Mini Review: “Brown And Red” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”/”Boom”)

Well, although I’d planned to finish and review a classic computer game called “Riven“, I seem to have drifted away from that game a bit. So, instead, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a level for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” called “Brown And Red” because it’s been about a month or so since I last played any new fan-made levels for these awesome games.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD and encountered no technical problems with it. However, it was apparently designed for “Boom-compatible” source ports (and I’m not sure if ZDoom falls under this category). As usual, I also used the medium difficulty setting [the “Hurt Me Plenty” setting].

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Brown And Red”:

“Brown And Red” is a short, single-level “slaughtermap” WAD. If you’ve never heard of this type of level before, it’s a level that contains many more monsters than you can actually fight. What this means is that, contrary to the macabre name, the emphasis of the game shifts from mindless combat to something more like fast-paced puzzle-solving.

In a good “slaughtermap” level, knowing when to run or hide instead of fight is part of the challenge. Having a dogged sense of perseverence and trying to avoid too much combat are essential elements of winning. It’s a type of level that rewards experienced players who have an intuitive understanding of the “rules” of “Doom” and can turn them to their advantage. And, when done well, it is one of the most thrilling FPS gaming experiences it is possible to have.

Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case in “Brown And Red”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really fun level – but, as a “slaughtermap” level, it fails for the simple reason that it’s far too easy. And, before anyone says anything, I almost always use medium difficulty – so I’m saying that it’s easy compared to other slaughtermaps I’ve played on medium.

The level starts off in a small claustophobic series of corridors where you’ll have to fight a few mid-low level monsters. The lighting and shadows in this part of the level are really excellent and they help to add a bit of atmosphere to the level.

Although it’s not particularly scary, it certainly fits into the classic ‘Scary, dark and fast’ quote about the original “Doom”.

After this, you find yourself somewhere that will be familiar to anyone who has played a “slaughtermap” level before – a large arena-like area that is suspiciously empty…

Filled with gigantic hordes of monsters? Ha! What would give you that idea?

Of course, after you’ve explored a bit and thought about picking up the rocket launcher, the monsters start appearing. Although I expected this to happen, this moment was spectacularly dramatic enough to actually take me by surprise.

With an inhuman roar, a swarm of cacodemons and a small crowd of pinkie demons is violently disgorged from the building at the other end of the arena. Whilst this is going on, the air is filled with the distinctive screeching of multiple Revenants teleporting in. It’s a really cool moment:

Seriously, this screenshot really doesn’t do it justice.

But, since you’ve got a fully-loaded rocket launcher, since the monsters you’re fighting are slow and relatively weak, since the arena is fairly large and since the most dangerous monsters in the arena (the Revenants) are contained within alcoves that have pillars right next to them that you can hide behind, it really isn’t anywhere near as challenging as it should be. Add to that the surprising abundance of health items in the area, and it really isn’t a proper “slaughtermap”.

After you’ve wiped out literally all of the monsters at a fairly leisurely pace, it might take you a couple of minutes to work out how to open the door at the other end of the arena. Once you’ve opened it, you find yourself in a medium-sized rectangular room with a button in the middle of it.

Hmm… Should I press this button? Maybe something nice will happen?

Needless to say, once you press the button – the room locks itself and monsters start teleporting in. This part of the level is, at least, moderately challenging. Thanks to the size and shape of the room and the fact that some parts of the floor will damage you if you stand on them for too long, there’s a bit of a challenge here.

I’m still puzzled by the random face in the background though.

Yet, like earlier in the level, this part of the level is let down by a couple of poor design choices. The first is that this area contains enough plasma rifle ammunition for you to fight literally all of the monsters (especially when you take monster infighting into account) and still have some power cells left over afterwards. Given that this is one of the most powerful weapons in the game, there’s a good reason why ammunition for it is usually fairly scarce in most challenging “Doom II” levels.

Secondly, there aren’t any seriously threatening monsters. This area would be vastly improved by the inclusion of even a single arch-vile. Having a monster with an extremely powerful attack and the ability to resurrect other monsters forces the player to think fast and to play more tactically. Without an arch-vile or two, the main strategy for this area is just “run around and hold down the fire button”.

After this area, you walk down a rather cool-looking series of corridors and then…. the level’s over.

Which is a shame, because this part of the level makes it seem like the rest of the level has been lulling you into a false sense of security.

One thing that helps to make this level a bit more interesting is the music. Even though the gameplay is a bit on the easy side of things, the gloomy and vaguely “Resident Evil”-like instrumental music in the background helps to add a sense of ominous dread to the level.

