Review: “Butcher” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

[Well, due to a scheduling mishap, enjoy this bonus review today. Apologies in advance if there’s an article/review missing on any day in the future (and I’m still not sure why there were two scheduled for today).]
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Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“The Deep” by Nick Cutter), I thought that I’d take the chance to look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. After all, it’s been about three weeks or so since my last WAD review.

And, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /Idgames Archive, I found myself looking at a WAD from 1995 called “Butcher” by none other than Milo Casali, of “Final Doom” fame 🙂

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, given the level’s age, it will probably run on pretty much any source port. In fact, it’ll probably run on the original DOS version of “Doom II” too.

So, let’s take a look at “Butcher”:

As you may have already guessed, this is an earlier “work in progress” version of level nine from Final Doom’s “The Plutonia Experiment” episode. Given that this is my favourite ‘official’ Doom II episode (especially the twenty-ninth level, “Odyssey Of Noises”) and it is an episode that I’ll replay every now and then, it was really cool to see an earlier version of part of it 🙂

For the most part, the level is pretty much identical to level nine of “The Plutonia Experiment”. In other words, it is a reasonably challenging and slightly non-linear medium-length level that contains a few small arena-style battles, some well-placed monster closets and a few moments of more claustrophobic combat.

So, yes, it’s the same traditional – but challenging – type of “Doom II” level that you would expect 🙂

Given how amazingly fun, well-designed and re-playable “The Plutonia Experiment” is, playing this level was an absolute joy – even if I already knew where everything was and how to complete it. But, I suppose that I should probably talk about the differences between this level and the final commercial version of it.

In short, there aren’t many. Although the comments on the web page for the level tipped me off to the fact that the very final room of the level is smaller, easier and more primitive than the final version, the only other difference I was able to spot was the fact that the items in the secret area in the blue key room were slightly different.

Yes, the level is a lot more generous here, compared to the finished version.

The most noticeable difference is this final room. Not only is it smaller and less complex, but there are also far fewer monsters too.

All in all, there isn’t that much to say about this level. If you’re a fan of “The Plutonia Experiment”, then it is an interesting curio. If you’ve never played “Final Doom”, then this level will give you a taste of what to expect from the best official “Doom” game. Yes, the official version of this level is marginally better than this earlier “work in progress” version, but it is still an incredibly fun level 🙂

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

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Review: “Impact” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Linesman” by S. K. Dunstall), I thought that I’d take the chance to take a quick look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD.

So, after clicking the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a couple of times, I ended up with a single-level WAD from 2017 called “Impact“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this level. However, since this is a “vanilla” level (eg: it only uses the standard textures, monsters etc..), it will probably work with pretty much any source port and/or mods that you want (although, obviously, I didn’t use mods in this review).

So, let’s take a look at “Impact”:

“Impact” is a short single-level WAD that, according to the accompanying text file, is both the mapper’s first map and an attempt to create an introductory level for new players that also follows John Romero’s design principles. And, when viewed with these things in mind, the level actually works reasonably well.

Needless to say, this is a very easy level. But, whilst experienced players will blaze through it in less than five minutes, the moderate number of low-level monsters will probably present a bit of an enjoyable challenge for inexperienced players.

It’s probably more challenging than the original “E1M1”, but reasonably easy compared to most other levels.

For an easy introductory level, this level actually has a fairly good monster progression, weapon progression and difficulty curve, since the level initially starts by throwing smaller groups of zombies and imps at the player, before a rather cool set-piece featuring a room lined with zombies (where the player is given a chaingun) and a short final segment that also includes a pink “demon” monster too.

If you’re a new player, then I imagine that this set piece will probably be a lot more intense/dramatic.

In terms of level design, this level is very short and very linear…. just like E1M1 from the original “Doom”, which seems to be one of it’s inspirations. There are a couple of very small side areas to explore at the beginning, but the level progresses along a single, focused path. Given that this is meant to be an easy level for new players, this is probably a good design choice.

Still, there are a good variety of areas here (including a cracked floor that reminded me a little of Romero’s modern WADs, like “Tech Gone Bad) that keep the level visually interesting and help to create a sense of progression.

This cracked floor looks really cool, plus the raised area is a tantalisingly visible part of a secret area too.

