Review: “Osiris” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book I’ll be reviewing (“Nefertiti” By Michelle Moran), I thought that I’d review another “Doom II” WAD. After all, it’s been a few weeks since the last one. And, since I was in an “ancient Egypt” kind of mood, I decided to check out a rather cool WAD from 1996 called “Osiris“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, interestingly, the WAD also comes with an installer program – so it will probably work with the original DOS/Win 95 versions of “Doom II”. I’m not sure if it’ll work with the original Win 95 version of “Final Doom”, but – if you use a source port – it is compatible with the “Final Doom” IWADs.

So, let’s take a look at “Osiris”:

“Osiris” is an eight-level WAD that includes new sounds, textures, skyboxes, sprites, music and a new weapon. One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is… wow! For a WAD made twenty-three years ago, it is as impressive as a more modern WAD. Not only that, it was also inspired by the movie “Stargate” too – which just makes it even cooler 🙂

Woo hoo! Seriously, I love Stargate-themed WADs 🙂

And there are even “Stargate” computers too 🙂

Where do I even begin with this WAD? The level design is ’90s level design at it’s very best. All of the levels are wonderfully non-linear and there’s a really cool mixture between tense claustrophobic levels, epic levels set in multiple locations, the occasional switch-puzzle based level, an arena battle or two – and at least one level which has a vaguely “loop”-like structure (eg: you end up near the beginning at the end of the level). Plus, one other cool thing about the level design is that the beginning of each level looks like the end of the previous level.

There are also lots of cool little flourishes and tricks. For example, there’s one area where you stand on an unstable floor and it collapses. Ok, it’s just a one-way lift. But, the speed of it and the accompanying sound effects really make it seem like the floor has suddenly collapsed. Plus, all of the new textures mean that many of the levels look absolutely spectacular too 🙂

Yay! Ancient Egypt 🙂

And THIS is like something from Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” album too 🙂

Which brings me on to the sound design. Normally, I don’t talk about the sounds and music until later in a review, but the sound design in this WAD really blew me away. Not only do all of the weapons sound ten times as thunderous, but there are also more intense monster sounds, lots of cool sound effects, even some voice acting in the background (eg: an ominous voice) and some truly excellent music – which is a brilliantly fitting mixture of “Ancient Egypt”-style music and 1980s/90s-style rock music 🙂

In terms of the monsters, there are some really awesome sprite replacements. The best ones are probably the fact that the imps have been replaced by Anubis-like creatures and, even better, the pinky demons have been replaced by hooded scythe-wielding zombies with glowing eyes:

Seriously, this guy needs to appear on a heavy metal album cover 🙂

It’s bark is worse than it’s bite, I think.

My only criticism of the monsters, and this might have been because of the source port I was using, is that there’s a really hilarious glitch. Basically, if you gib either the zombieman or the shotgun zombie, then ammo drops will keep spawning from their bodies in a vaguely fountain-like fashion.

Well, at least I’m not going to be running out of ammo any time soon…

One interesting thing about this WAD is how it achieves it’s difficulty. Although experienced players will find this WAD to be mildly-moderately challenging at most, one innovative trick is that many of the levels are filled with hit-scanning monsters. Whilst this does lead to some rather cheap moments (eg: monsters sniping you from a distance), it really helps to ramp up the drama and suspense of many of the game’s battles.

Plus, there are a lot of chaingun zombies too – which also adds to the difficulty as well 🙂

In terms of the weapons, they’re fairly interesting. Although the fist, chaingun and plasma rifle get some rather interesting-looking sprite replacements, the rocket launcher is replaced by a flamethrower. This is a weapon that can actually be used at close range, although the trajectory of the shots means that it doesn’t always work as well at longer ranges (which helps to balance it slightly).

In the words of Rammstein, feuer frei!

All in all, this is a really impressive WAD 🙂 Not only is it thrillingly fun, but it also gets the “ancient Egypt” atmosphere absolutely right. In other words, it feels as gloriously dramatic and stylised as not only the original “Stargate” film, but also other ancient Egypt themed FPS games like “Killing Time“, “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” and “Exhumed” too 🙂 The level design is splendid and both the sound and sprite replacements are really cool too. As I said before, this is as impressive as a good modern WAD and it was made in 1996. Seriously, this is awesome 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five 🙂

Mini Review: “Xmas Doom ’99” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Christmas, “Doom II” and 1990s nostalgia – is there anything better? In keeping with tradition, I thought that I’d try to review at least one Christmas-themed “Doom II” WAD this month. And, after finding one called “Xmas Doom ’99“, I just couldn’t resist taking a look at it.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, but I guess that it will probably work with any source port that allows jumping.