All in all, despite my criticisms, this isn’t exactly a “bad” level. It’s a fun way to spend twenty minutes or so. But, I guess that this is one of the few “slaughtermap” levels that probably should be played on higher difficulty settings. Still, if you’re new to the genre or are less experienced with “Doom II”, then it’s probably a fairly gentle way to introduce yourself to this type of level.

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

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Mini Review: “Black Magnetic” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, I was in the mood for another “Doom II” level, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting-looking cyberpunk WAD from 2015 called “Black Magnetic“.

Surprisingly, I actually returned to the “GZDoom” source port for this WAD, since – unlike a lot of other modern WADs – it’s actually compatible with a version of GZDoom that will actually run on my computer (version 1.8.10, if anyone is curious. Normally, I just use “ZDoom” these days though).

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

Not to be confused with Metallica’s “Black Album” or their “Death Magnetic” album.

“Black Magnetic” is a single-level WAD that includes new music, sounds, voice-acting (for several monsters), monsters, textures, item sprites and weapons.

The easiest way to describe this WAD is that it’s almost kind of like a mixture of “Quake II”, “Quake” and various 90s cyberpunk games. But, at the same time, it’s also it’s own thing as well.

Seriously, the lighting in this level is gloriously gothic and wonderfully cyberpunk 🙂 And, yes, this is probably a GZDoom-specific thing.

And just look at this awesome skybox from the beginning of the level 🙂

Even though it contains a fair amount of sounds, health item sprites etc.. from the classic “Quake” games, this level sets itself apart because of the way that it handles difficulty.

Instead of throwing large numbers of monsters at you, this level contains a slightly smaller number of more powerful monsters. In other words, the zombie soldiers and cyborgs you’ll be fighting are pretty much as powerful and well-armoured as you are (or, in some cases, more!). Even the creator’s description of the WAD tells you that you’ll need to take cover a lot.

Yes, this battle isn’t as ridiculously easy as it might appear at first glance. Yes, it’s techically a cover-based shooter, but a good one WITHOUT regenerating health!

And, yes, the imps now want to add your technological and cultural distinctiveness to their own. Resistance is futile.

Likewise, some of the new monsters in this level have a rather fiendish trick up their sleeves. When certain types of cyborg enemies die, they release a few “Heretic”-style metal spheres which roll around randomly. When these spheres stop rolling, they explode and spray nails in all directions. Needless to say, as soon as one of these enemies dies, it’s usually a good idea to run or to find something to hide behind.

Yes, once you see these, then RUN!!

The level’s weapons help to add to the difficulty too. For starters, you don’t have any melee weapons whatsoever (although ammo for weaker weapons isn’t exactly in short supply). Likewise, you don’t really gain any seriously powerful weapons until relatively late into the level. What this means is that you’ll spend quite a lot of time using a pistol, shotgun and/or assault rifle that feels slightly under-powered when used against the level’s well-armoured monsters.

Yes, you’ll get a Super Shotgun (with a new sprite) and the devastator from “Duke Nukem 3D” a bit later on but even these don’t make the game as easy as you might think.

Yes, the Super Shotgun can kill some types of enemies with a single close-range shot, but the reloading animation seems to be very slightly longer than in “Doom II”. Likewise, the devastator is suitably powerful, but ammo for it is fairly scarce. Plus, it’s worth saving some devastator rockets for the final boss battle too.

Yes, these are the Cyber-Baron monsters that you may have seen in other WADs, rather than ordinary Barons.

In terms of the level design, it’s pretty much what you would expect. The level is complex, non-linear and of medium-sized. It’s a good example of mid-late 1990s-style level design and it is wonderful to see here. In terms of length, this level will probably take an experienced player about an hour to complete (although a lot of this is due to the added difficulty from the new monsters and weapons).

In terms of background music, this level uses one of the more dramatic pieces of background music from “Quake 2”. It’s basically heavy metal and it sounds awesome 🙂 The only annoying thing is that it also includes the radio messages from “Quake 2”, which can sometimes make you think that there are monsters nearby when there aren’t.

All in all, this is a surprisingly challenging and inventive level that has a really cool mid-late 90s cyberpunk look and atmosphere to it. It’s dark, it’s futuristic and it’s industrial. Yes, this level borrows quite a bit from the first two “Quake” games, but it’s very much it’s own thing at the same time. Whilst the way that the level achieves it’s difficulty may seem slightly frustrating at times, it’s a great example of 90s-style innovation in the modern day.

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

Mini Review: “Altar Of Evil” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

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Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting one called “Altar Of Evil” which was one of the runners-up for a Cacoward in 2005.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD.

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

screenshot_doom_20170302_133245

“Altar Of Evil” is a single-level WAD that contains new sounds, textures and sprites.

