Mini Review: “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5” (mod for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”/ “GZDoom”)

2016 Artwork Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5 review sketch

Whether you love it, loathe it or think that it’s just ok “Brutal Doom” is probably the most well-known “Doom II” mod of the past decade. In fact, it was the thing that got me back into playing “Doom” regularly again after a few years mostly spent playing other games.

So, I guess it was only a matter of time before modders decided to give other classic 1990s FPS games “brutal” makeovers too.

Anyway, out of morbid curiosity, I decided to check out a “Brutal Doom”-style recreation of “Wolfenstein 3D” called “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5“.

If you’ve never played “Wolfenstein 3D” before, it’s a WW2-themed game where you play as an American soldier called B.J.Blazkowicz who has been captured by the Nazis and must fight his way out of their fortress (called “Castle Wolfenstein”).

Despite being a Wolfenstein-themed mod, “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5” uses the “Doom” engine – or, more accurately, the modern source ports of it (I used “ZDoom” whilst playing, but this mod will also run with “GZDoom” too).

So, although you won’t need a copy of “Wolf 3D” to play this game (although if you’re a retro FPS gamer like me, you’ve probably got one anyway) you will need a copy of either “Doom II” or “Final Doom”.

Before I go any further, I should probably mention that this is more of a “first impressions” article than a full review – since I’ve only had the chance to play a few levels of this mod at the time of writing. Hence why I’ve called this article a “mini review”, even though it’s about 1500 words long.

(For the sake of good taste, I’ve also made sure not to include any screenshots that include WW2-related symbols in this review – although, given the context of the game, expect to see a lot of these when playing. Likewise, I eventually decided not to include any screenshots of the more gruesome parts of this mod in this review. However, I’ll be discussing why ultra-gory death animations work reasonably well in the original “Brutal Doom”, but don’t work well in mods based on “Wolf 3D”. Still, despite my criticisms later in the review, I respect the freedom of expression of the people who made this mod and I do not believe it should be censored in any way.)

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Brutal Wolfenstein 4.5”

Screenshot_Doom_20151029_002042

If you’ve played “Brutal Doom” before, then you’ll sort of know what to expect already.

But, although this mod has a lot in common with “Brutal Doom” (eg: a modern-style reloading and aiming system, different gameplay mechanics, taunts, melee attacks, extra blood etc…), it also has a lot of extra Wolfenstein-specific stuff in it too. Which is both a good and a bad thing.

One of the most notable changes is that parts of the levels I played had been redesigned in order to take advantage of the features offered by the “Doom” engine. The most notable example of this is probably a “Doom”-style lift that I found in one of the early levels.

However, the limitations of the “Doom” engine are also on show here and – like the the secret “Wolfenstein” levels in “Doom II” – all of the doors open vertically, rather than horizontally. But, the changes to the level layouts help to make a familiar game feel new again – which is kind of cool.

Not only that, thanks to the fact that this mod uses modern source ports for “Doom”, the gameplay is fast, frenetic and fluid, which is a refreshing change from the slower and clunkier gameplay in the original version of “Wolfenstein 3D”.

Another change that you will notice fairly quickly is that B.J. Blazkowicz has a lot more weapons available to him than he did in the original game. When playing through the first few levels, I found several different weapons like a bolt-action rifle, a heavy machine gun, a “Rise Of The Triad“-style MP40 and a WW2-era German assault rifle.

It's kind of weird to see a WW1-style bolt-action rifle in a WW2-themed game though.

It’s kind of weird to see a WW1-style bolt-action rifle in a WW2-themed game though.

And, yes, this gun sounds as dramatic as it looks.

And, yes, this gun sounds as dramatic as it looks.

These weapons each have different characteristics – with the MP40 having abundant ammunition but a lower rate of accuracy, and the assault rifle being more accurate, but at the cost of less available ammunition.

Using the the “give all” cheat, I also took a quick look at the other weapons too and they include a rocket launcher, a flamethrower, a collection of WW2-era American weapons too (eg: a military pistol, a tommygun etc..) and some kind of sci-fi microwave gun.