So, let’s take a look at “Xmas Doom ’99”:

“Xmas Doom ’99” is a two-level WAD from (you guessed it) 1999. It also contains new music, new textures, a new skybox and new menu text too. Yes, you heard me correctly, new menu text. The difficulty setting descriptions have been replaced with hilariously festive things like “Bambi Mode” and “Hail Santa!”.

But, you might be wondering why I mentioned this, of all things, first. Well, it’s because it is probably the best part of this WAD. Although the new background music during the main menu and the first level is pretty cool too and the new monster textures are fairly amusing (especially how the monsters’ hats fall off when they die), the novelty difficulty setting text is, by far, the best part of this WAD.

You can probably see where I’m going with this….

But, what about the level design? Or, you know, the actual gameplay? Well… er… Let’s just say my rose-tinted nostalgia about the 1990s clouded my judgement when choosing this WAD. Whilst the level design isn’t exactly objectively terrible, it isn’t great either.

Both levels are reasonably short and have some cool-looking segments, but they can be a little bit annoying to play. The first level mostly involves wandering around large open areas, fighting low-level monsters and searching for keys. To give you an impression of how dull these open areas are, the blue key is literally hiding in plain sight in one of them. It still took me at least a couple of minutes of random wandering before I found it.

Oh, there it is…

These wide open areas also contain a reasonable number of shotgun zombies, who can occasionally snipe you from a distance. Although they aren’t too much of a challenge to fight, having to find and shoot them all as soon as possible can get a little bit annoying.

Even so, there are some cool-looking buildings (that you can’t enter), some cool lighting effects (eg: the areas around some lanterns are brighter) and a segment where you have to dodge a Cyberdemon. So, this level isn’t all bad.

Merry Doom-mas 🙂

And Season’s Doom-ings too 🙂

The second level begins in front of a rather cool-looking ice castle, that reminded me of something from a “Commander Keen” game. The “Christmas medley” background music also has an enderaringly “early 1990s” kind of sound to it at first, although there are some discordant segments of it that can really grate on the ear.

Yay! It’s an ice castle! This is so 90s 🙂

The ice castle segment is relatively short and reasonably fun, although the designer of this level uses the cheap tactic of filling the castle’s battlements with shotgun zombies. Again, whilst this isn’t objectively difficult to deal with, it is a bit of a cheap way to add difficulty – especially given that they sometimes have a habit of all shooting at you in quick succession.

On the plus side, at least they aren’t chaingun zombies…

After defeating these zombies and pressing a button, you can progress to a snow fort-like area where you have to battle a Cyberdemon. However, the Cyberdemon is restricted to a small square area, so he’s kind of a sitting duck. If you’ve conserved your rockets and plasma ammo, then this boss battle will take you all of two minutes to beat.

Seriously, I actually felt kind of sorry for the poor Cyberdemon….

After this, there’s a short ending segment that involves walking through a couple of poster-filled rooms that include the credits for the WAD, a poster for an upcoming WAD and some endearingly immature 1990s “edginess” (eg: a badly-cropped, low-resolution suggestive photo and some informal Christmas/New Year greetings). Ah, the 1990s!

All in all, this WAD has a few cool-looking areas, some good music and a couple of amusing moments. But, in terms of the actual gameplay and level design, it really isn’t that great. Still, it’s probably a vaguely interesting piece of historical ephemera and it’s possibly “so bad that it’s good”, I guess.

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

Mini Review: “Stardate 20×7” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ ZDoom etc..)

Back in 2014, I reviewed a set of “Doom II” levels called “Stardate 20×6“. At the time, I’d never played anything quite so challenging and, for a fair while, I considered it to be the most difficult set of FPS game levels ever. Yes, I hadn’t played “VeryHard“, “XXXI CyberSky” or any slaughtermaps back then. So, I guess that “Stardate 20×6” was possibly my first slaughtermap WAD.

So, imagine my delight when I was looking through last year’s Cacowards and happened to notice a WAD by the name of “Stardate 20×7“. Yes, it’s the sequel to “Stardate 20×6”!

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. At the time of writing, I’m part way through the final level and haven’t played either secret level. Still, I wanted to make sure there was at least one “Doom II” WAD review posted here this month.

