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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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!
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….
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.
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!“.
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?
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.