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Woolie Wool

Woolie's PWAD reviews (latest: kdizd_12.pk3)

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Posted (edited)

Another review, this one originally written for Tumblr a couple of years ago, for SailorScout's classic E2M2 tribute.

 

Containment Area v1.2 (contain.wad)

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Author: J. “SailorScout” Bengtson

Date: 2/4/00

IWAD: Doom II

Format: Boom compatible (played in Boom 2.02)

Completion time: 1 to 2 hours

Layout: 5 | Visuals: 5 | Combat: 4 | UV: 3 | Overall: 5/5 rating_5.png.bc839c3f88ac5c35354b0d40e870f497.png

 

Download: https://www.doomworld.com/idgames/levels/doom2/Ports/a-c/contain

 

Three years ago, Doomworld’s administrator Linguica ran a an event where Doomworld members voted for the best map from the Doom IWADs by means of an elimination tournament called April Agitation (named after NCAA basketball’s March Madness tournament). My favorite, “Computer Station”, made it all the way to the final rounds, but was ultimately defeated by the original “Containment Area” from Doom 1. The ur-crate map has had many homages, tributes, and successors since 1993, and this level is perhaps the best of all of them. “Containment Area v1.1” is a gigantic Boom-compatible adventure map based around a similar warehouse theme to Tom Hall’s masterwork, even calling back to individual rooms, but scaled up to absolutely Homeric proportions. There are exactly 666 monsters at the start on UV and the level has absolutely no slaughter or even slaughter-like fights whatsoever; it’s just that huge.

 

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Mommy, I don’t feel so good…

 

Fortunately this plywood jungle is studded with crate formations and other landmarks to serve as points of reference while you explore its vast expanses, which is a good thing as the map sends you back and forth across the map on many journeys, detours, and digressions as you first clear out the main storeroom (if one could call a place so huge a “room”) and then plunge into various wings to collect keys. All six keys are used, but only the three keycards and the blue skull key are needed to exit the map; the other two skull keys give access to health, ammo, and weapons that you will need to UV-max this level because supplies are hard to come by in this map. Most of the ammo is shells and bullets, with rockets and cells being doled out very grudgingly, and you can go for several minutes between medikits. This is made worse by multiple cyberdemons scattered throughout the level, which will put serious pressure on your ammo reserves should you choose to fight them. I only took one one, which ambushed me in the plasma gun room. With not nearly enough cells to just hose him down and not a lot of room to get around him, it was a tough fight where I had to think ahead and try to predict the cyberdemon’s movements to avoid being cornered. There were two other cyberdemons I just ran from; one dropped in with a horde of revenants after I grabbed the blue key and I had to use several teleporters previously used as progression aids to take a round-about way through the level to get to the blue key door without being intercepted, and then did a headlong charge through the door, and up the ramp, literally plowing my way through imps and pinkies, before the cyber and his posse could catch up. The third…well, you’ll see. It will probably kill you at least once.

 

The general combat is slow-paced and mostly incidental, just like the original, but with the opposition augmented by most of the Doom II bestiary (arachnotrons and Pain Elementals are notably absent, a pity since they could have added some more pressure to certain areas), with some very well-placed archviles that can cause absolute mayhem if allowed to get out of control. Mostly it’s a war of attrition—wearing down the ranks of the enemy while trying not to make too many mistakes. While the mazy, warren-like level design means you usually face only a few monsters at a time, there are so many ways for monsters to traverse areas that it’s easy to get flanked and maintaining situational awareness is critical. Cacodemons especially like to float over your cover and maul you while your attention is directed elsewhere. Despite having Doom II enemies and the super shotgun, it still largely plays like a (quite difficult) Doom 1 map, with a lot of chokepoint camping and relatively static positioning, so people who like to brawl a lot may be disappointed.

 

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This guy wins 2000’s Cyberdemon of the Year award.