Pictured: Why I’m only part way through the final level…

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Stardate 20×7”:

“Stardate 20×7” is a nine-level slaughtermap WAD (that also contains two secret levels too) from the designer of “Swim With The Whales” and “Stardate 20×6”. It contains new music, new textures, a new monster and a slight change to the plasma rifle.

Like in “Stardate 20×6”, it fires purple projectiles 🙂

One of the things that I will say about this WAD is that, like “Stardate 20×6”, it has an absolutely beautiful purple and brown/gold colour scheme. Seriously, this WAD is an absolute joy to look at. Interestingly, whilst the first couple of levels have more of an Ancient Japan-style theme, the rest of the WAD has lots of cool-looking sci-fi locations.

The “Ancient Japan” theme in the early levels is cool, although the sci-fi levels look even cooler 🙂

Plus, like with other WADs by this author, “Stardate 20×7” takes a very traditionalist attitude towards the subject of jumping. However, the levels have been designed with this limitation in mind, so it’s barely noticeable when you’re playing. Still, you can rocket jump (since freelook can still be used) and this is incredibly useful at one point in level eight….

Trust me, you’ll want to rocket jump backwards fairly soon after pressing that button!

This WAD has a surprisingly good difficulty curve, with the first few levels being somewhat easier than the later ones. Still, it occasionally contains *ugh* puzzles.

Although the first level has a few intriguing, but solvable, puzzles – I got completely stuck on the second level. After wandering around aimlessly for about 1-2 hours and still not knowing where I should go or what I should do, I eventually ended up resorting to using cheat codes to get to level three.

But, apart from this (and one frustrating switch/platforming puzzle in level nine that I also bypassed via cheats), I haven’t really had any major problems with the level design. However, one annoying touch is that level five ends with a mandatory player death which means, you guessed it, level six begins from a pistol start.

Dammit! And I had the BFG too!

Surprisingly, for a slaughtermap WAD, the levels here are at least somewhat non-linear – with exploration, switch puzzles and keyhunting included at various points in the game. Even so, this WAD certainly has it’s fair share of fiendishly difficult set pieces.

Aside from the epic battle in level nine (you’ll know the one I’m talking about when you see it), the most challenging one is probably a small hexagonal corridor near the end of level five that fills up with several waves of Barons, Hell Knights, Revenants and Arch-viles. Not only do you have little to no cover or anywhere to retreat, but if you dawdle for too long then the Arch-viles will just resurrect all of the monsters you’ve already killed! Still, it is beatable. Just remember not to use all of your BFG ammo at the start of this area!

In other words, don’t do this and you might stand a chance…

Other intriguing set pieces include teleporting into a relatively narrow corridor filled with a layered army of monsters… with three pain elementals behind you and a caged Arch-vile in a nearby alcove (to prevent dawdling in the middle of the corridor). Then there’s a brilliant Hell Knight-filled area in level eight. Plus, there’s a timed Arch-vile area (one is released every ten seconds or so) in level four. There’s a monster-filled staircase in level six. And so much more….

Oh, the corridor segment I mentioned earlier is also really cool since it has a really “old school” kind of atmosphere to it.

Seriously, I cannot fault the set pieces in this WAD. As you would expect, they’re the sort of thing that looks egregiously unfair at first glance but which can be dealt with if you use the right tactics, if you persevere and if you are willing to work out how to escape each area (since you can’t usually fight literally every monster). Like in all good slaughtermaps, the monster encounters are more of a fast-paced action-based puzzle than a simple fight.

Pictured: The fun type of in-game puzzles! Seriously, this is what FPS game puzzles should look like.

Pictured: The “not so fun” type of FPS game puzzles.

The stand-out levels in this WAD are probably level six – which has this cool Ancient Egypt theme (complete with music) – and level eight.

Level eight is a proper old-school style slaughtermap, taking place in an eerily futuristic floating purple ballroom that is crammed with hundreds of monsters. This is the level where my reaction went from “Oh god, am I getting worse at this game? Am I too old for this?” to “Ha! Let’s dance!“.

The Danse Macabre, to be precise….

In terms of new monsters, I’ve only seen one so far. It’s a purple version of the “Afrit” monster I’ve seen in other WADs and it appears precisely once during level four. Of course, this happens after your health and ammo has been sapped by a frantic battle and you’re standing on a claustrophobic platform. And, did I mention that this monster’s attack combines that of the Revenant and Mancubus? Or that it has a lot of health too?

