Review: “Behead The Undead (v1.2)” (WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ Zandronum)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review and because, at the time of writing, I’d been obsessively playing the early access preview for “Ion Maiden Fury” (rather than any new full games. EDIT: Yes, I write these reviews very far in advance), I thought that I’d take a quick look at a really interesting “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD from 2019 called “Behead The Undead (v1.2)“.

Although this WAD (technically a “.pk3”) will apparently work on other source ports if you have the right spawner files, it works “out of the box” with the Zandronum source port. So, out of laziness, I used this instead of GZDoom.

So, let’s take a look at “Behead The Undead (v 1.2)”:

“Behead The Undead (v1.2)” is a nine-level co-op/single player WAD that includes new monsters, levels, weapons, player sprites, sounds etc.. and (despite apparently being inspired by “Timesplitters 2” and one of the “Call Of Duty” zombie modes) also seems to takes heavy inspiration from the “Left 4 Dead” games.

And, yes, it’s always great to see “Left 4 Dead” stuff in Doom II WADs 🙂 The only other example I can think of is “Aeons Of Death (v 6.06.1)

Since I have very nostalgic memories of playing the “Left 4 Dead” games during the early 2010s (back when I didn’t mind Steam’s always-online DRM and before they stuck their middle finger up at Windows XP users – of which I was one until several months before preparing this review) and since I enjoyed the “Timesplitters” games when I was a teenager, I was intrigued.

Although there are some “Timesplitters” references, this mod doesn’t have the precision aiming needed to copy the “Behead The Undead” mode from “Timesplitters 2” (which is probably a good thing, given how frustrating that game mode could be). So, it is more like Left 4 Dead 2’s “survival” mode, where you choose a level and then have to fight wave after wave of monsters for as long as possible. You get a ten-second break between rounds and ammo/health/weapons will also respawn too.

In terms of the gameplay, this is a challenging WAD (on single-player, at least. Unlike L4D2, there are no AI companions here) that can be enjoyed in either short bursts or for longer gaming sessions. Even on the middle difficulty setting, you won’t last more than a few seconds if you get surrounded by zombies. So, just like in games such as “Alien Shooter“, the best strategy is to never let yourself get surrounded – either by constantly running/shooting or by finding an area that the zombies can’t get to easily.

Of course, if you’re playing co-op, then you probably stand slightly more of a chance against the zombie hordes.

In other words, this is a frantic, fast-paced WAD that is a lot of fun to play. The new weapons help out here a lot, with a balance between power, rate of fire, rarity and ammo supply that keeps you constantly feeling vulnerable. About half of the weapons are powerful enough to actually give you a fighting chance (eg: the dual pistols, double-barelled shotgun, sniper rifle, minigun and nuke launcher), but have some kind of disadvantage to balance them. For example, the double-barelled shotgun’s manual reload takes a second or two, the ammo-guzzling minigun has a “spinning up” delay, the nuke launcher appears very rarely and only has three shots (plus, a blast radius you can easily get caught in) etc….

This weapon is ridiculously powerful, but you can only use it three times…. on the rare occasions that it appears in the first place.

Likewise, this minigun is literally the only truly useful rapid-fire weapon in the game. But, it guzzles about ten units of ammo every second.

This feeling of vulnerability works surprisingly well because this is actually a vaguely scary horror game too. In addition to some ominously gloomy locations (which allow for lots of jump scares when screeching zombies rush out of the darkness towards you), some creepy ambient music and the eerie item pickup sound effects from “Silent Hill”, several of this WAD’s levels also have a very grey and desaturated look to them which really helps to add a bleak, hopeless atmosphere to the gameplay 🙂 Seriously, it’s a “Doom II” WAD about shooting zombies that is actually mildly scary 🙂

Yes, there’s actual horror in this WAD 🙂

As for the monsters, there’s a good – if limited – variety. In addition to hordes of fast, weak “Left 4 Dead 2” zombies, there is also the “Spitter” monster from that game (who is weak, but can fire projectiles) and then the game uses an enlarged version of the mummy monster from “Heretic” as the equivalent of L4D2’s “Tank” monster. These large, slow-moving projectile-firing monsters are absolute bullet sponges, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, they provide a formidable challenge that also adds variety to the gameplay. On the downside, the game will sometimes throw 5-10 of them at you during a wave, which can almost border on unfair.

