Mini Review: “Dead.Air [Beta V.1 (old version)]” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

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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]”:

screenshot_doom_20161225_030912

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.

Woooo....

Woooo….

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…..

 So much for having an advantage!

So much for having an advantage!

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 🙂

Oh, you! :)

Oh, you! 🙂

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.

Despite not having a functional mouth, they'll still eat you significantly faster than conventional pinky demons.

Despite not having a functional mouth, they’ll still eat you significantly faster than conventional pinky demons.

When confronted with a horde of these creatures, you're basically screwed... unless you can find something to hide behind that they can't get through...

When confronted with a horde of these creatures, you’re basically screwed… unless you can find something to hide behind that they can’t get through…

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:

So many explosions :)

So many explosions 🙂

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):

 For example, in this red area, you have to get rid of all of the monsters before you can leave. Plus, if you fall off the platforms, you'll lose 20 health - but won't die instantly (unless you have less than 20 health, which you soon will - given the number of monsters that appear). Now, THIS is good design!]

For example, in this red area, you have to get rid of all of the monsters before you can leave. Plus, if you fall off the platforms, you’ll lose 20 health – but won’t die instantly (unless you have less than 20 health, which you soon will – given the number of monsters that appear). Now, THIS is good design!]

 Likewise, you can choose which themed area you visit first :)

Likewise, you can choose which themed area you visit first 🙂

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.

Fun fact: This screenshot is only marginally slower than the gameplay was on my (old) computer.

Fun fact: This screenshot is only marginally slower than the gameplay was on my (old) computer.

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).

Yay! Retro horror 1980s CRT monitor goodness :)

Yay! Retro horror 1980s CRT monitor goodness 🙂

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.

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

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Well, I hadn’t planned to review another “Doom II” WAD quite so soon. But, due to a combination of being in a stressed mood and realising that the indie game I’d planned to review soon (“Shadowrun: Dragonfall”) might take a lot longer to complete than I thought, I was in the mood for some “Doom II”. So, I ended up playing a WAD called “Interloper“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it’ll probably run on any modern source port.

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

screenshot_doom_20161203_185054

“Interloper” is a five-level WAD that has apparently been inspired by the new “Doom” game that came out last year. Since I haven’t played that game, I can’t comment on any similarities. So, I’ll be looking at this WAD on it’s own merits.

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it (mostly) seems to be a “vanilla” WAD, with no new textures, weapons, monsters etc… However, during one or two parts of the game, I noticed that it contained better lighting effects than “standard” “Doom II” has. These might be the result of subtle sprite alterations (eg: adding orange highlights to the sprites), or it could be to do with the source port I’m using – but it looks really cool.

Of course, it WOULD look cooler if the surrounding environment was even gloomier. But, still, the added highlights are just about noticeable on the imp standing on the platform.

Of course, it WOULD look cooler if the surrounding environment was even gloomier. But, still, the added highlights are just about noticeable on the imp standing on the platform.

In terms of the gameplay, this WAD is reasonably good. Although this WAD probably won’t take you more than an hour or so to complete, you’ll have a lot of fun in the process. The difficulty level is high enough to be mildly challenging, but low enough to allow this WAD to function as an effective form of stress relief. In addition to this, the WAD actually includes a slight difficulty curve, with each level being slightly more challenging than the last.

As for the actual level design, it’s fairly good. The levels are non-linear enough to require exploration, but they’re also designed in such a way that you are unlikely to get “stuck” for any significant length of time. The only possible exception to this is the very beginning of level two, which features a large pit near the start of the level. This pit seems to have no “idiot proofing” whatsoever and, if you fall into it, you’ll have to re-load a saved game in order to get out of it.

 If there's a lift or a teleport here, I certainly couldn't find it!

If there’s a lift or a teleport here, I certainly couldn’t find it!

But, this aside, the level design here is really good. Some stand-out moments include a large multi-tiered room in level three which obviously required some rather creative programming and/or source port knowledge to create, since it places something like three or four platforms on top of each other in the same room.

 If this level had come out in 1994, it would be put on trial for sorcery!

