Mini Review: “Stardate 20×7” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ ZDoom etc..)

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.

Pictured: Why I’m only part way through the final level…

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.

Like in “Stardate 20×6”, it fires purple projectiles 🙂

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.

The “Ancient Japan” theme in the early levels is cool, although the sci-fi levels look even cooler 🙂

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….

Trust me, you’ll want to rocket jump backwards fairly soon after pressing that button!

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.

Dammit! And I had the BFG too!

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!

In other words, don’t do this and you might stand a chance…

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….

Oh, the corridor segment I mentioned earlier is also really cool since it has a really “old school” kind of atmosphere to it.

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.

Pictured: The fun type of in-game puzzles! Seriously, this is what FPS game puzzles should look like.

Pictured: The “not so fun” type of FPS game puzzles.

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!“.

The Danse Macabre, to be precise….

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?

Seriously, I’m glad there’s only one of these monsters!

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.

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Mini Review: “Arena Boss Fights” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, although I still seem to be going through a “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” phase at the moment (and am replaying it yet again, as a Malkavian this time), I’m determined that my regular “Doom II” WAD reviews won’t be as neglected as my plans to finish and review “Under A Killing Moon” seem to be.

So, with that said, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a rather interesting little WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” called ‘Arena Boss Fights‘.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. It is also apparently compatible with GZDoom too. However, the readme suggests that some other source ports might have issues running this WAD.

So, let’s take a look at “Arena Boss Fights”:

“Arena Boss Fights” is a single-level novelty WAD that was apparently made within the space of a single day.

The basic premise of the WAD is that you have to fight the three bosses from the original “Doom” (eg: the Bruiser Brothers, the Cyberdemon and the Spider Mastermind) in a series of arena-based fights. Basically, this WAD does what it says on the tin.

Yay! Gladiatorial combat 🙂

The actual battles are kept fresh and interesting though some clever arena design. The battle with the two hell knights is made easier by the inclusion of a super shotgun, however this is balanced out by the fact that the arena itself consists of lots of walkways and lava pits (so, circle-strafing is a little more difficult).

Still, if you’ve played a lot of challenging modern WADs, it might be difficult to remember that this actually used to be considered a boss fight.

The Cyberdemon arena is pretty easy, since the Cyberdemon is restricted to a raised platform and you are given a plasma gun when you enter the room. But, this is balanced slightly by the fact that the arena itself is relatively small, and the only way to get extra plasma cells is to lower nearby pillars (which briefly leaves you exposed to the Cyberdemon’s rockets).

The most challenging arena in the game is, of course, the battle with the Spider Mastermind. Although you’re given a rocket launcher and several pillars to hide behind, this is balanced out slightly by the fact that you are restricted to a series of walkways surrounding a lava pit. Likewise, rockets are relatively scarce in this area.

Yay! This arena looks wonderfully epic 🙂

However, and I could be wrong here, it is possible that the spider’s health levels might have been tweaked somewhat, since you only have to shoot him a few times after you’ve run out of rockets. I don’t know, I’m sure I remember this boss being tougher.

Although an experienced player can breeze through this WAD in about 5-10 minutes, it’s still a lot of fun. It’s an interesting little retrospective of the original game and – even if you’re a little bit out of practice with “Doom II” – then it’ll still make you feel like a badass when you play it.

One cool feature about this WAD is that the central hub area between the three arenas features sprites of each boss. Once you defeat each boss, their sprite disappears from the hub area – which is a rather cool little touch.

This is easy to miss, but it’s still really cool 🙂

Bizarrely, the list of “rules” that accompanies the WAD advises against using freelook (although jumping is fine, and necessary in the first arena). According to this list of rules, disabling freelook means that you’re less likely to notice problems with the skybox. However, even after I disabled freelook, I could still spot repeating sky textures. Still, for a level that was made in a single day, these minor cosmetic flaws can easily be overlooked.

In terms of music, this level uses the “Into Sandy’s City” MIDI from the original games. Along with “E1M1” and “D_Read_M”, this is one of my favourite pieces of classic in-game music, so it’s great to hear it here 🙂

All in all, this is a fun little novelty level which does something mildly creative with something that all “Doom” players will be familiar with. If you’re an experienced player, then it’s a fun way to spend a few minutes. And, if you’re new to the game, then it’s probably a rather enjoyable (but winnable) challenge too.