 

The detailing is extensive and quite tastefully done; it feels a lot like a somewhat more primitive version of Espi’s design style. There is more “wallpapering” of textures than is generally accepted now, but it’s about as good-looking as PWADs could get in 2000, with none of the garish, clumsy, copy-paste detailing of some other limit removing maps of the era. Unfortunately I don’t yet have a truly period-correct computer to test it on (I played it on my 1.7 GHz AMD Athlon XP+ rig, which is quite excessive for 2000), but this level was probably a real burden on the people still running old Socket 7 systems (don’t even think about a 486), though it does feature a REJECT lump, which not every wad had and made it run much faster on slow machines.

 

Fair warning: this level is very long. My time came out to a bit over 53 minutes, but that doesn’t count deaths and reloads, of which I had quite a few, so an hour and a half would probably be a good estimate. I like levels long, but levels that are this capital-E Epic are not to everyone’s taste, especially since this one doesn’t have the huge, awe-inspiring set pieces of many classic gargantuan maps like “Darkdome”, “Fire Walk With Me”, “Citadel at the Edge of Eternity”, or anything from the Deus Vult series–these are very well-done and professional crate mazes, but the bulk of this map is still spent surrounded by crates, so it doesn’t have much bombast to it. I found it to be on the generous end of “just right”, so I enjoyed it immensely even if I was glad to see the exit when I was done. A must-download for adventure map fans, Doom 1 lovers, and people who just want to make a couple hours of their lives disappear.

 

Edited by Woolie Wool

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Thanks to @Altazimuth for providing the custom Eternity build for this review!

 

Vaporware Demo (vaprware.wad)

 

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Author: Sarah “esselfortium” Mancuso

Release date: 11/14/2011

IWAD: Doom II

Format: Eternity (played in Eternity 4.01.00)

Completion time: 10 to 20 minutes

Layout: 5 | Visuals: 5 | Combat: 5 | UV: 3 | Overall: 5/5 rating_5.png.35a7fce1f4a16fa8716c923557d7e89c.png

 

Download: http://esselfortium.net/wasd/vaprdemo.zip

 

Oh my god,” I said to myself as I beheld the opening scene of Vaporware Demo upon starting my playthrough, in almost exactly the same tone as the ur-Becky from Sir Mix-A-Lot's “Baby Got Back”. “Look at that floor.” The floor was polished almost to the perfect clarity of ZDoom mirrors, but with a touch of haze to make the illusion more convincing. The reflection of the crates and objects on the floor was colored by the green of the floor and the entire effect looked so perfect that it looked as if Doom had always meant to have shiny floors. It's not a mirror at all, but a portal to has an upside-down version of the starting train cars tinted by some odd transparency on the floor texture between the two sides. Because that's something the Eternity Engine can do.

 

I remember playing this not long after it came out, but I was terrible at Doom back then and a ZDoom peasant who hated the vanilla-style physics and mouselook control (well, the mouselook is still not great last I checked, but I don't use mouselook anymore...). Which is a shame, because Vaporware is a fantastic tech demo for a fantastic engine that never got the love it deserved, and damn good just as a PWAD. Even the most advanced GZDoom constructions have nothing on this—the layout feels more like a Quake map than a Doom map, and I kept getting turned around because the space I was navigating through did not follow Doom's rules at all—this is as close as Doom has ever gotten, probably ever will get to being “true 3D”, and in esselfortium's hands the impression is utterly seamless. Around every corner is some sort of architectural wonder: the aforementioned train with the shiny floor, an elevated catwalk above the main building's lobby, a crane controlled from an observation room on the third floor that lowers a suspended crate with a backpack on it to be reachable from the catwalk. This is Doom?!

 

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This area looks astonishing in motion, as much as my Bush-administration retro rig was able to achieve “motion”.

 

It sure is, and esselfortium delivers with the fundamentals as much as she does with the portal wizardry. The mapping style is a clear harbinger of esselfortium's Back to Saturn X maps, especially “Back to Saturn X Radio Report”, employing a vastly more powerful engine but not as unique and self-assured as those maps were. There's more clear derivation—some Chris Lutz here, some AgentSpork there, and a lot of both Tormentor667's baroque lust for detail and Espi's taste in applying detail, but it's all done very well. Combat revolves around the shotgun and chaingun and flows much like that in the aforementioned BTSX opener, but a bit more perilous considering the presence of mancubi and the new monsters.

