Mini Review: “Ghoul School 3D” (V 2.3) (WAD For “Heretic”/ “GZDoom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d take a look at a wonderfully ghoulish “Doom II”Heretic” WAD from 2017. Yes, you heard me correctly – “Heretic“. I think that this may well be a first for this blog.

I am, of course, talking about a WAD from the creator of “Project Einherjar“, “Strange Aeons“, “Nerves Of Steel” and “Derceto” called “Ghoul School 3D“.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD (since “Heretic” uses the same engine as “Doom”). [EDIT (10/5/19): The WAD is intended to be played with GZDoom. I’ve also just updated the review title to reflect this].

Plus, since I write these reviews quite far in advance, it’s possible that this WAD may have been updated in between the time I prepared this review and posted it (the version I played was version 2.3).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Ghoul School 3D”:

“Ghoul School 3D” is a large two-episode WAD (with each episode being one level spread seamlessly over several maps) that is a FPS-style remake of an old NES game called “Ghoul School”.

The story of episode one is that you play as a high school student called Spike, whose school has been overrun with ghouls, zombies and ghosts. Not only that, his crush Samantha has gone missing too! In the second episode, the school has been overrun with eyeball monsters due to the Necronomicon developing polyps…

Yes, seriously!

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it has personality! Not only does it have a wonderfully cheesy “1980s movie”-style atmosphere, it also features a variety of quirky and inventive weapons. There’s also a lot of humourous dialogue and (on a couple of occasions) voice-acting too.

Yes, even though it is a “Heretic” WAD, it includes “Strife“-style text dialogue trees (which you need to use to find mission objectives).

These dialogue trees also include most of the game’s comedy too 🙂

Although I initially worried that this WAD would consist of maze-like corridor-based style level design, it actually contains a surprising variety of different areas.

Such as this area. Hold on, is that a … Gremlin… on the door 🙂

Interestingly, the second episode re-uses some familiar locations – but with a variety of changes. This feeling of “familiar, but different” is really cool and it helps to add some depth to the game’s “world”.

In addition to this, despite the “retro” style, this is a WAD that actually requires jumping to be enabled. Fortunately though, there’s relatively little in the way of first-person platforming though.

Emphasis on “relatively”.

The level is fairly non-linear, with the school serving as a hub area that you revisit between exploring other areas. In the first episode, this area is populated by students, teachers and endlessly-respawning monsters.

Well, it is meant to be an invasion of the undead. So, this might explain it…

I’m in two minds about the respawning monsters – on the one hand, they keep the tension up and help to keep this area interesting. On the other hand, if you spend too long in a room, expect the entrance to be blocked by a crowd of them when you try to leave. In the second episode, this is less of an issue though.

Interestingly, several new areas of this hub level are also available to explore during the second episode – including a large sports stadium, a basketball court, several outdoor areas and an extra classroom or two.

And, yes, the ghouls and the eyeball mutants duke it out in the stadium too.

If you haven’t guessed from my mention of a hub area, this WAD is probably more close to “Hexen” than “Heretic” in terms of gameplay. And, yes, that means *groan* puzzles.

Dammit, I have to think as well…

Although there aren’t a gigantic number of puzzles, there are more than you would expect. Whilst some of the first episode’s puzzles are challenging but solvable (eg: the bookcase tower puzzle, the teleporting monster puzzle and the “sacrifices” puzzle) because of small clues nearby, I got completely and utterly stuck on at least two occasions and was forced to resort to using cheats.

In the second episode, I was forced to use cheats again – both to solve a puzzle (how on earth are you meant to get into the rat warren?) and because the sheer number of simultaneous fire effects in one large map slowed my framerate to below one (and, yes, I’m using an older computer. But, well, this is a mod for a game from 1994!). This then caused the game to get stuck in an unwinnable state (because a teleporter wouldn’t activate), which necessitated further use of cheat codes.

If you’re using an older computer, then this screenshot is a pretty accurate representation of the framerate during this map from episode 2.