Likewise, one cool feature of this level is that several secret areas are clearly visible, but difficult to get to – which provides a little bit of extra challenge and/or replay value. Not only that, this sort of thing is also a cool homage to the level design of the original “Doom” too.

All in all, this level fulfils it’s goals really well – it is a forgivingly easy and short introductory level that is also a bit of a homage to the original “Doom” too. Yes, if you’re an experienced player, then this level will just be three minutes of mindlessly easy fun. But, I can imagine that it will probably be a lot more enjoyable and a bit more challenging for the novice players that it is aimed at.

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

Review: “Frost Bitten” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “MBF Engine” [?]/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel that I plan to review (a Lovecraftian “Scooby Doo” parody called “Meddling Kids” By Edgar Cantero), I thought that I’d take a look at a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. After all, it has been a little under a month since my last WAD review and, well, tradition is tradition.

So, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I ended up with a level from 1999 called “Frost Bitten“.

Although this WAD was apparently designed for a source port I’d never even heard of before called “MBF Engine”, it was mostly functional with the “ZDoom” source port that I usually use. However, one feature mentioned in the readme file (friendly monsters) didn’t work with ZDoom.

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

“Frost Bitten” is a single-level WAD that also includes some new textures and features. It’s a short to medium-length level with some cool lighting, cool area design and a reasonably good variety of gameplay styles too.

Seriously, the lighting here is really awesome 🙂

As for the level design, the level is non-linear enough to be interesting but it flows really well enough that you won’t really get lost. The level design is also used to add challenge to the level in a few interesting ways, some of which are cool and some of which are a little bit cheap.

On the plus side, the level features this wonderfully tense segment where you have to explore a dark and claustrophobic air vent maze (which doesn’t show up on the in-game map) that is patrolled by spectres. Since you can usually hear the monsters, but can’t see them, and since you’ll probably also have relatively limited health and weapons, this segment of the level is surprisingly suspenseful and even borders on scary at times 🙂

Yes, this part of the level is actually scary 🙂

On the downside, there are a couple of cheap moments. Whether it is a (relatively) close-quarters Cyberdemon fight or a segment where you have to jump into a fast-flowing stream of blue radioactive waste and then stop moving at exactly the right moment to avoid certain death (and, yes, it’ll require a bit of trial and error), the level does occasionally include some cheap difficulty.

In terms of the general difficulty of the level, it’s probably moderately challenging at the very most. Experienced players won’t have too much trouble with this level and, even the Cyberdemon fight that I mentioned isn’t exactly unfair. You’re given enough ammo and just enough cover, but expect a relatively long fight with lots of trial and error.

If you’re an experienced player, then this fight isn’t exactly difficult. But, it is kind of time-consuming….

The new textures are reasonably good and they mostly consist of small signs, vending machine logos etc.. in addition to some rather cool snowy outdoor areas too. The best one of these is probably at the beginning of the level, where there is actually animated “snow” that hangs in the air. Although the animation is relatively basic, it still looks really cool and I wish that it had been used in the other wintery parts of the level.

Seriously, why wasn’t this in the later parts of the level too?

As mentioned earlier, I couldn’t get the “friendly monsters” feature to work with the source port I used – but some of the other features still worked. These mostly include things like underwater areas, small air vents and raised passageways which the Doomguy will automatically crouch into or jump onto when you walk up to them etc… Although this stuff might not sound that impressive these days, it was probably quite a technical achievement in 1999.

All in all, this is a fairly cool level 🙂 Yes, it does have a few annoying or frustrating moments, but if you want a reasonably interesting short-medium length level that includes the kind of features you don’t see that often in 1990s Doom WADs, then this one might be worth taking a look at.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just get a four.

Review: “Xmas 2004” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GLBoom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review (“Heresy” by S.J.Parris), I thought that I’d take the chance to review another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. And, after clicking on the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I ended up finding a WAD from 2004 called “Xmas 2004“.

Since the weather was annoyingly hot again, I was in the mood for something wintery and, since Christmas 2004 was one of my favourite Christmases, I decided to take a look at this WAD.

Although the WAD’s attached text file recommends using the “GLBoom” source port (which is part of “PRBoom”), I couldn’t get this to work on my computer. So, instead, I ended up using the “ZDoom” source port (after having issues with using the WAD with an older version of “GZDoom”). As such, the lighting in the screenshots in this review may not reflect the intended experience.