If this level had come out in 1994, it would be put on trial for sorcery!

Likewise, although this WAD only really uses the “standard” textures, they are used in a way that prevents them from becoming visually monotonous. As well as using a good variety of sci-fi textures and “hell” textures, this WAD also features a few interesting-looking areas too:

Like this creepy red room...

Like this creepy red room…

...Or this ominously damaged corridor.

… Or this ominously damaged corridor.

The most enjoyable levels in this WAD are probably the final two levels. Although an arch-vile appears in level three, the difficulty level only starts to really get fun from the fourth level onwards. Yes, these levels aren’t extremely challenging, but they’re challenging enough to really be fun.

Whilst the fourth level is a fairly well-designed “standard” level, the fifth level is like a very mild version of a “slaughtermap” level, where you’ll be running along a long corridor and fighting a slightly larger number of monsters. This level also features a climactic battle against a weakened spider demon (it took a mere two BFG shots to defeat, although this could be due to prior monster infighting) and two cyberdemons.

Surprisingly, the cyberdemon battle was fairly easy, due to the abundent ammo hidden nearby, the arena-like area and the fact that there are a few low-mid level monsters nearby who will also start fighting the cyberdemons too.

Yes, this final boss battle is a little bit on the easy side, but it'll make you feel like a badass.

Yes, this final boss battle is a little bit on the easy side, but it’ll make you feel like a badass.

All in all, this is a rather fun WAD. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything like that but it’s a solid, well-designed set of levels that will provide you with about an hour or so of amusement.

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

Mini Review: “Urban 2” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”)

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Well, although I plan to review an indie game called “Technobabylon” at some point in the near future, I realised that I’d been neglecting “Doom II”. After all, it’s been over a month since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD. So, in light of this sad situation, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a very short WAD called “Urban 2“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, the WAD may possibly work with the original DOS versions of “Doom II” and “Final Doom”, since it also contains an installer of some kind (although you can just use the “URBAN2” and “URBANGFX” files with ZDoom without using the installer).

So, let’s take a look at “Urban 2”:

screenshot_doom_20161129_180140

As you may have guessed from the screenshot, “Urban 2” is primarily a deathmatch level. However, it does contain a certain amount of single-player content. This includes a defined exit and several monsters to fight. This WAD also contains quite a few new textures and a couple of new item sprites too.

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it looks cool. The thing that drew me to it initially was the fact that it’s meant to look a little bit like “Blade Runner”:

Seriously, WHY are there so few cyberpunk WADs? The only other vaguely cyberpunk WADs I can think of are "Dead.Wire", "Valhalla", "Hacx", "Nerves Of Steel", "Winter's Fury" and a few levels from "Ancient Aliens".

Seriously, WHY are there so few cyberpunk WADs? The only other vaguely cyberpunk WADs I can think of are “Dead.Wire”, “Valhalla”, “Hacx”, “Nerves Of Steel”, “Winter’s Fury” and a few levels from “Ancient Aliens”.

Since it’s primarily intended for deathmatch, this WAD is very short too. You can complete the whole thing in less than ten minutes even if, like me, your “Doom II” skills have atrophied somewhat from lack of practice.

Yes, I have one health point. Since I've mostly been playing "point and click" games, platform games and isometric shooters for the month before writing this review, I even actually had to get used to using FPS controls again!

Yes, I have one health point. Since I’ve mostly been playing “point and click” games, platform games and isometric shooters for the month before writing this review, I even actually had to get used to using FPS controls again!

As a deathmatch level, I imagine that “Urban II” probably works really well. The level is divided into a small “street” arena and a subway station. The street area is a fairly simple square arena, with quite a few cool secret areas, lots of explosive barrels, a few alleyways and several low-level monsters.

The subway area consists of a platform, a track, some low-level monsters and the level exist. However the use of a slime texture for the train tracks is somewhat misleading, since it doesn’t actually damage you when you step on it.

 Yes, it's completely harmless! But, unfortunately, it doesn't also give you a healthy green glow.

Yes, it’s completely harmless! But, unfortunately, it doesn’t also give you a healthy green glow.