I also solved at least one puzzle (eg: what to do with the red orb in the first episode) by accident too. Likewise, if you use the “raven logo” item in the first episode anywhere other than in one very specific area in the first episode, then you can easily end up permanently stuck too.

Yes, it’s the coolest power-up in the game, but don’t even think about using it frivolously….

Plus, a few parts of the game require you to use the school’s intercom system to open new areas. Although this sounds fairly easy, the intercom machine in one location has other machines nearby (which do nothing when you use them). So, finding it for the first time can be a matter of trial and error.

And, yes, you can mess around with the intercom too.

Likewise, you can find “Zelda”-style locked chests throughout the level that can be opened with golden keys that are hidden in various locations. Although I didn’t get to open every box, they usually just give you extra health, ammo and/or weapons.

In terms of the new monsters, they’re really cool. In addition to several varieties of ghoul, there are also zombies, burning zombies, zombie soldiers, eyeball mutants, fiery flying monsters, giant skulls, rats, tesla coils, ghosts, bosses etc.. too. Seriously, there’s a really cool variety of monsters here.

I guess you could say that this WAD is ghoulishly fun…

A wild MISSINGNO appeared!

Some monsters also have weapon-specific vulnerabilities. For example, the WAD’s “lost soul”-style ghosts take more damage from fire, lasers and water. The water-based vulnerability also applies to the burning zombies too (although they can be killed with other weapons, if you want to waste ammo), and it’s a really cool gameplay feature.

It isn’t a Super Soaker, it’s a reverse flamethrower!

As for the new weapons, they’re really good too. Although some of them re-use sprites from various other 1990s FPS games, they fit into the game’s setting really well and are fairly satisfying to use. They include a baseball bat, a Super Soaker filled with holy water, a rivet gun, a spray can flamethrower, a magic-based attack and a badass laser gun.

It may look boring, but just wait until you fire it….

In terms of music and sound design, this WAD is really good too 🙂 In addition to some interesting “vintage horror”-style theremin music in one area, one cool feature is that one of the bosses actually has voice-acting, and it is hilarious. I can’t remember the exact wording, but he says something like “Nothing can destroy me… except death” when you kill him. Likewise, Spike will also occasionally say stuff when you pick up weapons and upon death.

All in all, if you’ve got a copy of “Heretic”, then “Ghoul School 3D” is worth checking out. It’s filled with atmosphere, personality, action and humour. The level design is really good too. However, the puzzles can be frustrating at times and one segment of episode two is pretty much unplayable on older computers – so, expect to get stuck or use cheat codes a few times.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four. Because, despite the flaws I’ve mentioned, this WAD has personality, humour, creativity and style. It may have been released in 2017, but I wish that this WAD had been around during the 1990s.

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Review: “Heretic: Shadow Of The Serpent Riders” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m replaying this classic game from my youth (and I’m about four levels away from finishing it), I thought I’d write a review of it. “Heretic: Shadow Of The Serpent Riders” is a fantasy/horror FPS game from 1994 which was made by Raven Software and published by ID Software. It uses a modified version of the “Doom” engine, with a few additional features such as being able to look up and down as well as being able to carry several items which can be used at any point within a level.

The original “Heretic” apparently only had three episodes, however the “Shadow Of The Serpent Riders” edition contains two additional episodes (“The Ossuary” and “The Stagnant Demesne”). Since I bought this game many years ago in a multi-pack (called “Towers Of Darkness”) with another FPS game called “Hexen”, I can’t really comment too much on the original version of this game. But, from what I can tell, it’s exactly the same, but without these two extra episodes. Oh, each episode seems to contain a secret level too (although I’ve only found two of these so far).

I should probably point out that, when I was replaying it, I played it using a source port for “Doom” called GZDoom which allows some features which weren’t part of the original game (such as using the mouse to look around).