 

There are three new monsters borrowed from Knee-Deep in ZDoom and reimplemented in Eternity's EDF language; they are effectively indistinguishable from their ZDoom counterparts. The Shadow is the weakest but also the most interesting to fight, a faster, meaner sort of imp similar to the variant from STRAIN but with its own sprite set—these were a fun addition to the bestiary and fills a harasser niche where an imp is not enough but a chaingunner would be inappropriate. There's also the Rapid-Fire Trooper, of which there was only one, and I gunned him down before I even recognized him, and the thoroughly annoying Catharsi. The catharsi uses that ugly Klesk skin from Skulltag, strafes side to side like the class bosses from Hexen, shoots a quick burst of projectiles, and leaves behind a bomb that throws projectiles in all directions when he dies. The mechanics don't really fit together to fill a viable niche and the sprites are a severe stylistic mismatch with the other monsters and clearly derivative of the imp. There are also some bullet casing effects and a port of Nashgore, and seeing these flashy effects a port that feels “vanilla” to play was a real trip. Now I want an Eternity Engine Smooth Doom...

 

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Slopes? We got slopes.

 

There is a huge suite of custom textures, some from Nick Baker's famous sets, others custom-made, and they simultaneously nod backwards towards Simplicity and Suspended in Dusk while also having some of the slick neon Quake-goes-cyberpunk styling of Back to Saturn X. They cohere very well (if not as well as BTSX, but then again, what does?) both with each other, the sprites, and the relative few IWAD textures that make an appearance. Despite the absurd level of detailed applied to every available surface, the texture alignment is absolutely outstanding, every single bit of geometry having its textures stretched and massaged to fit perfectly.

 

I played this on my AMD Athlon XP rig, and Vaporware kicked its ass all over the place, with 20-30 fps (at 320x200 no less) in most places, and less in the opening train car with the funky floor, and on the catwalk. The GL2D driver helped a lot over pure software, but still the old Athlon struggled to keep up. Not that this is a likely use case—in fact I had to have a special build made for me with all SSE instructions disabled so Eternity would run at all.

 

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Going down...

 

The only downside is that the opening map “Cargo Transfer” gets you completely engrossed and fired up to play the rest of the wad and...it's over. A few short minutes, and you're booted rudely back to the title screen with a major case of Doom blue balls. I hope the never-ending BTSX saga has not consigned Vaporware to oblivion because this was quite a shock to play and an even bigger shock that seemingly nobody has ever attempted anything like it again. Play this map. I don't care if you don't like Eternity. This map deserves to be played, and if you are an Eternity hater, it might change your mind. It sure changed mine.

 

Edited by Woolie Wool

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Thanks for the review!

 

I haven’t touched this project in a long time, and my mapping has changed a lot since then, but who knows. Maybe someday there will be more of Vaporware. In the meantime, at least its name is truth in advertising.

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God i love these extensive reviews. Way to go, Woolie! Bookmarked.

14 hours ago, Woolie Wool said:

Thanks to @Altazimuth for providing the custom Eternity build for this review!

 

I played this on my AMD Athlon XP rig, and Vaporware kicked its ass all over the place, with 20-30 fps (at 320x200 no less) in most places, and less in the opening train car with the funky floor, and on the catwalk. The GL2D driver helped a lot over pure software, but still the old Athlon struggled to keep up. Not that this is a likely use case—in fact I had to have a special build made for me with all SSE instructions disabled so Eternity would run at all.

This peeks my interest honestly, as a modern Eternity build without SSE instructions could be great for legacy (no pun intended) systems.

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Nice reviews! I spotted a mistake in the first sentence of the Containment Area review, though: Malcolm Sailor and SailorScout are different people (well, at least as far as I know :))

 

Also, if there's a a tally of people wanting more Vaporware somewhere, please add me to it!

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In my first multi-map wad review, I drag myself through the megalithic Knee-Deep in ZDoom.

 


Knee-Deep in Zdoom (kdizd_12.pk3)

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Author: Daniel “Tormentor667” Gimmer et al.