As a single-player level, it’s short and fairly easy (even if, as I said, you’re slightly out of practice). Even novice “Doom II” players won’t find much in the way of a challenge here. But, to be honest, there’s more to this level than than combat. Even though it might only take you a few minutes to complete it, it’s worth spending those few minutes just for all of the cool visuals on offer here.

It would have been nice to see a full-length single player level in this style, but even a short deathmatch-based level that looks like "Blade Runner" is worth playing.

It would have been nice to see a full-length single player level in this style, but even a short deathmatch-based level that looks like “Blade Runner” is worth playing.

This graffiti art looks really cool, although the lack of imps in this level is somewhat strange (seriously, there are just zombies here).

In addition to all of the enviromental textures, the level also includes a few improved item sprites too. The rocket, bullet box and super-shotgun pickup sprites all contain changes. These changes are fairly subtle, but they all help to make this WAD look a bit more distinctive. I haven’t seen these textures in any other WADs, so they also have a certain uniqueness to them too.

 This new item texture for the Super Shotgun is probably my favourite. However, the actual weapon sprite is completely unchanged.

This new item texture for the Super Shotgun is probably my favourite. However, the actual weapon sprite is completely unchanged.

All in all, this is an entertaining way to spend five minutes. It looks really cool and the new textures work fairly well too. Yes, it’s probably ten times more fun if you’re playing it multiplayer but it’s still cool to see a deathmatch level that acknowledges the existence of single-player gamers too. For what it is, “Urban II” is a pretty cool little level.

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

Mini Review: “End Point” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

The evening before I wrote this review, I had a couple of hours to spare – so, I thought that I’d check out another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. In the end, I found one called “End Point” that looked like it could be interesting.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it will probably work on most other modern source ports too.

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

screenshot_doom_20161029_163507

“End Point” is a seven-level WAD that contains new textures and music. One of the very first things that I will say about this WAD is that you shouldn’t let the very beginning of level one lull you into a false sense of security. Although it starts out like an old-school ‘ Doom 1’ level, the difficulty level of almost all of this WAD is probably closer to “Final Doom”.

Whilst I was glad that this WAD wouldn’t be too easy, one thing that really surprised me is exactly how this WAD makes itself enjoyably challenging. Unlike many other challenging WADs that throw large numbers of Revenants, Barons etc… at you, quite a lot of the challenge in this WAD comes from the clever use of chaingun zombies.

Yes, you don't always see too many of THESE in 'challenging' Doom II WADs.

Yes, you don’t always see too many of THESE in ‘challenging’ Doom II WADs.

Sure, each level contains at least one arch-vile and there are also a fair number of mid-level monsters, but “End Point” is a showcase for how much of a formidable foe the chaingun zombie can be. After all, he often tends to be a slightly under-used monster in modern WADs.

In fact, in the final level, a long-distance encounter with a group of about ten chaingun zombies is actually more challenging than the obligatory cyberdemon encounter later in the level – since the cyberdemon’s rockets can be easily dodged, but the chaingunners can shoot accurately at long distances. So, you are forced to actually fight them.. and as quickly as possible!

Yes, believe it or not, this is MORE challenging than....

Yes, believe it or not, this is MORE challenging than….

 .... THIS!

…. THIS!

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. As you would expect, each level is very non-linear and each level walks a fine line between requiring the player to explore and being self-explanatory/streamlined enough to stop the player from getting stuck.

In terms of pure design, these are “Doom II” levels done right. They’re thrilling and they’re challenging, but they aren’t needlessly frustrating. There’s also a good balance between corridor-like areas and larger areas, which sometimes include cool set-pieces too.

Like this "graveyard" in level two that spawns lots of zombies when you find the key at the end of it.

Like this “graveyard” in level two that spawns lots of zombies when you find the key at the end of it.

Likewise, the length of each level is just about right too. This WAD probably took me something like 2-3 hours in total to complete and none of the levels really outstayed their welcome or felt too rushed.