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

Partial Review: “Quantum Strike (V2)” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ ZDoom etc..)

Well, although I’m playing a game called “Under A Killing Moon” (Edit: Unfortunately, I probably won’t review it) at the time of writing, I thought that I should try to make sure that there is at least one “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD review posted here this month.

So, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a WAD called “Quantum Strike (V2)“. However, at the time of writing, I’m about halfway through level three (of four). So, this article will be more than just a first impressions article, but less than a full review.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port (version 2.7.9999.0) whilst playing this WAD. However, according to the text file that accompanies the WAD, it will also run with more modern versions of several other source ports such as GZDoom, Zandronum, PR/GLBoom+ and QZDoom.

So, let’s take a look at “Quantum Strike (V.2):

“Quantum Strike (V2)” is a four-level “slaughtermap” WAD that includes new textures, music, fully implemented difficulty settings (I used “Hurt Me Plenty”) and a new monster.

If you’ve never heard of “slaughtermap” levels before, they are challenging levels (like “XXXI Cybersky“, “VeryHard“, “Stardate 20X6” etc..) that contain a linear series of arena-like segments which are filled with more monsters than you can actually fight.

This shifts the emphasis of the gameplay towards survival, fast-paced puzzle solving, dogged determination, knowing when to fight (or when not to) and knowing how to use the “rules” of “Doom II” to your advantage. Personally, I really like this style of level, but it is something of an acquired taste.

Seriously, when it is done well – like in this part of level two- these types of level can be brilliant 🙂

However, whilst this WAD certainly contains some good slaughtermap segments, it isn’t a perfect example of something in this genre. The main problem is that many of the monster-filled areas can feel a little bit too claustrophobic. One of the most important parts of any “slaughtermap” is that the player has enough room to run, dodge and take cover. This can make the difference between a fun level and a frustrating one.

This is especially the case with the early parts of the first level, which mostly take place within narrow corridors where there’s very little room for dodging and relatively little ammo, health, weaponry or cover on offer. At it’s best, this makes the level suspenseful. But it can also make the difficulty feel somewhat cheap, especially when the level occasionally leaves you sandwiched between two groups of monsters within a relatively narrow corridor.

The most jarring example of cheap difficulty in the first level is when the WAD’s new monster, the Afrit, is introduced during a corridor segment. This is a flying baron-type monster who has a powerful attack that spews lots of mancubus/revenant projectiles across a wide area. Although it’s always cool to see new monsters, this is a type of monster that shouldn’t be used in areas where there’s relatively little cover or room for the player to dodge.

Pictured: Not a monster that you want to meet in a corridor!

Although the first level is a rather fun level, the claustrophobic design doesn’t do it any favours. Even the “arena” area later in the level is a medium-size room that feels slightly claustrophobic when compared to the number of monsters you have to fight. This is compounded by the fact that there’s relatively little cover in this area, which can mean that the player barely has time to think or to formulate any kind of strategy.

And, if you try to hide in one of the alcoves here, expect to get walled in by ferocious monsters very quickly!

The second level has some really good arena segments that are suitably sized for this style of gameplay. However, there’s still something of a slight emphasis on claustrophobic walkways in some parts of the level.

And I also forgot to mention that you need to move along the walkways quickly, since there’s a cyberdemon in the middle of this area.

But, although this level is probably my favourite, I couldn’t actually find a way to end it. Even after all of the monsters in the final arena had died, I still couldn’t find a way of ending the level. So, I had to resort to using the “level skip” cheat.

The final battle at the end of the level is pretty epic though (and, like another cool segment earlier in the level, there’s actually enough room too!)

The third level is much more like a classic-style “slaughtermap” level, with arena-like areas, some cool-looking design and lots of monsters.

The coolest part of level three (that I’ve seen so far) is probably this bit, where you can see the level from above.

Although I haven’t finished this level at the time of writing, it is a reasonably fun example of a slaughtermap level. However, one slight criticism I have of it is that some parts can feel a little bit claustrophobic and/or not have enough cover.

Such as this part when it starts filling up with monsters (including a three-layered wall of chaingun zombies on the other side of the room!)

This WAD also takes a very traditionalist attitude towards jumping, but the levels are designed with this limitation in mind. So, I didn’t even notice that I couldn’t jump until about half an hour after I’d started playing. However, the fact that the WAD seems to force you to play the second level (and presumably the third too) from a pistol start is slightly annoying though.