Release date: June 2, 2007

IWAD: Ultimate Doom

Format: ZDoom-compatible (played in ZDoom LE 2.8.1f)

Completion time: 3 to 10 hours

Layout: 3 | Visuals: 4 | Combat: 2 | UV: 3 | Overall: 3/5 rating_3.png.1068af89dfc2896b1f2071f479a9e7f3.png

 

Few level sets in the history of Doom have invited as much controversy as Knee-Deep in ZDoom. Almost three years in the making, canceled near the end of development and then uncanceled after being ported from Doom II to Ultimate Doom, loved and hated in seemingly equal amounts, Knee-Deep in ZDoom will likely be remembered as long as Doom is. ZDoom mapping at the time had been exploring highly scripted, "cinematic" experiences for quite some time when KDiZD started development, with project lead Tormentor667 at the vanguard of that movement. In addition, rapidly increasing computing power had led to an arms race of more detailed and visually complex maps at least since the likes of GothicDM 2 and Mordeth in the late '90s. ZDoom had just recently introduced DECORATE, originally designed just for props but expanded into a fully-featured actor definition system that instantly made its only potential rival, EDGE's DDF language, look inadequate and obsolete by comparison. Enemies, objects, and gameplay mechanics could not just be adapted from existing Doom functionality, but created de novo to accomplish almost anything the author desired. The zeitgeist of the era pointed towards more, more, more.

 

Knee-Deep in ZDoom is indeed "more"; one could even say "more" is its guiding philosophy. It started with the original nine maps of Knee-Deep in the Dead, the simplest, most basic Doom there is, and added more. Knee-Deep had six monster types, so its remake would have seemingly dozens. Its maps were simple and spare sometimes to the point of being almost ugly, so Knee-Deep in ZDoom would be baroque to a level that would blow away the likes of Gothic99, Caverns of Darkness, and Phobos: Anomaly Reborn. Maps were getting big in the early '00s, so these maps would be humongous.

 

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Many of the new monster classes seem redundant.

 

The project drew in nearly the entire ZDoom community, at least until it closed and restricted itself to just a few team members to impose some semblance of discipline and get it out the door. In terms of sheer human effort and person-hours invested, KDiZD probably set a record that would not be surpassed for many years. But was it all worth it? This mod's detractors are absolutely right when they point out that Knee-Deep in ZDoom is a total mess. Most of the maps, having passed through so many hands (and not just community members, but the Id Software employees who made the originals way back in '93) are a riot of different architectural styles and design elements. Many of the new enemies lack a defined combat niche, or overlap with a monster that already exists, while the more useful and versatile Doom II monsters were all cut after Id Software forced them to move to Ultimate Doom if they wanted to use the maps from that game (and of course, without the original maps, the project had no point). There are two very powerful new weapons in the form of a break-action grenade launcher and a deadly hitscan rifle, but they're not as fun nor as useful as the plasma gun and BFG.

 

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Even the intermission gets an animated 3D map with many new features.

 

And of course, KDiZD is perhaps most notorious for being long. Megawad long. FIlibuster long. The original layouts by Romero, Hall, and Petersen were fairly compact affairs, but each one has been expanded to several times its original size, and even those parts of these maps that correspond to the originals have had walls, barriers, and obstacles added to pad them out. Even the shortest maps take well over twenty minutes to complete at a casual pace--if Knee-Deep in the Dead were like one of the thrash/groove metal albums that most of its music was plagiarized from, Knee-Deep in ZDoom is more akin to a early Opeth album--it doesn't just have huge maps, but every map is huge beyond all reason. My playthrough took me over six hours plus deaths--for a single 8+2 level episode! You could finish a Back to Saturn X wad in about as much time, and play more than twice as many levels, and even those wads are frequently criticized for being too long.

 

But sometimes, just sometimes, all the disparate and often contradictory parts of this hot mess of an episode come together to create an experience that is truly magical, like unlocking the secrets of "Toxin Refinery", or the desperate, brutal struggle of "Computer Station". Those things were enough to get me to see the whole thing through in my first playthrough of the mod in almost ten years, even if just barely. This is a level set of peaks and valleys, wonder and frustration, beauty and bullshit, and the good here can't easily be extricated from the bad, because both come directly from the core of the KDiZD ethos--that more is better, and too much is just right.