In addition to this, you can also pick up stick-style grenades which can be thrown using a hotkey (although you’ll have to configure this in the control menu). Although this is a cool feature, there’s a slight delay between pressing the key and actually throwing the grenades – which usually means that you’ll get shot several times before you can throw the grenade.

The delay is probably realistic, but it gets in the way of the gameplay slightly.

The delay is probably realistic, but it gets in the way of the gameplay slightly.

One slight technical problem I had with this mod is the fact that it seems to be designed to be played in higher resolutions. For speed reasons, I usually play “Doom II” in 640 x 480 but – even after briefly increasing the resolution to 800 x 600 – the heads-up display still couldn’t quite fit onto the screen. Although I kind of got used to this, only being able to see half of the health meter can get slightly annoying.

As you would expect from anything inspired by “Brutal Doom”, this mod is significantly more gruesome than “Wolfenstein 3D” was.

Whilst this obviously includes lots of extra blood spatter, it also includes a few other changes which -whilst they might work in ” Brutal Doom” – don’t really translate well to “Wolf 3D”…

The extra blood isn’t really a major problem – however, this mod also includes some of the more sadistic elements of “Brutal Doom” too. Even though they’ve been toned down slightly, there’s a huge difference between sadism in an obviously unrealistic sci-fi action game like “Doom” and sadism in a game that tells a fictional story set during a real part of history.

Although the enemy soldiers have a couple of different “Brutal Doom”-style drawn-out death animations, these thankfully seem to be fewer in number and slightly less prolonged than the ones in “Brutal Doom”.

Still, given the fact that the game contains human antagonists (even if they are members of one of the most evil organisations in world history), these sadistic animations are significantly more disturbing than the melodramatic sci-fi monster death animations in “Brutal Doom”.

I understand that they’re probably meant to be “realistic” and, in the context of a slower-paced story-driven game, they might be dramatically justified. But, in a fast-paced action game designed purely for entertainment, they seem somewhat out of place.

Another disturbing element in this game is how surrendering is handled.

Like in “Rise Of The Triad”, some of the enemy soldiers will “surrender” after a fight. But, if you wait a few seconds, they’ll just put their hands down, get to their feet, and start fighting you again. As a way of showing how evil the enemies are (and referencing “Rise Of The Triad”), this isn’t particularly disturbing in and of itself, but…..

The disturbing part of this is that, if you accidentally shoot one of these surrendering enemies whilst fighting any nearby enemies then- instead of either punishing you or doing nothing, the game sometimes rewards you for doing this with a health bonus (eg: a “Brutal Bonus” from “Brutal Doom”).

This is extremely creepy – given that the game is set during a historical war (even though the story of the game is fictional), rather than in an unrealistic sci-fi setting. If nothing else, it makes the protagonist look like less of a heroic character.

I’m probably taking this way too seriously, but if the main character is one of the good guys (eg: the Allies) in one of the most clear-cut “good vs. evil” wars in history, then the game shouldn’t reward the player for breaking the rules of war.

As for the enemies, they’ve also received some fairly significant changes too. The most notable change is that they now have new voice acting and this is done fairly well.

In addition to this, there’s a larger variety of enemies to fight against. So far, I’ve noticed that some of the basic “soldier” enemies now carry rifles instead of pistols (and are slightly more powerful as a result) and there’s a new type of “officer” enemy too:

 It's surprisingly difficult to get a screenshot of this guy since, by the time you've pressed the "print screen" key, he's already shot at you several times.

It’s surprisingly difficult to get a screenshot of this guy since, by the time you’ve pressed the “print screen” key, he’s already shot at you several times.

All in all, although this mod is technically impressive and it includes a lot of changes that breathe new life into a very old game, making a “Brutal Doom”-style version of “Wolfenstein 3D” probably isn’t the best idea in the world.

What might be enjoyably melodramatic and cartoonish in an unrealistic sci-fi game tends to come across as more disturbing than anything else when transposed to a real world historical setting.

If I had to give this mod a rating out of five then, on a purely technical level, it would get a four. But, for want of a less-miserable sounding description, on a moral level, it’d probably get a one.

