Well, although I’m currently over halfway the final episode of this WAD at the time of writing, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a WAD for Ultimate Doom called “Strange Aeons (V 3.6)“.
This WAD may have been updated by the time that this article goes out [Edit: it was already up to version 3.7 a day or so after I originally wrote this article], but I’ll be reviewing version 3.6 because that’s the version I played.
As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port when playing this WAD and, from what I’ve read, it requires this source port in order to work properly. Although I don’t know if it’s also compatible with “GZDoom” too.
Anyway, let’s take a quick look at at “Strange Aeons (V 3.6):
Strange Aeons (V 3.6)” is a 36-level total conversion for “Ultimate Doom” featuring new levels, weapons, graphics, power-ups, music and monsters. The thing that first interested me in this WAD was the fact that it was apparently based on the works of H.P.Lovecraft.
The story behind the events of the game is that you play as a man who tries to find his son’s spirit by travelling through several strange Lovecraftian dream worlds. This WAD has much more of a story than many WADs do – with custom story text (and artwork) at the end of each episode.
And, yes, these text screens are written in a very Lovecraftian way.
Although you have to wait until episode four before you can see anything even resembling Cthulhu….
Whilst some parts of this WAD certainly have a wonderfully creepy and very Lovecraftian atmosphere to them, this varies somewhat throughout the game. Since this WAD is based on Ultimate Doom, it is split into four episodes – each of which has their own unique setting. This structure comes with all of the usual benefits and flaws inherent in traditional episode-based FPS games.
One cool feature about the episodic structure is that, in the first three episodes, you begin each episode in the main character’s bedroom – before stepping through a portal into the dream world that you’ve chosen to visit.
Yay! Cosmic horror 🙂
In my opinion, episodes one and four are probably the most Lovecraftian (episode one takes place on a collection of floating islands and episode four takes place in an icy wasteland). Episode three is also kind of cool and it’s set in an ancient Egypt-themed area of some kind.
But, apart from one really cool level (E2M5), most of episode two is – quite frankly – boring. It’s full of dull “industrial” areas, with only one level set on a giant vehicle (plus an epic boss battle at the very end of the episode) to break up the dreary monotony.
Seriously though, it’s worth slogging through the first four levels of episode two to play this one level. The boss battle in level eight is pretty cool too.
In terms of difficulty, this WAD actually has something of a difficulty curve to it. The first episode is ridiculously easy and the game gradually gets more and more challenging as it goes on. Most of the time, the difficulty doesn’t rise above “mildly challenging” (if you’re an experienced “Doom” player), but it was still fun nonetheless.
However, some of the difficulty in this WAD is due to the level design itself, so expect to get stuck searching for a well-hidden switch or key occasionally. Some of these are hidden in extremely fiendish ways – for example, in E4M4, a switch you need to press in order to complete the level is only revealed when you’ve defeated two large monsters that you’ll probaby just run away from when you first see them.
So, there’s both the fun kind of difficulty (eg: during the boss battles etc..) and the occasionally frustrating kind of difficulty here.
The boss battle at the end of the second episode is my favourite so far. Before you encounter the boss, you have to fight quite a few monsters in an arena. It isn’t quite a “slaughter map” level, but it vaguely reminded me of one.
One interesting thing to note is that, although this WAD has jumping disabled by default, the second level of the first episode is seemingly impossible to complete without leaping across a chasm at one point. So, make sure to enable jumping before playing this WAD.
As for the new weapons, I’ve only found three so far and they’re each surprisingly useful. The basic pistol has been replaced with a slightly more futuristic laser pistol. The chaingun has been replaced with an assault rifle that looks and sounds wonderfully dramatic.
In later episodes, the chainsaw is replaced by something called the “Scepter Of Souls” which is like a chainsaw, but it has a slightly longer range – which makes it extremely useful. The basic shotgun now also has slightly better sound effects too.
It’s a sceptre… and it’s made from skeletons and magic too. Nice!
The new monsters in this WAD also help to keep the gameplay fresh and to add a lot to the atmosphere too. Although a few of them have been borrowed from other classic FPS games and/or other Doom WADs (eg: the spiders from “Blood“, the giant worms from Freedoom, the sewer monsters from “Dark Forces“, modified “Hexen”/”Heretic” monsters etc… ), there are at least a couple of monsters here that I haven’t seen before.
Yes, that floating red thing is actually a monster. And a surprisingly powerful one too!
Yay! There are ghosts here too 🙂
Another cool thing about this WAD is that it contains a few new power-ups. One of these is a red orb that gives you unlimited ammo for thirty seconds – and, yes, you will find these after you’ve picked up the BFG 🙂 However, there’s another very similar-looking power-up that doubles the rate of fire for all of your weapons. And, yes, it’s easy to confuse the two power-ups (and waste ammo) if you aren’t careful.
I’m not sure if this was meant to be an “Incredible Hulk” reference or not…
The other new power up is a green “mutant power” orb, this turns you into a tall mutant creature (with a lot of health) who can defeat most monsters by punching them a couple of times. This is really cool, but one annoying side-effect of it is that, when it’s active, you can’t pick up keys, ammo etc…
As for the music, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a H.P.Lovecraft- themed WAD. It’s quiet, creepy and ambient.
All in all, this is a rather cool WAD even if it is let down by annoying level design in some parts. Even so, this WAD certainly tries to be as Lovecraftian as possible and it succeeds about half of the time. It’s fun, occasionally challenging and kind of cool.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about maybe get a four.