Seriously, why?!?!?

Visually speaking, this WAD has a rather cool sci-fi/horror theme to it, which is vaguely reminiscent of both the original “Quake” and some of Skillsaw’s excellent “Doom II” WADs (eg: “Ancient Aliens“, “Lunatic” etc..) whilst also being it’s own thing too. Seriously, I really love the look of this WAD 🙂

I also love how this WAD sometimes has different colour schemes for different areas.

Plus, I love the “Quake”-like textures on this inventively-designed crusher too.

Likewise, the new music here is really cool too, and it mostly consists of 1980s/90s style MIDI music which has a wonderfully retro-futuristic sound to it. This goes really well with the visual style of the WAD and really helps to add some atmosphere to the levels.

All in all, from what I’ve played, this WAD is a mixed bag. Yes, it looks (and sounds) really cool. Yes, there are some really fun moments to be found here (especially in the second level). However, the emphasis on claustrophobic settings and pistol starts really doesn’t do this WAD any favours.

If I had to give what I’ve played a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

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

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD today (wow, three in one month!). And, after a little bit of searching, I found a WAD called “Planisphere” that looked like it could be interesting.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD – but it will work on any limit-removing source port. However, since it uses the “Wolf 3D” enemies and a “Wolf 3D” texture from “Doom II”, one part of the level possibly won’t work properly on German versions of the game and/or the “BFG Edition” version of the game.

As a general note, I’ll probably be using “ZDoom” even more often, since one of the side-effects of the hardware changes I had to make to my classic mid-2000s computer a few days before preparing this review is that it will no longer run “GZDoom”.

So, let’s take a look at “Planisphere”:

“Planisphere” is a single-level WAD from 2017 that also includes new music and a new skybox texture.

Surprisingly, the accompanying text file actually includes a backstory for the level, which revolves around a train journey gone horribly wrong (which also explains why the level begins and ends beside a train station).

Plus, this WAD does the cool thing of showing you a later part of the level near the beginning of the level.

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it is a mixture of cool moments and frustrating moments. This level is filled with an interesting variety of cool-looking themed outdoor areas (eg: an urban area, a fantasy/horror/Aztec-style area, a sci-fi style area and a small WW2-themed area) and this kind of makes it feel a bit like a more action-packed version of “The Crystal Maze“.

There’s a dramatic post-apocalyptic city area.

And a pyramid too 🙂 A pyramid!

You can also find a ship too 🙂

In addition to visual variety, there’s also some degree of gameplay variety between these areas. The first and last areas (which overlap slightly) are fast-paced action segments. The fantasy/horror-themed area is a mixture of action and strategy, and the sci-fi themed area is eerily devoid of monsters.

The total lack of monsters actually makes this area quite creepy.

However, whilst it’s cool that “Planisphere” tries to add some variety to the gameplay, this can also make the pacing of the level somewhat uneven and inconsistent. This isn’t helped by the fact that this is one of those levels where you’re likely to get completely and utterly stuck at least once.

For example, I spent at least 20-30 minutes wandering around one area aimlessly until I eventually realised, purely by chance, that a nearby lift can actually ascend three floors rather than the two it initially seemed to be able to reach. Likewise, I almost got stuck in another area until I found a room that was “hidden in plain sight” (although, to be fair, this was a fairly clever piece of level design that relies on how a player would normally react to one type of location).

One interesting level design quirk is that there seems to be at least one totally optional area. Near the end of the level, there is a locked door that requires a yellow key. As I looked around for it, I ended up finding the end of the level instead. So, out of curiosity, I went back and took a quick look behind the door (with the “no clipping” cheat) and found a red door that contained a totally optional missile silo-style area.

Seriously, this is one of the coolest parts of the level, but it’s very easy to miss.

In terms of difficulty, this WAD is a bit of a strange one. Whilst it isn’t exactly ultra-challenging (eg: the one time you’re faced with a horde of enemies, you’re given a plasma rifle and a megasphere), the level sometimes achieves it’s difficulty in rather cheap ways.

Whether this is being very slightly stingy with the amount of ammo the player is given, or placing enemies on ledges in some puzzle-based areas etc… the moderate difficulty can sometimes feel like it has been achieved by cheap methods.

For example, unless you search thoroughly, you’re probably going to run low on ammo here.

