Mini Review: “Phobos Mission Control” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017 Artwork Phobos Mission Control WAD review

Well, I hadn’t planned to review another “Doom” WAD so soon after reviewing the excellent “Ancient Aliens” (seriously, check it out!) but, the day before I originally wrote this review, I learnt that John Romero had made another new level for the original “Doom” called “Phobos Mission Control“.

I know that I’m even more late to the party (thanks to the long lead times on many of these articles) than I was with Romero’s other new map, but I couldn’t exactly ignore another new level from one of the people who actually designed the classic “Doom” games.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. It will probably work with most modern source ports, but it will not work with the original DOS/Win 95 version of “Ultimate Doom”. Plus, due to the way this WAD is set up, it’s unlikely to work with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Phobos Mission Control”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160803_130405

“Phobos Mission Control” is a replacement for E1M4 of the original “Doom”. What this means is that, when you start playing the game, you need to type “IDCLEV14” to skip to level four before you can start playing it (and, yes, since I’m a “Doom II” player, it took me a while to remember how the level skip cheat differs in the first game).

From what I’ve read, John Romero decided to make a replacement for level four both because he could do a few new things with modern source ports for the game and because the original level four was originally designed by both Romero and Tom Hall (the maker of “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” and a host of other awesome retro games, including one called “Anachronox” that I really must get round to playing and reviewing sometime). So, apparently in the interests of completion, Romero remade level four so he could see what the episode would look like if he designed the whole thing.

And, yes, “Phobos Mission Control” is at least slightly more modern in style when compared to the original levels. One of the first things that you will probably notice is that it contains more monsters than you would expect from a classic “Doom” level, as well as a few cool effects – like numbers made out of shadows and light:

 These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it's still a cool touch.

These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it’s still a cool touch.

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. Like in all great FPS games, the level is a non-linear thing that requires exploration – but it also manages to be considerably more streamlined than Romero’s previous new map.

Interestingly, this level also contains a surprisingly interesting maze segment (consisting of lots of lifts and raised platforms) that takes place in a single giant room. Given that this was made with the original “Doom” textures, resources etc.. it’s really impressive, and it’s good to see that Romero hasn’t forgotten his level design skills.

I'm still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room :)

I’m still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room 🙂

Plus, Romero’s trademark jagged patterns make a low-key appearance as crevices in some of the slime pools in this level.

But, although these areas are meant to be instant-death pits, if you happen to be wearing one of the level’s two shielding suits, then you can end up boringly trapped in them with no way out. Given that “Doom” (and possibly even Romero himself) pretty much invented the idea of ‘idiot-proofing’ otherwise inescapable parts of FPS levels, I’d have expected something slightly better here.

Unlike Romero’s “Tech Gone Bad” level, “Phobos Mission Control” is a lot faster, slightly more compact and slightly more thrilling. Seriously, there were only two times that I briefly got stuck on this level – once where it took me three or four minutes to find a switch and once when I underestimated how difficult the final battle would be.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

And, yes, the difficulty level in “Phobos Mission Control” is fairly interesting. By modern standards, it’s perhaps mildly challenging at most. The best way to describe the difficulty level is that it’s like an enjoyably challenging modern map – but with low-level monsters instead of mid or high-level monsters.

If you’re new to “Doom” then playing through this WAD (and “Final Doom” too) is probably a good way to practice before playing most modern levels.

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc...

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc…

However, if you somehow played this level back in the 1990s – with old-school controls, no jumping etc… then I imagine that the difficulty would be considerably higher. So, if you want a challenge, then it might be worth seeing whether this WAD is compatible with the “Doom Retro” source port.

All in all, “Phobos Mission Control” is probably my favourite of the new Romero levels. It’s short, fast and fun. Not only is it cool to see that Romero has made another “Doom” level, but it’s great to see that he hasn’t forgotten a thing about level design either. This level is classic “Doom”, with a slight hint of the best parts of modern “Doom” level design too.

If I had to go through the formality of giving a map by John Romero a rating out of five, it would get five. Because, well, it’s the 2010s and John Romero is still making “Doom” levels 🙂

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