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  • 9_Banner.png?_cb=1604614168

  • 6_cacoward.png?_cb=1544228975Three Is a Crowd - @Scypek2

    Doom 2, vanilla-compatible, 32 maps


    Playing games like Doom, it’s easy to imagine yourself as a lone survivor, a killing machine with nothing to lose and no goal but revenge. But when the apocalypse hits and your friends are sitting across the table from you, are you going to have their back?




    Three Is a Crowd starts off with a trio* of protagonists who happen to be playing off-brand Scrabble when the demons come knocking. You eventually step into the shoes of all three soldiers as they set off on different paths, each one driven to save the other two and all of them willing to go to any lengths for the sake of friendship. The narrative that unfolds is sometimes goofy, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes tragic, sometimes driven by tense rage and sometimes by terror, all of it delivered with a knack for storytelling that rivals anything in Going Down or A.L.T. Every time your characters cross paths is like a moment you’ve been waiting for all your life, and even the Icon of Sin is a genuine character, appearing again and again to counter your strategies at every turn until its last card is played.


    In the process, the megawad throws out every convention in the playbook. The first protagonist cockily grabs all the weapons in the armory, but then promptly loses them in an interdimensional gateway and is forced to tackle a map that includes no weapons or ammo whatsoever, followed by one that revolves around the rocket launcher in close quarters. The dramatic hostility of the first five maps or so will threaten to turn many players away, but I recommend sticking it out and appreciating the rough parts from a story perspective; the rest of the megawad just gets better and better. By map 06, as you watch an entire building rise out of the ground, make a D-Day run on a turreted Mancubus through a field of obstacles, brave a rooftop duel with a Cyberdemon, and catch your first of many glimpses of the architect of all your suffering, you start to realize the mapper is really on to something. Before the final rocket lands, you’ll ally with an Imp, navigate a nearly invisible otherworld where paths unfold out of thin air, and chase after a door that won’t stop running away from you. There’s a map where everything plunges into darkness unless you keep hitting the pads that turn the lights back on, and another where the exit is accessible right at the start, but you have to deal with the whole rest of the map just to be able to survive it. Sometimes the quirks are just silly goals the author set to spur their creativity, like “what if there were seven doors on one wall and only one other exit?”


    Although its difficulty curve is anything but linear and a handful of maps are strikingly sadistic, the vast majority of the megawad is as fun as it is dramatically engaging—and it’s always at least one of the two. Any mapset that can be this whimsical and silly and deadly serious and tear-jerkingly emotional all at the same time is a winner in my book. 3IaC is the rarest of PWADs—one that explores the territory beyond “level design” in a meaningful way, that delves into a broader range of feelings and experiences rather than trying to give players more of what they think they want. Because life isn’t just about slaughtering demons: it’s about the people you love, the frustration of things not going according to plan, the feeling of victory that comes after real struggle, the sacrifices you’re willing to make, and the games of Scrabble you play along the way.


    * or triad, if you prefer that interpretation.


    -  @Not Jabba


    6_cacoward.png?_cb=1544228975Syringe - @Pavera, @Tarnsman, @Marcaek, @Xaser

    Doom 2, limit-removing, 6 maps


    You wake up amongst blood and chaos in a dying universe. It’s up to you to bring the demons down and this vast expanse of insanity back to life. 


    Syringe is a set of seven limit-removing maps, containing all types of realms from the mundane to the insane. From forests to bloody bases to void-esque asteroid fields, the terrain is vast and filled to the brim with danger at every twist, turn, and dark corner imaginable. The behemoth red towers watch you closely, unblinking, as you maneuver your way to the heart of all this darkness, to give it the injection this world needs to revive. Each map tells a story of its own while telling of a much larger and scarier world—the use of almost deconstructive techniques give a sense of reality being bent and crushed around you, the walls becoming bloodier—if the walls are even there.




    Syringe is the brainchild of four titans of the mapping scene: Pavera, Marcaek, Tarnsman, and Xaser. Off the bat, Xaser’s signature font featured in dead.air and dead.wire hints that reality will be bent quite quickly in the best and worst ways possible, and his love of tall (and moving) towers explored most recently in Eviternity make a fabulous comeback. Pavera’s classic story-telling sensibilities illustrated in BTSX E1 and D2TWiD shine through once again in the lava-filled “Hell Spoke,” and a Plutonia-style winding base labeled “Banana Export.” Tarnsman, also part of the BTSX and D2TWiD gang and more recently, Adventures of Square, lends his signature style to the bloody introduction “The Well” and the arboreal jungle adventure “The Undergrowth.” Last but not least, Marcaek, mastermind behind the 50 Shades of Graytall project, lends his experienced hand to the memorable combat of “Acheron’s Needle.”