The custom music consists of ominous MIDI music that lends the level a slightly gothic/gloomy atmosphere, whilst also being stylistically in keeping with the traditional “Doom” games too.

All in all, this WAD is something of a mixed bag. Although this WAD contains some cool-looking areas (mostly just using the standard textures too), a four-area structure and some reasonably fun moments, the pacing of the level is somewhat uneven, the amount of ammo on offer is a little bit low at times and expect to get stuck at least once or twice.

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

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

Once again, it has been an entire month since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD. Although I had planned to review a WAD called “Saturnine Chapel” a few days ago, it was one of those annoying WADs that actually requires a powerful modern computer (eg: I only got a single-digit framerate). So, instead, I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting little WAD called “Maihama“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it will probably work on any modern limit-removing source port that allows jumping etc..

So, let’s take a look at “Maihama”:

And, no, this isn’t quite the start of the level (I was too busy fighting and dodging monsters to take screenshots there!)

“Maihama” is a single-level WAD that also contains new music and a couple of new textures (eg: the skybox and the ending screen background).

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that it was a bit more challenging than I expected. Although it isn’t ultra-difficult, it is the kind of WAD that will both remind you how out-of-practice you are and then gently help you to remember how to play “Doom II” again. Like in a lot of great WADs, there is a strong emphasis on fast-paced strategic gameplay here.

Ah, “Doom II”, I’ve missed you 🙂

The designer of this level achieves this in some rather clever ways – the most notable being the placement of several health-sapping chaingun zombies at the beginning of the level. Combined with very strict ammunition rationing, this means that you’ll be in a situation where you have about two health points and a couple of bullets left… before you even get to the main part of the level.

Two bullets, two health points… and this is just the early part of the level!

Although this level doesn’t throw gigantic hordes of monsters at you (there are a couple of strategically-placed small-medium size groups of monsters though), the clever monster placement is one thing that makes it so thrillingly challenging. For example, there are often both near and distant monsters of various types present at any one time.

This means that you’ll be spending a lot of time dodging projectiles, ducking for cover, using every “Doom II” trick that you know, prioritising which monsters to fight first, scanning distant buildings for zombie-based monsters and trying to make sure that nothing on the ground gets too close to you. In other words, you’ll have to think on your feet constantly and make split-second decisions about whether to run or fight. This is how you make a thrilling action game!

For example, that tiny barely-visible shotgun zombie in the distance is the most dangerous monster in this situation.

This thrillingly fast-paced gameplay is balanced out somewhat by the fact that there are few areas that are relatively “safe”, such as a narrow corridor in one building that you can hide in. This helps to give the player time to think, whilst ensuring that the level never gets too slow paced (after all, you can’t spend forever hiding).

In addition to this, the relative scarcity of health and ammo in the level helps to keep the gameplay suspenseful. Although running out of ammo is only a serious risk in the early parts of the level, you still have to be at least mildly careful during the later parts of the level too.

Plus, to keep the gameplay even more varied, there are even a couple of cool set pieces too. The most notable of this is a mild version of a “slaughtermap” arena, where you have to fight about six mid-level monsters within a confined space. This segment of the level requires fast reflexes, knowledge about monster infighting and a dogged sense of determination. And it’s really fun 🙂

Yes, this frantic strategy-based segment is a really fun, if surprisingly challenging, change of pace.

In terms of the actual design of the level, it’s really good. Not only is it the kind of non-linear level that requires exploration, but it also contains a good variety of open areas and more confined areas too.

Plus, there are some clever mixtures of the two – like this narrow bridge in the middle of a large open area.

Likewise, the segments where you find the keys are handled in a reasonably clever way too (for example, after getting the blue key, a wall descends which allows you to quickly return to an early part of the level).

Not only that, this is also the kind of well-designed level where you are very unlikely to get “stuck” at any time. In other words, whilst the level doesn’t explicitly tell you where to go, it’s often at least slightly obvious where you need to explore next.

Yay! Old school non-linear level design 🙂 But without the hassle of getting completely “stuck” either 🙂

In terms of the music, this level contains some wonderfully 90s-style MIDI music that is an absolute joy to listen to. Amongst other things, it includes a mixture of slower piano music and slightly faster-paced synth music (that vaguely reminded me of “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War).

