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

2017-artwork-veryhard-doom-wad-review

Before I begin, I should probably point out that this will be more of a “first impressions” article than a full review of “VeryHard“. I’ll explain more later in the article, but I felt like this was important to point out first.

As usual, I played (some of) this WAD using the “ZDoom” source port. Interestingly, this WAD actually requires version 2.8.1 of “ZDoom” – which, by delightful coincidence, is fairly similar to the version (a slightly old experimental version that was obviously a precursor to version 2.8.1) that I use.

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

screenshot_doom_20161021_125138

“VeryHard” is a set of seven “Doom II” levels. As the name suggests, these levels are meant to be evilly, fiendishly, diabolically difficult.

This is a WAD for people like myself who find borderline-unfair levels to be somewhere between absolutely hilarious and brilliantly fun. If you’re a new “Doom II” player, don’t even think about playing these levels. But, if you enjoy WADs like “Stardate 20X6“, “XXXI Cybersky“, “Swim With The Whales” or “Infernal Fortress” then you might enjoy this one.

From my experiences with this WAD, level one is actually beatable but level two appears to be (probably) impossible – not because of the quantity of monsters, but because an essential key seems to be nowhere to be found. Hence why this is a “first impressions” review, rather than a full review.

So, let’s start with level one. This level begins outside a giant underground train station and, once you are trapped in the station, the monsters start pouring towards you:

So far, so easy.....

So far, so easy…..

Of course, you’ll soon find yourself in a larger room that is filled with more monsters and several small kiosk-like rooms, which contain buttons that you need to press. Sounds pretty easy, right?

Oh, I forgot, these rooms are filled with Arch-viles..... and you'll need a blue key for one of the switches.

Oh, I forgot, these rooms are filled with Arch-viles….. and you’ll need a blue key for one of the switches.

Once you’ve managed to run, dodge and fight your way through this room and press the required switch, it’s time to get the blue key. This key is at the end of another corridor that contains, you guessed it, three arch-viles and virtually no cover!

Oh, hey there :)

Oh, hey there 🙂

When you’ve managed to press the button and hide behind the pillar, you might notice that – between cautious pot shots at the arch-viles – the pillar is descending. Once it’s descended fully, you’ll be able to grab the blue key.

The only problem is, of course, you won’t have any cover left. Likewise, the corridor takes more than three seconds to run away from. And, as any “Doom II” player will tell you, three seconds is about the amount of time it takes for an arch-vile to incinerate you.

So, after dying and restarting more times than you can remember, you’ll end up waiting for that one lucky moment when the arch-viles are too distracted by the monsters from the room you left earlier (and vice versa with the monsters) to bother attacking you.

But, when you’ve sneaked out of the corridor, you’ll be faced with a choice. You can either go back to the room with the blue switch the way you came from, or you can take advantage of a newly-opened shortcut near the station entrance….

 ...Which is also filled with monsters.

…Which is also filled with monsters.

After a lot of trial and error, plus some clever strategy, you’ll finally use the blue key on the blue switch and open a gate behind the room. Wow, what an exciting level! What? It isn’t over yet? That was only…. the easy introductory segment?

Oh yes! *Grins evilly* We haven't even STARTED the difficult part of the level yet!

Oh yes! *Grins evilly* We haven’t even STARTED the difficult part of the level yet!

Yes, the rest of the level is significantly more difficult. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the train station level from “Painkiller“, but with literal armies of revenants, tens of arch-viles and more than five times your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C(yberdemon).

I wasn't exaggerating about the revenants, there must be at least 200 of them in this part of the level.

I wasn’t exaggerating about the revenants, there must be at least 200 of them in this part of the level.

Yes, luckily there's an invulnerability sphere hidden somewhere vaugely near here. You DID remember to find it, right?

Yes, luckily there’s an invulnerability sphere hidden somewhere vaugely near here. You DID remember to find it, right?

Yes, even this deadly close-quarters duel with a cyberdemon at the very end of the level is beatable if you are sneaky about it. You actually have to use the chaingun to ... wait a minute, you should probably work this out for yourself

Yes, even this deadly close-quarters duel with a cyberdemon at the very end of the level is beatable if you are sneaky about it. You actually have to use the chaingun to … wait a minute, you should probably work this out for yourself

Interestingly, this part of the level is also beatable. But, you’ll need a lot of determination, a willingness to experiment with different strategies, a habit of saving very often, a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom II” and perhaps a bit of luck too.

All in all, the first level is an absolute blast. It’s just about fair, despite looking extremely unfair at first glance. It’s an example of modern “slaughtermap” level design at it’s finest.