 


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Z1M1: Hangar by John Romero, Tormentor667, Risen, NiGHTMARE, NMN, cccp_leha, DroobieDoobie007, Ninja_of_Doom, and esselfortium (2/5)

I hope you like the pistol, because you're going to be relying on it for the vast majority of this long, ponderous intro level. You'll plink away a good sixty or so hellspawn before you even get the shotgun, whose shells you'll have to use sparingly and judiciously because the ammo situation is punitive. There are some scripted sequences to show that this is, indeed, a ZDoom map, but aside from one with a "seismic bomb", they are presented entirely without in-game metaphors. A switch to make a radiation-filled exit area safe to enter is not a ventilation control room or valves to open the nukage drains--it's just a switch that literally turns off the radiation, with a security camera helpfully installed in the middle of a blank wall so you can see a green-tinted hallway clear up and be informed of the consequences of your decision in the laziest way possible. The biggest threats are hitscanners, especially the rapid fire troopers, who can quickly overwhelm and whittle you down if you stand in the open. This only aggravates the glacial pace of the proceedings. It's a slog.

 

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Z1M2: Nuclear Plant by John Romero, NiGHTMARE, Risen, Tormentor667, cccp_leha, Lexus Alyus, and Mephisto (4/5)

What an improvement! "Nuclear Plant" has much faster-flowing, less hitscan-choked combat than "Hangar", and preserves the layout of the original intact (with a few fairly logical additions) instead of dismembering it and scattering its pieces across a sprawling maze. The detailing looks better here--most of it, anyway; the crude linework of the damaged hex floor in the blue key area looks awful and clashes with the other maps' fetish for "flat sectoring" hex tiles--and the largely BROWN1/BROWN96/BROWNGRN texture scheme is more cohesive. While difficulty is mostly down from Z1M1, the fights that do test the player more are much more dynamic. My favorite was the yellow key trap in which you have to move and shoot with both speed and intentionality to avoid being caught in and torn apart by a rush of pinkies and their new lunging counterparts, Mauler Demons. There's even some colored lighting, and it works with the palette and doesn't look like shit the way 99% of colored lighting does in software rendering. If all the maps in KDiZD were this good, it would get at least another point on the overall rating. Unfortunately, most of them aren't.

 

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Z1M3: Toxin Refinery by John Romero, Vader, NMN, NiGHTMARE, TheDarkArchon, Risen, and Ellmo (5/5)

Ah, the most famous/infamous of all the maps of KDiZD. The primary claim to fame of this mod's take on "Toxin Refinery" is that it is absolutely gigantic, and it does not disappoint in that regard. "Toxin Refinery" is really two maps in one, the upper level that is built around Romero's core layout, and an entirely original mine level beneath, accessed through what would normally be the secret exit. This level is merely massive if you take the normal route, but reaching the new secret exit is a truly epic undertaking involving all six keys and most of the level's secrets. It is easy to get lost, especially in the dark, mazy mines, where you will likely find yourself turned around frequently.

 

The combat is staid but inoffensive, mostly corridor shooting. KDiZD steps up its meat game here, introducing Mech-Demons, who have twice the health of normal pinkies and take forever to kill, and Hell Warriors, essentially a Hell Knight with a shield like Hexen's centaur, though thankfully it doesn't reflect your rockets back in your face. The inclusion of an SSG would have done wonders to speed up the flow of combat, especially against the hell warriors, who are a chore to kill with the single shotgun. A huge amount of effort has been put into this level--texturing and alignment are superior to the previous two maps, sloped sectors are used heavily in the mines to give them a natural feel, and the use of detail is more thoughtful and cohesive. It's certainly a gigantic map, but its sense of mystery, discovery, and wonder make the half-hour-plus you spend wandering around worth it. If you play no other map in KDiZD, play this one.

