Mini Review: “Pinnacle Of Darkness” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

2016 Artwork Pinnacle Of Darkness WAD review sketch

Well, I thought that I should probably review another “Doom” WAD, since it’s been a couple of weeks at least (and because the novelty value had finally worn off of “Brutal Doom” again). So, at the time of writing, I’m playing a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD called “Pinnacle Of Darkness“.

Although this WAD is designed for modern versions of the “GZ Doom” source port, I ended up using the “ZDoom” source port instead. This is mostly because more modern versions of “GZ Doom” won’t work on my computer, whereas some slightly more modern versions of “ZDoom” will. However, apart from a few occasional graphical glitches, this WAD seems to work reasonably well with “ZDoom”.

But, to get the most out of this WAD, you will need a fairly modern PC – since I noticed some significant slowdown in later parts of the WAD (that makes it almost unplayable on older PCs). My computer can run “Doom 3” perfectly well – but, even after lowering the screen resolution, the framerate still dropped to single figures during some critical parts of the level – making the later parts of this WAD pretty much unplayable for me.

As such, I’m probably somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters (?) of my way through this WAD at the time of writing. So, this mini review will only reflect my impressions so far.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Pinnacle Of Darkness”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160412_112418

“Pinnacle Of Darkness” consists of one gigantic level with a new monster, new music and various new textures. Although I’m a fair way through this level, it’s worth bearing in mind that the download for this WAD is about 9-10 megabytes in size, so don’t expect a small level…..

I'm sure that there's probably still a lot more left to explore...

I’m sure that there’s probably still a lot more left to explore…

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it is atmospheric. Everything from the ominously dramatic background music to the abandoned church that you find yourself in at the beginning of the level really add to the gothic atmosphere of this level. This is “Doom” as Romero and/or Carmack intended it to be – “scary, dark and fast” (I can’t remember whether it was Romero or Carmack who came up with this quote). And, yes, there are a few creepy moments in this WAD.

The best one occurs fairly close to the beginning of the level and it serves as a dramatic introduction for the level’s new monster. You walk along a corridor and press a switch but, when you’re walking back, the corridor is suddenly plunged into thick darkness. You can hear hidden doors slide open and the inhuman howling of an unknown number of monsters.

If you’re smart, you’ll remember where the exit to the corridor is and quickly run to it, so you can fight the monsters from a more brightly-lit area as they emerge from the corridor. This, of course, is when you come face-to-face with the “tortured soul”. Although I’ve seen this monster in other “Doom” WADs before, it’s always cool to see non-standard monsters, especially when you don’t expect them.

Although he's more powerful than a pain elemental, he's still considerably less annoying.

Although he’s more powerful than a pain elemental, he’s still considerably less annoying.

Visually speaking, this level is absolutely stunning. Although many of the new textures are included in a fairly subtle way, this level is filled with intricately-designed buildings, cramped courtyards, bewildering balconies and vast, sweeping outdoor areas.

This is probably one of the medium-size outdoor areas, but there are small and large ones too.

This is probably one of the medium-size outdoor areas, but there are small and large ones too.

This secret area almost looks like a gothic version of the landscape from "Blade Runner" :)

This secret area almost looks like a gothic version of the landscape from “Blade Runner” šŸ™‚

This building looks really cool too :)

This building looks really cool too šŸ™‚

In addition to this, the designer of this WAD makes full use of the features included in modern source ports – there are transparent grilles on the floors of balconies, there are floating platforms, there are underwater areas, there are 3D shards of glass beneath broken stained glass windows etc… Seriously, there’s a lot of cool stuff in this WAD.

In terms of level design, what I’ve played of this level has been astonishingly good. Although the level itself is absolutely gigantic, it’s surprisingly difficult to get lost or stuck during most of the parts of the level that I’ve played. All of the areas flow into each other fairly well and there are often all sorts of shortcuts between different parts of the level that can be found with careful searching. Like all great FPS game levels, the emphasis here is firmly on exploration.

And, yes, there are LOTS of places to explore here :)

And, yes, there are LOTS of places to explore here šŸ™‚

As for the difficulty level, this WAD is certainly more on the challenging side of things. This might just be because I’d let my “Doom” playing skills atrophy slightly by mostly playing “Brutal Doom” for the past few weeks (I’d almost forgotten how challenging “Doom II” can be when you don’t have grenades, combat-based health bonuses etc…), but this WAD is considerably more challenging than I expected.

In the earlier parts of the level, this difficulty is achieved by only giving you a very carefully-rationed amount of ammunition and keeping some of the more powerful weapons away from you. In later parts of the level, this difficulty is achieved through both clever monster placement and the traditional method of including reasonable quantities of mid-level monsters.

This is a perfect example of both types of difficulty. The first time you encounter an arch-vile in this level, you are armed with nothing more than the basic shotgun and/or the chaingun. This particular battle is more of a game of strategy than anything else.

This is a perfect example of both types of difficulty. The first time you encounter an arch-vile in this level, you are armed with nothing more than the basic shotgun and/or the chaingun. This particular battle is more of a game of strategy than anything else.

All in all, even though the later parts of it can cause slowdown on older PCs, I really enjoyed what I played of this level. It’s brilliantly atmospheric, it’s enjoyably challenging and it also requires a lot of exploration.

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

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