Mini Review: “Hanging Gardens” [WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”]

Well, although I’ve got a couple of retro and/or indie games that I plan to review at some point, I was also worried that there might not be a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD review this month.

But, not wanting to play yet another “vanilla” WAD from the 1990s (sorry about all of those recently, many interesting new WADs these days seem to have higher system requirements than they probably should), I decided to search for WADs/TCs from 2011. These would be modern enough to be interesting, but old enough to be guaranteed to work on my classic mid-2000s computer.

After a while, I ended up finding a rather interesting-looking WAD called “Hanging Gardens” by none other than Skillsaw. If you’ve never heard of him before, I have two words for you – “Ancient Aliens” (seriously, play it!). Another WAD by Skillsaw that is also well worth checking out is a somewhat shorter one called “Lunatic” (or possibly one called “Valiant).

Unusually, I ended up returning to the GZDoom source port [version 1.8.10.0 ] whilst playing this WAD, since it apparently only works with GZDoom. Plus, despite the text file’s warning that the WAD is fairly system-intensive, it played fairly smoothly on my vintage mid-2000s computer [1.8 ghz single core, 2gb RAM and GeForce 6100], with the game only crashing once due to an error of some kind.

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

“Hanging Gardens” is a single-level WAD from 2011 that includes new textures, effects, music and monsters. From what I’ve read, this level was originally going to be part of a larger project (that was abandoned for some reason). This is a shame because this level, short as it is, looks really really cool – even if it is missing Skillsaw’s usual sci-fi flourishes:

If anything, this level probably takes more inspiration from the classic “Serious Sam” games. But, wow, it looks really cool 🙂

The level is, as the title suggests, set within a large Ancient Babylon/Ancient Egypt-style outdoor area that is filled with a reasonably large quantity of monsters.

In keeping with the “Serious Sam” influence, one of the two new monsters that can be found here is a Doom-style version of the infamous ‘Beheaded Bomber’ monsters from the first two “Serious Sam” games (who also turn up in Skillsaw’s “Valiant” WAD). As you would expect, these monsters scream loudly and run towards you, before exploding as soon as they hit you.

And, yes, they even have the familiar “Aaaarrrghhh!” sound effect 🙂

The other new monsters are these two level bosses who, if you have the BFG, aren’t as tough as they perhaps should be.

Plus, in true Skillsaw fashion, the level also takes a rather traditionalist attitude towards the controls. What this means is that both crouching and jumping are disabled by default. Still, given that the emphasis of the level is on running, exploring and fighting, this doesn’t really get in the way of the gameplay.

Another interesting change is that the level features new gore effects. Whilst these don’t reach the excesses of “Brutal Doom“, they result in an oddly satisfying explosion of red, green or blue blood (depending on the monster) whenever you shoot at one of the monsters.

Yes! THIS is how to do “gruesome” Doom properly! These new blood effects make the gameplay a bit more visceral, without veering into the cruel sadism of mods like “Brutal Doom”.

But, despite Skillsaw’s reputation for challenging “slaughtermap”-style levels and the fact that he’s taken influence from the game that spawned this sub-genre of “Doom II” levels, this level is surprisingly… easy (relatively speaking, of course).

Yes, there’s a fairly large number of monsters (including an arch-vile or two) and the level is a lot of fun – but the vast outdoor areas and the generous quantity of health items means that dodging, fighting and surviving is a bit easier than you might expect if you’re an experienced “Doom II” player.

Literally, all you have to do is to keep running and dodging. There’s lots of room and a surprising number of megaspheres/ soulspheres. Still, it’s probably a good level for people who are new to this sub-genre of “Doom II” levels.

In fact, the most difficult part of the entire level is getting the red key. Surprisingly, despite going round in circles for at least ten minutes looking for a switch or an accessible ledge, I couldn’t find any way to get to it. And, reluctantly, I eventually resorted to briefly using the “no clipping” cheat.

I’m still not sure how you’re supposed to get up there legitimately. The only ledge overlooking this platform is blocked by several tree sprites.

