Ultimate Doom, limit-removing, 36 maps
The soul of a good community project is a clear high concept which both maintains a strong sense of coherence between entries and allows for all participants to express their personal styles, two goals which can very easily come into conflict. This tension lies at the heart of most such projects, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful attempt at overcoming it than Ultimate Doom in Name Only.
The brief here is simple and intuitive: take the name of one of the original levels, and build upon it anything that one can imagine, within the bounds of Ultimate Doom’s assets and the limit-removing standard of course. The result is a veritable kaleidoscope of interpretations from a wide range of authors who each bring their unique styles and interests to the fore, all clad in the familiar skin of the game that started it all.
As with all the best community projects, UDiNO’s greatest strength is its lineup of participants, counting among their number some of the waddom’s finest mappers. None of these have left a greater mark on the set as a whole than the inimitable dobu gabu maru, co-project lead, whose numerous solo contributions represent a treasure trove of unique experiences – ranging from pure puzzlers to vast subterranean adventures to the wad’s jaw droppingly grandiose finale – and whose editorial influence permeates the set, unifying and enhancing the experience without in any way homogenising it. Cannonball’s influence is also readily felt, stemming both from his role as project lead and his personal contributions – which form something of a half-length lost episode of Return to Hadron, a rougher but markedly more experimental collection than one might find elsewhere in his body of work.
The efforts of these two legendary mappers together form the set’s foundation, upon which the myriad contributions of the project’s other participants rest. Some of the most notable experiences include: Nine Inch Heels’ brilliant and brutally uncompromising combat puzzles and platforming challenges in “Mt. Erebus” and “Dis”; SteveD’s classy, refined and effortlessly enjoyable romps through techbases and hellscapes alike; tourniquet’s ingenious and unpredictable unfolding death maze, reminiscent in its geometry and encounter design of the later Mutabor; Scotty’s visually sumptuous and masterfully constructed slaughterlite reimagining of “Tower of Babel”; Mouldy’s guileful, subversive and frenetic take on the grungy E2 techbase aesthetic; Benjogami’s immersive and suitably morose interpretation of “Slough of Despair”; ProcessingControl’s appropriately iconic and telling reimagining of ”Hangar”, which elegantly sets the tone for the rest of the experience; and many more besides, from a number of talented mappers, which you will have to discover on your own.
UDiNO is a massive achievement, easily one of the most ambitious and impressive of all Ultimate Doom wads, comparable even to No End In Sight in its scope and ingenuity. Like all community projects, the quality of individual entries may vary, but no map drags down the experience as a whole, and the coexistence of magnum opuses, humbler outings and everything in between is ultimately to the set’s benefit. Every map may not jive with every player - even more so than most community projects, I think, due to the extreme and / or experimental nature of many entries – but I’d be surprised if every player didn’t find at least one new favourite amongst the set’s wide array of offerings.
Doom 2, Boom-compatible, 6 maps
Head Trauma thrusts the player deep into a world of computers gone astray, mechanical aberrations, unnerving architecture and, last but not least, the prettiest Doomcute this side of Phobos. AshtralFiend's debut on the Doom scene is at once inventive and pure, expertly treading the line between the surreal and the realistic while never shying away from offering an unadulterated, fun experience. If I had to describe what playing Head Trauma feels like, it would be like exploring the backrooms of a regular Doom mod. The various pieces of machinery, elaborate constructs and unbelievably detailed props feel as if they're being built before your very eyes to help populate any kind of map, but through these backstages, all of the mod's elements unexpectedly interact in ways you'd seldom see in any regular ol' PWAD.
Exploring an ordinary sewer past the world's largest bathroom stall might seem mundane until the sewer itself comes undone before you and is turned into a feisty arena with monsters gunning for you from every which way. Digging down, chainsaw-first, deep into the earth to uncover ancient ruins ends up revealing a whole lost civilization from Hell, one that the demons themselves seem to be in the process of discovering as they soon will descend to crash your own party. All of this, mind you, is achieved with no custom textures or sprites in sight. AshtralFiend brilliantly utilizes unusual texture combinations to not only create downright incandescent architecture, but also as noted earlier, some of the best Doomcute you're likely to see. I cannot overstate how adorable these kitchens, printers, mops and cups are, and Head Trauma can proudly stand next to Vanilla Sky or even Lost Civilization in giving you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside that we all surely crave when playing Doom.
Head Trauma, thus, does not merely serve as an example of just how beautifully creative stock texture usage can be, but also dazzles the player with ingenious setpieces and exhilarating gameplay that, if it won't push you towards a replay in the short term, certainly will make you want to keep an eye out for AshtralFiend's next vision of madness.