 

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Z1M9: Military Base by John Romero, BioHazard, Tormentor667, Vader, NMN, Risen, cybermenace, Ninja_of_Doom, and Vile1011 (3/5)

The original "Military Base" was the weakest of John Romero's E1 maps, and Z1M9 does not do a whole lot to improve on it, keeping its most fundamental flaw--the grid layout of flat, boxy rooms connected by narrow corridors that lead to plenty of dull doorway-camping action. The majority of the map is essentially the same as the original E1M9 with a few embellishments, but a large courtyard has been added to the end of the map in which you face a succession of fairly tame horde battles as you activate switches to open the way to the exit. I remember there being archviles in a very early build of this map that were taken out in the process of moving KDiZD over to the Ultimate Doom IWAD; they would have added some zing to the fairly pedestrian combat on offer. You can get the SSG (with some fairly awkward new graphics and sounds to avoid using Doom II IWAD resources) pretty early in this map, in a secret that is hard to miss, but it is of little use until the final courtyard.

 

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Z1M4: Command Control by Tojo, Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini Tom Hall, John Romero, NMN, NiGHTMARE, Risen, Vader, BioHazard, Kirby, and Vile1011 (1/5)

I hate this map. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, and if I could be like AM and turn it into a gelatinous blob monster and torture it for all eternity, I would. People like to complain about Z1M3, but THIS is the map everybody should be bitching about. The original "Command Control" was the flabby midsection of Knee-Deep in the Dead, an amorphous sprawl of Generic Techbase Product that speaks to why Tom Hall's plans for Doom were almost wholly rejected, but this take on "Command Control" is so, so much worse. Still, everything in it works on a technical level, so I can't hand out a zero, even though that's how much fun I had playing it.

 

Like the original, the texturing on "Command Control" is all over the place, borrowing from almost every texture family KDiZD has, but considering how many more it has than Knee-Deep in the Dead, the result is all the more garish. It's almost as huge and long-winded as "Toxin Refinery", but without the sense of place and the thrill of discovering the next breadcrumb that leads to the secret exit. The lighting is obnoxiously dark, especially in the underground cavern section where you're likely to blunder straight into the embrace of a satyr or pinky that you didn't see until it was inches from your face, and the outdoor balconies where it's apparently daytime but darker than most night maps. This combined with the loads of doorway chokepoints and tight corridors rewards cowardly playing while brutally punishing any attempt at boldness--most Wolfenstein 3D maps have more dynamic encounters than this one.

 

This map heavily loads up on the spongier and more annoying KDiZD enemies--hell warriors, dark imps (three different kinds that look largely the same that fire identical-looking projectiles, but behave differently, because fuck you for trying to anticipate the next monster attack), mech-demons, and satyrs, but again the SSG is hidden in a secret area (I played Z1M9 and came in with one, but I can't imagine how tedious this map is if you have to play the whole map with the single shotgun). The rocket zombies from Obituary make several appearances here, usually hiding in a dark corner waiting to instantly kill you out of nowhere. This level is exhausting and draining, but what it taxes is more your patience and memory than your mechanical skill. Performance on my Athlon rig is poor in normal gameplay and absolutely terrible on the automap, which became a slideshow as more areas were unveiled.

 

The spinning fans sure look pretty though.

 

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Z1M5: Phobos Lab by John Romero, Tormentor667, NiGHTMARE, Risen, Vader, Kirby, and Lexus Alyus (3/5)

KDiZD's rendition of "Phobos Lab" is not a brilliant map by any means, but refreshing after the tooth-pulling tedium of "Command Control". The base map is better, light levels are reasonable again, and the allotment of enemies favors the classic Doom cast over the new entries. Secrets abound for those willing to risk taking a dip in the nukage, including the first appearance of the grenade launcher. The architecture and texturing are still all over the place, with motifs and ideas from one area not continuing to others. The chaotic, overindulgent use of detail also spoils some fights, especially the end fight against a bunch of pinkies and maulers where square platforms jut out from the floor like warts to mess up your footwork.

