Mini Review: “Doom Christmas – For Doom II & Final Doom” (Mod for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”)

Although I still plan to write more book reviews, I was determined to review something else “Doom II”-related before Christmas. So, I thought that I’d quickly check out a rather interesting little mod called “Doom Christmas – For Doom II & Final Doom“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this mod. However, it seems to have been designed to work in pretty much any source port (eg: the readme text states that no advanced engine is needed and that it will run with “Chocolate Doom”). Plus, for the sake of time, I also used cheat codes whilst looking at the stuff in this mod.

So, let’s take a quick look at “Doom Christmas – For Doom II & Final Doom”:

“Doom Christmas – For Doom II & Final Doom” is a Christmas-themed mod that includes new music, sounds, skyboxes, menu text, end level screens and textures.

Although most of these are things that I’ve seen in Christmas-themed WADs before, it’s absolutely great to see so many of them within the same WAD 🙂

Yay! Nostalgia 🙂 Both for the 1990s and for other Christmas-themed WADs too 🙂

This mod gives “Doom II” an absolutely wonderful “1990s Christmas” kind of atmosphere 🙂 One cool feature is that several of the wall/floor textures and skyboxes have been replaced with more festive ones, which gives familiar levels much more of a “Christmassy” atmosphere. Likewise, many of the item sprites are now covered with snow too.

Merry Doom-mas 🙂

The changes to the weapons are fairly subtle, but they work really well. Whilst the basic shotgun now has a bow on it, the super shotgun has a slightly more “frosty” grey texture and the plasma rifle now fires sparkly red/green projectiles, the best weapon change has to be to the fist – which is replaced by a candy cane.

The monster sprite replacements are pretty cool, with the basic “zombie” monsters being replaced with Santa Clauses. In addition to this, lots of other familiar festive monster sprites also make an appearance here too.Not to mention that the cyberdemon now has a cool green/grey colour scheme too.

It isn’t that festive, but it looks really cool nonetheless 🙂

Although the Arch-vile, Spider Mastermind and Mancubus don’t receive any graphical changes, one cool feature is that several of the monsters now have new sound effects (and will say various festive things, which is hilarious).

In terms of music, each level of “Doom II” has a new Christmas-themed MIDI file – with a full list available in the readme text for the mod. Seriously, there is something wonderfully nostalgic about Christmas MIDI music and it’s great to see such a large selection here 🙂 Although, annoyingly “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” isn’t included though.

All in all, this mod is absolutely brilliant 🙂 Yes, there isn’t that much in the way of truly new stuff here, but this doesn’t matter. If you want a distillation of everything wonderful about Christmas-themed “Doom II” stuff, or you just want to add a bit of amusement and variety to the vanilla versions of “Doom II” and “Final Doom”, then this mod is well worth checking out.

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

Mini Review: “Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom” etc..)

Well, after seeing part of a video review of a “Doom II” WAD called “Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown“, I stopped watching and thought “I should play this myself!

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it is probably also compatible with any Boom-derived source port.

So, let’s take a look at “Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown”:

“Hell’s Bells: The Meltdown” is a single-level winter themed WAD from the creator of Mori Christmas that includes new graphics, new textures and (possibly) new music. According to the Doomworld page about the level, it was originally a more difficult level – but has since been toned down slightly.

Visually speaking, this WAD is really good. The level has a wonderfully wintery look that includes textures from “Hexen” in addition to lots of other new stuff. The events of the level take place in a mixture between a forest and a ruined castle, both of which look suitably atmospheric. Likewise, there’s a cool-looking statue too. Plus, one neat touch is a functional bell tower near the end of the level:

You’ve got me ringing hell’s bells! Literally, you actually have to ring this bell in order to progress…

Plus, I absolutely love this statue too.

Another interesting visual feature of this level is that there are several new monster graphics. Not only do the imps now throw snowballs, but the mancubus is now a dark shade of grey (with glowing green eyes) and fires more realistic-looking fiery projectiles. Plus, some of the Hell Knights are an icy shade of magnolia too. Although I’ve seen most of these things in other WADs before, they still help to add some uniqueness and personality to the level.

In terms of difficulty, I’d describe this WAD as moderately challenging. If you’re an experienced player, you’ll probably blaze through the entire thing in less than half an hour.

Yes, it’s a relatively short, but wonderfully thrilling level 🙂

Although the level begins in the middle of a frantic fight with several monsters, you are given a Super Shotgun pretty much instantly. Likewise, although there are some very mild slaughtermap-like set pieces and claustrophobic corridor fights, they aren’t anything too challenging. Even the level’s climactic Cyberdemon battle is easily dodged and the level’s one Arch-vile is pretty much a sitting duck too.

