Mini Review: “Phobos Mission Control” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017 Artwork Phobos Mission Control WAD review

Well, I hadn’t planned to review another “Doom” WAD so soon after reviewing the excellent “Ancient Aliens” (seriously, check it out!) but, the day before I originally wrote this review, I learnt that John Romero had made another new level for the original “Doom” called “Phobos Mission Control“.

I know that I’m even more late to the party (thanks to the long lead times on many of these articles) than I was with Romero’s other new map, but I couldn’t exactly ignore another new level from one of the people who actually designed the classic “Doom” games.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. It will probably work with most modern source ports, but it will not work with the original DOS/Win 95 version of “Ultimate Doom”. Plus, due to the way this WAD is set up, it’s unlikely to work with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Phobos Mission Control”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160803_130405

“Phobos Mission Control” is a replacement for E1M4 of the original “Doom”. What this means is that, when you start playing the game, you need to type “IDCLEV14” to skip to level four before you can start playing it (and, yes, since I’m a “Doom II” player, it took me a while to remember how the level skip cheat differs in the first game).

From what I’ve read, John Romero decided to make a replacement for level four both because he could do a few new things with modern source ports for the game and because the original level four was originally designed by both Romero and Tom Hall (the maker of “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” and a host of other awesome retro games, including one called “Anachronox” that I really must get round to playing and reviewing sometime). So, apparently in the interests of completion, Romero remade level four so he could see what the episode would look like if he designed the whole thing.

And, yes, “Phobos Mission Control” is at least slightly more modern in style when compared to the original levels. One of the first things that you will probably notice is that it contains more monsters than you would expect from a classic “Doom” level, as well as a few cool effects – like numbers made out of shadows and light:

 These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it's still a cool touch.

These also tell you which switch does what. Most players are able to work this out for themselves, but it’s still a cool touch.

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. Like in all great FPS games, the level is a non-linear thing that requires exploration – but it also manages to be considerably more streamlined than Romero’s previous new map.

Interestingly, this level also contains a surprisingly interesting maze segment (consisting of lots of lifts and raised platforms) that takes place in a single giant room. Given that this was made with the original “Doom” textures, resources etc.. it’s really impressive, and it’s good to see that Romero hasn’t forgotten his level design skills.

I'm still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room :)

I’m still amazed how much complexity there is in this one room 🙂

Plus, Romero’s trademark jagged patterns make a low-key appearance as crevices in some of the slime pools in this level.

But, although these areas are meant to be instant-death pits, if you happen to be wearing one of the level’s two shielding suits, then you can end up boringly trapped in them with no way out. Given that “Doom” (and possibly even Romero himself) pretty much invented the idea of ‘idiot-proofing’ otherwise inescapable parts of FPS levels, I’d have expected something slightly better here.

Unlike Romero’s “Tech Gone Bad” level, “Phobos Mission Control” is a lot faster, slightly more compact and slightly more thrilling. Seriously, there were only two times that I briefly got stuck on this level – once where it took me three or four minutes to find a switch and once when I underestimated how difficult the final battle would be.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

Yes, this part of the level is actually a little bit more challenging than it might look at first glance.

And, yes, the difficulty level in “Phobos Mission Control” is fairly interesting. By modern standards, it’s perhaps mildly challenging at most. The best way to describe the difficulty level is that it’s like an enjoyably challenging modern map – but with low-level monsters instead of mid or high-level monsters.

If you’re new to “Doom” then playing through this WAD (and “Final Doom” too) is probably a good way to practice before playing most modern levels.

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc...

The difference is, of course, that in most modern levels, these monsters would be replaced by Barons, Revenants etc…

However, if you somehow played this level back in the 1990s – with old-school controls, no jumping etc… then I imagine that the difficulty would be considerably higher. So, if you want a challenge, then it might be worth seeing whether this WAD is compatible with the “Doom Retro” source port.

All in all, “Phobos Mission Control” is probably my favourite of the new Romero levels. It’s short, fast and fun. Not only is it cool to see that Romero has made another “Doom” level, but it’s great to see that he hasn’t forgotten a thing about level design either. This level is classic “Doom”, with a slight hint of the best parts of modern “Doom” level design too.

If I had to go through the formality of giving a map by John Romero a rating out of five, it would get five. Because, well, it’s the 2010s and John Romero is still making “Doom” levels 🙂

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Today’s Art (16th August 2016)

Here’s the final (if somewhat rushed) episode of “Damania Resurrected” 🙂 I’ll post a retrospective of the entire mini series on here later tonight. In the meantime, you can catch up on the previous mini series here, here, here and here.