Although only three of them can be seen in this screenshot, this level will often throw 5-10 of these giant monsters at you during the later waves.

In terms of the level design, it’s fairly good. The nine levels you can choose from are a good mixture between wide open arenas, claustrophobic smaller levels and sprawling corridor mazes. Each level type has it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages that really help to add some variety to the gameplay.

For example, it’s easier to find ammo, health and new weapons in the smaller levels, but you’re more likely to get surrounded by zombies. It’s easier to run away and circlestrafe in arena levels, but more zombies/monsters tend to appear. Zombies tend to be more spread out in corridor mazes, but there are more “jump” moments and finding the last zombie of a wave can also be a challenge (even with the in-game radar). So, the level design is fairly good.

Interestingly, some levels also have “safe areas” which can’t be reached by the monsters. This doesn’t feel like too much of a cheat thanks to some clever design and balancing. Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1: The monsters can’t get into this building in the “City” level, but don’t expect to find much ammo in here….

Example 2: In the “Docks” level, hiding behind this crate will keep you safe during the earlier waves. But, when projectile-firing monsters start appearing, you’ll be trapped with little to no cover.

Yes, there are the dreaded invisible walls in some levels – but these double up as spawn points for the monsters, so this isn’t too bad. And, yes, some levels feature atmospheric custom textures whilst some others just use the ordinary standard textures (with maybe a new skybox), but the actual design of the levels is fairly good.

Likewise, I cannot praise the variety of sprites/textures in this game highly enough – in addition from being able to choose between about twelve player sprites (mostly from the “Timesplitters” games), the game also features graphics from several other games (eg: Left 4 Dead 2, Shadow Warrior [1997], Silent Hill 2, Blood, Heretic etc..) which helps to make everything feel a bit more unique. Yes, the styles of some of these textures clash with each other a bit, but I absolutely love it when modders convert stuff from 3D games into the 2.5D “Doom” engine 🙂

All in all, this WAD is a lot of fun and a is a bit like a trimmed-down version of “Left 4 Dead 2” for the “Doom” engine. Yes, it’s limited and the difficulty level can almost border on unfair in single-player mode – but, if you want a challenging, fairly well-balanced, fast-paced WAD with some genuinely creepy horror elements that can be enjoyed for both shorter and longer gaming sessions, then this one is well worth checking out 🙂

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

Review: “Skulldash” (Mod/WAD for Doom II/ Final Doom/ Zandronum)

2016 Artwork Skulldash WAD review

Well, although I’d originally planned to review another “Doom II” WAD for today, I eventually ended up looking at a Cacoward-winning WAD (well, techncially, a “PK3”)/ mod called “Skulldash” instead.

For some reason, “Skulldash” only works with the Zandronum source port (I’m usually more of a ZDoom/ GZDoom kind of person). However, you can download a version of “Skulldash” form the developer’s website which also includes the Zandronum source port. All you then have to do is copy your “Doom II”, “Plutonia Experiment” or “TNT Evilution” IWAD into the folder and then click on the “PLAY SKULLDASH” batch file.

So, let’s take a look at “Skulldash”:

Screenshot_Doom_20151231_142705

“Skulldash” is a 30-level WAD (including five secret levels, which I couldn’t find without resorting to cheating) that includes some fairly extensive gameplay modifications – as well as new monsters, weapons, textures, power-ups and music too.

Apart from of some of the boss battles (except the final one), every level of “Skulldash” is a timed challenge where you have to collect at least 75% of the coins scattered around the level and then reach the exit within a time limit. There’s a tutorial level that explains the new gameplay mechanics in more detail than I have done here.

Yes, the gameplay modifications are so extensive that they actually merit a tutorial level at the beginning of the game.

Yes, the gameplay modifications are so extensive that they actually merit a tutorial level at the beginning of the game.

Although I’m not usually keen on the idea of time limits in computer games, the time limits for each level are generous enough to be fair, but short enough to make the levels more challenging. It must have taken a lot of playtesting, but they got the time limits just about right.

