As regular readers of this site know, I tend to write these articles ridiculously far in advance. Likewise, I try to include at least one “Doom II” WAD review/mini review here every month.
I’m mentioning this because, on Christmas morning last year, I was greeted with a really cool surprise – an early beta of a WAD called “Dead. Air” , which is the sequel to a really cool cyberpunk WAD I reviewed last year called “Dead.Wire” 🙂 And, yes, I know that I’ve still got to finish and review “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” too.
As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Likewise, there’s probably an even better updated version of “Dead.Air” out there by the time that this article eventually goes out. Still, for historical reasons if nothing else, I’ll be looking at this earlier version.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dead. Air [Beta V.1]”:
Like with it’s predecessor, “Dead.Air” is a single-level cyberpunk horror WAD that includes new weapons, sounds, textures, monsters etc… One of the first things that I will say about “Dead. Air” is that it is much more of a horror-themed WAD than it’s predecessor was.
At the beginning of the level, you start out in an ominously quiet area, consisting of a darkened room and several gloomy grey corridors. Not only are you partially invisible, but the automap is clouded too. You have no weapon.
Soon, you find a weak “Quake II”-style infinite ammo laser pistol. Then you hear the howls of monsters. But, for a second, you can see nothing. Then it dawns on you – the monsters are partially invisible just like you…..
After exploring this mysterious area for a while and fighting some monsters, you’ll reach the main part of the level and this is cyberpunk horror FPS gaming at it’s finest. The main level takes place within a giant city-like area, with several large futuristic side areas that you’ll visit at various points.
One of the first things that you’ll notice is that the monsters both look, and sound, a lot creepier than usual. But, somehow, the new cacodemons still manage to be adorable though 🙂
Not only do the monsters look creepier, but some been tweaked slightly too. For example, the new version of the pinky demon has a significantly more powerful attack than usual. So, keeping your distance from them becomes much more essential than it normally is in “Doom II”. Although it sounds like a small difference, it transforms a mildly annoying creature into a formidable foe that will force you to use new tactics.
Another cool change is the fact that all of the weapons have been replaced. The pistol has been replaced with a suitably awesome machinegun. The super shotgun has been replaced by something that is like a cross between the shotgun from “Painkiller” and the flak cannon from “Unreal Tournament”.
The chaingun has been replaced with a nailgun. The rocket launcher has been replaced by a *meh* grenade launcher. The plasma cannon has been replaced by something a bit more powerful. And the BFG has been replaced by… this:
But, best of all, that weak “Quake II”-style infinite ammo pistol I mentioned earlier can be upgraded! You’ll find upgrades for it hidden throughout the level (I found about four or five of them) and they will gradually turn it into a weapon that is actually useful. Seriously, I love the new weapons in this WAD 🙂
In terms of the level design, it’s really good. Yes, the level channels you towards various arena-like set pieces, but large parts of it still manage to be fairly non-linear. There’s also a good variety of ominously gothic areas, futuristic city areas and awesome 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk areas (which have really cool red/green/blue and black colour schemes):
The only fault I could find with the level design was the fact that the epic final battle (featuring about 8 cyberdemons!) has so much stuff happening in it that if, like me, you’re using an old computer then it will slow down to an absolute crawl.
Since this slowdown rendered this part of the level unplayable, I was forced to use cheats to get through it. Still, if you’ve got a more modern machine, then it’s probably a lot more awesome. The ending to this level is really cool too, and actually includes a small cutscene (of sorts).
As for the gameplay, it’s as challenging as you would expect for a modern “Doom II” level. That is, to say, it isn’t for beginners! If, like me, you’re a moderately experienced player then it will probably take you 1-2 hours to complete this level on medium difficulty.
One cool thing about the gameplay in this level is that it includes both “traditional style” gameplay (eg: exploration, puzzle-solving, a moderate number of monsters) and more modern-style “slaughtermap” areas (eg: linear arenas with lots of monsters). Since I love both styles of gameplay, I really liked how this level was able to include both (albeit more of the latter) but I thought that I’d mention it nonetheless.
All in all, even though this was an early version of the level, it’s still really cool. Yes, it lacks some of the claustrophobic atmosphere that “Dead.Wire” had, but it more than makes up for this with all of the cool stuff that you will encounter when you play this level. The first part of the level is genuinely creepy and both the the monster design and weapon design is stunningly good. Yes, the last part is virtually unplayable on older computers, but it’s still a really cool level nonetheless.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.