One of the first things I will say about this WAD is that the “XXXI” in the title refers to the fact that it occupies the 31st map slot in the “Doom II”, “TNT Evilution” or “Plutonia Experiment” IWAD that you’re using.

What this means is that you have to start the game as normal and then type “IDCLEV31” to skip to the 31st level before you can play “XXXI CyberSky”.

 I still have no idea why this is level 31, rather than level one. It makes no sense!

I still have no idea why this is level 31, rather than level one. It makes no sense!

If you look closely at the screenshot I just showed you, you’ll see that the level contains over 2000 monsters. Honestly, I’m surprised that this number is so small – it felt like the level contained a lot more monsters than this when I was playing it. As “slaughtermap” levels go, this is certainly one of the more heavily-populated and enjoyably challenging ones that I’ve seen in a while.

This is only a tiny fraction of the monsters you'll encounter here...

This is only a tiny fraction of the monsters you’ll encounter here…

The designer of “XXXI CyberSky” also occasionally uses a couple of amusingly innovative tricks to really ramp up the difficulty. These include things like inconspicuosly adding a couple of archviles to a large group of revenants – since the archviles are surrounded by a dense group of monsters, they can be surprisingly difficult to get to before they attack you.

The trick here is, of course, to retreat and hide behind something until after the group of revenants disperses slightly, but before the archviles can resurrect too many other monsters.

Plus, with a level name like “CyberSky”, it goes without saying, but expect to encounter more than your fair share of cyberdemons here too. In fact, you’ll encounter four of them very near the beginning of the level:

Of course,  you can easily trick them into emptying the adjoining corridors of monsters for you. Like this.

Of course, you can easily trick them into emptying the adjoining corridors of monsters for you. Like this.

In terms of the power-ups and ammo in this level, there’s just the right amount. You’ll never run out of ammo for all of your weapons, but you also won’t just be able to rely on the rocket launcher and BFG to get through this level either. Likewise, although there will probably be a fair number of times when you’ll only have a few health points remaining, the level doesn’t exactly starve you of health power-ups either.

As you might expect, the level itself is absolutely gigantic. Although “slaughtermap” levels are usually large sprawling things – this one is perhaps the largest one that I’ve ever played.

Or, rather, thanks to the cleverly-designed non-linear nature of the level, it probably feels a lot larger than it actually is. In other words, unlike some “slaughtermap” levels, you don’t just follow a linear path through a series of arena-like areas.

Although this level is still fairly straightforward, expect to do a bit of careful searching and backtracking occasionally. I quite liked this aspect of the level, since it added some variety to the gameplay and to the pacing of the level.

The level’s extreme length is also offset by the wide variety of environments on offer too. Although the entire level has a “hell”-style theme to it, there are a few variations in area design (eg: bridges, corridors, castle walls, large rooms, small rooms etc..) and quite a few new textures to keep everything interesting:

Even the hell areas have some new textures.

Even the hell areas have some new textures.

Sssh! It's a library!

Sssh! It’s a library!

But check out these gnarly fortifications near the end of the level.

But check out these gnarly fortifications near the end of the level.

All in all, this is a well-designed, non-linear “slaughtermap” level that is absolutely crammed with monsters.

If you’re the kind of “Doom” player who, when suddenly faced with an unexpected horde of monsters, just chuckles to yourself and says “oh, Doom” affectionately, then you’re probably going to like this WAD.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get a four.

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