Review: “Skulldash” (Mod/WAD for Doom II/ Final Doom/ Zandronum)

2016 Artwork Skulldash WAD review

Well, although I’d originally planned to review another “Doom II” WAD for today, I eventually ended up looking at a Cacoward-winning WAD (well, techncially, a “PK3”)/ mod called “Skulldash” instead.

For some reason, “Skulldash” only works with the Zandronum source port (I’m usually more of a ZDoom/ GZDoom kind of person). However, you can download a version of “Skulldash” form the developer’s website which also includes the Zandronum source port. All you then have to do is copy your “Doom II”, “Plutonia Experiment” or “TNT Evilution” IWAD into the folder and then click on the “PLAY SKULLDASH” batch file.

So, let’s take a look at “Skulldash”:

Screenshot_Doom_20151231_142705

“Skulldash” is a 30-level WAD (including five secret levels, which I couldn’t find without resorting to cheating) that includes some fairly extensive gameplay modifications – as well as new monsters, weapons, textures, power-ups and music too.

Apart from of some of the boss battles (except the final one), every level of “Skulldash” is a timed challenge where you have to collect at least 75% of the coins scattered around the level and then reach the exit within a time limit. There’s a tutorial level that explains the new gameplay mechanics in more detail than I have done here.

Yes, the gameplay modifications are so extensive that they actually merit a tutorial level at the beginning of the game.

Yes, the gameplay modifications are so extensive that they actually merit a tutorial level at the beginning of the game.

Although I’m not usually keen on the idea of time limits in computer games, the time limits for each level are generous enough to be fair, but short enough to make the levels more challenging. It must have taken a lot of playtesting, but they got the time limits just about right.

As for the coin-based gameplay, this is a lot more exciting than it sounds. Not only does it force you to actually explore each level, but it adds an extra dimension of suspense and strategy to the combat in each level too. Since the main goal of each level is to collect enough coins to activate the exit (within the time limit), deciding whether to fight or flee from any monsters you encounter is a much more significant decision.

The challenge is also increased by the fact that, with one exception, all of the levels are played from a pistol start. In other words, you’ll never know which weapons will be available to you when you start a new level.

Yes, you don't even get a super shotgun on every level.

Yes, you don’t even get a super shotgun in every level.

The coin collecting mechanic is one of the most innovative FPS gameplay modifications that I’ve seen and it kind of reminds me of mainstream gaming in the 1990s, back when major games actually used to include things like innovation and creativity. I’d expected “Skulldash” to be mildly frustrating, but it was actually extremely enjoyable.

“Skulldash” also uses a hub system, which gives you some limited degree of choice about which order you play the levels in. However, you have to complete a group of four levels (in any order), before you can move on to the next group of four levels.

The only problem with this is that you always return to the same part of the hub after completing a level, which can mean that you may have to regularly traipse across the entire hub level in later parts of the game.

The hub level is fairly large and you always re-enter it here, even if the group of levels you're playing is on the other side of the hub.

The hub level is fairly large and you always re-enter it here, even if the group of levels you’re playing is on the other side of the hub.

Another cool thing about this WAD are the levels themselves. Near the beginning of the WAD, you’re dazzled with a plethora of wildly different levels that help to get you interested in playing more. There are Aztec temples, ice caves, moon bases etc…..

Yay! This level looks really cool :)

Yay! This level looks really cool 🙂

And so does this one too :)

And so does this one too 🙂

However, as the WAD progresses, many of the levels start to have a bit of a generic “Doom”/”Quake”-style look to them. However, there are at least a few interesting-looking levels later in the WAD – such as this sci-fi level which includes low gravity and a really cool skybox.

Seriously, this is one of the best skyboxes that I've seen in a while!

Seriously, this is one of the best skyboxes that I’ve seen in a while!

But, even though some of the levels may look a bit bland, the level design itself is absolutely top notch.

There are levels with a smaller number of well-hidden coins and there are levels with hundreds of coins that you have to rush through as quickly as you can. There are levels where all of the monsters are frozen until you’ve walked to the other side of the level. There are slightly puzzle-based levels. There are action-based levels. There are smaller levels and there are larger levels.

Seriously, the level design in this WAD is pretty much professional quality.

As for the new monsters – if you’ve played a few other “Doom” WADs, then you’ll recognise many of them. There are dark imps, super shotgun zombies, modified cacodemons etc… Even though there (mostly) isn’t anything significantly new here, it’s always great to see a WAD that contains more than just the standard monsters.

On the plus side, some of the bosses (like this one) seem to be totally new. However, one of them is a modified boss from "Duke Nukem 3D"

On the plus side, some of the bosses (like this one) seem to be totally new. However, one of them is a modified boss from “Duke Nukem 3D”

The new power-ups are fairly interesting and they include things like a “strength” power-up (whatever that does), a terror sphere, damage reflection etc… However, these new power-ups are extremely rare, which probably explains why I don’t remember a huge amount about them.

There are about three new weapons too. You can find a railgun, an enhanced version of the chaingun and a grenade launcher. The grenade launcher is probably the most innovative of the new weapons, for the simple reason that it functions a lot like a rocket launcher (but with a more limited range and slightly bouncier rockets).

 I'm still not sure whether I prefer this to the "ordinary" rocket launcher or not.

I’m still not sure whether I prefer this to the “ordinary” rocket launcher or not.

The music is, quite simply, amazingly cool. Each song goes really well with each level and the soundtrack contains some really outstanding tracks.

But, all of the new monsters, new weapons and awesome music are nothing more than the icing on the cake. As well as the excellent level design, the thing that truly makes “Skulldash” stand out from the crowd are the innovative gameplay modifications.

If I had to give “Skulldash” a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

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