All in all, this is a fun, well-designed and enjoyably challenging level. If you’re slightly out of practice with “Doom II” or want a slightly ‘easier’ difficult WAD, then you can’t go wrong with this one. It’s filled with thrilling fast-paced action of the type that you can only truly find in “Doom II” WADs 🙂

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

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

Well, after finishing “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV“, almost all of my “Doom II” playing over the past couple of weeks has been restricted to an awesome mod called “Reelism Gold” (seriously, play it!). But I thought that I should probably play something new – so, I decided to check out a WAD from 2016 called “Outland Industries“.

I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. Interestingly, from what I read about it on Doomworld, this WAD pretty much requires “ZDoom” and can apparently cause errors in some other source ports. So, make sure that you use “ZDoom”.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Outland Industries”:

“Outland Industries” is a single-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”. It is a ‘vanilla’ WAD (eg: it features no custom content) and it is apparently the very first WAD created by it’s designer (Professor Bucket). And, surprisingly, it’s actually quite good.

The WAD begins in a wonderfully gloomy area that makes expert use of “classic”-style lighting effects. There’s a really good balance between ominous gloom and muted lighting here, which really helps to give this area some atmosphere. There are also a few low-level monsters and a shotgun nearby. But, don’t get too comfortable! This easy opening segment is designed to lull you into a false sense of security!

Initially, I thought that I’d finish this level in five minutes…..

….. It took me closer to 20-30 minutes!

If there’s one thing to be said about this level, it is that it has a fairly good difficulty curve. If you’ve completed “Doom II” and you want to step into the exciting world of modern “Doom” WADs (or even if you’re just in between “Doom II” and “Final Doom”), then “Outland Industries” is a good starter level to help you prepare for the increase in difficulty you’ll encounter.

Although the creator of this WAD was aiming for something similar to a traditional “Doom II” level, the difficulty and style of this level is probably more like a mixture of a milder version of “Final Doom” and a toned-down version of a modern “Slaughtermap” WAD.

Seriously, there might not be THAT many monsters here, but thanks to the small size of the room, this segment of the level is at least mildly challenging. It’s also good practice if you’re new to “Doom II” WADs too.

What I mean by this is that you’ll be encountering small-medium size hordes of low-mid level monsters occasionally. These segments are also spread out quite well throughout the level (seriously, I cannot praise the pacing enough). Compared to, say, “Stardate 20X6” or “VeryHard” – these segments are extremely easy. But, they’re handled very well and are a great introduction to the more strategic playing style (where retreating/running is sometimes the best option) required in many modern WADs.

Still, even though this WAD isn’t exactly super difficult, it is still mildly – but enjoyably- challenging for more experienced players. The stand-out moments have to be a battle with a group of monsters in a relatively small room, the segment with the rocket launcher and the brilliantly epic (if somewhat small-scale) final segment of the level. This final segment is a brilliant mixture of “Final Doom” and “Slaughtermap”-style level design.

Yay! Projectiles 🙂

You’ll be dodging a small hail of projectiles, a fair number of lost souls and a few well-placed spider demons, mancubi and chaingunners as you try to work out how to get the “exit” door open. Although this area is fairly small (and the key isn’t too hard to find), it manages to cram in some really cool fast-paced non-linear gameplay into a relatively small area.

The level design in the rest of the level is really good too. Seriously, for a first WAD, this is spectacular!

Seriously, even this little part near the beginning of the level is kind of cool.

The level is non-linear enough to be interesting, and both the level’s size and design also mean that you’ll never get stuck when playing it. In other words, you get to explore and backtrack, but you’ll never really be uncertain about where to go next. Likewise, although it just uses the standard textures, monsters etc… the variety of areas (from claustrophobic corridors and rooms, to larger outdoor areas) and some clever monster placement means that the gameplay never gets monotonous.

For example, this room looks quiet… Suspiciously quiet.

– And THIS area is really cool. It’s a jump that overhangs an earlier part of the level. Now, THIS is good level design!

And there’s a good mixture between claustrophobic corridors and larger outdoor areas too.

The only real criticism I have of this level is that it doesn’t seem to include any arch-viles! A well-placed arch-vile or two would really help to add a little bit of extra suspense, challenge and drama to the level. And, yes, I’m one of those weird players who actually likes arch-viles.