 

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Z1M6: Central Processing by John Romero, Vader, NMN, Risen, cccp_leha, FarlowJ, Ninja_of_Doom, and Kirby (3/5)

Vader's touch is all over the revamped "Central Processing", which is by far the most visually striking of all the KDiZD maps, and the only one aside from Z1M8 to rise above the messiness of this set's architecture to be truly beautiful. Since the original had little in the way of outdoor scenes, the mappers were able to wrap the entire original layout in a long indoor/outdoor runaround that makes this "Central Processing" feel like a coherent complex of buildings rather than an agglomeration of rooms and areas. I especially loved the sunset sky (unique to this map) and the shafts of golden light (pillars of fog, actually) cast through the skylights in the main section of the map. Z1M6 was a horrific lag-fest even on contemporary systems, and my much weaker Athlon suffered even worse from many of the outdoor scenes and the slope-filled cavern at the north end of the map, even crashing a couple of times. The layout starts out linear but opens up once you reach the control room where you deposit keycards to gain access to previously inaccessible areas of the map, but you're about two-thirds finished by the time you get there so what nonlinearity you get doesn't count for that much.

 

Gameplay is not as terrible as Z1M4 but not great either. Maneuvering room is usually scarce, with the big vistas being largely just for show as you scramble along tight corridors and ledges. Greebles and filligrees frequently protrude out from walls, just waiting to arrest a dodging player for just long enough to be tagged by a monster fireball. It's a triumph of form over function, though the form is better-looking and more consistent than the previous maps in the set, sticking to a coherent visual language instead of drawing haphazardly from a dozen of NiGHTMARE's texture packs. The automap is almost useless, a smear of lines that blend into one another to fill up what should be empty floor space--if any KDiZD map was crying out for the sort of automap cleanup with hidden lines pioneered by Back to Saturn X, it's this one. At least looping paths are provided to get you where you need to go without having to stare at the map and plan your route.

 

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Z1M7: Computer Station by John Romero, Risen, Tormentor667, Graf Zahl, Vader, NiGHTMARE, and NMN (5/5)

"Computer Station" was my favorite map of Knee-Deep in the Dead, and KDiZD's version, while not quite as good as "Toxin Refinery", is a standout map. The original was the largest and most ambitious of the Knee-Deep maps, and Z1M7 expands it into a gigantic adventure map, extending the titular station deep underground. The architecture here looks more consistent and thought-out than any other map save "Central Processing" and exudes a thick, menacing atmosphere with hell consuming more and more of the base as you go deeper, flesh bursting out of walls, pathways through the caverns surrounding the installation collapsing into the lava, the sounds of broken machinery mingling with the rumble of moving rock and the cries of the damned(?) as the very ground shakes and shifts to make way for hell as it seeps into and corrupts Phobos' interior. Like with Z1M3, there is a definite sense of discovery, though not as pronounced, but instead of secret treasures, it's absolute evil and horror.

 

The combat matches the atmosphere, perilous and punishing right from the start. The automap says 366 demons at the beginning, but by the time the last one falls dead you'll have slain well over four hundred. Traps frequently deploy beasties, up to including the strongest of the new DECORATE monsters, both in front of and behind the player, severely testing both your fundamental Doom skills and your grasp on the new weapons and monsters, their strengths and their weaknesses. It's harsh going on UV, but much more creative and dynamic than the previous few maps, so victories felt harder won and deaths, of which there were plenty, felt like a natural consequence of my mistakes rather than the caprice of an asshole level designer, as they so often did in Z1M4 especially. While most maps in this set feel like Frankenstein jobs, Z1M7, like Z1M3, is put together with purpose, everything in it contributing to the overall vision of both the subsumption of human reality by hell and a grueling final examination for the player. When you reach the exit to "Phobos Anomaly", you'll feel achievement, exhilaration, and relief in equal measure...

 

...but what if you're not going to "Phobos Anomaly"?

 

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Z1M10: Penultimate Evil by Tom Hall, John Romero, Sandy Petersen, American McGee, Shawn Green, Tormentor667, Vader, NiGHTMARE, and Risen (1/5)

Get 90% in all end-level stats for all of the other levels and you get access to “Penultimate Evil”. Rather than being based on any one Id Software level, this is a sort of "mixtape" of parts of levels from all three of the other Ultimate Doom episodes, stitched together with connective tissue developed by the authors themselves. As the super-secret level, "Penultimate Evil" attempts to be the hardest challenge in the entire wad but what it really is is irritating. It leans hard into everything wrong with KDiZD, loading up on jumping puzzles on tiny ledges surrounded by lava, bullet-sponge gimmick enemies, and areas that are way more claustrophobic than they look simply because there's so much shit sticking out of all of the goddamn walls.