Seriously, I’m glad there’s only one of these monsters!

In terms of background music, there are some really great tunes here. The best ones probably have to be the Ancient Egypt-style music in level six or the vaguely Japanese-style music in level one. Seriously, I love how well the music fits in with the general theme of these levels.

All in all, this is a visually-beautiful WAD for experienced and/or masochistic players. Yes, you might get totally and utterly stuck during levels two and nine (because of keys, puzzles and/or “where do I go?”). But, if you enjoyed “Stardate 20×6” and you want even more of a challenge, then “Stardate 20×7” is definitely worth checking out. It’s atmospheric, fiendishly difficult and wonderfully purple. What’s not to like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, seriously!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis on “relatively”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dammit, I have to think as well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wild MISSINGNO appeared!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “Dimension Of The Past” (Levels For “Quake”)

Well, since I was still in a “Quake” kind of mood, I thought that I’d check out a set of unofficial levels from 2016 called “Dimension Of The Past” that were made by a company called Machine Games to celebrate Quake’s 20th anniversary.

As usual, I used the “Darkplaces” source port whilst playing these levels. However, due to issues with either the source port and/or my computer, I had to lower the graphics settings to 16 bits per pixel in order to get a playable framerate. So, the quality of the graphics/textures in the screenshots in this review is probably slightly lower than the ones you’ll see if you play the game on normal (32 bit) settings.

So, let’s take a look at “Dimension Of The Past”:

“Dimension Of The Past” contains eleven levels for “Quake” – including an introductory level, a secret level (that I didn’t find) and a deathmatch level. These levels are “vanilla” levels that just contain the standard textures, monsters etc.. from the original game. Since the level set presents itself as a ‘fifth episode’ for the original game, then this decision makes a lot of sense.

One of the very first things that I will say about “Dimension Of The Past” is that it quickly goes from being ‘enjoyably challenging’ to ‘borderline unfair’ very quickly – even on normal difficulty! If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve built up an attitude of dogged determination from playing quite a few ultra-challenging modern “Doom II” WADs over the past few years, then I’d have probably abandoned this level set out of frustration fairly early on.

Seriously, even this part of the second level will give you quite a challenge… and it’s easy compared to the later levels!

Seriously, don’t let the easy first level lull you into a false sense of security! Even though this level set has been made by a modern games company, it is anything but easy!

These levels do the usual “Doom II” WAD trick of throwing lots of mid-high level monsters at you regularly. But, whilst much stronger forms of this sort of creative unfairness can work really well in “Doom II”, it doesn’t always translate that well to “Quake” for a number of reasons.

The first reason is the “Quake” contains a much gloomier aesthetic than “Doom II” – as such, it can sometimes be difficult to see where to run to when you are besieged by monsters. The second reason is that “Quake” and “Doom II” have different weapons that handle differently. The third reason is that the movement speed in “Quake” is at least slightly different to that in “Doom II”. The fourth reason is that both games have different monsters that act (and attack) differently.

For example, there isn’t a proper “Doom II” equivalent of the fast-moving Fiends in “Quake” (the closest thing is possibly the weaker and slower pink “demon” creatures).

The borderline unfair difficulty in “Dimension Of The Past” is further compounded by the fact that many of the levels are at least slightly stingy when it comes to health and ammo. Whilst there is often just enough to get through each level, there are at least a few segments of “Dimension Of The Past” that feel more like an old survival horror game than a thrilling action game. In other words, you’ll probably have to flee from monsters sometimes.

Seriously, this part of the fourth level even looks a bit like something from a “Silent Hill” game!

Again, there are some amazing modern “Doom II” WADs out there that rely on the player not being able to fight literally every monster in order to create thrillingly fast-paced gameplay that almost seems more like a type of puzzle game than anything else. But, due to the age and visual style of the game, this sort of gameplay works better in “Doom II”. The cute cartoonish graphics, ludicrous movement speed, perfect weapon progression, simple monster AI and more well-balanced gameplay mechanics in “Doom II” mean that this type of gameplay becomes an thrilling abstract puzzle.

But, in a grimly gothic game like “Quake” – with very slightly more intelligent monsters and with different weapons, then even a relatively mild example of this type of gameplay just doesn’t feel as fun.

Likewise, the fact that it’s harder to dodge projectiles in “Quake” doesn’t help either.

