Mini Review: ‘Xaser’s Arena (Version 2)” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Since, once again, I’m still reading the next book I plan to review ( another 600+ page Tudor tome called “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel), I thought that I’d review another “Doom II” WAD, since there really aren’t enough WAD reviews here these days.

So, after clicking on the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a couple of times, I eventually found an interesting-looking WAD from 2003 called “Xaser’s Arena (Version 2)“.

Interestingly, this is an earlier WAD from the creator of several WADs I’ve reviewed in the past called “Zen Dynamics“, “Dead. Wire” and “Dead. Air“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although I’m guessing that it will probably run with most modern source ports.

So, let’s take a look at “Xaser’s Arena (Version 2)”:

“Xaser’s Arena (Version 2)” is a single-level WAD that includes new textures and music. This WAD actually has a backstory in the accompanying text file too. Basically, the Doomguy is in the middle of a holographic training simulation when a virus causes the monsters inside the simulation to become real and dangerous.

So, yes, it’s basically like a “Doom”-themed version of one of those holodeck-based episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” 🙂

Set phasers to “obliterate”!

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it looks really cool. After you’ve worked out how to enter the hologram area (just press the two consoles next to the doors), the main part of the level uses a really awesome neon green grid texture that reminded me of both the holodeck from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and some of the sci-fi levels from an amazing “Doom II” WAD from 2015 called “Reelism“. Seriously, this level looks really cool 🙂

Yes, technically speaking, this is a cyberpunk WAD 🙂

The level design here is pretty interesting too. This is one of those intricate, compact, claustrophobic levels which will require you to press switches, collect keys and constantly search for where to go next.

The level’s small size works really well here since, although some switches may affect things slightly further away, you won’t have to search for them for too long. Likewise, the many claustrophobic corridors you’ll find yourself in really help to add some challenge to the level’s combat too.

However, this level does have something of a strange difficulty curve. Basically, although it is technically possible to get the shotgun near the beginning of the level, you’ll probably miss it – since working out where it is and going through the steps to get it whilst being hounded by multiple cacodemons etc.. is a little bit difficult when you’ve only got a pistol and your health is getting drained quickly by multiple monster attacks.

What this means is that you’ll probably spend many of the early parts of the level with low health and an inadequate amount of pistol ammo. In other words, you’ll probably end up having to use your fists a lot. If you’re experienced with “Doom II”, you’ll probably be able to use tactics to get through most of these parts of the levels in a slow and methodical fashion. Still, whilst this turns low-level monsters (eg: imps, pinky demons etc..) into a genuine threat, it does come across as a rather cheap, and occasionally frustrating, way to achieve difficulty.

Five health and no bullets. Never let it be said that “Doom II” is an easy game. Still, this crumpled door looks pretty cool.

However, as soon as you get the super shotgun, chaingun and/or rocket launcher slightly later in the level, everything quickly becomes far easier. So, yes, the difficulty curve of this level is a little bit strange.

Seriously, once you find this place, the difficulty level suddenly changes from “challenging” to “pretty easy”.

In terms of the new background music, it consists of fast, upbeat, futuristic music that goes surprisingly well with the level. It’s cheesy enough to be fun, but good enough not to become annoying for the 15-45 minutes you’ll probably spend with this level.

All in all, although this level has a little bit of a strange difficulty curve, this is a cool-looking and reasonably well-designed WAD. It’s a fascinating early level by a designer who would go on to create even cooler sci-fi WADs (the most enjoyable of which is probably “Dead. Air).

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

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