Well, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since I last played a “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d take a look for one called “Miasma” that won a Cacoward in 2016.
As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD. From what I’ve read, it will work on most other modern limit-removing source ports, although it apparently might cause problems if you’re using ZDaemon. But, if – like me – you’re using an older computer, expect a little bit of slowdown in a couple of the more monster-filled areas of the level. Whilst this didn’t render the game unplayable, it was slightly annoying nonetheless.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Miasma”:
“Miasma” is a large single-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” which contains new music and textures. One of the first things that you will notice when you play this WAD is it’s very distinctive green/brown colour scheme. Whilst this adds some atmosphere to the WAD, it isn’t really as distinctive as the blue colour scheme in “Swim With The Whales” or the purple/brown colour scheme in “Stardate 20X6“.
You’ll notice that I’ve just mentioned two fiendishly difficult “slaughtermap” WADs and there’s a reason for this. “Miasma” is vaguely reminiscent of both of these WADs but, whilst it’s a good WAD, it doesn’t quite reach their high standards for a number of reasons. Whilst the distinctive colour scheme, the challenging gameplay and the slightly eerie music wouldn’t be too out of place in those other WADs, there are some significant gameplay differences.
The main difference is that, in some ways, this level seems to be too large and too complex for it’s own good. Although this is something of a change from the more linear nature of many “slaughtermap”-style WADs and it’s a sign that the level’s creator spent a lot of time making the level, it also means that you’ll spend quite a while wandering around in circles whilst completely and utterly lost. This is also compounded by the fact that many of the level’s locked doors are…. completely optional.
I spent quite a while searching for keys and new parts of the level and only happened to stumble across the exit by accident whilst revisiting a monster-filled area I’d barely managed to escape from earlier. There was no real sense of achievement or logical progression to this, just a sense of “Oh, there it is! At least I don’t have to go round in circles again“.
This extreme non-linearity occasionally makes some of the level’s more dramatic set pieces feel somewhat cheap. You can spend quite a while fighting your way through a horde of monsters or trying to escape one of the level’s fiendish set pieces, only to find that all of your effort has been for nothing.
Sometimes all you’ll recieve for your efforts is a new way to return to an area you’ve already visited. Generally speaking, highly-challenging areas of a level should reward the player with some kind of genuine progression (eg: access to a totally new part of the level) – and this seems to be missing in some parts of this level.
As bizarre, heretical and counter-intuitive as it might sound, this level would have probably benefitted from a little bit of linearity.
No, I’m not saying that it should be a boring “Call Of Duty”-style corridor level. But, whilst there should be explorable areas and a few short alternative paths, there should be a slightly clearer sense of where the player should go next. Most great non-linear FPS game levels achieve this by making the level just small enough that the player will find where they’re supposed to go after a few minutes of searching. But, with a level of this size, you often don’t even know where to start looking.
That said, this is a good level. It’s the kind of level that requires perseverence, skill and a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom II” to complete. Plus, whilst there are some reasonably good set pieces where you’ll have to use tactics to fight or escape large numbers of monsters in claustrophobic areas, there are also a few more “traditional” parts of the level (in terms of monster numbers and placement) that help to add some variety to the gameplay.
The set pieces are thrilling and well-made, but they are rarely that surprising. They’re just slaughtermap set pieces that require you to dodge or fight ludicrious numbers of monsters until you can find a switch of some kind. They’re really solid but, if you’ve played a few slaughtermaps before, there’s rarely any kind of serious “wow” factor to these parts of the level. They’re often just good, ordinary slaughtermap set pieces.
Visually speaking, this WAD looks pretty cool. Although most of the WAD just looks a little bit like a slightly more gothic/cyberpunk version of “standard” Doom II, there are some brilliantly designed areas that look a bit more atmospheric and dramatic. Plus, one cool touch is that the chaingun zombies now have green sprites instead of red ones. I love WADs that have a distinctive colour scheme (“Ancient Aliens” truly excels at this) and this WAD doesn’t disappoint here.
Another cool thing about this level is the music. The main background music in the level is simultaneously eerie, relaxing and slightly retro. Whilst it doesn’t always complement the fast-paced thrills of some areas of the level, it helps to add a bit of extra atmosphere to the level. Plus, another cool touch is that the safe room music from the original “Resident Evil” plays during the stats screen at the end of the level.
All in all, this is a good “Doom II” WAD, but I don’t know if I’d call it a “great” one. Yes, the extreme non-linearity and size of this level probably took a lot of effort to make and it’s probably an interesting design experiment. But, strange as it sounds, this level could have probably benefitted from being just a little bit more focused and compact.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about maybe get a four.