This also has something to do with emotional tone too – in “Doom II” WADs, completing a brightly-coloured level containing 300+ cartoon monsters makes you feel like an expert gamer. Yet, thanks to it’s bleak emotional tone (that evokes feelings of vulnerability), completing one of these 20-75 monster “Quake” levels just feels like you’ve survived some kind of grim ordeal.

If this was “Doom II”, then this scene would involve gleefully fighting Hell Knights in a cartoonish corridor. But, it’s a bit more frantic and grim in “Quake”.

But, even just running away from monsters doesn’t work all of the time in “Dimension Of The Past”. The final level contains no less than six shamblers – all of whom have to be defeated in order to complete the level (four block your path, and a barrier in front of the exit won’t lower until the final two are defeated).

This wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the level also contains death knights, yores, scrags…. and barely enough health and ammo pickups! Seriously, unless you find a hidden quad damage early in the level and use it in the most efficient way possible, then you won’t even get to the final part of the level. And, when you get there, you’ll need to play very tactically until you finally, eventually get lucky and defeat the final two shamblers with whatever scant ammunition you have left.

Seriously, even though it is possible to get them to fight each other… don’t rely on it!

Again, this sort of hilariously extreme difficulty can work really well in “Doom II” WADs, but even relatively mild examples of it just don’t translate well to “Quake”.

The fact that ammo is so scarce that you occasionally have to resort to using the axe doesn’t help either!

Although “Dimension Of The Past” begins with a couple of sci-fi style levels, the majority of the level set is taken up with gloomy, gothic medieval-style levels. This creates a grim and foreboding atmosphere that is reinforced with a few fiendishly evil set pieces throughout the game – such as a fast-paced puzzle segment where you have to stop yourself from being crushed by finding two hidden switches within about 10-20 seconds.

Seriously, I even tried rocket jumping out of here a couple of times, before I finally realised you have to shoot two hidden switches!

The actual technical design of the levels is really good. Most of the levels are the kind of creative, non-linear levels that used to be standard in FPS games. You’ll be searching for keys, backtracking, opening doors elsewhere with switches etc.. As much as I might criticise the difficulty in these levels, I cannot really criticise the level design too much.

In fact, the only major criticism I have is that a hidden platform you need to jump onto in order to get to the ending of one level is quite literally shrouded in shadows and next to impossible to find (seriously, I was stuck for at least an hour before I discovered it!). Then again, this might be a byproduct of the 16 bit graphics setting I mentioned at the beginning of the review (since it tends to make the shadows a lot more solid).

Seriously, it took me at least an hour to work out that I was supposed to jump here!

However, one minor design quibble I have is that there’s no “ending” to this game – not even a small text screen. Once you finally, eventually beat the punishingly difficult final level, then you are… just taken straight back to the introductory level. In fact, since I hadn’t seen this level for a few days, I initially mistook it for a ninth level – before noticing the difficulty selection portals.

All in all, “Dimension Of The Past” is a set of technically well-made levels whose borderline unfair difficulty will heavily challenge even the most experienced retro FPS gamers. However, I just wish that this had been a “Doom II” WAD instead. A lot of the design tactics here would work really, really well in “Doom II” – but are somewhat ill-suited to “Quake”.

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

Review: “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, it’s time for this month’s “Doom II” WAD review and I’ve got a real treat for you! Today, I will be reviewing the fourth instalment in Alando1’s excellent “Temple Of The Lizard Men” series (you can check out my review of the third one here).

Surprisingly, this is a modern “Doom II” WAD [technically a “.pk3” file] that will (mostly) run on older computers 🙂 As such, I was able to use a slightly older version of the “GZDoom” source port to play it (rather than the “ZDoom” source port I usually use these days). However, “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” requires GZDoom. So, make sure you use this source port! Still, kudos to Alando1 for making a modern WAD that actually runs on older computers 🙂

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV”:

Seriously, even the intro movie is absolutely epic!

“Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” is a set of 36 new levels for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” that were released in 2017. However, you will only actually play about 20 of these levels during a playthrough of the game, since this WAD uses a rather interesting branching path system where some levels have multiple exits. What this means is that the levels you play will actually be different depending on how you complete previous levels.

In addition to this branching path system, “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” also includes new music, textures, monsters, weapons, items, skyboxes, voice-acting etc… And, in keeping with tradition, it also includes multiple playable characters too. Interestingly, there are actually a couple of new characters here too.

Ok, I played as Beka again, but there are a couple of new characters too. Interestingly, each character now also has stats too.

