Review: “Beta Labs” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/”GZ Doom”)

2015 Artwork Doom beta labs review sketch

Well, I thought that I’d check out another “Doom” WAD for today and I eventually ended up stumbling across a WAD for the original “Doom” (or, rather the “Ultimate Doom” version of the original “Doom”) called “Beta Labs“.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that I used the “GZ Doom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Also, for reasons I’ll explain later, I’ve only played about the first two-thirds of this WAD at the time of writing. So, this review will only reflect my impressions so far.

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

Yes, it even comes with an authentic anti-leak warning.

Yes, it even comes with an authentic anti-leak warning.

As the title suggests, “Beta Labs” is an episode one replacement for “Ultimate Doom” that is heavily inspired by the pre-release beta version of the original “Doom”.

Having done a small amount of research into this version of “Doom” a while back, there were some quite significant differences between the beta and the final version of “Doom”. So, I was interested to see if this WAD would be a good replica of the beta. But, first, let’s take a look at the gameplay and level design.

For the most part, “Beta Labs” is just an old-school “Doom” WAD. Although there are a few new textures here, it looks a lot like a series of “standard” techbase maps. However, like the original plan for “Doom”, these levels each follow on directly from each other and actually look like a functional military base of some kind:

Thankfully, this kind of "realistic" level design wouldn't return until "Doom 3" in 2004.

Thankfully, this kind of “realistic” level design wouldn’t return until “Doom 3” in 2004.

Plus, like in the first episode of the original “Doom”, most of the monsters in “Beta Labs” are fairly low-level. In fact, in the first six levels of this WAD, I’ve only seen about three cacodemons:

A wild Cacodemon appeared!

A wild Cacodemon appeared!

However, despite this, “Beta Labs” can be a surprisingly challenging WAD. The first level begins by starving you of ammo slightly and throwing a large (by 1993 standards, at least) quantity of monsters at you.

In order to beat the very first level, you’re probably going to have to use tactics and strategy more than you might expect (eg: a good trick is to lurge groups of monsters down a corridor and then stand next to the entrance and melee them as they walk through the door one by one).

Yes, back in the old days, THIS apparently counted as a dangerously large number of monsters. Oh, how times have changed...

Yes, back in the old days, THIS apparently counted as a dangerously large number of monsters. Oh, how times have changed…

Likewise, the levels in this WAD include a lot of cramped corridors and small rooms, which can make the combat a lot more challenging than it would be in most modern-style “Doom” WADs. So, don’t be fooled by the fact that this WAD only really contains low-level monsters.

In addition to this, several of the later levels rely on puzzle-based level design very heavily. Given the fact that many of the areas look fairly similar and it isn’t always immediately obvious what each switch does, expect to get confused and spend a long time wandering around aimlessly.

In fact, after about an hour of aimless wandering, I eventually had to resort to using cheat codes in order to get past one of the later parts of level five. And, after getting stuck on part of level six, I eventually ended up abandoning this WAD out of sheer frustration.

Yes, I could only make it as far as this level before I ended up ragequitting.

Yes, I could only make it as far as this level before I ended up ragequitting.

However, saying this, some of these puzzles are kind of cool though. In one part of level five, you’ll end up being trapped in a small room after finding the red key. In order to get out of this room, you need to press a tiny switch that is located on a pillar in the corner of the room. Luckily, this switch shows up on the map screen – but I imagine that this would have been extremely frustrating if it hadn’t.

As for the graphical changes in “Beta Labs”, there are quite a few here and they really help to make this WAD look a lot more like an earlier version of “Doom”.

One of the first things you will probably notice is that, instead of a pistol, the Doomguy carries the same rifle that the basic “zombie” enemies carry. This makes a lot more sense in the context of the game than the basic pistol does and it also looks a lot cooler too. Seriously, why wasn’t this in the original “Doom”?

Yes, the Doomguy is actually carrying standard UAC military weponry in this WAD.

Yes, the Doomguy is actually carrying standard UAC military weponry in this WAD.

Likewise, instead of your fists, your melee weapon is now a bayonet that is attached to the end of the rifle. I don’t know if this is more powerful than your fists are, but it certainly feels a lot more powerful when you use it.

It kind of looks a bit like a pitchfork too. Which fits in PERFECTLY with the hellish atmosphere of the game.

It kind of looks a bit like a pitchfork too. Which fits in PERFECTLY with the hellish atmosphere of the game.

Apart from some minor changes to the shotgun sprite, the only other major change to the weapons I’ve seen is the fact that the chaingun has been replaced with an assault rifle. This looks a lot cooler than the chaingun does and, again, it makes a lot more sense in the context of the game too.

Likewise, the sprites for the armour and health pickups are slightly different too:

Hmmm...The armour now includes protective boots but you somehow STILL take damage if you walk across pools of slime.

Hmmm…The armour now includes protective boots but you somehow STILL take damage if you walk across pools of slime.

Another major change is the fact that, like in the original plans for “Doom”, “Beta Labs” actually contains bonus items.

These bonus items don’t actually do anything, but you can pick up “skull chests” and “dark sceptres” in this WAD. Even though these items are completely useless, they make quite a few areas of the game look a lot cooler just by sheer virtue of being there.

The dark sceptre is to the left of the pillar and the skull chest is to the right of the pillar.

The dark sceptre is to the left of the pillar and the skull chest is to the right of the pillar.

Finally, there have been a couple of small changes to the monsters too. The fireballs that the imps shoot at you look a lot more pixellated and the “lost soul” monsters look way cooler than they did in the final game. Although these changes are fairly subtle, they’re still really cool.

Woo hoo! Somehow, these monsters are more awesome in the beta than they are in the final game.

Woo hoo! Somehow, these monsters are more awesome in the beta than they are in the final game.

All in all, this is an interesting little WAD. If you want to see what “Doom” could have looked like, then it might be worth taking a look at “Beta Labs”. However, the fiendishly difficult puzzles and the lack of visual variety in the level design mean that this WAD isn’t really as enjoyable as it could have been.

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

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