All in all, this is a really good level that is almost up to the standard of an “official” level. The level design helps to keep the gameplay flowing at a fast pace, the combat is enjoyably challenging and the monster placement is superb. It’s an enjoyably fun and relaxing level for experienced players, and it’s a good “starter” level for people who are new to “Doom” WADs. For the designer’s first level, it is really something!

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

Mini Review: “Altar Of Evil” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017-artwork-altar-of-evil-wad-review-sketch

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting one called “Altar Of Evil” which was one of the runners-up for a Cacoward in 2005.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD.

So, let’s take a look at “Altar Of Evil”:

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“Altar Of Evil” is a single-level WAD that contains new sounds, textures and sprites.

The first thing that I will say about this WAD is that it looks really cool, since it has a fairly consistent green/orange/black colour scheme and some wonderfully ominous lighting too. Although many of the new textures aren’t really that obvious, it still looks like a better version of something you would expect to find in the “standard” game.

Seriously, I love the lighting in this level :)

Seriously, I love the lighting in this level 🙂

The interesting visual design of this WAD also extends to the monster sprites, some of which have been altered in various ways.

Most notably, the imps now use a variant of the “Dark Imp” sprite used by various other WADs. They also fire green projectiles, which compliment the red projectiles that the Barons and Hell Knights now throw at you. Other notable monster sprite changes include a dark grey mancubus and three types of pinkie demons (eg: dark pink, blue and dark grey).

The blue pinkie demons are really cool, and they seem to be a replacement for the "spectre" monsters. So, WHAT are the dark grey pinkie demons?

The blue pinkie demons are really cool, and they seem to be a replacement for the “spectre” monsters. So, WHAT are the dark grey pinkie demons?

Yes, dark imps are nothing new. But, the green projectiles are really neat though.

Yes, dark imps are nothing new. But, the green projectiles are really neat though.

But, the main thing that gives this WAD it’s atmosphere has to be the new sounds.

Seriously, I cannot praise the sound design in this WAD highly enough – all of the weapon sounds and monster noises sound a little bit like a heavier and like a more “realistic” version of the kind of sound effects that you’d expect to hear in the original “Quake”.

The stand-out sound effects have to be the new super shotgun noise and the epic, thunderous roar of the BFG:

There's a reason why you'll run out of BFG ammo fairly quickly in this level. The new sound effect is just THAT epic!

There’s a reason why you’ll run out of BFG ammo fairly quickly in this level. The new sound effect is just THAT epic!

But, although this WAD has a lot of atmosphere, is the gameplay and level design any good? In a word, yes.

“Altar Of Evil” is an old-school non-linear level which still manages to be “streamlined” enough that you’ll rarely wonder where you’re supposed to go next. The level manages to be reasonably large without being too large (eg: you won’t really get lost when playing this level). There are a couple of cool little elements to this level, such as a pit in the corner of one room which Cacodemons rise out of and which you have to jump into in order to progress to the next part of the level.

As for the gameplay, this WAD contains a mixture of traditional-style gameplay and some mild slaughtermap elements. Throughout the very early stages of the level, you’ll be fighting reasonable numbers of monsters in relatively spacious areas. But, in later parts of the level, you’ll be fighting larger numbers of monsters in more confined spaces. This really helps to add some variety and challenge to the level, which keeps things interesting.

Yes, there are more monsters in this area than shown in the screenshot. Still, most of them are fairly low-level ones.

Yes, there are more monsters in this area than shown in the screenshot. Still, most of them are fairly low-level ones.

However, in terms of difficulty, experienced players will only find this level to be moderately challenging at most. Although there are a decent number of mid-level monsters (and the obligatory arch-vile too), many of the larger groups of monsters you will encounter in this level are mostly composed of imps, pinkie demons and/or cacodemons.

Yes, there's only one arch-vile here. Still, one arch-vile is objectively better than no arch-viles.

Yes, there’s only one arch-vile here. Still, one arch-vile is objectively better than no arch-viles.

Even so, thanks to the cramped corridors and claustrophobic chambers you’ll encounter in some parts of the level, even low-level monsters can pose more of a threat than you might initially think.

All in all, this is a really cool WAD. It’s extremely atmospheric, it manages to be both “new” and “traditional” at the same time, the gameplay is enjoyably challenging and some of the new weapon sounds are absolutely epic. It’s kind of like the original “Quake”, but with the much cooler aesthetic of the classic “Doom” games.

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