Mini Review: ” Genesis Of Descent” (WAD for “Doom”/”Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “GZ Doom”)

2015 Artwork Genesis of Descent WAD review sketch

Well, I thought that I’d take a quick look at another “Doom” WAD today and I ended up finding one called “Genesis Of Descent“. Since this WAD won a Cacoward in 2007, it seemed like it was worth checking out.

Before I begin, I should probably point out that I played this WAD using the “GZ Doom” source port, although it will probably work with other modern source ports.

In addition to this, I’ve only had time to play about the first third of this WAD at the time of writing this review – so this will be a “first impressions” article, rather than a full review.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at “Genesis Of Descent”:

Screenshot_Doom_20150620_092216

“Genesis Of Descent” is a WAD that contains three large levels for the original “Doom”. It seems to be something of a reimagining of the original game, since the first level begins with a short intro movie showing the Doomguy arriving at a UAC base on Phobos.

Well, it's one of the moons of Mars. So, it technically counts as a moon base :)

Well, it’s one of the moons of Mars. So, it technically counts as a moon base 🙂

At first, things are quiet… too quiet. Of course, it isn’t long before you discover that the base has been infested by the forces of hell and it is up to you to stop them.

But, although the beginning of this WAD is meant to be fairly suspenseful, it also gets a little bit boring at times too.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my “Doom” WADs to start off with some action (or lots of fascinating new stuff), rather than with wandering around a (mostly) empty techbase for two minutes:

Yes, the skybox looks cool, but WHERE are the monsters? Seriously, there should be monsters by now!

Yes, the skybox looks cool, but WHERE are the monsters? Seriously, there should be monsters by now!

On the other hand, there's a horizontally-opening door here. Yes, you heard me correctly. I don't know how they did it, but there's a horizontally-opening door in this "Doom" level!

On the other hand, there’s a horizontally-opening door here. Yes, you heard me correctly. I don’t know how they did it, but there’s a horizontally-opening door in this “Doom” level!

Thankfully, you don't have to wait TOO long for the monsters to appear, but this is supposed to be a "Doom 1" level, NOT a "Doom 3" level...

Thankfully, you don’t have to wait TOO long for the monsters to appear, but this is supposed to be a “Doom 1” level, NOT a “Doom 3” level…

Another major change with this WAD is that the gameplay is more strategy-based than action-based.

What this means is that both ammo and health are often (but not always) in short supply. It also means that you’ll have to have an intimate understanding of the mechanics of the “Doom” engine and use every sneaky trick in the book in order to get through the first level. In other words, this really isn’t a WAD for beginners.

 *Gasp* A horde of imps! And I only have three shotgun shells and nine health points! What do I do?

*Gasp* A horde of imps! And I only have three shotgun shells and nine health points! What do I do?

 Simple. Lure them to a small ledge and then use the chainsaw. They can't climb down the ledge and they can't shoot you if you're standing directly below them

Simple. Lure them to a small ledge and then use the chainsaw. They can’t climb down the ledge and they can’t shoot you if you’re standing directly below them

Whilst I love WADs that actually make you use your brain, I slightly prefer these WADs to be fast-paced and action-packed.

In other words, using tactics and strategy to get past a horde of 200+ plus monsters is brilliantly fun, but facing one or two mid or low level monsters with just one health point and a few bullets can sometimes be more nerve-wracking than enjoyable.

The former makes you feel like a badass, the latter makes you feel like a terrible player (since you’ll keep getting killed by monsters who don’t usually pose a gigantic threat in most “Doom” WADs).

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that this seems to be a puzzle-based WAD – but I wish that they hadn’t done this through starving you of health and ammo. Yes, it makes the gameplay a lot more “suspenseful” and, if you like slow and suspenseful FPS games, then this will be right up your alley, but it also means that the first level of this WAD is a little bit short on action sometimes. Still, as I said earlier, this is only a first impressions article, so I really can’t comment on the rest of the WAD.

Although this WAD is only three levels long, the first level is absolutely gigantic. Seriously, it took me over an hour to complete it and it’s basically at least the size of two “regular” levels. Although the level can get a little bit confusing at times, as long as you memorise where a few important locations are – you should be fine.

Basically, just remember where anything that requires a keycard is.

