As usual, I played this WAD using the “GZDoom” source port and – although I completed all of the main levels in this WAD, I’ve only played a small amount of the additional bonus level at the time of writing.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Swim With The Whales”:
“Swim With The Whales” is a three-level WAD, which also contains an additional secret bonus level too (although I’m ashamed to say that I had to access the bonus level using the “level skip” cheat, since I couldn’t find the entrance).
One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that, whilst “Stardate 20X6” had a really cool purple colour scheme, this WAD is blue. Very blue.
In terms of gameplay and level design, this WAD has it’s strengths and it’s flaws. The very first level contains no monsters whatsoever and is more of a small puzzle-based level, where the entire challenge is to find the right switches in order to access the exit.
Given the sheer numbers of monsters in “Stardate 20X6”, this level was a surprising change. On the other hand, repeatedly searching a small area just to find a hidden switch (which seems really obvious when you do find it) can get a bit frustrating after a while.
The second and third levels are a lot more like very challenging traditional “Doom” levels, filled with lots of monsters (including the occasional “slaughtermap”-style arena area) and tricky switch-based/ key-based puzzles. Although levels that throw a lot of monsters at you are nothing new, “Swim With The Whales” sometimes does this with a clever twist or two.
For example, in part of the second level, you’re faced with a small room containing two cyberdemons. If you actually try to fight them, then you’ll end up splattered across the walls fairly quickly. Instead, you have to think a bit more strategically…
Likewise, there’s another area in the third level where you’re trapped in a small enclosure with a cyberdemon in front of you and galleries of hell knights and revenants on the surrounding walls, who fire projectiles at you.
If you try to fight everything in the room, you will fail and/or remain trapped in the enclosure. To get out of it, you have to do something very specific which will probably take you a while to work out.
However, although I appreciate this kind of fast-paced, but puzzling, gameplay – it can sometimes be a little bit excessive.
Expect to spend at least an hour wandering aimlessly around some parts of the third level, trying to work out what you’re supposed to do next, only to eventually find that the switch that you’re supposed to press in order to open a large door can only be accessed by crossing an area of the level which the level design makes a point of telling you not to cross (eg: one part of the moat of poisonous/toxic water surrounding the level).
Still, although this WAD contains more than it’s fair share of tricky puzzles, it also contains a lot of enjoyably challenging combat too.
Although the third level ends with a fairly traditional “slaughtermap”- style arena, the maker of this WAD sometimes ramps up the difficulty in other areas by throwing lots of monsters at you when you are in small confined areas. As any “Doom” player will tell you, not having a lot of space instantly makes any fight about three times more difficult than it otherwise would be.
In terms of gameplay, this WAD takes a very traditionalist attitude towards jumping. In other words, jumping is disabled by default. Although this was a little annoying at first, some of the puzzles in the game rely on the player not being able to jump – so, it’s understandable in this context.
Musically speaking, this WAD is absolutely spectacular. The first level contains some hauntingly beautiful background music that is kind of difficult to describe.
The second level contains music that is simultaneously relaxing and unnerving – it’s kind of like the save room music from the original “Resident Evil”, mixed with some of the music from the old “Silent Hill” games. It’s also one of the best pieces of background music that I’ve heard in a “Doom” WAD.
The third level contains a wonderfully gothic and atmospheric MIDI rendition of “Carol Of The Bells” and the secret level, of course, has a MIDI version of “Blue” by Eiffel 65 playing in the background.
All in all, “Swim With The Whales” is a brilliantly atmospheric WAD that will provide a worthy challenge for even the most experienced “Doom” player. Although a couple of the puzzles here are more frustrating than enjoyable, I liked the fact that this WAD actually makes you think. Yes, it isn’t quite as good as “Stardate 20X6” is, but it’s fairly close.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.