The first thing that I will say about this WAD is that it looks really cool, since it has a fairly consistent green/orange/black colour scheme and some wonderfully ominous lighting too. Although many of the new textures aren’t really that obvious, it still looks like a better version of something you would expect to find in the “standard” game.

Seriously, I love the lighting in this level :)

Seriously, I love the lighting in this level 🙂

The interesting visual design of this WAD also extends to the monster sprites, some of which have been altered in various ways.

Most notably, the imps now use a variant of the “Dark Imp” sprite used by various other WADs. They also fire green projectiles, which compliment the red projectiles that the Barons and Hell Knights now throw at you. Other notable monster sprite changes include a dark grey mancubus and three types of pinkie demons (eg: dark pink, blue and dark grey).

The blue pinkie demons are really cool, and they seem to be a replacement for the "spectre" monsters. So, WHAT are the dark grey pinkie demons?

The blue pinkie demons are really cool, and they seem to be a replacement for the “spectre” monsters. So, WHAT are the dark grey pinkie demons?

Yes, dark imps are nothing new. But, the green projectiles are really neat though.

Yes, dark imps are nothing new. But, the green projectiles are really neat though.

But, the main thing that gives this WAD it’s atmosphere has to be the new sounds.

Seriously, I cannot praise the sound design in this WAD highly enough – all of the weapon sounds and monster noises sound a little bit like a heavier and like a more “realistic” version of the kind of sound effects that you’d expect to hear in the original “Quake”.

The stand-out sound effects have to be the new super shotgun noise and the epic, thunderous roar of the BFG:

There's a reason why you'll run out of BFG ammo fairly quickly in this level. The new sound effect is just THAT epic!

There’s a reason why you’ll run out of BFG ammo fairly quickly in this level. The new sound effect is just THAT epic!

But, although this WAD has a lot of atmosphere, is the gameplay and level design any good? In a word, yes.

“Altar Of Evil” is an old-school non-linear level which still manages to be “streamlined” enough that you’ll rarely wonder where you’re supposed to go next. The level manages to be reasonably large without being too large (eg: you won’t really get lost when playing this level). There are a couple of cool little elements to this level, such as a pit in the corner of one room which Cacodemons rise out of and which you have to jump into in order to progress to the next part of the level.

As for the gameplay, this WAD contains a mixture of traditional-style gameplay and some mild slaughtermap elements. Throughout the very early stages of the level, you’ll be fighting reasonable numbers of monsters in relatively spacious areas. But, in later parts of the level, you’ll be fighting larger numbers of monsters in more confined spaces. This really helps to add some variety and challenge to the level, which keeps things interesting.

Yes, there are more monsters in this area than shown in the screenshot. Still, most of them are fairly low-level ones.

Yes, there are more monsters in this area than shown in the screenshot. Still, most of them are fairly low-level ones.

However, in terms of difficulty, experienced players will only find this level to be moderately challenging at most. Although there are a decent number of mid-level monsters (and the obligatory arch-vile too), many of the larger groups of monsters you will encounter in this level are mostly composed of imps, pinkie demons and/or cacodemons.

Yes, there's only one arch-vile here. Still, one arch-vile is objectively better than no arch-viles.

Yes, there’s only one arch-vile here. Still, one arch-vile is objectively better than no arch-viles.

Even so, thanks to the cramped corridors and claustrophobic chambers you’ll encounter in some parts of the level, even low-level monsters can pose more of a threat than you might initially think.

All in all, this is a really cool WAD. It’s extremely atmospheric, it manages to be both “new” and “traditional” at the same time, the gameplay is enjoyably challenging and some of the new weapon sounds are absolutely epic. It’s kind of like the original “Quake”, but with the much cooler aesthetic of the classic “Doom” games.

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

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

2017-artwork-miasma-wad-review-sketch

Well, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since I last played a “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d take a look for one called “Miasma” that won a Cacoward in 2016.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD. From what I’ve read, it will work on most other modern limit-removing source ports, although it apparently might cause problems if you’re using ZDaemon. But, if – like me – you’re using an older computer, expect a little bit of slowdown in a couple of the more monster-filled areas of the level. Whilst this didn’t render the game unplayable, it was slightly annoying nonetheless.

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

screenshot_doom_20170214_201920

“Miasma” is a large single-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” which contains new music and textures. One of the first things that you will notice when you play this WAD is it’s very distinctive green/brown colour scheme. Whilst this adds some atmosphere to the WAD, it isn’t really as distinctive as the blue colour scheme in “Swim With The Whales” or the purple/brown colour scheme in “Stardate 20X6“.