Likewise, since the “Wolf 3D” enemies from Doom II’s secret level are used as the basis for the “elf” enemies, this WAD may have issues when played with versions of “Doom II” that do not include this secret level.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Xmas 2004”:

“Xmas 2004” is a seven-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” that contains new sprites, textures, end level screens and music. One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that, whilst it does have a few cool elements, it really isn’t that great overall (for several reasons).

I suppose that I should start with the good parts of this WAD, which are the location design, the music and the hub system.

Although the hub system means that, out of the seven levels, only two of them are actual full-length levels, the fact that the Doomguy returns to his apartment (and checks his e-mails) between levels is kind of a cool touch. In addition to this, the new music (a mixture of easy listening, Jingle Bells and relaxing Christmas music) really helps to add a festive atmosphere to the levels too.

Plus, another good thing about this WAD is the location design. Seriously, I absolutely love both the level of visual detail in this WAD and the wonderfully gloomy festive locations too. Yes, this WAD does include a few annoying invisible walls, but there are some really cool-looking locations here:

Woo hoo! This looks wonderfully Christmassy 🙂

Seriously, I really love the location design here 🙂

And this area looks really awesome too 🙂

But, these are the only good things I can say about this WAD. Everything else about it really isn’t that great. I should probably start with the actual gameplay, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of badly-handled difficulty.

Not only is there a paucity of health power-ups here (I only found about four stimpacks in the entire WAD and actually had to use the “Give Health” cheat at one point!), but it is also one of those WADs that includes wide open areas with lots of hitscan enemies who can snipe you from a distance. This is further compounded by the fact that the “elf” enemies in one level are absolutely tiny and therefore more difficult to hit.

Not to mention that there are loads of them too…

Then, there are this WAD’s “comedy” elements. It makes unsophisticated, clumsy and/or imperfect attempts at the “edgy” humour that was more popular in the 1990s/early 2000s – with little to none of the depth, creativity and/or thought that can be found in these older works.

There’s no intelligent social satire here, no creatively-expressed irreverent criticisms – just a few cringe-worthy “politically incorrect” elements (eg: stereotypical “gang member” enemies in one level etc…) which seem to be there for the sake of shock value and some crude jokes, random drug references etc…

In addition to this, the level design is a little bit annoying. Whilst the levels are thankfully non-linear, the combination of wide open spaces, numerous doors that cannot be opened and some slightly hidden level-critical areas means that the levels can be a bit annoying sometimes. Yes, if you explore a bit, then you’ll be able to work out where to go next, but a few elements of the level design seem a little bit obtuse at times.

Although, saying that, one of the levels quite literally tells you where to go.

All in all, whilst this WAD contains some cool-looking areas, it really isn’t that much fun to play. This is a WAD with badly-handled difficulty, occasionally frustrating level design and some cringe-worthy elements, which really isn’t as enjoyable to play as other Christmas-themed WADs like “Mori Christmas” and “Xmas Doom 2015“.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a two.

Review “The Phantom Of The Opera” (WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Fall Of Night” by Jonathan Maberry), I thought that I’d take the chance to look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD, since it’s been about two or three weeks since my last WAD review.

And, after clicking the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a couple of times, I ended up with a single-level WAD from 2005 called “The Phantom Of The Opera“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port to play this WAD, although it will probably work with almost any other source port. However, since this WAD uses a couple of the WW2-themed “Wolfenstein 3D” textures and enemies from Doom II’s secret levels, this WAD may not work with censored versions of the game (eg: the BFG edition and/or the German version of the game).

So, let’s take a look at “The Phantom Of The Opera”:

The level takes place in two different areas, an opera house-style area and some underground tunnels/crypts.

Given that the level only uses the standard textures (including the “Wolf 3D” ones from the secret levels), these areas are fairly well-designed and they look reasonably close to what they are supposed to be (for example, in order to progress to part of the opera house, you have to walk through a curtain. Likewise, there’s a boat that teleports you to another part of the level etc..).

What do you mean, unsafe? It looks perfectly seaworthy to me!

And, for something made with the standard textures, this opera house looks pretty impressive, if a little small.

In addition to this, the level also tries to add a bit of visual/combat variety by using a couple of enemies and a portrait from Doom II’s WW2-themed “Wolfenstein 3D” secret levels.

But, although this WW2-related stuff adds a bit of extra content to the level, it does seem at least slightly out of place in a level that is supposed to be set in 19th century France.