    No part of this map set may be classified as gentle—indeed, every single map is brimming with dangerous, intense encounters that keep you thinking on your feet. But akin to frogs being boiled in a pot of water, it’s a strong, steady crescendo. It’s essential to be aware of what's around you at all times in this set, especially among the jagged, floating towers of the later space maps. All this builds up to quite a memorable and intense end map, forcing the player to move fast on their feet to avoid the already bloodied crushers as they warp through time and space, leading to a battle between the great Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind—but how one would wish that was all there was to it. 


    All in all, Syringe is a great injection of new-school ideas into old-school Doom gameplay, and is a fantastic journey to bend the mind and treat the senses. These days, it’s a welcome disconnect from reality, even if it’s a short but potent dose.



    -  @Major Arlene


    6_cacoward.png?_cb=1544228975Faithless Trilogy - @Jimmy

    Heretic, GZDoom, 28 maps


    Jimmy's design process for Faithless Trilogy was well documented. He carefully picked out elements from Heretic and Hexen, gave it some thought—and then chucked them in a cauldron in the spooky gothic castle he lords over. After reading from a spellbook and tossing in a rat or two for flavor, the pulsing, glowing mass was finally downloaded onto a USB stick, where it became a trio of hub-based Heretic episodes that builds on the stronger aspects of both games.




    Heretic, for example, had an amazing idea with the Morph Ovum, a rare artifact that can transmogrify a pack of intimidating foul-breathed beasts into small clucking chickens (be cautious, they can still peck you for like 1 damage). Faithless Trilogy makes this even better—it's now a common artifact.


    Hexen puzzles often conjure horrific notions of endless switch hunts, not to mention repeated jokes like "you have solved 1/2000th of the puzzle." Jimmy wants you to succeed. His puzzles are rarely arcane or padded, and convenient messages signpost cause and effect across distant hub-linked maps.

    The original games, especially Heretic, had a limited range of themes, but the realms of Faithless Trilogy expand on the gloomy dungeons and stone fortresses with a wider assortment of elegantly crafted medieval-mystical settings. As a taste, you travel through farm villages with coops of chickens (probably Morph Ovum victims in a past life), peaceful mountain lands with bamboo and chirping birds, vibrant elemental realms with rivers that glow as if enchanted—with new enemies, themed to fit, adding to the Heretic and Hexen cast.


    When the trilogy swings into full gear in the second episode, Merciless, you are fighting in chambers of gold coins, panic-dodging Iron Lich tornadoes as your footfalls clink metallically. You don't just find switches to progress; you smash huge musical gongs and light fires and freeze blocks of melting ice. You are keeping an eye open for puzzle totems like gears to repair machinery, for keys that unlock optional chests that give you powerful items—which includes lots and lots of new artifacts that jell excellently with the originals. I haven't even gotten to the new weapons. I'll tease you: later on, you gain the ability to spawn a friendly transient army to shred your enemies. For every moment you're embroiled in a frantic battle—chased by a raving mob out to slice or roast or poison or freeze you, desperately evading a speedster miniboss with its lethal, colorful attacks—there is a moment of quietly retracing your path through the wildlife and the weather, or piecing the scraps of a puzzle or progression together. Your best tool isn't always one of those big enchanted rods stuffed in your cloak; sometimes it's your noggin.


    This blend of experiences, from slow burns to intense firestorms, is Faithless's signature, and its artful orchestration is the source of its best stretches. The appeal becomes beautifully clear in episode two's hub map, an iron stronghold that dwarfs you and fills you with a cosmic sense of biting off more than you can chew. Secrets could hide behind every musty bookshelf. Balconies loom alarmingly high overhead. Great gates block off caves that branch endlessly through slime and shadow. Like much of the trilogy, it's engineered not just to be dramatically conquered, but to be methodically unraveled.



  • 2020 Cacowards


    Espi Award for Lifetime Achievement

    • James "Quasar" Haley


    Top Ten - Page 1

    • Antaresian Reliquary
    • Abandon
    • Rowdy Rudy 2: Powertrip


    Top Ten - Page 2

    • Ar Luminae
    • Running Late 2
    • Bastion of Chaos
    • Mutabor


    Top Ten - Page 3

    • Three is a Crowd
    • Syringe
    • Faithless Trilogy


    Special Features


    Multiplayer Awards

    • DoomWare
    • Progressive Duel 3


    Gameplay Mod Awards

    • Nobody Told Me About id
    • Treasure Tech
    • SWWM GZ


    Other Awards

    • Mordeth Award
      • Pacifist speedrunning
    • Codeaward
      • The Unity port
    • Machaward
      • Arbitrary code execution
    • Dootaward
      • Bastion of Chaos OST
    • Creator of the Year
      • Bridgeburner