In terms of the music, it’s a fairly cool piece of 1980s-style synth music. Still, it’s a little bit quiet and understated (to the point that I barely noticed it most of the time when I was playing). Although it’s still cool, I think that more of an Ancient Egypt-style piece of background music would have been a better fit with this level.

All in all, this is a reasonably good – albeit flawed – level. Yes, it looks really cool and there’s some interesting new stuff too, but the difficulty is a little on the easy side (relatively speaking) and I’m still not sure how you’re supposed to get the red key legitimately. Still, it’s certainly an enjoyable way to spend 45-60 minutes, not to mention that it’s always cool to see another Skillsaw level too.

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

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

Well, although I’d vaguely planned to play and review a strategy game called “Eador: Genesis”, I seem to be more in the mood for FPS gaming at the moment.

So, since it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD, I decided to use the ‘random file’ feature on the “/idgames Archive” again and, after a couple of goes, I found a rather interesting-looking level from 1997 or 1999 called “Woodburn“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port [v 2.7.9999.0 ] whilst playing this WAD. The notation that comes with the WAD seems to suggest that it might have problems if you use “Legacy”. However, it will probably work on most modern limit-removing source ports.

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

“Woodburn” is a single short “vanilla” level (eg: no new textures, monsters etc…) for “Doom II” and “Final Doom”. But, what it lacks in length, it certainly makes up for with fast-paced and challenging gameplay.

Ok, it’s mostly “challenging by late 1990s standards” challenging, but still….

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it contains a lot of imps. Whilst large numbers of monsters are nothing new in “Doom II” WADs, “Woodburn” is somewhat different to more modern “slaughtermap“-style levels for the simple reason that it consists of lots of claustrophobic corridors and balconies, many of which are within view of other imps and/or other projectile-firing monsters (in fact, there isn’t a single hitscan monster in this level!).

Yay! Projectile dodging!

What this means is that the difficulty in this level is less “strategy-based slaughtermap gameplay” and more “difficult, and occasionally cheap, traditional-style ‘Doom II’ gameplay“. Because you often don’t have a lot of room to move or dodge, this forces you to play in a much more aggressive way than in many other monster-filled levels (which often favour strategy, retreating, circlestrafing etc..).

Although this would be an interesting change of pace, it is let down slightly by the ammo distribution throughout the level. Although you’ll have enough shotgun and plasma rifle ammo to deal with the many imps (and one arachnotron) in the first half of the level, expect to start running a bit low later in the level. This is especially annoying since it is at this point that the level begins to introduce more mid-level monsters.

Yes, good ammo management matters more than you might think. Running away can also work too…

Even though you get a chaingun and several large boxes of bullets during this part of the level, it is too little too late. This is especially true considering that you’ll also be facing narrow walkways filled with revenants. Luckily, all of these segments of the level can be dodged in various ways.

Yes, you probably don’t want to stay on this walkway for very long…

As for the level design itself, it’s surprisingly good. The level is a small, but complicated, multi-layered maze that is well within the tradition of classic non-linear “Doom II” levels.

The claustrophobic corridors and platforms also help to add extra challenge to the level too (even though this can veer into “cheap difficulty” territory sometimes). Likewise, there is one clever segment where you have to cross a large slime-covered area, whilst avoiding teleporters that will transport you into an inescapable tower that is surrounded by monsters.

However, if you have jumping enabled, then it’s more escapable. Which brings me on to…

… I am not sure if this level is meant to be played with jumping enabled (if your source port allows jumping). Theoretically, this level can probably be completed without jumping. But, the level is somewhat more forgiving if you use jumping occasionally. So, choosing whether to jump or not probably allows you to vary the difficulty slightly.

For example, to get the yellow key, you have to stand in the middle of a large area of radioactive sludge and wait for a platform to descend. Whilst this normally wouldn’t be an issue, it’s very likely that you’ll only have a few health points remaining at that point. So, jumping onto the platform as early as you can might not be a bad decision.

