Mini Review: “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)” [WAD For “Ultimate Doom”]

Well, although I plan to review a game called “Deus Ex: Invisible War” at some point in the future, I realised that it had been a while since I last reviewed any “Doom” WADs. So, not sure what to review, I ended up using the “Random File” feature on the “/idgames archive” until I found a WAD from 1994 called “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)“.

Note: This WAD will only work with “Ultimate Doom” or possibly old copies of the original three-episode version of “Doom”. Since it takes up the E1M1 level slot, it is NOT compatible with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”. However, given the age of the WAD, it is not only compatible with literally any source port [I used “ZDoom”] but also probably the original DOS version of “Doom” too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “HighWire”:

“HighWire” consists of a single short level. Although this vintage level doesn’t feature any new textures, weapons, monsters or music, the level has a couple of interesting features that help to prevent it from becoming monotonous or boring.

The main gameplay innovation in this level is that, for the most part, the only weapon available to you is the rocket launcher. Not only that, large portions of the level take place on narrow catwalks above pits of radioactive sludge.

Yes, it’s a 90s level for a 90s FPS game, so expect some inventiveness and creativity 🙂

Although this might sound like a cheap trick, it actually makes the level surprisingly enjoyable. Since you also still have a pistol (with fifty bullets, plus the ten in the backpack at the beginning of the level), this makes some parts of the level a little bit more forgiving – especially given that you often have barely any room to run away from monsters if they get too close. But, the limited ammo supply for the pistol also helps to prevent players from relying on it too often. However, this is a level which requires perseverance and strategy in order to beat.

Basically, when you enter an area, you have to start firing rockets almost immediately. Not only that, you also have to work out which monsters you need to shoot first, lest any get too close to you. This allows a short level with a relatively low number of weak to medium strength monsters (eg: imps, lost souls and cacodemons) to include the kind of challenging, strategy-based gameplay that is only usually found in modern “slaughtermap” levels (that contain hundreds or thousands of more powerful monsters). The strict rationing and relative scarcity of health pickups also helps in this regard too.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of “Doom” that a small number of lost souls on the other side of a room is actually a serious challenge to the player!

As for the level design, it’s surprisingly good. Even though this tiny level is basically a progression through about 4-5 rooms of varying sizes, there are a few clever tricks that help to prevent the level design from appearing too linear.

For example, after beating the first series of catwalks, you enter a room with a narrow path surrounded by lava. This helps to provide a little bit of variety to the room design. But, after you’ve fought all of the monsters in this room and pressed the switch, you actually have to go back across the previous room (via a different path) to get to the next room.

Aside from the very beginning and very end of the level, this is the only room without platforms. Yet, the path-based design helps to keep the room thematically consistent, whilst also providing some variety for the player.

Likewise, the next room (a large area with catwalks) is also fairly innovative for the simple reason that you have to fight two “waves” of monsters.

First of all, you have to defeat several lost souls with a rocket launcher. Then ,after you’ve pressed a button, some raised platforms lower and a number of cacodemons appear. This requires a change in strategy, since you can’t really fight all of them. So, you actually have to fight a couple and work out a way to grab two keys before they swarm you.

As I said, in some ways, this level is similar to a modern-style “slaughtermap” level in terms of strategic gameplay – even though it contains relatively few monsters.

Although the level doesn’t contain any new music, one cool feature is that – because it takes up the E1M1 level slot – it features the classic “E1M1” background music. Given that this is an absolutely epic piece of music which is pretty much symbolic of the classic “Doom” games, it really helps to add some extra drama to the level.

All in all, for a tiny level made in 1994, this is actually surprisingly good! Even with a relatively small number of weaker monsters, the clever level and gameplay design here helps to ensure that even experienced players will find it enjoyably challenging.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get at least four.

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