Basically, just remember where anything that requires a keycard is.

Visually speaking, this WAD is pretty cool. Although it mostly uses the “standard” textures, there are a few new things here (like a really cool skybox, some cool mist effects and a couple of neat set pieces).

The first level also includes a couple of really neat things, like giant spinning fans on the floor that obliterate anything that steps on them (and, yes, you can lure monsters into them. In fact, you’ll probably need to do this to get past two Barons Of Hell at one point).

If you walk through the door at the end of this corridor, it won't open again until you've fought all of the monsters inside. So, stand in the doorway and get their attention before luring them down the corridor to the giant fan of death in one of the nearby rooms.

If you walk through the door at the end of this corridor, it won’t open again until you’ve fought all of the monsters inside. So, stand in the doorway and get their attention before luring them down the corridor to the giant fan of death in one of the nearby rooms.

Although I haven’t found any new weapons in the first level of this WAD, I did find a new enemy. About two-thirds of the way through the first level, you’ll encounter a group of space marines who have orders to kill anyone they see. This, unfortunately, includes you too. Even though they aren’t that much more powerful than a shotgun zombie, they still add some variety to the gameplay.

Dammit! We're supposed to be on the same side!

Dammit! We’re supposed to be on the same side!

As for the music, there isn’t really any of it in the first level. Yes, there are occasionally a few ambient background sounds but, for the most part, the first level of this WAD is eerily silent. Yes, this adds to the “suspenseful” and “realistic” atmosphere of the level but, well, I personally didn’t really like the lack of music here.

All in all, “Genesis Of Descent” is a fairly innovative and brilliantly challenging WAD. If you like slightly more slower-paced and suspenseful gameplay, then you’ll probably like this WAD. But, although it’s cool that it’s a challenging puzzle-based WAD, I just wish that the first level was a bit more exciting.

If I had to give it a rating out of five based on what I’ve seen so far, it would get three and a half.

Mini Review: “Reelism Gold” (Mod For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZ Doom”)

2015 Artwork Reelism gold mini review

Yes! It’s here! As regular readers of this site probably know, I reviewed an astonishingly good “Doom” mod called “Reelism X2.1” last year. Seriously, it’s three times as enjoyable as “Brutal Doom” and the novelty value takes at least eight times as long to wear off. And, since I played “Brutal Doom” a ridiculous number of times in 2013, this should tell you how much I love the “Reelism” series.

Anyway, after a few weeks of frequently checking/ lurking in the “Reelism” thread on the “ZDoom” forums, I learnt that the long-awaited update to this mod (called “Reelism Gold”) was to be released today. I’ve been waiting for this for quite a while and, well, I couldn’t wait to review it. So, this will be more of a rambling “first impressions” article than a full review.

I played this mod using version 1.8.10 of the “GZDoom” source port and it’s great that, from what I read online, this mod was actually altered at the last minute to make it compatible with these older versions of GZ Doom (that will actually run on my computer). So, thanks 🙂

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

Woo hoo! More "Reelism" :)

Woo hoo! More “Reelism” 🙂

If you’re unfamiliar with “Reelism”, the premise is fairly simple. You choose one of the mod’s arena-like maps and, when you start, a random number generator chooses three gameplay modifiers for you (one chooses the monsters you’ll face, one chooses the weapons you’ll find and one alters the gameplay in some way).

Every minute, the RNG starts up again and you get a new set of modifiers. After five rounds, you get to face a boss.

Yay! It's "Reelism". And, yes, I replaced the original screenshot I had here... because I'm a wimp.

Yay! It’s “Reelism”. And, yes, I replaced the screenshot I’d originally posted here… because I’m a wimp.

It’s kind of like a cross between a “casual” version of “Doom” and a mash-up of all the great FPS games from the 1990s. As a retro FPS gamer, it goes without saying, but I love this mod!

Anyway, what’s new in the update? Well, although the mod is still – for the most part- fairly similar to the previous version, there are new weapons, maps, monsters/bosses and gameplay modes. Since this is a “first impressions” article, I haven’t seen all of the new content yet, but what I have seen has seriously impressed me.