TNT2: Devilution - Various
Final Doom, vanilla-compatible, 32 maps
One of a number of community-made sequels to Team TNT's 1996 megaWAD "Evilution", Devilution follows an unlikely plot involving time travel, overlapping realities, and a Jovian moon possessed by the fleshly remnants of a demon nursing a grudge against you, personally, for having previously kicked its ass back when it was still just an unusually large demon, rather than a nascently sentient planetoid. Right. As some of you reading may be aware, the story behind the WAD's development is equally colorful and arguably even more convoluted, but that's a tale for another timestream.
Nearing 30 years on, perhaps the most enduring and artistically influential aspect of Evilution is its goal of using believable spaces with a marked sense of place to convey a real sense of journey through a larger world. This is something that all of Devilution's many authors seem to have wholeheartedly embraced, imbuing its quintessentially traditionalist tale of a lone marine battling against a demonic invasion of cynically repurposed military bases and dilapidated industrial facilities with a genuinely intriguing plot spurred on by an array of clever thematic throughlines and a heady, layered atmosphere blending shades of disconsolate solitude, gritty & gutsy 80s/90s bravado, and a modern tone of dryly irreverent levity.
There's a persistent and subtly unnerving motif of eyes, of being watched; crude graffiti scrawled on the weatherstained walls off a fallen slum warning of a sinister conspiracy between corporate and abyssal interests; brief flashes of premonition hint at apocalyptic revelations; none of this even remotely preparing you for where the story ultimately concludes (something I'll certainly not spoil here). At its best moments, these contrasting tones coalesce into something uncanny and affecting, a bio-mechanical-magical construct, if you will. The feeling of finally standing on the deck of the Infernal Carrier after so many bloody battles, seeing its engines fueled by immolating souls, its bay doors painted with miles of haz-stripes (evidently Hell does have some kind of safety code...?), its black-iron comms masts crackling with necromantic current, well......there's really nothing else quite like it.
This chimerical fusion of modern and classic ideas penetrates deep into the marrow of level design and map arrangement, as well. Whereas the aforementioned experience aboard the Carrier represents a kind of wish-fulfillment which was never done (and perhaps couldn't have been done) in the first outing, the game also showcases innovative takes on many of the original's most iconic ideas. The "Relayer" map, for instance, cold-opens as a tense survivalist crawl through a gore-clotted biotech Hellscape which was once a secret UAC lab researching quantum phenomena. To escape, the protagonist must use the lab's still-functioning Wormhole Gate to align structural elements across both the Hellmind and original timelines, masterfully building a violent odyssey out of what at first seems a relatively straightforward dungeon-dive. Likewise, the handling of the secret maps as an offbeat 'vacation' of sorts is similarly intact, this time serving not only as a refreshing mid-game diversion to more thematically exotic locales, but also as a platform to further explore the notion of diverging timelines that tunes the imagination to future possibilities, while also evoking feelings of nostalgia.
There's even room for a bit of mischief purely in the name of fun, too: "Habitat II", named as a direct sequel to what is arguably Evilution's most infamous map, presents a rambling, non-linear safari through a demon-assimilated biodome which, for those so inclined, can be exited in just a minute or so. Meanwhile, those choosing to stick around and plumb its many, many secrets will find themselves absorbed in a sidequest of truly epic proportions, with a payoff destined to enter the realm of legend.
Ultimately, Devilution does more than merely meet expectations as to what a TNT sequel 'should' or 'must' be -- it decisively *obliterates* them, like a HEAT warhead delivered directly into a demonic brainpan. If you've not already played it, this one is legitimately not to be missed, even if you're not a TNT fan -- but especially if you are.
Ad Mortem - Various
Doom 2, MBF21-compatible, 34 maps
Like any good Halloween anthology worth its Essential Saltes, Ad Mortem is carefully crafted to strike a fine balance in tone and atmosphere, cavorting playfully between the whimsical pageantry of the holiday's contemporary face and the much graver air of its starker, darker Old World origins. And, of course, there's plenty of line-blurring between the two, making for a frothy, heady witches' brew of fun, festivity, and grindhouse grue.
There's something to please every player's palate here, from short, sweet treats to fiendishly elaborate tests of skill and wit, with a trap for every trick. Long, luxuriantly lugubrious walks under the bloated fungoid moon intersperse freely with the occasional jaunt far beyond the pale, into realms of presiding slaughter, residing evil, and abiding terror.