Visually, this WAD is really good. Each level has a very slightly different ‘look’ to it, whilst also being fairly consistent with the general 1990s-style look of “Final Doom”. This is especially surprising, since the WAD actually includes a few new textures. Although one or two cool-looking textures are immediately noticeably, many of them are surprisingly consistent with the look of classic “Doom”:

 I don't know if this is a new texture or not, but the lighting in this part of level four is AMAZING!

I don’t know if this is a new texture or not, but the lighting in this part of level four is AMAZING!

Dammit! WHY didn't the old "Doom" games include rooms that look like THIS?

Dammit! WHY didn’t the old “Doom” games include rooms that look like THIS?

 Don't ask me why, but I really love this blue version of the classic 'Doom' switch.

Don’t ask me why, but I really love this blue version of the classic ‘Doom’ switch.

In terms of the music, it’s something of a mixed bag. Some of the music, like a brilliantly gothic percussion track in level two and the end screen music after each level, sounds really cool. But, some of the music in a couple of the levels can sound a little bit annoying and/or repetitive.

All in all, “End Point” is a really good classic-style WAD, which also shows off how criminally under-used the chaingun zombie is in a lot of other WADs. If you enjoy “Final Doom”, then you will enjoy this WAD. It’s mildly-moderately challenging, the level design is of a professional standard and it’s just a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

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

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

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Before I begin, I should probably point out that this will be more of a “first impressions” article than a full review of “VeryHard“. I’ll explain more later in the article, but I felt like this was important to point out first.

As usual, I played (some of) this WAD using the “ZDoom” source port. Interestingly, this WAD actually requires version 2.8.1 of “ZDoom” – which, by delightful coincidence, is fairly similar to the version (a slightly old experimental version that was obviously a precursor to version 2.8.1) that I use.

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

screenshot_doom_20161021_125138

“VeryHard” is a set of seven “Doom II” levels. As the name suggests, these levels are meant to be evilly, fiendishly, diabolically difficult.

This is a WAD for people like myself who find borderline-unfair levels to be somewhere between absolutely hilarious and brilliantly fun. If you’re a new “Doom II” player, don’t even think about playing these levels. But, if you enjoy WADs like “Stardate 20X6“, “XXXI Cybersky“, “Swim With The Whales” or “Infernal Fortress” then you might enjoy this one.

From my experiences with this WAD, level one is actually beatable but level two appears to be (probably) impossible – not because of the quantity of monsters, but because an essential key seems to be nowhere to be found. Hence why this is a “first impressions” review, rather than a full review.

So, let’s start with level one. This level begins outside a giant underground train station and, once you are trapped in the station, the monsters start pouring towards you:

So far, so easy.....

So far, so easy…..

Of course, you’ll soon find yourself in a larger room that is filled with more monsters and several small kiosk-like rooms, which contain buttons that you need to press. Sounds pretty easy, right?

Oh, I forgot, these rooms are filled with Arch-viles..... and you'll need a blue key for one of the switches.

Oh, I forgot, these rooms are filled with Arch-viles….. and you’ll need a blue key for one of the switches.

Once you’ve managed to run, dodge and fight your way through this room and press the required switch, it’s time to get the blue key. This key is at the end of another corridor that contains, you guessed it, three arch-viles and virtually no cover!

Oh, hey there :)

Oh, hey there 🙂

When you’ve managed to press the button and hide behind the pillar, you might notice that – between cautious pot shots at the arch-viles – the pillar is descending. Once it’s descended fully, you’ll be able to grab the blue key.

The only problem is, of course, you won’t have any cover left. Likewise, the corridor takes more than three seconds to run away from. And, as any “Doom II” player will tell you, three seconds is about the amount of time it takes for an arch-vile to incinerate you.

So, after dying and restarting more times than you can remember, you’ll end up waiting for that one lucky moment when the arch-viles are too distracted by the monsters from the room you left earlier (and vice versa with the monsters) to bother attacking you.

But, when you’ve sneaked out of the corridor, you’ll be faced with a choice. You can either go back to the room with the blue switch the way you came from, or you can take advantage of a newly-opened shortcut near the station entrance….

 ...Which is also filled with monsters.

…Which is also filled with monsters.