This level contains so many areas where good strategy and fast reflexes are more important than whatever weapons you happen to be carrying at any one time. Despite the often claustrophobic locations and the generic standard textures, it’s an utterly epic level that will have you quite literally cheering with joy when you finally manage to beat it.

The second level, on the other hand, isn’t so sophisticated. Sure, you’ll get to hear the soul-shaking sound of 10-20 cyberdemons roaring simultaneously. Sure, you’ll get to use the BFG a lot. You’ll even get to crowdsurf over six different armies of Hell Knights and Barons…

 Woo hoo!! This is awesome!

Woo hoo!! This is awesome!

And, yes, these sorts of epic things happen too. BUT....

And, yes, these sorts of epic things happen too. BUT….

.. In order to progress past the starting area of level two, you need to find a red skull key. Despite repeated replays of this area, using different strategies and lots of careful searching, I still haven’t been able to find this skull key. It might be there somewhere, but I certainly haven’t found it. In fact, it even eventually made me abandon this WAD out of pure frustration.

All in all, I’ve only played maybe just under a quarter of this WAD and, yet, the first level is absolutely spectacular. Yes, it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if ludicrously “unfair” levels make you laugh, or if you want a real challenge, then the first level of this WAD is absolutely perfect! It’s just a shame about the second level though.

If I had to give what I’d played so far a score out of five, it would get five for the first level and two for the second.

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Mini Review: “Infernal Fortress 2.1” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

2015 Artwork Infernal Fortress 2.1 WAD review sketch

Well, although I’d originally planned to post this review earlier in the year, I ended up rescheduling it for various reasons.

Anyway, I thought that I’d check out a single-level WAD called “Infernal Fortress 2.1” for today.

As usual, I played this level using the “GZDoom” source port although, from the documentation included with the level, it also seems to be compatible with the “Boom” source port too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Infernal Fortress 2.1”:

Woo hoo! :)

Woo hoo! 🙂

“Infernal Fortress 2.1” is a large “slaughtermap”-style level that took me just over an hour to complete on the “hurt me plenty” difficulty setting.

If you’re new to the wonderful world of “Doom” WADs, a “slaughtermap” level typically contains way more monsters than you can actually fight. As such, you have to rely on strategy, tactics, quick reflexes and a good knowledge of the ‘rules’ of “Doom” in order to complete the level.

I absolutely love these types of challenging and almost puzzle-like levels, but they can be something of an acquired taste.

For example, here, you just need to keep this group of monsters at bay for long enough to run around them and flip a switch at the other end of the room before running away very quickly.

For example, here, you just need to keep this group of monsters at bay for long enough to run around them and flip a switch at the other end of the room before running away very quickly.

However, as “slaughtermap” levels go, this one is something of a mixed bag. Although some of the later parts of the level are enjoyably challenging, at least the first third of the level is ridiculously easy compared to other levels in this genre that I’ve played.

Of course, "easy" is a relative term. But, even this early part of the level isn't as difficult as it might look if you know what to do.

Of course, “easy” is a relative term. But, even this early part of the level isn’t as difficult as it might look if you know what to do.

Not only do you get all of the weapons fairly close to the start of the level, but health power-ups and ammo for the BFG are scattered very liberally around the level. What this means is that the BFG will probably be your primary weapon for most of the level.

In most well-designed “slaughtermap” levels, you don’t usually get these kinds of powerful weapons until later on – and ammo for them is also usually at least slightly scarce too. So, for this fact alone, this level is significantly easier than most levels in the genre.

Later in the level, this easiness is balanced out slightly by several enjoyably challenging battles that take place in claustrophobic areas – for example, you have to cross a monster-filled bridge above a pit of lava. Teams of mancubi are perched on nearby ledges and bombard you with fireballs when you’re crossing the bridge. At the end of the bridge, there is – of course – a cyberdemon.

Oh "Doom", I can't stay mad at you :)

Oh “Doom”, I can’t stay mad at you 🙂

This over-abundance of BFG ammo and health items is also balanced out slightly by the fact that you encounter a new type of “boss” monster that takes quite a few BFG shots to fell. Even so, you only encounter these monsters in two parts of the level and they’re only a serious challenge the first time you encounter them, because the battle takes place in a relatively small room with only a few small pillars to hide behind:

 Ironically, fighting two of these monsters here is FAR more difficult than fighting 6-8 of them later in the level.

Ironically, fighting two of these monsters here is FAR more difficult than fighting 6-8 of them later in the level.