Along the way, a host of freshly unearthed ghouls and goblins will be eager to make your acquaintance, alongside the usual gang of netherworld malcontents. Sardonic satyrs wind up akimbo fiery fastballs as snickering gargoyles flutter and flit about, right up until they pop like overripe gourds when hit with a hi-speed 7.62mm round. Lurching death knights you'll love to hate are the real unlife of the party, wailing like banshees as they unleash ghost-propelled rockets that never miss their mark. And everywhere, everywhere, from streets to sheets to grove to grave, troupes of jubilantly jostling skeletons are always ready and willing to throw you a bone, right before sidling up to punch you in the face, man. Oblige their obstreperous advances in turn with the customary curtain of bullets, bombs, and buckshot, efficiently and stylishly dispensed courtesy of beautifully reskinned weapons, all sporting a dashing Helsing-chic flair.
So off you go then, children, into the night, sack of sweets in one hand and boomstick in the other, to frolic and play and bleed and slay like the capering little devils you all are underneath, deep down in the marrow. Just be sure to bring a change of undies and plenty of extra ammo, as you'll surely be needing both.
In The Middle Of Our Street
For reasons nobody can quite explain, MyHouse.wad caught the attention of the uncaring, unknowable algorithms of the world's crumbling social media platforms (and as a result, the world at large) despite just being a newbie wad given a quick modernization by the late author’s friend. A touching gesture, but its sudden grip on the world at large was startling and frankly a little weird, and it brings up questions about how easily gameable the modern internet is in the wrong hands. Maybe there’s m̶̥͌ọ̷̈́r̴͕̎e̴̖̊ to it? But frankly, we’re just putting this here so Tiktok, Youtube etc. don’t unite as a singular, monolithic hivemind to fill our respective mailboxes with unmentionables.
Doom 2, limit-removing, 10 maps
EANB has made no secret of taking Erik Alm as their Doom mapping muse. The majority of their work in the last five years is concentrated in the Glaive series -- a title cheekily referencing the trio of Scythe WADs -- of which, Glaive 3 is actually the fourth entry. I've been a fan of this series ever since I first stumbled upon the original Glaive, and I think that more than anything, Glaive 3 serves as a perfect testament to EANB's growth as an artist through extensive exploration of Scythe-derived design. What sets it apart from its predecessors is that it has a special spark, earned through a marriage of the maker's newfound confidence in the players' abilities, and a longtime study in crafting those techbase and Hellish spaces.
Glaive 3 can be divided into two parts: a fun romp through loosely connected techbases with a slight radioactivity problem, and then a descent through increasingly violent jungles, with Hell showing its evil face through the vines and brush. There is a stark divide in mood between the two. One can blaze through the first half and find much joy in little improvements -- getting into a rhythm with your shotgun or striking down an ambush with a freshly grabbed chaingun. In the jungle, however, the claws come out and the heat turns up as the player finds themself toying with increasing numbers of Hell's most dangerous agents, coming to understand that this realm of fire and foliage might just become their resting place if they can't keep up.
To top it all off, EANB has elected to implement a feature dubbed "Chaos Mode" into most of the maps. Provided you locate a specific trigger, every single trap in the map will spring at once, flooding the play areas with more bodies than they can reasonably handle. Great for those with a hidden desire to turn every map they play into a demonic moshpit.
Doom 2, MBF21-compatible, 35+ maps
Somewhere deep in space, far from the scars of a war-weary Earth, lies the world of Elysia. The UAC and Hell's hordes occupy their respective halves of this planet and have apparently decided to live and let live, so long as no gun-toting maniac space marines are involved, but the stalemate is shattered by the impact of a meteor bringing a most unscrupulous third party: The Parasite. The UAC is annihilated while the demons are assimilated, making them... well, even more ornery. Once again, it's time to clean up another interstellar mess by finding and destroying the alien along with its newly acquired entourage.
Corruption is a full 35 map megawad and a beefy one at that - split into episodes of distinct themes, observing the model of such works as Scythe 2, Valiant and Eviternity. You'll battle through toxic tech bases, mysterious mansions and a putrefied planetary landscape on your pilgrimage to Mount Esthar, the inner sanctum of your new nemesis. The Parasite's influence has draped your surroundings in an unusual color scheme dominated by greens and purples, the standard Joker colors. Also, much like the clown prince of crime, this WAD is a malevolent trickster - the familiar faces of Hell have received a makeover and are bestowed with abilities that make them more aggressive when approaching death, merely a sample of the more advanced mutations you'll encounter. Boom wizardry is further implemented to construct devious new traps and add unique flourishes to certain maps, making them adventures unto themselves (the gargantuan MAP15, Hellcinerator, features multi-tiered secrets leading to an amusing easter egg). Densely populated, richly detailed and especially savage in the final stretch, this WAD's extra bite will make the grand finale taste all the sweeter... if you survive that long.
Corruption earns its spot alongside the episodic greats of the modern era with its distinctive design and bold, uncompromising execution. If you want a lengthy adventure with flavor and challenge to spare, look no further.