  • 180 Minutes Pour Vivre - The French Doom Community

    Doom 2, limit-removing, 33 maps



    The French Doom community know their way around speedy, fun maps—just take for example the 3 Heures d’Agonie series. In the spirit of this set comes 180 Minutes Pour Vivre—and though many of these maps are speedmaps, there is no sacrifice of style or fun to be found here. This limit-removing set has a map for almost everyone’s taste, ranging from bite-sized techbases to monolithic and sprawling gothic castles. This set doesn’t reinvent the wheel—rather, it gives it some snazzy white-walled tires and some shiny new rims. Gameplay in each map is always full of fun surprises, with help from some custom monsters that keep encounters fresh and interesting. Most notable is the end of the set: the penultimate map, "Xanthophobie" by @WH-Wilou84, pulling serious Sunder vibes with ultra-violent arenas; and the end map, "Celui-Qui-Voit-Les-Mondes," bringing a terrifying new take on the typical Icon of Sin fight. No matter your gameplay style, 180 Minutes has a map for you.


    - @Major Arlene

  • Gods & Guardians - @Wraith777

    Doom 2, vanilla-compatible, 7 maps



    Gods & Guardians is an adventuresome episode of six maps (plus change), offering proudly vintage fare crafted to modern standards of sophistication. Indeed, of all of our top selections this year, there is perhaps no other PWAD which is more faithful to the simultaneously time-lost and timeless experience of playing pure, classic Doom II as it was, is, and shall be.


    Far from the realm of simple pastiche, these maps belie their author's nascent penchant for expansive, complex layouts that communicate an engrossing sense of place and purpose that subtly shines through in spite of (or perhaps because of...?) the comfortable cloak of halcyon-days visual abstraction that they wear. Touching with equal aplomb on well-loved thematic tropes specific to the original game and on broader, more imaginative ideas alike, G&G is an exciting and unpredictable journey through what may at first seem very familiar terrain, offering something of substance to players of almost all stripes, both old and new.


    Naturally, G&G is above all a very nostalgically inclined work, replete with loving references to the original id mappers and contemporaries (all made explicit in the bonus credits map, which itself offers more than meets the eye). But, while this alone is likely enough to guarantee it a certain core audience, what makes it truly special is its use of these artistic touchstones as a jumping-off point for something fresh and original, showing that in Doom the past is, as ever, well and truly alive.


    - @Demon of the Well

  • Abysm 2: Infernal Contract - @jazzmaster9

    Doom 2, GZDoom, 20 maps



    Hidden past the reaches of the city of Hadria lies an army of dangerous demons threatening to turn life upside down for the citizens. It is your sworn duty to protect them as a Mercenary of the Iron Cross. Jazzmaster’s thrilling sequel to Abysm: Dawn of Innocence has turned Doom into the ultimate adventure, with unforgettable characters and a driving plot to keep them safe. Abysm 2: Infernal Contract takes its inspiration from ARPG greats such as Diablo, Dark Souls and Strife and turns it into a decadent run-and-gun adventure; tons of detail building the City of Hadria high and hellish. With an original score by John S. Weekley (PRIMEVAL) backing beautiful but deadly landscapes and charming towns, there’s no end to what fun and troublesome escapades await you. A fully fleshed-out bestiary and custom weapons keep the action properly paced and with little pause. Hadria is waiting for its hero—and the risk is well worth the rewards.


    - @Major Arlene

  • Intergalactic Xenology - @Dreadopp and @Lord_Z

    Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 5 maps



    These days, a good chunk of what makes the awards and runners-up list has shades of big or cryptic or difficult, which is not a requirement as much as a byproduct of so many capable creators setting off in those directions. Intergalactic Xenology, a familiar space-faring tale of Egypt-loving aliens, turns on the afterburners and zooms off the other way. It doesn't want to break new ground, mapping limits, or your keyboard—it's just fun, pretty, and undeniably good. Using assets from Ancient Aliens, it depicts a breezy journey through memorable settings: like map02: "Human Aquarium," a submerged prison with walls that radiate the deep teal of the sea, and the finale "The Clouds Have Eyes," a floating city imbued with mystical energy, lying dormant until the wrong person stumbles by.


    In looks, it's a spiritual blend of much of the last decade; besides the AA-tex, there are references to modern classics like Valiant and Eviternity. But aside from some late-game arena brawls, Intergalactic Xenology rarely ratchets up the intensity to the frenzied heights of its influences. If you want, you can blaze through these maps like a space marauder in a rush to some kind of, uh, space appointment. You can also light a cigar, take in the sights, and have chill fights against the not-so-friendly local Cacodemons. Your call.


    - @rd.