The level design itself is reasonably good, with the level being a non-linear level which is also small/streamlined enough that you’ll never really get lost. Like in any classic “Doom II” level, you’ll be searching for keys in order to progress (and these are pretty easy to find). Likewise, there are a few secrets to find too. Although the very first one is pretty easy to find, there’s a well-designed secret involving a piano/organ, which was kind of cool.

The level’s difficulty is kind of interesting. Although there aren’t that many monsters, the level achieves a certain level of challenge by heavily rationing the amount of ammo available to you.

If you find the blue health sphere near the beginning of the level, then this won’t be too much of a problem – but this is one of those levels where you have to know when to fight and when to run. This is especially true in the final segment of the level, when you are faced with multiple arch viles (and have little to no ammo).

Well, it wouldn’t be a “Doom II” level without THESE!

Surprisingly, this adds a bit of extra fun to the level, since you’ll have to use all of the reflexes and tactics that you’ve learnt from playing other levels. Likewise, the sheer number of arch viles near the end means that the final segment is much more like a basic puzzle (eg: you have to work out what to do and how to do it quickly) than a combat segment, since you can’t possibly fight all of the arch viles.

Even so, experienced players will find this level to be very much on the easier side of things. Even so, it’s still fairly fun.

In terms of music, this level uses the standard “Doom II” music – which is kind of annoying, given that it is meant to be based on The Phantom Of The Opera.

All in all, this is a fun and well-designed – but rather short and relatively easy level – that is a fun way to spend 10-15 minutes. It’s interesting to see someone trying to recreate The Phantom Of The Opera (even with some anachronistic WW2-era elements).

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just get a four.

Review: “Denial” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, due to the hot weather, it’s taking me a bit longer to read the next book I’m planning to review (“Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” by Natasha Rhodes) than I expected. So, for the final review of the month, I thought that I’d take a quick look at another “Doom II” WAD. After all, it’s been a few weeks since my last WAD review.

So, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive a few times, I ended up with a single-level “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD from 2006 called “Denial“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it’ll probably work with most modern source ports. Likewise, since it’s a “vanilla” WAD (eg: it only uses the standard textures, monsters, weapons etc..), it’ll also work with many mods (like “Brutal Doom” etc..) too.

So, let’s take a quick look at “Denial”:

“Denial” is a medium length single-level WAD which, for some bizarre reason, takes up the level 28 slot. What this means is that, when you start the game, you’ll have to type “IDCLEV28” to skip to this level (if you don’t want to play levels 1-27). I’ve never quite understood why some WAD designers do this. If it’s a single-level WAD, then it should be level one!

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it’s a lot of fun. It’s a mildly-moderately challenging level that will probably take you an hour or so to complete. It’s a perfect level if you’re slightly out of practice, if the weather is a little bit too hot or if you don’t have too much time. Likewise, if you’re a more inexperienced player, then this level will probably be quite an enjoyable challenge.

But, if you’re a more experienced player, then you’ll get to feel like an expert when you play this mildly challenging level.

A lot of the level’s challenge is achieved through careful weapon/ammo/health placement, claustrophobic design and well-planned monster encounters. Although you’ll mostly encounter low-level monsters throughout the level, these segments still remain mildly challenging due to the number of these monsters (eg: small hordes of them), the cramped locations you fight them in and/or their hitscan attacks.

Seriously, this segment might look really easy, but there’s very little cover to hide behind…

Still, the level throws a few mid-high level monsters and/or small arena fights at you occasionally in order to keep you on your toes. Even so, don’t expect the large numbers of monsters that you’d normally see in a more challenging modern WAD. But, saying this, the level still includes the obligatory Arch-Vile too 🙂

Seriously, no “Doom II” WAD is truly complete without one of these 🙂

In terms of the level design, this WAD is reasonably good. Not only is the level an old-school non-linear level, but there’s also a good mixture of claustrophobic corridors and small-medium size arena areas too.

The bulk of the level is spent trying to find one key – which can sometimes lead to you getting lost or stuck, although this thankfully doesn’t last too long (thanks to the size of the level). But, once you’ve found the key, then the level becomes a lot more straightforward – with the other two locked doors being fairly close to the first one.