You’ll notice that I’ve just mentioned two fiendishly difficult “slaughtermap” WADs and there’s a reason for this. “Miasma” is vaguely reminiscent of both of these WADs but, whilst it’s a good WAD, it doesn’t quite reach their high standards for a number of reasons. Whilst the distinctive colour scheme, the challenging gameplay and the slightly eerie music wouldn’t be too out of place in those other WADs, there are some significant gameplay differences.

Well, sort of...

Well, sort of…

The main difference is that, in some ways, this level seems to be too large and too complex for it’s own good. Although this is something of a change from the more linear nature of many “slaughtermap”-style WADs and it’s a sign that the level’s creator spent a lot of time making the level, it also means that you’ll spend quite a while wandering around in circles whilst completely and utterly lost. This is also compounded by the fact that many of the level’s locked doors are…. completely optional.

I spent quite a while searching for keys and new parts of the level and only happened to stumble across the exit by accident whilst revisiting a monster-filled area I’d barely managed to escape from earlier. There was no real sense of achievement or logical progression to this, just a sense of “Oh, there it is! At least I don’t have to go round in circles again“.

How... Serendipitous.

How… Serendipitous.

This extreme non-linearity occasionally makes some of the level’s more dramatic set pieces feel somewhat cheap. You can spend quite a while fighting your way through a horde of monsters or trying to escape one of the level’s fiendish set pieces, only to find that all of your effort has been for nothing.

Sometimes all you’ll recieve for your efforts is a new way to return to an area you’ve already visited. Generally speaking, highly-challenging areas of a level should reward the player with some kind of genuine progression (eg: access to a totally new part of the level) – and this seems to be missing in some parts of this level.

After a lot of searching, I found this place. And, after several attempts, I managed to escape from this monster-filled pit and... ended up near the beginning of the level. Well, THAT was a waste of time!

After a lot of searching, I found this place. And, after several attempts, I managed to escape from this monster-filled pit and… ended up near the beginning of the level. Well, THAT was a waste of time!

As bizarre, heretical and counter-intuitive as it might sound, this level would have probably benefitted from a little bit of linearity.

No, I’m not saying that it should be a boring “Call Of Duty”-style corridor level. But, whilst there should be explorable areas and a few short alternative paths, there should be a slightly clearer sense of where the player should go next. Most great non-linear FPS game levels achieve this by making the level just small enough that the player will find where they’re supposed to go after a few minutes of searching. But, with a level of this size, you often don’t even know where to start looking.

Fun fact, this isn't an essential part of the level. It's a ledge that you can jump onto that will allow you to reach two monster-filled areas that aren't hugely relevant to the level.

Fun fact, this isn’t an essential part of the level. It’s a ledge that you can jump onto that will allow you to reach two monster-filled areas that aren’t hugely relevant to the level.

That said, this is a good level. It’s the kind of level that requires perseverence, skill and a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom II” to complete. Plus, whilst there are some reasonably good set pieces where you’ll have to use tactics to fight or escape large numbers of monsters in claustrophobic areas, there are also a few more “traditional” parts of the level (in terms of monster numbers and placement) that help to add some variety to the gameplay.

The beginning of the level is more like a traditional "Doom II" level in some ways.

The beginning of the level is more like a traditional “Doom II” level in some ways.

The set pieces are thrilling and well-made, but they are rarely that surprising. They’re just slaughtermap set pieces that require you to dodge or fight ludicrious numbers of monsters until you can find a switch of some kind. They’re really solid but, if you’ve played a few slaughtermaps before, there’s rarely any kind of serious “wow” factor to these parts of the level. They’re often just good, ordinary slaughtermap set pieces.

Visually speaking, this WAD looks pretty cool. Although most of the WAD just looks a little bit like a slightly more gothic/cyberpunk version of “standard” Doom II, there are some brilliantly designed areas that look a bit more atmospheric and dramatic. Plus, one cool touch is that the chaingun zombies now have green sprites instead of red ones. I love WADs that have a distinctive colour scheme (Ancient Aliens” truly excels at this) and this WAD doesn’t disappoint here.

 This part of the level looks really cool. I wish more of the level looked like this :)

This part of the level looks really cool. I wish more of the level looked like this 🙂

Plus, this slight adjustment to the chaingun zombie sprites fits in with the aesthetic of the level really well too 🙂

Another cool thing about this level is the music. The main background music in the level is simultaneously eerie, relaxing and slightly retro. Whilst it doesn’t always complement the fast-paced thrills of some areas of the level, it helps to add a bit of extra atmosphere to the level. Plus, another cool touch is that the safe room music from the original “Resident Evil” plays during the stats screen at the end of the level.

