Doom 2, Boom-compatible
Maskim Xul, brainchild of mapper, tinkerer, and general DeHackEd whiz Obsidian, begins in res as its gunslinging protagonist hurtles through a dimensional rift, landing in a heavily fortified but eerily abandoned UAC gate facility. Brashly powering down the defense grid sealing off the gate--one gets the sense that he knows something we don't, seeking something no matter how terrible the cost--he plunges through to arrive in a silent, shadowlit fane built over a bottomless abyss. What ensues is an epic, violent 2+ hour delve into ichor-drenched eldritch madness in one of this year's most immersive, imaginative, and elaborately constructed settings.
The level of craft at work in the presentation here, particularly as regards the usage of Boom port features and DeHackEd, goes beyond mere expertise--it is downright sorcerous. Nearly every room of the labyrinthine complex bristles with a complex network of triggers and moving parts, many featuring brilliantly synced combinations of familiar effects, a few genuinely new and surprising to me even given my 20-plus years of play. It's a fascinating experience to inhabit a playspace that moves and shifts in response to your actions seemingly as much as you do in reaction to its strange geometries, which, in combination with the imposing architecture, disturbingly suggestive peeks at the surrounding landscape (and the temple's position therein) and beautifully gloom-soaked lighting, creates the rare sense that it's the entire setting itself which is your real adversary, as opposed to the creatures in residence.
This interplay between player and setting drives the experience during and especially between combats, which begin on a more or less cozy, traditional scale and escalate into frantic brawls with growing numbers of less familiar foes, even as the setting itself becomes progressively more bizarre. Early scuffles with packs of imps and demons wandering the desolate corridors, no match for your akimbo pistols and trusty shotgun, give way to arcane duels with floating spellcasters, and games of cat & mouse where ravening hordes are barely kept at bay by the strange but undeniably devastating "jackbombs"; particularly astute students of the occult may be able to uncover an even darker power here interred, and a massacre worthy of its might.
However powerful one might become, though, there's nothing to prepare you for the fresh hell that seems to await at every turn, as the walls themselves melt into scabrous flesh to try to consume you body and soul, and the laws of gravity and spatial orientation tatter and fray until threadbare. The longer one spends flitting through the interminable gloaming of the titan edifice's massive halls and towering libraries, the more ardently the sense develops that the place is literally alive with evil....or, perhaps, simply that such relative proximity to that which sleeps below the temple is steadily eroding the protagonist's psyche and sanity. The pacing is superlative, with new ideas being unveiled from start to finish, the weirdness and violence ever-mounting right up until the unforgettable climax.
More than a masterfully crafted setting and expertly conducted experience, Maskim Xul is a testament to how much untapped potential an imaginative creator, with elbow grease and perhaps a few subtle port affordances, can wring from this aging yet evergreen game 25 years into its lifespan. The future is bright, and the horizon is dark indeed....
Doom 2, GZDoom
We all have those days, right? Some beefstick Cyberdemon blows a hole in the side of your house, kidnaps your pet rabbit, and vows to use her soul to resurrect a dead demon god.
Thus begins Golden Souls 2, and the totally bonkers premise just goes to show how colorfully and cleverly the game merges all its influences into a single recognizably Doomy universe. Unlike the prequel, which drew its influences primarily from Mario 64, GS2 plays a lot more like Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World – though you won’t get far without finding nods to other big console franchises like Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and even Sonic the Hedgehog. This whole gigantic eight-world game is oozing with Nintendo-style charm, but it’s also interlaced with a Doom-like grit, the two aesthetics gleefully melded together into something that somehow feels perfectly natural.
Though you can expect some gradual ramping up of difficulty, the game is largely casual, with any individual enemy posing relatively little threat, as is apropos for the Mario trappings. Instead, most of the challenge comes from the platforming and other environmental threats – but god, what smooth platforming it is. Anyone who thinks Doom platforming is synonymous with slidey straferunning owes it to themselves to at least test out the jump distance and air control in GS2. In keeping with the nature of the gameplay, the likes of hitscanners, Arch-Viles, and Arachnotrons are all but entirely removed, making way for a more diverse array of projectile-throwers to dodge and a nice selection of Nintendo-inspired enemy variants like peekaboo Lost Souls and Lakitu-esque Pain Elementals. These foes will make your life more challenging as you navigate the ledges, floating islands, conveyor belts, bounce pads, rising/falling lava, and other movement-oriented mechanisms you’ll encounter along your way.
And no matter how much the game might seem to run the risk of becoming a one-trick pony, it just keeps pulling more out of the bag. There’s always some new idea, some new gameplay mechanic, some new enemy, that keeps it fresh, and every map offers its own unique theme as well. There’s the hunt for the Big Coins, hidden treasures in each map that unlock weapon upgrades and other bonuses, a detail that perpetually adds to the joy of exploration. There are the ghost mansions in each world, with their spooky atmosphere and dungeon-crawly layouts. There are the underwater sections, which are actually fun to swim around and fight your way through for a change. There are water physics puzzles, light world/dark world interplays, maps turning upside down, timed flight segments, secret maps, secret keys, secret weapons. The amount of love that’s been poured into making this game a complete and unique experience is mind-blowing, and if you have any appreciation for the Nintendo stylings at all, you’ll feel that love from the first green-hill map through the final boss fight sequence and beyond.
Doom 2, ZDoom
It feels like we’re being watched…
UAC Invasion: The Supply Depot is the culmination of an 11-year mapping journey that absolutely was worth every second. This huge, sprawling industrial base seems relatively normal at first - there’s tech, some vehicles parked around the base, a bit of ammo for defense. But past that first door, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary UAC base. There’s something serious going on here - and not just all the monsters prowling around.
There’s eyes everywhere in the base - literally. They stare through monitors that seem to be almost everywhere, and it almost feels like you’re being taunted- that you couldn’t possibly survive in this place, now that hell’s army has taken over. There’s baddies around every corner, including some monstrosities you never would have expected to see here. Not to mention that the base has become infected with the god-awful sights of decaying flesh seeming to ooze from every crevice. But will that stop you? Absolutely not. Pressing on, it’s revealed that the employees of this base had unearthed some very deadly demonic secrets, including some experiments with teleportation. And of course, just like every experiment involving demons, it went sideways- all that can be done now is clean-up.
One thing that’s really surprising about this map was how cohesive everything felt. Over time, the original idea of how a map should look and play can change quite a bit. However, DooMknight ensured that there was nothing about this map that felt out of place or odd- except when it was supposed to. There’s all kinds of neat things around the base - trucks, helicopters, bomber planes - just too bad the demons ended up messing them up. Every square map unit is detailed with just the right amount of flair, without being too overbearing to the overall grunginess that an industrial base like this should want to achieve. The map also flows incredibly well for such a large one - it’s hard to get lost, and if you do, it won't be for very long. And don’t be fooled by the way monsters are spread out about the base - there’s still plenty to be afraid of. A monster could materialize directly in front of you at any point, leaving you stumbling backwards, and usually not without some blood loss. Boss fights are spiced up with some beefed-up variations of Barons that could easily crush you if given half a chance, not to mention some other, more unique bosses that you wouldn’t expect in a place like this.
UAC Invasion shows that with the right amount of dedication and balance, a map can be extremely large while still maintaining a player’s interest right up through the end. Even if it takes another 11 years, I hope that DooMknight creates another map just as captivating as this.