Even so, the inclusion of a new “boss” monster is a really cool touch and it keeps the gameplay varied and interesting. Apart from this, the only other new monster in this level is a variant on the “hell knight” monster that I’ve seen in a few other WADs. Still, the inclusion of new monsters is always a good thing.

Musically, this WAD is pretty cool. The MIDI background music is suitably fast-paced and it has a real 80s/90s rock music feel to it too 🙂

All in all, this isn’t the best “slaughtermap” level I’ve ever played, but it’s far from the worst either. This level would probably be improved by reducing the amount of BFG ammunition (and health items) given to the player but, despite this, it’s still a rather fun level and an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it’d probably get three and a half.

Mini Review: “XXXI CyberSky” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

2015 Artwork CyberSky WAD review sketch

Well, a day or two after I wrote my previous WAD review [Edit: (14/1/16) Oops! Sorry about the dead link. The review I’d originally linked to was recently rescheduled for later in the year and I forgot that there was a link to it’s old address in this article, sorry about this], I was still in the mood for playing some enjoyably challenging “slaughtermap”-style levels for “Doom II”.

If you’ve never heard of this type of “Doom” level before, these are levels that contain a lot more monsters than you can actually fight – meaning that you actually have to use tactics, strategy, perseverance, knowledge of the game and careful planning to succeed.

So, after a bit of searching, I found a rather interesting-looking single-level WAD called “XXXI CyberSky” that took me about two hours to complete on the “hurt me plenty” difficulty setting.

As usual, I used the “GZDoom” source port whilst playing this level. Due to the size, complexity and number of monsters in this level, you’ll need a fairly powerful source port like “GZDoom” to be able to play it.

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

 Well, THIS is a good sign...

Well, THIS is a good sign…

One of the first things I will say about this WAD is that the “XXXI” in the title refers to the fact that it occupies the 31st map slot in the “Doom II”, “TNT Evilution” or “Plutonia Experiment” IWAD that you’re using.

What this means is that you have to start the game as normal and then type “IDCLEV31” to skip to the 31st level before you can play “XXXI CyberSky”.

 I still have no idea why this is level 31, rather than level one. It makes no sense!

I still have no idea why this is level 31, rather than level one. It makes no sense!

If you look closely at the screenshot I just showed you, you’ll see that the level contains over 2000 monsters. Honestly, I’m surprised that this number is so small – it felt like the level contained a lot more monsters than this when I was playing it. As “slaughtermap” levels go, this is certainly one of the more heavily-populated and enjoyably challenging ones that I’ve seen in a while.

This is only a tiny fraction of the monsters you'll encounter here...

This is only a tiny fraction of the monsters you’ll encounter here…

The designer of “XXXI CyberSky” also occasionally uses a couple of amusingly innovative tricks to really ramp up the difficulty. These include things like inconspicuosly adding a couple of archviles to a large group of revenants – since the archviles are surrounded by a dense group of monsters, they can be surprisingly difficult to get to before they attack you.

The trick here is, of course, to retreat and hide behind something until after the group of revenants disperses slightly, but before the archviles can resurrect too many other monsters.

Plus, with a level name like “CyberSky”, it goes without saying, but expect to encounter more than your fair share of cyberdemons here too. In fact, you’ll encounter four of them very near the beginning of the level:

Of course,  you can easily trick them into emptying the adjoining corridors of monsters for you. Like this.

Of course, you can easily trick them into emptying the adjoining corridors of monsters for you. Like this.

In terms of the power-ups and ammo in this level, there’s just the right amount. You’ll never run out of ammo for all of your weapons, but you also won’t just be able to rely on the rocket launcher and BFG to get through this level either. Likewise, although there will probably be a fair number of times when you’ll only have a few health points remaining, the level doesn’t exactly starve you of health power-ups either.

As you might expect, the level itself is absolutely gigantic. Although “slaughtermap” levels are usually large sprawling things – this one is perhaps the largest one that I’ve ever played.

Or, rather, thanks to the cleverly-designed non-linear nature of the level, it probably feels a lot larger than it actually is. In other words, unlike some “slaughtermap” levels, you don’t just follow a linear path through a series of arena-like areas.

Although this level is still fairly straightforward, expect to do a bit of careful searching and backtracking occasionally. I quite liked this aspect of the level, since it added some variety to the gameplay and to the pacing of the level.

The level’s extreme length is also offset by the wide variety of environments on offer too. Although the entire level has a “hell”-style theme to it, there are a few variations in area design (eg: bridges, corridors, castle walls, large rooms, small rooms etc..) and quite a few new textures to keep everything interesting:

Even the hell areas have some new textures.