This update was kind of rushed, but it was written in response to discovering that John Romero made a new level for “Doom” earlier this year, albeit about a month after the level had been released. And, yes, I make these comics quite far in advance.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Resurrected - New Level" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resurrected – New Level” By C. A. Brown

Mini Review: “Tech Gone Bad” (WAD For “Ultimate Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Yes, time for a totally unbiased and impartial.. Oh, who am I kidding? This is a WAD by one of the inventors of the FPS genre :)

Yes, time for a totally unbiased and impartial.. Oh, who am I kidding? This is a WAD by one of the inventors of the FPS genre 🙂

Although “Tech Gone Bad” was released in mid-January, I didn’t hear about it until sometime in February for some bizarre reason, and I’m somewhat late to the party when it comes to reviewing it.

I should probably point out what makes this WAD so noteworthy. It was made by none other than John Romero himself!

Yes, the designer of the greatest FPS game ever created (I’m more of a “Doom II” fan, but “Doom II” wouldn’t exist if not for “Doom”) and the possible inventor of the FPS genre itself has created a new level for “Doom”. In 2016. Words cannot describe how cool this is.

This level requires the “ZDoom” source port and a copy of “Ultimate Doom” in order to run (it won’t work on “Doom II” or “Final Doom”). In addition to this, if you want to skip straight to the new level, then just start the first episode of “Ultimate Doom” and then type IDCLEV18 to skip to the level.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Tech Gone Bad”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160216_120733

“Tech Gone Bad” is a replacement for the final level of “Knee-Deep In The Dead” for the original “Doom”. It takes advantage of modern source ports to include more monsters and more complexity than the team at ID Software could produce back in 1993.

This level is a large, sprawling thing that took me about half an hour to complete. Like in all good FPS games, the level is a complex, non-linear thing that will require a fair amount of exploration in order to complete. When I started playing this, I originally thought “It’s for the first ‘Doom’, it’ll be an easy level. I’ll finish it in ten minutes” , only to end up completely and utterly lost about twenty minutes later.

Although the design of this level is fairly complex, it is never unfair and – with careful searching – you can usually work out where you’re supposed to go next. The part where I got lost was near the end of the level where there’s a small (and easily missable) corridor hidden in one corner of what initially appears to be a self-contained room at first glance. So, it’s good to know that John Romero can still challenge players through level design alone over twenty years later.

Yes, I spent at least five minutes searching for THIS!

Yes, I spent at least five minutes searching for THIS!

Visually, the level is pretty spectacular when compared to the original game. Although Romero only uses the default textures, he uses them in a variety of creative and inventive ways. And, given that he was part of the team that created the default textures, it wouldn’t exactly be fair to bemoan the lack of new textures.

 The interesting thing is that you can navigate these parts of the level both with and without jumping. Although jumping isn't disabled by default in this WAD, there's one part of the level (after the blue door) that is designed in a way that implies that you're not supposed to jump.

The interesting thing is that you can navigate these parts of the level both with and without jumping. Although jumping isn’t disabled by default in this WAD, there’s one part of the level (after the blue door) that is designed in a way that implies that you’re not supposed to jump.

And the final boss battle looks suitably epic too :)

And the final boss battle looks suitably epic too 🙂

Likewise, it goes without saying but this level has a very classic “Doom” look to it, in the best possible way. There are vast, sweeping outdoor areas and there are cramped, claustrophobic corridor mazes. This variety in design helps to keep the gameplay interesting.

In terms of the gameplay difficulty, this level was a bit more challenging than I expected. Yes, it isn’t close to being as fiendishly difficult as many modern WADs are but, compared to the original “Doom”, it’s surprisingly challenging. Thanks to modern source ports, there’s no limit on the number of monsters that a level can contain and John Romero makes full use of this here.

Although you shouldn’t expect chaotic “slaughtermap”-style areas here, there is at least one awesome set piece where you find yourself fighting a constantly-spawning horde of monsters in a confined area. This took me totally by surprise and, well, it’s good to see that “Doom” can still do this 🙂

Yes!

Yes!

The only minor criticism I have is of the final battle. Whilst it’s an expert updating of the original E1M8 ending, it still feels a little bit anticlimactic in some ways. Even though the difficulty is increased slightly by groups of low-level monsters that spawn around the two Barons Of Hell, anyone who has ever played “Doom II” (and the many modern WADs for it) probably won’t see two Barons as anything too challenging.

Ok, in the original game, this was challenging. But, thanks to "Doom II" and everything that's come since, it's very easy by comparison.

Ok, in the original game, this was challenging. But, thanks to “Doom II” and everything that’s come since, it’s very easy by comparison.

Personally, I’d have preferred it if two cyberdemons appeared at the end of the level. Still, I can see why Romero kept the two Barons for the sake of historical accuracy.

All in all, this is a new “Doom” level by one of the designers of “Doom” and one of the inventors of the FPS genre itself. If you’re a “Doom” player, then it goes without saying that you should play this level. Hell, if you’re a FPS gamer, you should play this level.

If I had to go through the formality of giving this level a rating out of five, it would get a solid five.