When looking on Google for an ancient Egypt-themed WAD, I happened to find something much cooler. I am, of course, talking about a WAD from July 2016 called “Ancient Aliens” by Skillsaw (who also made an excellent WAD called “Lunatic” and one called “Valiant“).
I write these reviews quite a few months in advance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this WAD already has a Cacoward by the time this review goes out! In fact, it deserves at least two of them! [EDIT: It won a Cacoward in late 2016, but I still think that it should have got two of them]
As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Although I’m guessing that it might work with GZDoom too.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Ancient Aliens”:
“Ancient Aliens” is a 32-level megawad for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” that contains new monsters, textures and music.
The WAD is split into three selectable episodes (“One Last Vision Quest”, “Applied Einstein” and “You’re The Alien Now”) and it actually sort of has a story to it. The story is basically that the Doomguy is investigating some kind of alien conspiracy in the Southern US/Central America.
Although the story becomes slightly more interesting at the end of the WAD, it’s basically just an excuse to blend cheesy 80s sci-fi with lots of cool Aztec/Maya/ Ancient Egypt etc..- style locations. It’s like Iron Maiden’s latest album, but with added “Doom II” 🙂 And, wow!
The first thing that I will say about this WAD is that it looks spectacular (so spectacular, in fact, I used it as an example of good visual design in another article):
But, of course, excellent visual design is nothing without great gameplay. Thankfully, “Ancient Aliens” doesn’t disappoint here either.
Even though this WAD takes a very old-school approach to some of the gameplay mechanics (eg: the episodic structure, the fact that you can’t jump etc..), the level design and gameplay is modern-style “Doom II” at it’s finest!
Not only are almost all of the levels the kind of complex, sprawling non-linear things that you would expect from a real FPS game, but they are also challenging strategy-based levels for experienced players.
What I mean by this is that, especially in the later levels, you’ll need to have an instinctive understanding of the “rules” of “Doom II” if you want to win.
Personally, I absolutely love these kinds of levels. They are levels where you can’t just mindlessly fight all of the monsters, because there are too many. They are levels where you’ll have to use planning, determination and trial-and-error to get out of numerous sticky situations.
They are levels where even the combat itself is more of a puzzle than a simple case of mindless shooting. They are levels where running away is often a better tactic than standing and fighting. They are levels that have a hilariously diabolical sense of humour when it comes to monster placement.
But, if you’re a new or inexperienced player, then you probably shouldn’t play this WAD. Although the levels are fair and expertly balanced, they will most likely seem extremely “unfair” if you don’t know what you’re doing.
But, although the levels are non-linear, they are still filled with too many awesome set-pieces and clever design tricks to mention. For example, one of the levels in the third episode takes place in a floating city of some kind that has to be navigated through a series of floating teleporters.
This level also includes cool things like climbing a rope (sort of), birds that fly across the sky etc… all on an updated version of game engine that originally came from 1993!
Then there’s the ending. I won’t spoil any of it (although I really want to!), but it’s certainly one of the coolest, quirkiest, funniest and most well-designed endings that I’ve seen in a “Doom II” WAD.
The only problem I had with the level design was that my computer wasn’t quite fast enough to run level 23 at a decent speed.
Since this WAD relies on split-second reflexes and ultra-fast strategy, even the slightest slowdown can render a level unplayable. So, unfortunately, I had to skip this level using cheats. But, if you’ve got a fast computer, then it really is a level of genuinely epic proportions.
The gameplay is also kept fresh by the addition of two new recurring monsters. Although both of these monsters have a low amount of health, they have surprisingly powerful attacks that can really catch you off-guard.
One of these monsters is a semi-invisible alien soldier with a powerful plasma attack. The other is a beefed-up version of the “lost soul”, who can fire rockets at you and will often explode dangerously either upon death or upon touching you.
Some of the “ordinary” monsters have also received a bit of a makeover too. Both the arachnatron and the mancubus now have much creepier-looking textures, even if they are still pretty much the same monsters as usual. The arachnatron’s plasma projectiles are also pink – which fits in really well with the colour palette of many of the levels.
As for the music, it’s reasonably good. Most of the time, the music really fits in well with the style of each level (eg: the “Ancient Egypt” level in episode 3 features Ancient Egypt-style music etc..), although I sometimes thought that the music was a little bit too upbeat and cheerful.
What the earlier levels of this WAD really need is a MIDI version of the title track from Iron Maiden’s “The Book Of Souls” album. Then again, this is the smallest of small complaints.
All in all, this WAD is a masterpiece! If someone had designed a “Doom II” WAD specifically for me, it would look a lot like this one. As well as astonishingly good visual design, the gameplay is exactly the kind of challenging, fast-paced strategic thing that experienced “Doom” players will love.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get five and a half.