First of all, there are six new maps (and an arena for one of the new gameplay modes) to choose from.

These include a “Duke Nukem 3D”-style alien spaceship, a cool cyberpunk arena, a basketball court, a gigantic “Contra” (?)-style map, a modified version of the “Dead Simple” level from “Doom II” and a retro platform game style level.

Wow! It feels like Christmas day when I was a kid! This is SO awesome!

Wow! It feels like Christmas day when I was a kid! This is SO awesome!

As an artist, I love blue and orange colour schemes. So, it's great to see one here.

As an artist, I love blue and orange colour schemes. So, it’s great to see one here.

 It even has little screens where you can see your character from a third-person perspective. And a reflective floor. A reflective floor! In "Doom" !!!!!

It even has little screens where you can see your character from a third-person perspective. And a reflective floor. A reflective floor! In “Doom” !!!!!

I've never played "Contra", but now I kind of want to...

I’ve never played “Contra”, but now I kind of want to…

This level also includes a cool remixed version of the "Doom E1M1" theme tune :)

This level also includes a cool remixed version of the “Doom E1M1” theme tune 🙂

I don't know what this level is based on, but I feel nostalgic already!

I don’t know what this level is based on, but I feel nostalgic already!

There’s a surprising amount of variety in these levels – from tiny levels that force you to keep fighting continuously, to medium-sized levels that are a joy to play, to giant levels that encourage you to explore and find new stuff. Although there are only six new maps, they’ll probably keep you busy for quite a while.

As for the weapons, there are a few new ones here. They include things like “Wolf 3D”-style flamethrowers and rocket launchers, the M60 from “Exhumed”, a machinegun that fires short bursts, an explosive shotgun, weapons from the beta versions of “Duke 3D” and “Doom” etc… There are new types of grenades and a rocket launcher called “The Clustersucker” that fires multiple grenades:

Woo hoo! Lots of explosions!

Woo hoo! Lots of explosions!

The "Dog Mode" sprite has also been recoloured, so that it looks like the dogs from the "Dogged" modifier.

The “Dog Mode” sprite has also been recoloured, so that it looks like the dogs from the “Dogged” modifier.

Given that I played "Exhumed" obssessively during Christmas 2013/ New Year 2014, it's great to see THIS gun again :)

Given that I played “Exhumed” obssessively during Christmas 2013/ New Year 2014, it’s great to see THIS gun again 🙂

As for new monsters, I didn’t notice that many of them. There’s a new type of “skeleton” enemy and there are the cultists from “Blood” (who even shout their hilarious lines from the original game too) and there are new bosses too. Then again, I’ve only played this mod for an hour or so before writing this article, so I might have missed some of them.

Oooh, it's a new boss. Naturally, I died three seconds later!

Oooh, it’s a new boss. Naturally, I died three seconds later!

There are a few new gameplay modifiers too. Although I haven’t seen all of them, one of the more interesting ones is a modifier that replaces the blood with “Super Mario” style coins. This is pretty hilarious, although it can cause a bit of slowdown on some levels if you’re using an old computer:

It's only running at 10FPS but, who cares? This is amazing!

It’s only running at 10FPS but, who cares? This is amazing!

However, the most touted new feature in “Reelism Gold” is the famous “Boss Rush” mode. This is a gameplay mode where you have to fight all of the game’s bosses, in sequence, in a giant arena – whilst you’re being attacked by other monsters too.

It’s apparently so difficult that not even the creators of this mod have been able to finish it. Personally, I was able to get to round three before I fell to the evil Mecha-Hitler:

Nein!!!!

Nein!!!!

The update also includes a “Shuffle Mode” option where none of the modifiers are repeated and you only face a boss once you’ve played through all of the modifiers. I only had a chance to look at this briefly, but it certainly looks fun.

As you would expect from a “Reelism” update, this mod also contains a lot more eccentric humour too. This is one of the great things about “Reelism”, like the classic FPS games of old, it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously and there’s lots of new funny stuff here. Hell, even the “Municipal Transpo” level (my favourite from the previous version of “Reelism”) has received an update:

Ooooh, I remember when monitors had this option. Dammit, I miss CRT monitors!