As for the coin-based gameplay, this is a lot more exciting than it sounds. Not only does it force you to actually explore each level, but it adds an extra dimension of suspense and strategy to the combat in each level too. Since the main goal of each level is to collect enough coins to activate the exit (within the time limit), deciding whether to fight or flee from any monsters you encounter is a much more significant decision.

The challenge is also increased by the fact that, with one exception, all of the levels are played from a pistol start. In other words, you’ll never know which weapons will be available to you when you start a new level.

Yes, you don't even get a super shotgun on every level.

Yes, you don’t even get a super shotgun in every level.

The coin collecting mechanic is one of the most innovative FPS gameplay modifications that I’ve seen and it kind of reminds me of mainstream gaming in the 1990s, back when major games actually used to include things like innovation and creativity. I’d expected “Skulldash” to be mildly frustrating, but it was actually extremely enjoyable.

“Skulldash” also uses a hub system, which gives you some limited degree of choice about which order you play the levels in. However, you have to complete a group of four levels (in any order), before you can move on to the next group of four levels.

The only problem with this is that you always return to the same part of the hub after completing a level, which can mean that you may have to regularly traipse across the entire hub level in later parts of the game.

The hub level is fairly large and you always re-enter it here, even if the group of levels you're playing is on the other side of the hub.

The hub level is fairly large and you always re-enter it here, even if the group of levels you’re playing is on the other side of the hub.

Another cool thing about this WAD are the levels themselves. Near the beginning of the WAD, you’re dazzled with a plethora of wildly different levels that help to get you interested in playing more. There are Aztec temples, ice caves, moon bases etc…..

Yay! This level looks really cool :)

Yay! This level looks really cool 🙂

And so does this one too :)

And so does this one too 🙂

However, as the WAD progresses, many of the levels start to have a bit of a generic “Doom”/”Quake”-style look to them. However, there are at least a few interesting-looking levels later in the WAD – such as this sci-fi level which includes low gravity and a really cool skybox.

Seriously, this is one of the best skyboxes that I've seen in a while!

Seriously, this is one of the best skyboxes that I’ve seen in a while!

But, even though some of the levels may look a bit bland, the level design itself is absolutely top notch.

There are levels with a smaller number of well-hidden coins and there are levels with hundreds of coins that you have to rush through as quickly as you can. There are levels where all of the monsters are frozen until you’ve walked to the other side of the level. There are slightly puzzle-based levels. There are action-based levels. There are smaller levels and there are larger levels.

Seriously, the level design in this WAD is pretty much professional quality.

As for the new monsters – if you’ve played a few other “Doom” WADs, then you’ll recognise many of them. There are dark imps, super shotgun zombies, modified cacodemons etc… Even though there (mostly) isn’t anything significantly new here, it’s always great to see a WAD that contains more than just the standard monsters.

On the plus side, some of the bosses (like this one) seem to be totally new. However, one of them is a modified boss from "Duke Nukem 3D"

On the plus side, some of the bosses (like this one) seem to be totally new. However, one of them is a modified boss from “Duke Nukem 3D”

The new power-ups are fairly interesting and they include things like a “strength” power-up (whatever that does), a terror sphere, damage reflection etc… However, these new power-ups are extremely rare, which probably explains why I don’t remember a huge amount about them.

There are about three new weapons too. You can find a railgun, an enhanced version of the chaingun and a grenade launcher. The grenade launcher is probably the most innovative of the new weapons, for the simple reason that it functions a lot like a rocket launcher (but with a more limited range and slightly bouncier rockets).

 I'm still not sure whether I prefer this to the "ordinary" rocket launcher or not.

I’m still not sure whether I prefer this to the “ordinary” rocket launcher or not.

The music is, quite simply, amazingly cool. Each song goes really well with each level and the soundtrack contains some really outstanding tracks.

But, all of the new monsters, new weapons and awesome music are nothing more than the icing on the cake. As well as the excellent level design, the thing that truly makes “Skulldash” stand out from the crowd are the innovative gameplay modifications.

If I had to give “Skulldash” a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.