Top Ten - Page 2
Xaser Acheron is quite possibly the Doom community's truest polymath; someone who is not only invested in different areas but who excels and innovates in them, as well. Music, coding, level design, the arms industry... you name it, he has a stamp on it. Just where on Earth he manages to pull all of this creative genius from remains unknown, but conventional wisdom posits that it could be out in space, somewhere; an otherworld of madness that is just as likely to fixate on a map with 20,000 secrets as it is a master-work like No End in Sight. Could it be that his old moniker "The Conqueror" actually comes from the invasion of distant planets, rather than his ability to push boundaries in a 1993 video game? Is he a galactic warmonger as well as an Angry Scientist?
Insanity willing, the burden of earthbound commitments is lifted and Xaser is able to make something truly out of this world. dead.air, which was made for the 2016 Vinesauce Mapping Contest as a spiritual sequel to dead.wire, is one such something; a single level for ZDoom that brings to bear all the different skills at his disposal.
The theme of transience is consistent with dead.wire, though the story is different and there's a lot less static. You play the part of an engineer who is tasked with debugging the UAC's news network following some "unusual signal interference." Of course, the disturbance turns out to be Hell—or something like it—and what begins as an honest day's work quickly goes to shit...
It is a city pullulating with nightmares and weirdos. Burlap-faced demons that scream like goats when shot. Cacodemons that vomit their own eyeballs—also screaming (yes, you read that correctly). Xaser dispenses with the foreplay and throws you head-first into an alternate reality, to contend with things that are uncanny and uncomfortable to behold. This, as opposed to the usual means of introducing things, turns out to be a brilliant decision. It creates an environment in which you feel the need to engage more with the weapons at your disposal—all of which are important and fun to use—and which results in a visceral appreciation of everything you see and hear. Guns feel more powerful when fired; the monsters extra unnerving. If any one of the map's facets are uniquely Acheron, then playing dead.air is like being plunged into the fabled river itself.
This inspired opening would have you forgive the level for calming down and letting you cruise through to the finale, but Xaser keeps fiddling with the dials to prevent you from getting too settled. The pacing is fantastic, in this way, as is the architecture, use of colour and overall spectacle. Everything combines to create a memorable "trip" that will keep you thinking long after The Grafters have been toppled.
dead.air is another welcome window into the mind of a special talent (possibly alien—we don't know). If I could recommend it for no more than one reason, it would be the imagination that it exhibits; an altogether enigmatic way of thinking that is sure to leave you absolutely agog... and probably without your marbles.
In Doom maps, as in any medium, there's art and then there's craft. If something like Lilith is a Jackson Pollock painting, if The Given is the zero-context intro chapter to a David Foster Wallace novel, then Brigandine is the oak dresser that the local master woodworker made for your great-grandmother -- flawlessly built, beautifully carved, and solid enough to last a lifetime.
Nowhere is the craft more evident than in the sprawling landscapes outside of the playable area, which Viggles spent months on and which are every bit as detailed and real as the main layout. These long, complex vistas extend beyond your sight, as though the map has no edges but is instead part of a living world that goes on forever, that you could explore for endless hours if you could just find some way out into it. This feeling is particularly strong in the final vista at the exit teleporter, where a look up and around you grants a dizzying view of a universe coming apart at the seams.
Viggles set out to create a single-player map with the flow of a deathmatch one, and the resulting layout is smoothly flowing, compact, and tightly designed, feeding into itself at every turn like some kind of multi-headed Ouroboros. Your approach to the map can dramatically change how it plays -- as evidenced by my first playthrough, an all-out rampage that turned frantic and puzzle-like when I missed the first rocket launcher, versus my second, a surgical dungeon crawl in which I always had the exact amount of ammo necessary for the next monster I was facing. No matter how you cut it, though, the ammo placement forces you into a running battle that never lets you fall into a comfort zone, much less camp in a doorway. At the same time, the challenge relies entirely on monster placement rather than monster count, and your battle scars and deaths are something you wholly own, something for which you have no one to blame but yourself.
Playing this map feels a lot like Goldilocks coming across all of Baby Bear's furniture and belongings. If Sunlust is too hard and Revolution! is too soft, if Deus Vult is too hot and BTSX is too cold, if Counterattack is too big and Congestion 1024 is too small, then Brigandine is just right. The fights are tense and well-choreographed without being overly vicious or formulaic. The architecture is exquisitely detailed without getting in the way or having any one area that hogs all the attention. It looks, feels, and plays as Doomy as it could possibly be while still having an identity of its own. It's superbly polished, but I doubt anyone could say that it has no soul. Brigandine is perhaps the most quintessentially perfect Doom map ever created -- a perfectly round, cultured grade AAA pearl in the community's trove of gems. And if you've got a friend who's been away from Doom for decades but remembers it as a great game and wants to see what modern mapping is all about, I could hardly think of a better recommendation.
The one feeling I most immediately associate with playing a Mechadon map is, perhaps, the sense of being lost. Of delving deeper and deeper into a titanic military installation or nighted Hell-warren, wending through countless twists and turns, over and under and through innumerable plazas and terraces and passes, killing and maiming and burning my way through the seemingly endless mobs of the damned teeming within, never reaching the end, each new vault or vista discovered promising only another welter of new paths, each more infested than the last. It's a feeling of being in over one's head, of being isolated, one warrior against an insurmountable force; yes, of being well and truly lost... and loving every minute of it.