In “Heretic” you play an elf whose lands have been taken over by an evil sorcerer called D’Sparil and his hordes of undead minions. Naturally, you have to fight your way through all of them. Yes, in the 1990s, FPS games generally tended to have very little in the way of plot. However, at the end of every episode, there is a “Doom”-like text screen which gives you some more of the storyline. However, the main focus of this game is on action, shooting and finding keys.

In many ways, the gameplay is fairly similar to “Doom” although it’s a much more challenging game in a lot of ways. Although it contains some wonderfully non-linear level design, the keys and switches you need to find in order to complete every level are sometimes fairly well-hidden and you will have to do a fair amount of searching and exploration. In fact, “Heretic” is of of the few FPS games I’ve ever played where I’ve actually had to consult an online walkthrough.

But, saying this, “Heretic” contains a reasonably fair difficulty curve, which will give players a chance to build up their skills as they progress through the game. Yes, it isn’t an easy game (if you’re playing on one of the medium difficulty settings), but it’s a reasonably fair game which will keep challenging you fairly often. Just remember to save quite often.

Going back to the subject of level design, the levels look a lot more impressive than many of the levels in “Doom”. Although the quality of the graphics is pretty similar, there is a lot more variety in terms of settings and there are even a few parts where the settings will affect how you move (eg: icy floors which you can slide across and a bridge with a wind effect which will knock you off of it if you’re not careful and which will also deflect any projectiles from some of your weapons).

As for the weapons, they’re basically just fantasy versions of the weapons from “Doom” and, although I prefer the “Doom” weapons, there are some pretty cool weapons in “Heretic”. For example, instead of the chainsaw (from “Doom II”), you get the “Gauntlets Of The Necromancer” which are basically two gauntlets which fire lightning bolts into anything standing near you. Using these is strangely satisfying and they are one of the coolest weapons I’ve ever seen in a game.

However, some of the weapons, like the crossbow (which replaces the shotgun from “Doom”), fire relatively slow projectiles which distant enemies can dodge fairly easily. But one of the things which makes up for this is an item called the “Tome Of Power”. It’s a rather cool-looking book which, when activated, upgrades your weapons for about forty seconds. As well as being a precursor of sorts to the Quad Damage in “Quake”, it also changes how your weapons behave too.

For example: Your ‘rocket launcher’-style weapon turns into a flamethrower and the “Gauntlets Of The Necromancer” will regenerate your health when you use them against enemies (and this basically makes you invincible when taking on more powerful enemies). Some of the other weapons fire three projectiles instead of one and there are a few other interesting changes too. This item is relatively common, so you’ll probably get a chance to use it in most of the levels in the game.

As well as health power-ups, there are some other interesting and original items which you can carry, such as the “Wings Of Wrath” (which act in a similar way to the jetpack from “Duke Nukem 3D”) and the “Morph Ovum” which turns any enemies in it’s path into chickens. All in all, the items system in this game was very forward-looking for it’s time and it introduces some gameplay mechanics which would be far more well-recognised in games which were released later in the 1990s.

The only problem I have with the items system is that it only lets you keep a few of your items when you move from one level to the next level. Basically, some items will disappear when you start a new level and if you have multiple copies of an item, then you will only have one when you start a new level. I can see why they did this, in order to stop people hoarding items for the more difficult later levels of an episode, but it’s still annoying nonetheless.

Plus, when you start a new episode, you don’t get to keep anything (even your weapons) from the previous episode. I’m not sure if this was an intentional decision on the part of Raven Software or just a limitation of the game engine (since a few other games from the 90s do this too), but it can also be slightly annoying.

All in all, “Heretic” is an incredibly solid game which is well worth playing if you’re into old-school FPS games. Yes, it’s basically a fancy version of “Doom”, but even if (like me) you prefer sci-fi to fantasy, you’ll still find a lot of things to enjoy in “Heretic”. Plus, since it’s a fairly old game, you should be able to find a second-hand copy of it fairly cheaply and it’s also apparently available fairly cheaply on Steam too.

If I had to give “Heretic” a rating out of five, then it would get a fairly solid four and a half.