Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d take a look at a wonderfully ghoulish
“Doom II” “Heretic” WAD from 2017. Yes, you heard me correctly – “Heretic“. I think that this may well be a first for this blog.
As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD (since “Heretic” uses the same engine as “Doom”). [EDIT (10/5/19): The WAD is intended to be played with GZDoom. I’ve also just updated the review title to reflect this].
Plus, since I write these reviews quite far in advance, it’s possible that this WAD may have been updated in between the time I prepared this review and posted it (the version I played was version 2.3).
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Ghoul School 3D”:
“Ghoul School 3D” is a large two-episode WAD (with each episode being one level spread seamlessly over several maps) that is a FPS-style remake of an old NES game called “Ghoul School”.
The story of episode one is that you play as a high school student called Spike, whose school has been overrun with ghouls, zombies and ghosts. Not only that, his crush Samantha has gone missing too! In the second episode, the school has been overrun with eyeball monsters due to the Necronomicon developing polyps…
One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it has personality! Not only does it have a wonderfully cheesy “1980s movie”-style atmosphere, it also features a variety of quirky and inventive weapons. There’s also a lot of humourous dialogue and (on a couple of occasions) voice-acting too.
Yes, even though it is a “Heretic” WAD, it includes “Strife“-style text dialogue trees (which you need to use to find mission objectives).
Although I initially worried that this WAD would consist of maze-like corridor-based style level design, it actually contains a surprising variety of different areas.
Interestingly, the second episode re-uses some familiar locations – but with a variety of changes. This feeling of “familiar, but different” is really cool and it helps to add some depth to the game’s “world”.
In addition to this, despite the “retro” style, this is a WAD that actually requires jumping to be enabled. Fortunately though, there’s relatively little in the way of first-person platforming though.
The level is fairly non-linear, with the school serving as a hub area that you revisit between exploring other areas. In the first episode, this area is populated by students, teachers and endlessly-respawning monsters.
I’m in two minds about the respawning monsters – on the one hand, they keep the tension up and help to keep this area interesting. On the other hand, if you spend too long in a room, expect the entrance to be blocked by a crowd of them when you try to leave. In the second episode, this is less of an issue though.
Interestingly, several new areas of this hub level are also available to explore during the second episode – including a large sports stadium, a basketball court, several outdoor areas and an extra classroom or two.
If you haven’t guessed from my mention of a hub area, this WAD is probably more close to “Hexen” than “Heretic” in terms of gameplay. And, yes, that means *groan* puzzles.
Although there aren’t a gigantic number of puzzles, there are more than you would expect. Whilst some of the first episode’s puzzles are challenging but solvable (eg: the bookcase tower puzzle, the teleporting monster puzzle and the “sacrifices” puzzle) because of small clues nearby, I got completely and utterly stuck on at least two occasions and was forced to resort to using cheats.
In the second episode, I was forced to use cheats again – both to solve a puzzle (how on earth are you meant to get into the rat warren?) and because the sheer number of simultaneous fire effects in one large map slowed my framerate to below one (and, yes, I’m using an older computer. But, well, this is a mod for a game from 1994!). This then caused the game to get stuck in an unwinnable state (because a teleporter wouldn’t activate), which necessitated further use of cheat codes.
I also solved at least one puzzle (eg: what to do with the red orb in the first episode) by accident too. Likewise, if you use the “raven logo” item in the first episode anywhere other than in one very specific area in the first episode, then you can easily end up permanently stuck too.
Plus, a few parts of the game require you to use the school’s intercom system to open new areas. Although this sounds fairly easy, the intercom machine in one location has other machines nearby (which do nothing when you use them). So, finding it for the first time can be a matter of trial and error.
Likewise, you can find “Zelda”-style locked chests throughout the level that can be opened with golden keys that are hidden in various locations. Although I didn’t get to open every box, they usually just give you extra health, ammo and/or weapons.
In terms of the new monsters, they’re really cool. In addition to several varieties of ghoul, there are also zombies, burning zombies, zombie soldiers, eyeball mutants, fiery flying monsters, giant skulls, rats, tesla coils, ghosts, bosses etc.. too. Seriously, there’s a really cool variety of monsters here.
Some monsters also have weapon-specific vulnerabilities. For example, the WAD’s “lost soul”-style ghosts take more damage from fire, lasers and water. The water-based vulnerability also applies to the burning zombies too (although they can be killed with other weapons, if you want to waste ammo), and it’s a really cool gameplay feature.
As for the new weapons, they’re really good too. Although some of them re-use sprites from various other 1990s FPS games, they fit into the game’s setting really well and are fairly satisfying to use. They include a baseball bat, a Super Soaker filled with holy water, a rivet gun, a spray can flamethrower, a magic-based attack and a badass laser gun.
In terms of music and sound design, this WAD is really good too 🙂 In addition to some interesting “vintage horror”-style theremin music in one area, one cool feature is that one of the bosses actually has voice-acting, and it is hilarious. I can’t remember the exact wording, but he says something like “Nothing can destroy me… except death” when you kill him. Likewise, Spike will also occasionally say stuff when you pick up weapons and upon death.
All in all, if you’ve got a copy of “Heretic”, then “Ghoul School 3D” is worth checking out. It’s filled with atmosphere, personality, action and humour. The level design is really good too. However, the puzzles can be frustrating at times and one segment of episode two is pretty much unplayable on older computers – so, expect to get stuck or use cheat codes a few times.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four. Because, despite the flaws I’ve mentioned, this WAD has personality, humour, creativity and style. It may have been released in 2017, but I wish that this WAD had been around during the 1990s.