After a lot of trial and error, plus some clever strategy, you’ll finally use the blue key on the blue switch and open a gate behind the room. Wow, what an exciting level! What? It isn’t over yet? That was only…. the easy introductory segment?

Oh yes! *Grins evilly* We haven't even STARTED the difficult part of the level yet!

Oh yes! *Grins evilly* We haven’t even STARTED the difficult part of the level yet!

Yes, the rest of the level is significantly more difficult. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the train station level from “Painkiller“, but with literal armies of revenants, tens of arch-viles and more than five times your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C(yberdemon).

I wasn't exaggerating about the revenants, there must be at least 200 of them in this part of the level.

I wasn’t exaggerating about the revenants, there must be at least 200 of them in this part of the level.

Yes, luckily there's an invulnerability sphere hidden somewhere vaugely near here. You DID remember to find it, right?

Yes, luckily there’s an invulnerability sphere hidden somewhere vaugely near here. You DID remember to find it, right?

Yes, even this deadly close-quarters duel with a cyberdemon at the very end of the level is beatable if you are sneaky about it. You actually have to use the chaingun to ... wait a minute, you should probably work this out for yourself

Yes, even this deadly close-quarters duel with a cyberdemon at the very end of the level is beatable if you are sneaky about it. You actually have to use the chaingun to … wait a minute, you should probably work this out for yourself

Interestingly, this part of the level is also beatable. But, you’ll need a lot of determination, a willingness to experiment with different strategies, a habit of saving very often, a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom II” and perhaps a bit of luck too.

All in all, the first level is an absolute blast. It’s just about fair, despite looking extremely unfair at first glance. It’s an example of modern “slaughtermap” level design at it’s finest.

This level contains so many areas where good strategy and fast reflexes are more important than whatever weapons you happen to be carrying at any one time. Despite the often claustrophobic locations and the generic standard textures, it’s an utterly epic level that will have you quite literally cheering with joy when you finally manage to beat it.

The second level, on the other hand, isn’t so sophisticated. Sure, you’ll get to hear the soul-shaking sound of 10-20 cyberdemons roaring simultaneously. Sure, you’ll get to use the BFG a lot. You’ll even get to crowdsurf over six different armies of Hell Knights and Barons…

 Woo hoo!! This is awesome!

Woo hoo!! This is awesome!

And, yes, these sorts of epic things happen too. BUT....

And, yes, these sorts of epic things happen too. BUT….

.. In order to progress past the starting area of level two, you need to find a red skull key. Despite repeated replays of this area, using different strategies and lots of careful searching, I still haven’t been able to find this skull key. It might be there somewhere, but I certainly haven’t found it. In fact, it even eventually made me abandon this WAD out of pure frustration.

All in all, I’ve only played maybe just under a quarter of this WAD and, yet, the first level is absolutely spectacular. Yes, it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if ludicrously “unfair” levels make you laugh, or if you want a real challenge, then the first level of this WAD is absolutely perfect! It’s just a shame about the second level though.

If I had to give what I’d played so far a score out of five, it would get five for the first level and two for the second.

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

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Well, I was in the mood for playing another “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting-looking one called “Foursite“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD – although it will probably work on any limit-removing source port that also allows jumping too.

So, let’s take a look at “Foursite”:

screenshot_doom_20161019_134835

“Foursite” is a large single-level WAD which is also the first WAD that it’s creator finished. The WAD itself took something like 200-300 hours to make, according to the documentation. And it shows! Seriously, although this is a “vanilla” WAD, it displays more intricacy and creativity than even some WADs with custom content do.

I did NOT know that the standard "Doom II" textures could look THIS cool!

I did NOT know that the standard “Doom II” textures could look THIS cool!

Plus, I'm sure that this is a "Silent Hill" reference too :)

Plus, I’m sure that this is a “Silent Hill” reference too 🙂

The level itself begins with an eerily quiet trek through several buildings and outdoor areas until you eventually reach a long corridor with four sealed doors, which can only be opened and explored in a particular order. Once all four have been explored, you can leave the corridor and fight the final boss.