The story to the game is fairly similar to previous “Lizard Men” WADs. Basically, you play as an Interpol agent who has to investigate reports of mysterious attacks on researchers, soldiers etc.. by lizard creatures in an Aztec/Mayan temple in South America.

Personally, I absolutely love WADs that include Aztec/Mayan-style locations (like the amazingly brilliant “Ancient Aliens” and one part of “Skulldash), so it’s always cool to see this 🙂

However, this game is a lot less story-based than the previous instalment in the series (and it contains fewer horror elements too). Yes, you’ll occasionally find PDAs that give you some story text, you get to rescue some civilians at one point and there will be short text screens between some levels. But, I got the sense that I was playing a set of cool levels rather than experiencing a story.

So, it’s a lot more like a “normal” Doom II WAD in this regard, with the emphasis being more on the gameplay than the story. Which isn’t a bad thing 🙂

…unless you happen to be a reptile, that is.

In terms of visual design, this WAD is absolutely stunning! The WAD makes full use of GZDoom’s additional lighting effects to create some wonderfully atmospheric locations. Not only that, the many new textures on display here really help to make the locations look like ancient temples, evil underworlds etc… Seriously, this WAD looks really, really cool:

Yay! Awesome lighting 🙂

And there are more traditional gothic/ medieval locations as well as the cool Aztec/Mayan-style ones 🙂

And just look at the textures here too 🙂

Plus, like in the previous “Lizard Men” WAD, you actually get a torch too! This seems like a trivial thing, but it’s one of the best ways to stop “atmospherically gloomy” locations from becoming “frustratingly dark” locations. However, unless you look through the “controls” menu, you might not realise that you have it.

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. There’s a good mixture between fast-paced levels, arena-like areas and quite a few “traditional” style levels that require exploration. Although there’s the obligatory sewer level and an underwater level, one cool thing is that a couple of the levels include a slight hat tip to the original “Doom” games too:

For example, this area is a bit like the beginning of E1M3 (?) in “Ultimate Doom”

In terms of the actual gameplay, “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” is 1990s-style FPS gaming at it’s finest. There’s challenging combat and non-linear levels aplenty here! However, the style of the gameplay is much more in keeping with classic 1990s FPS games like “Blood“, “Heretic” and “Doom II” than it is with the previous instalment of the “Lizard Men” series.

In other words, there’s much less of an emphasis on nerve-wrackingly intense claustrophobic combat and more emphasis on ordinary “Doom II”-style combat (with the occasional boss battle and “Serious Sam“-style monster filled area keep things interesting).

Such as this epic battle beside a pyramid.

This combat is kept enjoyably challenging through the careful placement of ammunition (the game doesn’t starve you of ammo, but it doesn’t give you too much either) and through variations in the quantity, placement and strength of the monsters you fight.

Interestingly, this WAD also includes an episodic structure (with an episode selection screen similar to those in “Ultimate Doom” and “Duke Nukem 3D”). However, if you start from the first episode, then the game will just play through subsequent episodes seamlessly, with no loss of weapons or items at the beginning of each episode. This is the best of both worlds 🙂

However, unlike classic 1990s FPS games, the puzzle-solving elements of this WAD have been scaled back a bit. Yes, you still have to find keys and switches. But I only encountered two relatively easy puzzles – a simple combination puzzle and a path-based puzzle (with a map/solution nearby).

Still, as long as you have a pen and paper handy, this path-based puzzle isn’t too difficult. Especially since the game literally gives you the solution 🙂

Yes, you might get stuck occasionally (eg: there was one level where it took me a while to find an underwater corridor I needed to explore to find a key). But, for the most part, the game flows really well – with the emphasis being firmly on exploration and action.

In terms of the new weapons, they all look and sound suitably powerful. Not only is the basic knife a genuinely useful weapon, but you can also find upgrades for some of the weapons too (eg: accuracy and reload speed upgrades for one of the shotguns, a laser sight for the assault rifle, an upgrade for the rocket launcher etc..).

The laser sight doesn’t seem to do that much, given that the game already includes a crosshair.

The game also includes a slight mixture of “realistic” weapons and magic-based weapons too, which help to keep things interesting. Plus, although some of the weapon sprites are borrowed from other games, the weapons still “work” in a unique way.