Ooooh, I remember when monitors had this option. Dammit, I miss CRT monitors!

For a limited time only!

For a limited time only!

All in all, this is an improved version of an already perfect mod. I would say that I’d have expected more new content, but even if this mod contained 100+ new weapons, monsters etc… I’d probably still think that it wasn’t enough.

It’s such a brilliant concept and such an addictive game that you could pretty much play forever if you wanted to. So, if you like 1990s FPS games or if you just want some enjoyably mindless fun, then you can’t go wrong with what I’ve seen of “Reelism Gold”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a six. Play it!

First Impressions: “Commander Keen 58: The Ruin Of Roib” (Freeware Fan Game)

2014 Artwork Keen 58 First Impressions Sketch

If you grew up in the 90s and were at least slightly nerdy, then you probably recognise the name “Commander Keen”. Yes, he might not have quite the same amount of fame as Mario, Sonic or Duke Nukem but he was one of the all-time great platforming heroes of the 1990s.

However, apart from a Game Boy Colour game (which I haven’t played) and a final appearance in an easter egg in “Doom II”, Commander Keen has pretty much vanished from the face of the earth.

Well, officially at least….

Commander Keen 58: The Ruin Of Roib” is one of many unofficial fan games featuring Commander Keen which have been made within the past decade or two. In fact, it’s technically a mod for “Commander Keen 4”.

But, since “Commander Keen 4” is shareware, a copy of it comes packaged with the mod – turning it into a standalone game. However, you will need to use DOSbox in order to play this game because, well, “Commander Keen 4” is a DOS game (and you get extra nerd points if you remember actually playing it in proper DOS).

I’ve only had the chance to play “Commander Keen 58” for an hour or so, but I thought that I’d share my first impressions of this game with you. So, let’s get started:

Warning: This title screen may cause seizures.

Warning: This title screen may cause seizures.

Yes, the opening titles fooled me too. No, this isn’t a glitch in the program – it’s an animation that just looks like a glitch. As you are about to see, “Commander Keen 58” doesn’t exactly take itself entirely seriously:

Keen 58 titlescreen

“Commander Keen 58” takes place a few decades after the original games and, well, Commander Keen hasn’t exactly been fortunate. Everyone thinks that he’s a failure and his life seems to be going nowhere – so, he decides to rescue the Bean-With-Bacon Megarocket from the local dump and relive his younger days as an adventurer.

However, soon after he fires up his ship, he receives a distress signal from the planet Roib. But, by the time he arrives, the planet has already been laid to waste and invaded by alien creatures.

The first thing I will say about this game is that even the main menu looks dilapidated:

But, on the plus side, you can still enjoy a fun game of "Glitch War".

But, on the plus side, you can still enjoy a fun game of “Glitch War”.

This post-apocalyptic desolation continues throughout what I’ve played of the game and it really adds something to the atmosphere of the game. I don’t know, there’s something both hilarious and vaguely tragic about seeing ruined versions of the pristine levels that I used to play when I was a kid:

Yes, the button is genuinely out of order...

Yes, the button is genuinely out of order…

As for the gameplay and level design, it’s a lot more difficult than I remember. It might just be that I’m out of practice but, even on easy difficulty, you will die a lot.

In fact, you’re going to be spending most of the time memorising enemy locations and swearing at your computer screen. Yes, I’ve played it for about an hour and the only level I managed to complete without resorting to cheat codes was the very first level. This game is punishingly difficult!

The graphics and animations in “Commander Keen 58” are absolutely brilliant though. Even after playing this game for an hour, I still find myself bursting into laughter whenever Keen jumps, uses his pogo stick or climbs a pole. Seriously, this game is worth playing just for Keen’s animations.

LOL!

LOL!

LMAO!

LMAO!

ROFLMAO!

ROFLMAO!

All in all, from what I’ve played, “Commander Keen 58” is an extremely challenging game which is both hilarious and also strangely poignant too. The level design is as good as the levels in the original game and the animations are absolutely brilliant. If you’ve played the original games, then you really should download it and check it out for yourself.

If I had to give it a score out of five then, from what I’ve played, it’d get at least a four.