"Counterattack" began life as a one-off entry in this past year's Vinesauce mapping contest, but as with many of Mechadon's other personal projects it quickly broke free of the chains of its original creative scope to grow into something much more grandiose, now standing as the single largest concentration of Mek's particular brand of Doom to date. At five main maps (plus some bookenders and a neat bonus mini-campaign in slots 31 and 32), each feature-dense enough to tout its own small gravitational field, Counterattack offers something for nearly every palate--exploration, intrigue, sightseeing, smallscale skirmishing, massive open-air brawls, the works, all of it couched in the author's distinctive 'brutalist baroque' architecture and painted in some of the most striking suites of stock textures you'll find anywhere.
To some extent this is all made possible by the sprawling build style so characteristic of Mek's mapping (though in layout terms at least a couple of Counterattack's maps are deceptively compact/focused). Size has never been the most remarkable quality of his work, however. Some authors excel with aesthetics, others with elaborate encounter construction, still others with novel gameplay concepts; Mek seems to have a gift for something a little harder to pin down, a penchant for level design which consistently entertains over the considerable length of each of his offerings. For being as unswervingly expansive as they are, Counterattack's maps are coherent in progression and flow even as they offer many different possible experiences from game to game by way of their masterfully non-linear layouts, offering multiple paths towards the same major objectives, each of those paths in turn rife with its own little intrigues and cascading effects on proceedings elsewhere.
While this level of sophistication in a level's affordances is often the mark of a more laid-back approach to action, these maps are intoxicatingly violent, by turns fielding protracted adventures in heady room-to-room killstreaking vs. droves of popcorn monsters, contrasted with an ever-escalating tendency towards mass carnage in larger spaces. Curveballs are regularly thrown vis-a-vis standard weapon progression to inflect on each stage's challenges, tying the visceral experience of combat to the wealth of tactical/routing possibilities offered through the rich layouts. The set's knack for delivering climax after climax in the action, both where obvious and, delightfully, surreptitiously inserted in unexpected places is something quite special, and leaves in its wake the sense of having completed an epic campaign which many PWADs would be envious to invoke over a far larger number of maps or even a similar amount of real estate.
Counterattack, for all of its harmonious complexity and disarming scope, is thus a fine paean to that enchanting sense of being alone, stranded, and yet eminently capable so key to the core magic of Doom.
- Demon of the Well
Espi Award for Lifetime Achievement
Top Ten - Page 1
- Shadows of the Nightmare Realm
- No End in Sight
Top Ten - Page 2
Top Ten - Page 3
- Legacy of Heroes
- Saturnine Chapel
- Stardate 20X7
- Void and Rainbow
- Progressive Duel 2
Gameplay Mod Awards
- Doom Delta
- Final Doomer
- High Noon Drifter
- Mordeth Award
- Mapper of the Year
RUNNERS UP: THE SEQUEL
Waterlab GZD - Enjay
2017 has been an exceptional year for G/ZDoom-based projects, and Waterlab GZD is yet another one to add to your to-play list. Trust Enjay to give us a map that's as as much a continuation of the old-school anything-goes ZDoom aesthetic as it is a showcase for using GZDoom's more advanced features to create a scary, believable setting. Every little detail does its part in painting the picture of a techbase on its last legs -- partly flooded, half powered-down, and utterly overrun. It's also a great example of how to use custom monsters consistently and flavorfully so that they feel like a natural part of the game world. The cannon fodder nature of most of these new additions allowed Enjay to pack the map full of enemies in a way that's less about speaking to modern design sensibilities or testing the limits of the player's skill than it is about the pure, joyful fun that comes from delivering unfettered carnage.
Disjunction - floatRand
Sometimes it's just hard to believe a project was created by a first-timer. Introducing his MYHOUSE.WAD as an anonymous entity on /vr/, floatRand eventually claimed an identity and kicked his career off with this 11-map Boom set full of increasingly challenging and complex levels. The tying theme is that there is no theme, and we're treated to a goulash of rather gorgeous techbases, temples, metallic goth structures, libraries, etc. This one-man Community Chest 4 with a tinge of Sunlust doesn't play like either, however. The name of the game is resource starvation, and you generally find yourself either clinging to 10% health or giving pet names to your last 4 shells (or both). Any time you feel stacked, expect the slaughter hammer to drop. And what's with that ridiculous vista in the last map, eh? As a sidenote, I believe we should get used to the phrase "this would've been a clear Cacoward just a few years ago."
Hexen - Curse of the Lost Gods - Kristian "Kristus" Käll
Rather than let his project sit frozen in that corner of Tartarus reserved for vaporware, Kristus was kind enough to release the first half of this long-awaited sequel to Curse of D'Sparil for Hexen fans to explore. Curse of the Lost Gods aims to create a Hexen where survival is based at least as much on artifacts as it is on weapons, and though the combat may test the patience of many players, it's a fascinating experiment that yields some truly unique and brain-teasing results. If there was ever a true combat puzzle in all of Doom-enginedom, Curse 2 is it. Though the set sometimes feels rough around the edges, the bleak mood, large-scale battlegrounds, bold use of enemies, and stunningly pretty arches help cement it as one of the most memorable Hexen outings released so far.