Still, it’s always awesome to see FPS game maps that look like this 🙂

The level also includes a couple of basic switch puzzles and a few fairly obvious secret areas too, which help to keep things interesting (since they’ll sometimes allow you to glimpse later parts of the level). Plus, whilst this WAD can probably be played using a more “traditionalist” approach, if you want to get the plasma rifle, then you’ll need to use a source port that allows you to jump.

Luckily, this wall of switches doesn’t seem to be a combination puzzle 🙂

I’m pretty sure that you can’t get this without jumping, although there might be a hidden teleporter or something.

All in all, this is a reasonably fun and well-designed level that will provide an hour or so of mildly-moderately challenging fun. Yes, you might get lost or stuck for a few minutes, but it’s always good to see an old-school non-linear level that requires you to explore 🙂

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

Review: “Unruly Evil” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/”ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Bring Up The Bodies” By Hilary Mantel), I thought that I’d take the chance to review another “Doom II” WAD, since it’s been about three weeks or so since my last WAD review.

So, after clicking on the “Random File” button on the /idgames Archive Database a few times, I ended up finding a WAD from 2006 called “Unruly Evil“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Since it seems to be designed specifically for ZDoom, I don’t know how well it will work with other source ports (although I guess that ZDoom-based source ports, like GZDoom, might possibly be ok).

So, let’s take a look at “Unruly Evil”:

“Unruly Evil” is a short to medium length single-level WAD which includes a few new features/mechanics.

It also, for some bizarre reason, takes up the Map 28 slot – so, when you start the game, you’ll have to type “IDCLEV28” to skip to this level (or play through the first 27 levels of “Doom II” or “Final Doom”) before you can get to this level.

Yes, if you see something like this, just type “IDCLEV28”. And, yes, I’m using “Final Doom” (because “The Plutonia Experiment” is awesome 🙂 )

One of the first things that I will say about “Unruly Evil” is that, according to the accompanying text file, it was apparently made as a tech demo to show how a level editor called “DCK 3.62” can use some ZDoom-specific features. And, as a tech demo, it’s pretty cool. But, as a level, it isn’t really that great.

Ok, it has some good moments but, on the whole, it’s kind of… meh.

The main features that this WAD shows off include enemies that can turn invisible, in-game text and underwater areas (with an accompanying oxygen mechanic). For the time that this WAD was released, I can see how they would have been fairly impressive. However, whilst it’s neat that this level shows all of this stuff off, it does ruin the gameplay somewhat.

For starters, the enemies that can phase in and out of visibility at will are an impressive feature. However, they are more than a little bit frustrating, due to the fact that they can suddenly pop up out of nowhere without warning. Whilst this does add a little bit of extra challenge and tension to the level, the way it is implemented (eg: with no spectre-like silhouettes when the monsters are invisible) can come across as a cheap, annoying and unfair way of adding difficulty.

Likewise, the in-game text is a rather cool feature. However, it often relays obvious instructions to the player – which can come across as patronising at times. And, when combined with the reasonably linear design of the level, this makes the level feel less like a “Doom II” level and more like a caricature of a more modern FPS game. Still, this text is used in a rather interesting end-level cinematic… which then crashed ZDoom after it had finished.

However, the dark blue text used here is kind of difficult to read against the gloomy background. The bright yellow text in the rest of the WAD would have been a better choice.

Finally, the underwater area is kind of a neat addition. Still, given that most “Doom II” levels with underwater areas don’t include an oxygen mechanic, expect to get caught out by this when you venture into this area for the first time.

The Doomguy can drown? But what about that spacesuit/oxygen mask that he usually wears?

The level itself is, as I mentioned, somewhat linear (with only a few non-linear elements) and there are a few moderately challenging elements- such as a couple of enjoyable small-medium size arena fights (which, to the level’s credit, feature a Cyberdemon and an Arch-vile).

On the plus side, this is one situation where the in-game text is actually kind of epic.

The level is both generous and stingy when it comes to heath too. Although there are a reasonably number of health packs near the beginning of the level, I didn’t really find many in the later parts. And, since your health is likely to be low during the later parts of the level, the sudden appearance of invisible enemies can result in a frustrating insta-death occasionally.

All in all, this is a pretty cool old tech demo. But, when seen on it’s own merits as a level, it isn’t that great. It’s linear and frustrating. Even so, it’s a cool glimpse into the history of “Doom II” modding, source ports etc…

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get two and a half for the level design but four for the features.