As you may have guessed, each of these four doors leads to a themed area that is pretty much a small level in it’s own right. Yes, it’s like “The Crystal Maze“, but in “Doom II”:

Obviously, this contestant wasn't so lucky...

Obviously, this contestant wasn’t so lucky…

The level design is, quite simply, stunning. Since the main level is split into four segments, it is able to be non-linear without being confusing. In other words, there are lots of places to explore but, unlike many ultra-large levels, you’re unlikely to get lost or stuck for too long.

As you would expect from a modern “Doom II” map, there are quite a few dramatic set pieces here and, for the most part, they work really well. There’s a small maze you have to navigate, there are some truly epic-looking areas you have to traverse, there’s even a (surprisingly good/non-frustrating) first-person platforming segment. Seriously, there are so many cool set pieces in this level.

Yes, this is actually first-person platforming done right! The platforms are actually large enough and closely-placed enough to be easily jumped to and from.

Yes, this is actually first-person platforming done right! The platforms are actually large enough and closely-placed enough to be easily jumped to and from.

And THIS! Seriously, this area is really amazing :)

And THIS! Seriously, this area is really amazing 🙂

In fact, the only set piece which may get frustrating is the lift segment. This is where you have to raise a (really cool-looking) platform by running around it and pressing several buttons. Of course, whilst you are doing this, you are constantly bombarded by lost souls and the occasional pain elemental. It’s chaotic, it’s occasionally annoying, but it’s far from being completely unfair.

Of course, the fact that you have to cross a narrow bridge, and jump soon afterwards, when pressing the buttons just adds to the fun.

Of course, the fact that you have to cross a narrow bridge, and jump soon afterwards, when pressing the buttons just adds to the fun.

One set piece that could have been more well-designed is probably the battle near the end of the fourth area. Yes, there’s supposed to be an epic confrontation with two cyberdemons and lots of other monsters. But, this can be easily bypassed by just jumping over a few small bars and pressing a switch.

In fact, it’s actually less intuitive to actually trigger the epic battle you’re supposed to have (in order to do this, you have to understand that switches in “Doom” can often be pressed regardless of height).

This is a challenging fight that looks more difficult than the actual boss battle in the final area of the game!

This is a challenging fight that looks more difficult than the actual boss battle in the final area of the game!

But, you can skip it just by jumping over this pathetically inadequate barrier, pressing the switch and leaving the room.

But, you can skip it just by jumping over this pathetically inadequate barrier, pressing the switch and leaving the room.

In terms of the actual gameplay, I’d say that the difficulty level was probably fairly similar to that of “Final Doom”. Although there are a couple of parts that hint at modern-style “slaughtermap” gameplay, it’s mostly just a souped-up version of old-school “Final Doom”-style gameplay. Even though I really love modern “slaughtermap” levels, “Final Doom” is probably my favourite official Doom game. So, I’m not complaining 🙂

In other words, if you can complete “Final Doom”, then you’ll enjoy this WAD. But, even if you can’t, then this level still actually has a proper difficulty curve to it too (which is something you don’t always see in modern “Doom II” levels). Surprisingly though, I didn’t see a single arch-vile during the 1 1/2 hours it took me to complete the level!

Hmmm.... SOMETHING's missing...

Hmmm…. SOMETHING’s missing…

Although most of the combat is very enjoyable, one rather devious trick that the creator of this WAD likes to use is to throw several spectres at you when you are traversing the level’s gloomier areas. Yes, this is supposed to be scary and suspenseful. But, fighting nearly-invisible monsters in the dark can get a bit frustrating sometimes.

One of the things that I really love about this level is how timeless it feels. Seriously, when I was playing part of it, I felt like I could have been playing this level in 2015, 2014, 2013, or even in 2006. Because it does so many clever things with the classic “Doom II” textures, it feels both old and modern at the same time. It’s different and exciting enough to feel new, but familiar enough to feel reassuringly classic.

All in all, this is an absolutely amazing WAD 🙂 Whilst “Foursite” may not have any custom textures, monsters, weapons or music, it more than makes up for this with astonishingly imaginative, complex and fun level design. It’s very easy to see why a level like this may have taken more than 200 hours to make and, for it’s creator’s first level, it’s absolutely amazing.