Although this horde of monsters isn’t exactly gigantic, the Pain Elementals help to add a bit of extra challenge.

Pictured: The mandatory Arch-vile that all good “Doom II” levels are supposed to contain. Unfortunately, this one isn’t a free-range one though.

The design of the level is really good too – it is a non-linear medium-sized level that is filled with wide open areas. Not only does the level make good use of verticality (eg: there are raised platforms with corridors beneath), but the level’s size and layout means that you won’t really get stuck.

One cool thing about the platforms in the central area of the level is that they feature small raised bars, which can be used as a jumping off point that allows you to easily leap from platform to platform without fighting the monsters in the corridor below.

Yes, this level actually contains the good kind of first-person platforming…

In terms of the music, the video review I mentioned at the beginning of the article seemed to show that a segment of AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” is supposed to play in the background. However, when I played the level, there was nothing but silence in the background. I don’t know if it was my computer, or the source port or a problem with the WAD or whatever but this was kind of annoying given that the level is probably significantly more epic with one of AC/DC’s best songs playing in the background.

All in all, this is a fun and atmospheric wintery level that will provide about 20-30 minutes of entertainment for experienced players. It’s solidly designed, cool-looking and reasonably fun. And, if you can get the background music to play properly, then it’s probably even cooler.

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

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.

Micro Review: “Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth” (TV Show Episode)

Well, although I won’t have time to review every episode of the new series of “Doctor Who”, I thought that I’d at least take a super-quick look at the first episode (“The Woman Who Fell To Earth”). This is probably more of a short first impressions article than a full review though.

Even so, I should probably point out that this short review may contain some SPOILERS.

As first episodes go, this one was a lot better than I’d expected. Normally, when a new Doctor is introduced, their first episode is somewhat lacklustre compared to later episodes – with the episode’s story taking a back seat to introducing the characters.

However, the characterisation in this episode takes place at the same time as the actual story of the episode 🙂

To my surprise, this episode actually manages to be both a good character introduction and a good (if slightly basic) sci-fi/horror/thriller story too. In short, a hunter from outer space has arrived in Sheffield in search of human prey and is up to the Doctor to stop him.

Raaargh!!!!

As you would expect, the episode is a good mixture between comedy, horror, drama and thrilling action. In short, it is a good “classic style” Doctor Who episode, which also has a hilariously dramatic “ooops!” cliffhanger ending too.

One thing that also helps to set it apart from previous series of the show is the fact that it is set in Sheffield (unlike the many London-centric series of the show). Likewise, unlike some parts of the previous series of the show, this episode didn’t really preach at the viewer either – which is also a refreshing change.

As for the characters, they’re really good. In contrast to Peter Capaldi’s more gloomier interpretation of the character, Jodie Whittaker’s version of the Doctor reminded me a bit of Matt Smith and David Tennant’s more eccentric/light-hearted portrayals. The new Doctor is an instantly likeable character who pulls off the classic mixture of confidence, chaos and comedy absolutely perfectly.

And, yes, there’s a new sonic screwdriver too.

And, if you’ve ever wondered why all of the Doctors have slightly random outfits, this charity shop-based scene explains everything.

Although the news that there would be several companions in this series made me feel a bit sceptical, the three new companions (Ryan, Yasmin and Graham) are all fairly realistic and interesting characters. One thing that helps is that they already know each other before they meet the Doctor. Not only does this result in better character interactions, but it also helps to keep the show’s story focused despite the larger number of main characters.

Yes, the larger main cast actually works surprisingly well.

The episode also has a slightly more “cinematic” look to it, whilst still being very recognisably “Doctor Who”. The episode’s special effects also look fairly good and are complemented by some wonderful high-contrast lighting too. Seriously, I love the lighting in this episode 🙂

Seriously, it’s amazing that awesome 1980s/90s-style high-contrast lighting has made such a comeback in recent years 🙂

All in all, this is a really good opening episode. It is both refreshingly new, yet also classic “Doctor Who” at the same time. Although I probably won’t have time to review much more of the series (due to preparing lots of upcoming book reviews, being busy with other creative projects etc…), I’m looking forward to watching the rest of it. In short, if the opening episode is this good, then the rest is probably going to be brilliant.

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

Review: “Shovelware Adventure!” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

Well, it’s been an entire month since I last reviewed any “Doom II” WADs. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a WAD from 2016 called “Shovelware Adventure!“.

Although I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, it will apparently even work with the original DOS version of “Doom II” since the Zip file for this WAD also includes a dehacked file too.