All in all, this is a fun, furious and challenging level that will probably provide you with 15-30 minutes of entertainment. Yes, the difficulty can sometimes feel a little cheap and the ammo distribution isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun and reasonably well-designed little level.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get at least three and a half.

Mini Review: “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)” [WAD For “Ultimate Doom”]

Well, although I plan to review a game called “Deus Ex: Invisible War” at some point in the future, I realised that it had been a while since I last reviewed any “Doom” WADs. So, not sure what to review, I ended up using the “Random File” feature on the “/idgames archive” until I found a WAD from 1994 called “HighWire (Rocket Jones Vol. II)“.

Note: This WAD will only work with “Ultimate Doom” or possibly old copies of the original three-episode version of “Doom”. Since it takes up the E1M1 level slot, it is NOT compatible with “Doom II” or “Final Doom”. However, given the age of the WAD, it is not only compatible with literally any source port [I used “ZDoom”] but also probably the original DOS version of “Doom” too.

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

“HighWire” consists of a single short level. Although this vintage level doesn’t feature any new textures, weapons, monsters or music, the level has a couple of interesting features that help to prevent it from becoming monotonous or boring.

The main gameplay innovation in this level is that, for the most part, the only weapon available to you is the rocket launcher. Not only that, large portions of the level take place on narrow catwalks above pits of radioactive sludge.

Yes, it’s a 90s level for a 90s FPS game, so expect some inventiveness and creativity 🙂

Although this might sound like a cheap trick, it actually makes the level surprisingly enjoyable. Since you also still have a pistol (with fifty bullets, plus the ten in the backpack at the beginning of the level), this makes some parts of the level a little bit more forgiving – especially given that you often have barely any room to run away from monsters if they get too close. But, the limited ammo supply for the pistol also helps to prevent players from relying on it too often. However, this is a level which requires perseverance and strategy in order to beat.

Basically, when you enter an area, you have to start firing rockets almost immediately. Not only that, you also have to work out which monsters you need to shoot first, lest any get too close to you. This allows a short level with a relatively low number of weak to medium strength monsters (eg: imps, lost souls and cacodemons) to include the kind of challenging, strategy-based gameplay that is only usually found in modern “slaughtermap” levels (that contain hundreds or thousands of more powerful monsters). The strict rationing and relative scarcity of health pickups also helps in this regard too.

This is perhaps the first time in the history of “Doom” that a small number of lost souls on the other side of a room is actually a serious challenge to the player!

As for the level design, it’s surprisingly good. Even though this tiny level is basically a progression through about 4-5 rooms of varying sizes, there are a few clever tricks that help to prevent the level design from appearing too linear.

For example, after beating the first series of catwalks, you enter a room with a narrow path surrounded by lava. This helps to provide a little bit of variety to the room design. But, after you’ve fought all of the monsters in this room and pressed the switch, you actually have to go back across the previous room (via a different path) to get to the next room.

Aside from the very beginning and very end of the level, this is the only room without platforms. Yet, the path-based design helps to keep the room thematically consistent, whilst also providing some variety for the player.

Likewise, the next room (a large area with catwalks) is also fairly innovative for the simple reason that you have to fight two “waves” of monsters.

First of all, you have to defeat several lost souls with a rocket launcher. Then ,after you’ve pressed a button, some raised platforms lower and a number of cacodemons appear. This requires a change in strategy, since you can’t really fight all of them. So, you actually have to fight a couple and work out a way to grab two keys before they swarm you.

As I said, in some ways, this level is similar to a modern-style “slaughtermap” level in terms of strategic gameplay – even though it contains relatively few monsters.

Although the level doesn’t contain any new music, one cool feature is that – because it takes up the E1M1 level slot – it features the classic “E1M1” background music. Given that this is an absolutely epic piece of music which is pretty much symbolic of the classic “Doom” games, it really helps to add some extra drama to the level.

All in all, for a tiny level made in 1994, this is actually surprisingly good! Even with a relatively small number of weaker monsters, the clever level and gameplay design here helps to ensure that even experienced players will find it enjoyably challenging.

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

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.

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”)

2017-artwork-altar-of-evil-wad-review-sketch

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.