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

Mini Review: “Back To The Thunder Road” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”/”ZDoom”/”Boom”)

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Well, it’s been a while since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD and, since it seems to be some kind of informal rule of mine that I review at least one per month, I thought that I’d check out a WAD called “Back To The Thunder Road“. I should probably point out that I was fairly tired when I wrote this review and played the WAD, so this may affect the review.

Likewise, I accidentally used the”ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, looking at the text file, “GZDoom” is recommended. But “Boom” is mentioned on the “New Stuff” review that introduced me to this WAD, which recommends “ZDoom”. The only side-effect I found with using “ZDoom” was that there were quite a few ‘hall of mirrors’ glitches, especially near the end of the WAD. However, technically speaking, you probably just need a modern source port that allows jumping.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at “Back To The Thunder Road”:

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“Back To The Thunder Road” is a six-level WAD (with a small ending level) that features new music and new level completion screen backgrounds. For the most part, it is a “vanilla” WAD that only features the standard “Doom II” monsters, textures and weapons. But, don’t let this put you off.

Although the six levels in this WAD are relatively short, they are surprisingly well-designed. This is a WAD that is aimed at experienced intermediate players, and it walks a very fine line between using difficult “traditional” levels and more strategy-based modern “slaughtermap”-style gameplay. In other words, there are times when it makes sense to fight every monster you see and there are times when it doesn’t.

However, some of the difficulty in this WAD is achieved through occasionally giving the player a relatively limited supply of ammo. Whilst I didn’t find this to be too bad or too extreme, some players might not like this type of difficulty.

For the most part, the gameplay in this WAD is fast and thrilling. Some of the levels include clever set pieces, such as placing several doors around a lift shaft – meaning that the player has to pretty much run through the door whilst the lift is moving. Naturally, there sometimes isn’t much space – and a mid-level monster or two lurking behind the door.

Getting through that door is more challenging than it looks...

Getting through that door is more challenging than it looks…

... Especially when there's a revenant eager to greet you AND an Arch-vile waiting for you to walk more than a couple of paces through the door.

… Especially when there’s a revenant eager to greet you AND an Arch-vile waiting for you to walk more than a couple of paces through the door.

The best level in the WAD is probably the sixth level. Although the earlier parts of it might not be to everyone’s taste since, apart from a cool vertically-sliding pit area, most of the level sits somewhere between “thrillingly streamlined” and “fairly linear”. However, the last part of the level is either extremely clever or extremely evil, depending on how you look at it.

In the final part of the level, you’ll find a large tower with a thin spiral staircase that runs around the edge. In addition to this, there is a literal swarm of cacodemons heading right at you. So far, so easy…

Yes, you've probably seen something like this before in other "Doom II" WADs. But, keep reading, THIS time, it's different...

Yes, you’ve probably seen something like this before in other “Doom II” WADs. But, keep reading, THIS time, it’s different…

You obviously can’t fight all of the cacodemons, so your instinct will probably be to run up the stairs. Of course, your path is blocked by a few low-level monsters that are standing on the stairs. No problem? Well, in the few seconds you’ve taken blasting these monsters into smithereens, the swarm of cacodemons has started flying upwards towards you and has started to block your path. In level design terms, it’s either absolutely evil or absolutely genius.

Of course, there is a way to beat the level – if you’re willing to realise that both trial-and-error and the usual “Doom II” tactics have their limits, and outside-the-box thinking is required sometimes. But, when you do work out what you need to do in order to complete this part of the level, it is absolutely epic. I’m not going to tell you the solution, but I will give you a hint – look closely at the ammo types you find on the stairs and whether they all match the weapons you’re currently holding.

In terms of music, this WAD is filled with some absolutely awesome 1980s/90s style synth music that gives the game a wonderfully retro atmosphere 🙂 Seriously, I love the music in this WAD.

All in all, “Back To The Thunder Road” is a relatively short, but fun, WAD that will give even experienced “Doom II” players a bit of a challenge. The levels are small, but what they lack in quantity, they often make up for in quality.

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