However, many of the weapons require to you manually reload them by pressing the right mouse button. Whilst manual reloading systems might add “authenticity” to modern militaristic FPS games, they have no place in old school-style games where the emphasis is on fast-paced combat. This is why the original “Doom” doesn’t include much in the way of reloading mechanics. Having to reload might be “realistic”, but it gets in the way of the action slightly.

Ok, double-barelled shotguns are the ONE exception to this rule. But, apart from this, reloading animations have no place in classic-style FPS games!

The array of new monsters on offer here is really cool too. Yes, I’ve seen pretty much all of them in other “Doom II” WADs and/or old FPS games before, but they really help to add some variety to the gameplay. The game also includes several bosses too, although some of these are just variations on the same minotaur monster from “Heretic”.

Interestingly though, the final boss battle is the easiest one in the game. Probably because he isn’t a giant minotaur.

However, if you’re using an older computer, then one of the new monsters will quite literally crash your game!

In the “Bowels Of The Shadow World” level, you will encounter nude demons who shoot flames at you (and, yes, this WAD contains nudity – albeit less than in the previous instalment). If you’re using an older PC, your game will probably start slowing down as soon as the first few flame effects appear, before unceremoniously crashing to the desktop a few seconds later. In fact, the only way I was able to finish this level was by using the “freeze” cheat in the GZ Doom console. Still, these game-crashing monsters only seem to appear in one level.

In terms of the music, voice-acting and sound design, “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” is outstanding! Not only is the music that plays when you start the game absolutely overwhelmingly epic, but the game also occasionally includes things like heavy metal music, more ambient music and even a gothic rock song (with lyrics). Plus, although there is much less voice-acting than there was in the previous WAD in the series, the voice actor for Beka sounds a lot better than she did in “Temple Of The Lizard Men III”. Plus, one of the level bosses actually gives you a short ominous-sounding speech when you first encounter him too!

Not only does this level LOOK really metal, but the background music is heavy metal and the boss even gives a really badass speech near the beginning of the level!

The sound design is also absolutely stunning too, with the monsters sounding suitably menacing and the weapons sounding suitably loud.

In addition to this, there are some cool background effects in some levels, such as the occasional screeching of an eagle during the earlier levels of the game. However, some of the low-level lizard monsters still use a sound effect from one of the more powerful monsters from “Shadow Warrior” – which can be confusing since this monster (with a different sound effect) is also included in the game too!

All in all, this instalment in the “Temple Of The Lizard Men” series is brilliantly fun. Although it moves away from the claustrophobic intensity, disturbing horror and more focused storytelling of the third instalment in this series slightly, it’s an incredibly fun set of levels. The branching path system gives it some replay value, the level design is really good, the locations look really cool, the music is epic and the combat is enjoyable. If you miss the days when FPS games were FPS games, then this WAD is well worth checking out.

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

Mini Review: “Xmas Doom 2015” [WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom” (?)]

Well, in keeping with tradition, I thought that I’d review a Christmas-themed WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”. The surprising thing was that, when I was preparing this review, finding a Christmas WAD that I hadn’t played was surprisingly difficult. There really don’t seem to be that many of them out there.

Still, I eventually found a WAD called “Xmas Doom 2015[Note: Unfortunately, the only place this WAD could be found was on Dropbox.], which seems to be an updated and expanded version of the classic “Xmas Doom” WAD.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port when playing this WAD. Since the download of “Xmas Doom 2015” doesn’t come with a text file, I’m not sure if this is the right source port for it. But, whilst playing, I noticed a few graphical glitches (eg: missing skybox textures, strange-looking floors etc.). So, it might be worth trying this WAD with a different source port.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Xmas Doom 2015”:

“Xmas Doom 2015” is a ten-level WAD (well, technically eleven) that includes new weapons, monsters, textures, sounds, music and sprites. Although the WAD includes an episode selection screen, the second episode seems to be unfinished at the time of writing (and the first level of it is literally just an empty room). So, I’ll only be reviewing the first episode.

One of the first things that I will say about “Xmas Doom 2015” is that it’s something of a mixed bag. There’s some great stuff in this WAD and there’s some… less than great... stuff too. So, I’ll start with the good stuff and then move on to all of the problems with this WAD.

First of all, some of the new levels are amazing 🙂 My favourite levels, by far, have to be the third and fifth levels. The third level is set in a busy shopping street and it just oozes 1990s Christmas nostalgia – complete with brightly-coloured textures, falling snow and the kind of silly 90s-style humour that used to be common in computer games.

Go away.. hur hur.. we’re, like, closed.