Even the hell areas have some new textures.

Sssh! It's a library!

Sssh! It’s a library!

But check out these gnarly fortifications near the end of the level.

But check out these gnarly fortifications near the end of the level.

All in all, this is a well-designed, non-linear “slaughtermap” level that is absolutely crammed with monsters.

If you’re the kind of “Doom” player who, when suddenly faced with an unexpected horde of monsters, just chuckles to yourself and says “oh, Doom” affectionately, then you’re probably going to like this WAD.

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

Review: “Combat Shock” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZ Doom”)

2015 Artwork Combat Shock WAD review Sketch2

Although I’d planned to review a hidden object game called “Mexicana: Deadly Holiday” for today, it kept on crashing near the beginning of the first part of the game.

So, instead, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a “Doom” WAD called “Combat Shock” that I’ve been playing recently. After all, it’s been ages since I last reviewed anything “Doom”-related.

As usual, I should point out that I used the “GZ Doom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Likewise, I’ve only had the chance to play about two-thirds of this WAD at the time of writing this review – so, this will be more of a “first impressions” article than a full review.

That said, let’s take a look at “Combat Shock”:

Oooh, it's one of THESE WADs!

Oooh, it’s one of THESE WADs!

“Combat Shock” is a seven-level WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom” and, with a name like “Combat Shock”, you’d better not expect this to be an easy WAD. If the screenshot above this paragraph didn’t tip you off, this is a slaughtermap WAD.

In case you’re new to the wonderful world of “Doom” WADs, I should probably explain what a “slaughtermap” is. Basically, it’s a level that is filled with a gratuitously large number of monsters and lots of large arena-like areas.

What this means is that the gameplay in slaughtermaps tends to revolve around strategy, tactics, trial-and-error, knowledge of the game and quick reflexes rather than just mindless shooting (since there’s often no way to defeat literally all of the monsters in the level).

In other words, these types of levels are more like combat-based puzzles than anything else. So, you’ll actually have to think when you play one of these levels.

Personally, I really love these kinds of levels – but they’re something of an acquired taste.

Anyway, although “Combat Shock” gets off to a relatively gentle start in the first couple of levels, don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security.

This is from one of the easier early levels. If this looks difficult, then you need more "Doom" practice.

This is from one of the easier early levels. If this looks difficult, then you need more “Doom” practice.

But, don’t get too complacent because the fourth level ends with an epic battle that is probably one of the most enjoyably challenging things I’ve seen since I played “Stardate 20X6” last year.

Ironically, the giant skeletal pyramid of death is one of the LEAST dangerous parts of this level.....

Ironically, the giant skeletal pyramid of death is one of the LEAST dangerous parts of this level…..

I can’t really comment too much on how difficult the fifth level is because my (fairly old) computer started slowing down fairly heavily as soon as the first group of monsters began to appear. So, I dread to think how many thousands of them there are in this level.

Whilst it didn’t slow my computer down enough to render the game unplayable (unlike some other WADs), it still meant that the gameplay wasn’t as smooth and responsive as it needs to be in a “slaughtermap” level.

In terms of the level designs, the ones that I’ve played so far have been fairly well-designed. Although there are obviously lots of arena-like areas, you still sometimes have to find switches and keys – which adds quite a bit of variety to the gameplay.

Not only that, the general “look” of the levels changes every few levels – which also adds some variety to this WAD. Whilst the first three levels are set in some old ruins and buildings, the fourth and fifth levels are set in a futuristic building of some kind – which has a really cool brown and orange colour scheme.

Seriously, the beginning of the fifth level is one of the coolest things that I’ve seen in a “Doom” WAD:

It looks like a gothic  sci-fi version of the Ennis House. Nice!

It looks like a gothic sci-fi version of the Ennis House. Nice!

Although there aren’t any new weapons in “Combat Shock”, there are at least a couple of slightly redesigned monsters.

The chaingun zombies now wear green uniforms and the other zombie enemies look a lot cooler than their “vanilla” counterparts. Although this isn’t a huge change, it helps to keep this WAD fresh and interesting.

Yes, the chaingun zombies are now wearing space marine uniforms.

Yes, the chaingun zombies are now wearing space marine uniforms.

And the shotgun zombies now look like a cyberpunk version of Ned Kelly. This is SO cool!

And the shotgun zombies now look like a cyberpunk version of Ned Kelly. This is SO cool!

All in all, I really liked what I’ve seen of “Combat Shock” so far. If you like fiendishly difficult slaughtermaps, then this WAD is certainly worth checking out. Just be warned that the fifth level may or may not slow down your computer.

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