So, let’s take a look at “Shovelware Adventure!”:

“Shovelware Adventure!” is a single level (well, technically a two-level) WAD that contains new weapon sprites/animations, monsters, music, sounds and item sprites. In terms of length, it is a fairly large level that took me about one and a half hours to complete.

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it certainly isn’t shovelware! Despite the sarcastic title, this is an intense, enjoyably challenging level that is an interesting mixture of more “traditional” level design and modern “slaughtermap”-style level design. This level is filled with fast-paced and challenging combat – like any FPS game level should be.

Yes, this isn’t a level for fans of easy modern FPS games.

One thing that really adds to the challenge is the addition of a few new monsters. Although they’re nothing especially new (eg: plasma zombies, rocket zombies, several types of imps, new sprites for several monsters etc..) they force the player to think up new strategies when deciding which monsters that they should fight first. This helps to keep the gameplay fresh, not to mention that the plasma and rocket zombies are just as powerful as you would expect too.

Which is to say that they’ll obliterate you in a matter of seconds if you aren’t careful. Plus, the plasma zombies look like Duke Nukem too.

The challenge in this level is also increased with a few mild-moderate “slaughtermap”-style segments where you are faced with a horde of monsters.

Although you can usually defeat all of them (so, it isn’t technically a “slaughtermap”) it still forces the player to play a bit more strategically. In addition to this, there are also a couple of well-placed cyberdemons, spider demons and arch-viles too.

Yay! An arch-vile 🙂 And lots of monsters too 🙂

Plus, there’s this cool homage to the original “Doom II” too 🙂

The only slight criticism I have of the difficulty in this WAD is that the difficulty curve isn’t quite right. Although there are more monsters later in the level, the earlier parts can feel slightly more difficult than the later ones due to the relative lack of ammo and weapons earlier in the level. Of course, once you find weapons like the plasma rifle (which now fires pink/light purple projectiles 🙂 ), the difficulty level drops slightly. Even so, don’t expect this to be an easy level!

In terms of the level design, it’s mostly fairly good. Not only is the level a traditional-style non-linear level that contains several different types of areas that force the player to play in slightly different ways, but there are also a few rather interesting flourishes too.

For example, when you start the level, you are facing a window with several monsters behind it. Once you’ve fought these monsters (and the other monsters nearby), you then encounter another window a bit later in the level with more monsters behind it. If you’re observant, you’ll realise that both windows are part of the same room. It’s a small detail, but it shows that the designer has put some thought into using the space available in a clever way.

Likewise, there is actually a little bit of humour in this level – since there are a couple of Doom Marines hidden throughout the level who will fart when you shoot at them. Yes, it’s incredibly puerile – but it’s also absolutely hilarious too.

I’m not sure how many of these have been hidden in the level, but I found two of them.

The only real criticism I have of the level design has to do with the level’s size. Although the level mostly flows fairly well, it is possible to end up getting stuck occasionally. Although you’ll eventually work out where to go (and where to find the keys) through backtracking and exploration, it can affect the pacing of the level slightly.

In addition to this, the way to actually finish the level is a bit complicated. Basically, it contains a “Doom II”-style ‘Romero’s Head’ ending – but this isn’t made immediately obvious to the player (and, yes, I eventually had to resort to the “IDDT” and “IDCLIP” cheats to discover that you were meant to complete the level this way). Even so, when you complete the level, you are rewarded with one of the coolest level completion screens I’ve ever seen – not to mention a small novelty level too.

Seriously, WHY wasn’t this in the original “Doom II” ?

The second “level” in this WAD is just a credits level, but with a little bit of a twist….

The new music and sounds are really cool too. Not only does the level begin with some really cool ominous-sounding MIDI music, but the weapon sound effects have also been replaced with slightly better ones too. The best of the new weapons sounds are probably those for the plasma rifle and chaingun, both of which sound slightly more powerful than usual.

All in all, “Shovelware Adventure!” is a really solid, fast-paced, intense and enjoyably challenging WAD. The new stuff helps to keep the gameplay fresh and – for the most part – the level is really well-designed too. If you want a thrilling level that will also make you think strategically, then this one is certainly worth checking out.

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

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: “Mutiny (A Doomworld Community Project)” [WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/”ZDoom”]

2017-artwork-mutiny-wad-review-sketch

A few days before I wrote this review, I was in the mood for playing another “Doom II” WAD. In particular, I was in the mood for a cyberpunk-themed WAD and, after a bit of searching, I found this WAD from 2016 called “Mutiny (A Doomworld Community Project)“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it will probably work on any modern limit-removing source port that allows jumping. Interestingly, this WAD also comes with a Dehacked file too. Looking in the text file, this file only affects the story text screens and map names or something like that. I used it nontheless, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Mutiny (A Doomworld Community Project)”:

screenshot_doom_20170122_155131

“Mutiny” is a 16-level WAD that contains new textures and new music. This WAD is described in it’s text file as being inspired by “late 90’s cyberpunk-themed wads” and some areas of the WAD certainly have a fairly “industrial”/gothic/post-apocalyptic 1990s-style cyberpunk look to them (thanks to the new textures and some clever design decisions).