 

"Penultimate Evil" is clearly inspired visually by The Shores of Hell rather than Knee-Deep in the Dead, with an angry red sky overlooking tech architecture almost completely subverted by hell. However, while many areas look good individually, the patchwork nature of the layout, even by KDiZD standards, means that they don't gel into any sort of coherent atmosphere or sense of place beyond "oh, I recognize that part!" when you notice which Ultimate Doom level a certain room is derived from. High-tier enemies abound, and I found myself frequently wishing for a BFG, especially since a couple of encounters (especially the one unleashed after grabbing the yellow key) tilt a bit towards slaughter, but without any of the entertaining chaos engendered by an actual slaughter scenario because there is no infighting. The whole thing is a leaden, joyless experience and I hated every minute of it. I didn't even bother to hunt down the secrets.

 

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Z1M8: Phobos Anomaly by Tom Hall, Sandy Petersen, Tormentor667, Vader, NiGHTMARE, Risen, NMN, Darkhaven3, Ninja_of_Doom, and Lexus Alyus (3/5)

After a journey that feels longer than most 32-map megawads, we finally come to the heart of Phobos' infestation, the revamped "Phobos Anomaly". In terms of sheer looks and audiovisual presentation, it's probably the best in the entire set, really selling this place as an "outpost of hell" as the Doom II intermission would put it, with reality itself constantly shifting and twisting (along with the map architecture and texturing) according to some inscrutable alien logic. KDiZD frequently tries for a horror feel, and Z1M8 is definitely the closest it comes to achieving that end, channeling both the original map and one of my favorite E1M8 replacements, Kristian Aro's "Paradox" from 2002: A Doom Odyssey.

 

That said, the combat is a chore, and the Nightmares, these shadowy imps that appear out of nowhere to claw at you, are incredibly annoying because they become invincible as well as invisible when not attacking, so you can't let them attack once and then try to guess their movements to take them out--if one gets away, you have to let him attack you again and again until you get a good SSG shot on him. After an easy fake-out boss fight involving barons and a brief sojourn into hell itself, you get a two-stage final boss battle, the first involving six barons and an assortment of trash that is easy enough to deal with, then a mix of hell nobles with the infamous Bruiser Demons, whose projectiles are easy enough to avoid but also have a devastating ground-based explosion attack that is hard to avoid and often an instant kill if it connects. But then you hop off the pentagram as per the original E1M8 and--what? Another boss battle? Part of the ground drops away into a pool of lava and out springs the Magmantis, some creature that looks like it was taken from Powerslave or Witchaven or some similar game, and is an obvious 3D model rip that looks completely out of place in the Doom bestiary. Don't worry, though; despite having loads and loads of health, he's a cinch, being slow-moving, humongous, and attacking with relatively slow projectiles. He's made even easier because, if you missed it in previous levels, you are given the rifle, which will take his 15,000 hit points down in short order. Just plink at him until he dies and be careful not to get stuck on one of the imps who spawn in to ineffectually harass you, and you're golden.

 

Can I recommend Knee-Deep in ZDoom? It is certainly a landmark, for better or for worse, in Doom modding history, a perfect illustration of both the capabilities of the ZDoom engine and the pitfalls of relying on them in lieu of the things that actually made Doom a great game to begin with. I kind of think of it as a "magnificent failure", whose importance is less as a mod in its own right than as a part of the dialectics of level design, a thesis to which purist wads like Needs More Detail and Doom the Way id Did served as an antithesis, leading to wads like Back to Saturn X and Eviternity that combined the best of both worlds. If you play it, I recommend playing on a skill below UV, as the compromised gameplay and level design make it slower, grindier, and more frustrating the harder it gets, rather than more exciting and rewarding. It's a mod that wants to show you something more than it wants to directly engage you, and parts of the show are indeed really cool. Many people want to either exalt or damn this mod, but me? For the most part, I can't do either. For all its bigliness and bombast, Knee-Deep in ZDoom is simply mediocre.

Edited by Woolie Wool : eye spel gud

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