And there’s a festive Arch-vile too 🙂 It’s a Christmas miracle 🙂

Likewise, the fifth level is set within a giant cinema and it is a joy to behold 🙂 Not only are there lots of 90s movie references but, if you grew up in that decade, then it will almost certainly evoke lots of nostalgia.

“2012”! Gasp! What kind of a strange temporal anomaly is this?!?!?

But, hey, at least there’s a Super Turbo Turkey Puncher 3 machine 🙂

The fourth level probably deserves an honourable mention too. It’s set within an American-style shopping centre and it contains the same goofy humour and 90s nostalgia as the third and fifth levels, although I preferred those two levels.

Even though I preferred levels three and five, this sarcastic sign about “Quake” in level four made me laugh though.

Likewise, some of the new weapons and monsters in this WAD are fairly good. The best new weapon, by far, is the pistol – which features a new sprite and a simply epic new sound effect. It’s also a slightly more powerful weapon, although this is balanced out by the fact that a short reloading animation plays after every ten shots or so.

The BFG has also been replaced with a sniper rifle (with a telescopic scope) and the plasma cannon has been replaced with a Duke Nukem 3D-style freeze gun.

And, in “Duke Nukem” style, the chainsaw has been replaced with a snow blower. This is hilariously silly!

The new sounds and music in this WAD are also fairly decent too, with MIDI renditions of many classic Christmas carols -as well as some hilariously cheesy new voice-acting too (for some of the monsters and the final boss).

As for the new monsters, they’re mostly good too. There’s a mixture between the monsters from the original “Xmas Doom”, silly 1990s-style cartoon monsters, some “traditional monsters” and a couple of new monsters in the style of classic custom monsters. The best one of the new monsters has to be the new version of the Pain Elemental, who has been reimagined in the same style as the “cacobauble” monsters from this WAD and other Christmas WADs:

Unfortunately, there’s only one of these monsters in the entire WAD though 😦

So, that was the good stuff. What about the bad stuff?

Well, the first thing to mention is that – if you’re using an older computer- the second level is pretty much unplayable. Seriously, it slowed down to a single-digit frame rate as soon as I started playing it. In the end, I was forced to use cheat codes (eg: ZDoom’s “freeze” command and the no clipping cheat) to move on to the third level. This is a real shame since the second level looked like it would be really cool:

For a 1990s-inspired WAD, why is it that my mid-2000s computer will only allow this level to run at a decent speed if I use the “freeze” cheat. And, yes, the skybox is missing – although this might be a “ZDoom” thing.

Likewise, strange as it sounds, this WAD would have been better off without the original “Xmas Doom” levels near the end.

Yes, they’ve received a few improvements (eg: there’s a text explanation for the final puzzle, there are some texture changes etc..) and a few “improvements” (eg: the annoying addition of dense fog to a monster-filled area). But the style of gameplay in these levels is so jarringly different from the earlier levels and it doesn’t really go well with the rest of the WAD. In a way, these levels almost feel like padding more than anything else:

Yes, “Xmas Doom” is a good WAD. But, it works better on it’s own!

This WAD would have been a lot more fun and streamlined if it’s creators had just kept the first 5-6 levels and the new final boss level and left out the original “Xmas Doom” levels. Seriously, this would have worked so much better as a completely original WAD.

In addition to this, some of the new weapons aren’t that great. The super shotgun replacement alternates between acting like a super shotgun and like a rapid-fire shotgun seemingly at random, which can waste ammo quickly. Likewise, the chaingun seems to be no more powerful than usual, but it has a short “spinning up” delay between clicking the mouse and the gun actually firing.

Likewise, one of the new monsters is perhaps a bit too creepy for a fun Christmas WAD. Basically, the pinkie demons have been replaced by enemies who look like short balaclava-clad terrorists. At first, I thought that they were just evil elves but, if you’re killed by one of them then the ZDoom death text states that they are… possessed children. WTF!?!? (the monster name is a “bewitched boy” or something like that, I think). For a “goofy” Christmas WAD, this seems a little bit too dark.

Yeah, dark humour is an essential part of classic FPS gaming. But, this is perhaps a bit too dark.

All in all, this WAD is a really strange mixture of good and bad. At it’s best, it sums up the brilliant “so bad that it’s good” silliness of the 1990s whilst providing mildly-moderately challenging gameplay and lots of wonderful 1990s Christmas nostalgia. But, some elements of this WAD don’t work that well.

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