Whilst I’m slightly more of a fan of “Blade Runner“-style 1980s cyberpunk, there are still lots of cool-looking cyberpunk areas in this WAD.

Like this gothic futuristic corridor and post-apocalyptic skybox in the first level...

Like this gothic futuristic corridor and post-apocalyptic skybox in the first level…

....Or this brilliantly retro room that almost looks like something from "Blade Runner".

….Or this brilliantly retro room that almost looks like something from “Blade Runner”.

Seriously, the cyberpunk parts of this WAD look really cool :)

Seriously, the cyberpunk parts of this WAD look really cool 🙂

Whilst there are some brilliant cyberpunk levels and areas in this WAD, there are also at least a few areas that just look a bit like “standard” Doom II. Even so, there are some brilliantly creative flourishes here – such as a giant door in the final level that is made by tiling the standard door textures:

Plus, if you squint when it is opening, it looks a little bit like the Tyrell building from "Blade Runner".

Plus, if you squint when it is opening, it looks a little bit like the Tyrell building from “Blade Runner”.

But, what about the gameplay? Well, for the most part, “Mutiny” does this really well. As you would expect from a modern WAD, it is aimed at experienced “Doom II” players and offers quite an enjoyable challenge.

Most of the time, this is achieved in the traditional way (albeit with slightly more chaingunn zombies than in many WADs) but there are also a few “slaughtermap” style areas (such as the final level) which help to add some variety to the gameplay too.

But, don't worry, you'll encounter the occasional giant horde of monsters in earlier levels, like this one.

But, don’t worry, you’ll encounter the occasional giant horde of monsters in earlier levels, like this one.

One slight problem with this WAD being a collaborative project is that it occasionally doesn’t have a consistent difficulty curve.

For example, one of the easiest (relatively speaking) and shortest levels in the WAD is level fourteen. Yes, this offers a bit of a respite from the longer and more challenging levels, but it seems a bit unusual to place a level like this near the end of the WAD.

Yes, even the cyberdemon in level 14 can be easily dodged.

Yes, even the cyberdemon in level 14 can be easily dodged.

Another thing that might be a bonus or a problem (depending on your tastes) is that the levels in this WAD are occasionally on the large and labyrinthine side of things.

Whilst it’s always great to see old-school non-linear levels, there were at least a few times where I got completely stuck and/or lost, and had to actually stop playing the WAD for a while (only to work out where I was supposed to go after seeing the level afresh the next day). Whilst this made me nostalgic for the golden age of FPS gaming, having slightly smaller levels and/or a few more shortcuts to locked doors wouldn’t have gone amiss either.

There are also a few cool set-pieces here too. For example, at the beginning of level ten, you are offered a choice between a super-shotgun or a rocket launcher. You can only choose one of them. So, if you are playing from a pistol start (which I wasn’t. Seriously, why do people do this?), then it probably adds an extra level of challenge and strategy to the level.

 Or, option three, a plasma cannon found in an earlier level :)

Or, option three, a plasma cannon found in an earlier level 🙂

Another innovative set piece can be found in level four, where you have to solve a simple puzzle that involves raising and lowering two platforms in order to form a bridge.

These platforms are raised and lowered by either standing on or not standing on two large buttons on the floor. Although it might take you a few seconds to work out what you’re supposed to do, this puzzle is technically impressive (for “Doom II”, at least) and it doesn’t really get in the way of the gameplay either.

 It's also much less annoying than the "one-third of a puzzle" puzzles from a certain official Doom-engine game :)

It’s also much less annoying than the “one-third of a puzzle” puzzles from a certain official Doom-engine game 🙂

The music in this WAD is really good from what I can remember. The most memorable pieces of background music were futuristic-sounding 90s-style MIDI tunes that fit in especially well with the cyberpunk theme of the WAD. The best piece of background music can probably be found in the final level, since not only does it quickly build up into a suitably epic piece of background music, it’s also vaguely reminiscent of the music from the original “System Shock” too.

All in all, this is a fun retro-futuristic WAD that will provide several evenings of enjoyment. In addition to the thrillingly challenging gameplay, there are also a few interesting set pieces and slaughtermap-style segments that add some variety to the gameplay, but expect to get stuck and/or lost at least once or twice. It isn’t quite a perfect WAD, but it’s still a really good one.

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