All in all, this is a good “Doom II” WAD, but I don’t know if I’d call it a “great” one. Yes, the extreme non-linearity and size of this level probably took a lot of effort to make and it’s probably an interesting design experiment. But, strange as it sounds, this level could have probably benefitted from being just a little bit more focused and compact.

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

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

2017-artwork-foursite-wad-review-sketch

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: “Axebreaker” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”)

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Well, I was in the mood for playing and reviewing another “Doom II” WAD but, after downloading two cool-looking (but non-functional), WADs from ModDB, I was about to give up in frustration when I thought “I’ll try the ‘random file’ feature on Doomworld“.

It took me a couple of tries, but I soon found an interesting-sounding single player WAD from 2010 called “Axebreaker“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Although it will probably work on pretty much any modern source port for “Doom II” or “Final Doom” that allows jumping.

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

It may not look like much in this screenshot, but this is one of the most fun parts of the level :)

It may not look like much in this screenshot, but this is one of the most fun parts of the level 🙂

“Axebreaker” is a short, single-level “vanilla” Doom II/ Final Doom WAD. The level begins in an arena-like area where you are armed with nothing more than a pistol and surrounded by a few low-level and mid-level monsters. This is, by far, the most fun part of the level.

The gameplay at the beginning of the level is fast, frenetic and strategic as you frantically dodge projectiles and search for more powerful weapons. Experienced players will probably find this to be an enjoyable, but short, challenge. However, newer players might find it to be genuinely difficult.

Well, ok it isn't exactly a "slaughtermap", but the combat is surprisingly fast-paced for "Doom II" and you'll probably spend at least the first third of the fight armed with nothing more than the basic pistol.

Well, ok it isn’t exactly a “slaughtermap”, but the combat is surprisingly fast-paced for “Doom II” and you’ll probably spend at least the first third of the fight armed with nothing more than the basic pistol.

One of the best parts of the beginning of the level is probably getting the super shotgun, which is placed on the edge of a ledge that is occupied by a mancubus.

Since you probably won’t have enough ammo to actually fight the mancubus – what you have to do is to lure it to the far end of the ledge. This gives you time to run up the stairs, dodge it’s attacks and grab the super shotgun before falling to safety. It’s moments like this that make “Doom II” such a fun game!

Yay! Strategy :)

Yay! Strategy 🙂

But, despite it’s strong start, the rest of the level isn’t quite as well-designed. The description on the WAD’s “Doomworld” page suggests that you have to spend the beginning of the level gathering weapons for an epic boss battle with a Spider Mastermind.

However, when I played the level, I was able to bypass the entire boss battle and complete the level with a bit of running, some careful dodging and a couple of jumps.

Once you get to the platform that the Spider Mastermind is sitting on, the button that ends the level is hidden behind a short wall. Yes, you’re supposed to press two switches on opposite ends of the platform (after defeating the boss) to lower the wall – but the wall is short enough to be easily jumped over.

Like this!  In fact, even this Arachnotron can be beaten fairly easily by just hiding behind the wall at the back of this area, which can also be jumped onto.

Like this! In fact, even this Arachnotron can be beaten fairly easily by just hiding behind the wall at the back of this area, which can also be jumped onto.

If this was a WAD made in 1994, I could understand why the ending was set up in this way. But, since it’s from 2010, it’s designer must have known that most modern source ports allow jumping by default. This is especially true since it seems like you can’t actually reach the platform that the boss is standing on without jumping onto another platform. So, the wall at the end of the level should have been slightly taller.

Still, feeling like it was too easy, I went back and tried to beat this part of the level without jumping over the wall. In the process, I was compelled to explore a bit more and actually discovered several other areas near the beginning of the level that contain extra weapons and ammunition. Not only that, the boss battle is actually quite challenging if you don’t just jump over the barrier at the end.

Especially when you start running out of health and/or ammo for your rapidly-firing weapons.

Especially when you start running out of health and/or ammo for your rapidly-firing weapons.

One thing that increases the difficulty of the boss battle is the fact that part of the area in front of the boss will actually damage you when you stand on it. Likewise, there’s relatively little cover to hide behind too.

In fact, the only way that I was able to get through this part of the level (with the amount of health I had left) was when I discovered that the area in front of the boss doesn’t actually damage you if you crouch. I don’t know if this was a programming error, or something specific to the source port I used, but it was probably borderline cheating.

All in all, this is a WAD with some fun elements – but one which is let down slightly by some poor design choices. Depending on how you play the final part of the level, it’s either laughably easily or enjoyably challenging. Even so, the beginning of the level is quite cool.

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

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 🙂