Christmas sometimes brings a few major releases, but that's not the case this year. It is especially surprising that none of the big projects that missed their Doomsday deadlines were rescheduled to emerge from Santa's sack. However, the fact that this week's crop of wads comes from little-known mappers does not imply that we have a weak selection. Far from it - there is a great deal of quality in this edition of /newstuff Chronicles, with the emphasis firmly on good, challenging traditional Doom gameplay.
- Realm of Evil by Jeff Valancy
459kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 5 maps -
"My first wad", said the text-file. The reviewer grits his teeth and plunges in, fearful of what awaits. But in this case he gets an extremely pleasant surprise. These five maps offer very interesting and challenging gameplay, together with fairly attractive, uncluttered design. There are plenty of wide-open areas, but you are rarely completely safe.
Initially, I thought that ammo was poorly balanced in each map (i.e. not enough of it), and that the maps were meant to be played as an episode rather than from pistol starts. However, I stubbornly continued with pistol starts and found that if you make extensive use of infighting, then the supply of ammo and power-ups is just sufficient to get you through - in fact you should have a surplus by the end of many of the maps (the ammo-monster balance ranges from 1.20 to 1.61 according to STAT.EXE). Some Tyson and especially Pacifist skills would be useful, but the main thing is to adopt a good strategy and to avoid using ammo when it's possible to get the monsters to self-destruct on their own. The balance is so fine that I can't believe it was accidental, and I presume extensive play-testing was done on these maps. Apart from on map01 there is little or no difference between skill levels 2, 3 and 4, so if you want to make it easier on yourself, then you can play them as an episode, or else choose skill 1. Also, the maps are much easier to survive once you know your way around them; I'd guess that most Doomers should survive each map at the second or third attempt without using any savegames.
I imagine this will prove a little controversial, but it's my pick for wad of the week.
- Black Fortress by Christopher Emirzian (Udderdude)
250kb - Zdoom+Doom2 - SP - 1 map -
Some of Udderdude's recent maps have come in for a little criticism, not for being bad maps, but for having some features that spoil the fun a bit: too many stealth monsters, or too many ambushes with monsters teleporting in behind the player, etc. Still he keeps supplying solid maps for us to play, and on the whole they are pretty good. They do have difficulty settings implemented, and are survivable on UV if you keep your wits about you.
Anyway, his map this week should certainly appeal to those who liked his earlier offerings, and many of those who didn't too. You need to deal with quite a large number of monsters using small weapons, and there are some tight areas, but the gameplay on UV is enjoyable and quite fair - I made it through without savegames at my first attempt, though my time did officially suck. The design is a bit repetitive/symmetrical, but not to the extent that it should offend anyone.
This is a Zdoom map, so some comments about settings are in order. In your compatibility settings you need to have "Actors are infinitely tall = no", since otherwise your path is blocked at one point. I particularly mention this because in a previous map by Udderdude (parareb.wad) you could easily get stuck in at least one situation if you didn't have actors infinitely tall. Jumping is not needed (and presumably not meant to be used). Zdoom map authors really should state these things in their text-files, since there seems to be no real consensus on what players should assume in default of this advice being given.
Anyway, let's call this the wad of the week runner-up.
- Escape from the Hellbase (demo) by Jimi
176kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 5 maps -
This set of five relatively simple maps provides some fun. Note that it should be played as an episode; while the maps are playable from pistol starts, they would be quite an ordeal due to lack of health, ammo and weapons. I tried map02 from scratch, and found it necessary to cower in an alcove behind a "monsters can't cross" line, and non-berserk punch demons, pistol imps, and wait around while lost souls killed one another. Not good. When played as an episode, the gameplay is quite well balanced, and as long as you don't mind fighting in restricted space and navigating your way through little passageways, I can recommend this wad. It took me about an hour from start to finish. The design is quite basic, but not ugly. Some of the markings of doorways don't make much sense though, as far as I can tell.
- The Ocean Base by Paul D. Disney
196kb - Zdoom+Doom2 - SP - 1 map -
This small map is interesting mainly for its design features. As the name implies, we are in an underwater facility, with tanks and pipes carrying bubbling water around an environment which is encapsulated by a transparent shell. It is a bit unrealistic that shots can pass through the base's outer shell without it breaking and the water pouring in, but let's just regard that as a minor technicality. Gameplay is fairly simple, with a low monster-count, but it is certainly possible to get yourself killed if you are careless. Note: Jumping is not required.
- GTA (Get Them All) by Bruno Vergilio
39kb - Ultimate Doom - SP - 1 map -
No, this wad has nothing to do with Grand Theft Auto. Instead, it's a small-medium sized map running on E4M8. As you might expect, it does use the spidermastermind tag. The author says "This map is full of monsters, so you'll take some time to finish it", but I think that is exaggerated; it shouldn't take very long really (I took less than nine minutes to kill everything, and I was being pretty cautious, and didn't find many of the secrets - there are eight of them very near the start). Bruno also says "Try to play it on NIGHTMARE SKILL!!!", but that doesn't sound like much fun to be honest, since there are too many confined spaces (the secret backpack near the start would be very useful if you want to try NM though). There is one fairly tight battle against a cyberdemon which will probably get your heart beating faster, though it isn't too tough if you use the available cover and have enough plasma. One other tip: you'll want to avoid getting trapped anywhere in the starting area - you'll run out of ammo unless you are able to run around and collect more. Overall, it's a fun map where it is easy to die (thanks to the lack of readily available armour) if you are careless.
- Chapel of Romero by Ken Hukushi
140kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
This is a map from 1995 that has either been uploaded anonymously by someone (in which case I'm surprised Ty didn't reject it due to the lack of a functioning e-mail address), or belatedly released to the archive by its author (but then you might have expected the text-file to reflect that). Anyway, the map itself is large and rather interesting to play. From the first few areas it might appear to have an excess of health and ammo, but it actually turns out to be quite tight, so don't be too reckless. There isn't much in the way of consistent themes, but the areas are interconnected quite well, often by teleporters. You encounter a cyberdemon at one point, but there's an invulnerability nearby (that's pretty standard for 1995 wads). There's an archie/revenant trap near the end of the map (in the Romero chapel itself), but if you're alert you should survive it without too much difficulty - just don't try to stand toe-to-toe with them. Or maybe I just guessed right - you might want to save your game at that point, since you'll probably have been playing for more than half an hour by then.
- Hell Assault by Taisto Valdlo (mephisto) and Mikk Tivas (ryrayer)
780kb - Zdoom+Doom2 - SP - 6 maps -
This set of six maps provides some fun, and is certainly a big improvement over mephisto's "War with the Imps", which I reviewed in /newstuff Chronicles #156. The maps aren't especially challenging when played as an episode, but unfortunately you have no choice but to play them that way, since it isn't feasible to play them from pistol starts (warp to map06 to see a clear example). I think it always makes sense for wad authors to design their maps so that they are each playable from scratch, since this great improves replayabilty.
The biggest challenges come at the start of map03, where it is quite easy to die, and at the end of map06, where we encounter a cyberdemon that seems to me a little out of place in this map-set. The level design is certainly competent, and the maps are nicely linked - in many cases the end of one map is similar to the start of the next. Ambient sounds are a pleasant touch here and there, and there are interesting design features in many places, such as the rowing boat in the harbour at the start of map05 - nothing too elaborate, but it's a nice example of attention to detail. Map01 features Ultimate DooMer's favourite type of sector-based trees, which are perhaps getting a bit over-used in recent wads. Note: Jumping is required in a few places.
- LabrinthV2 by Wes Rath (PumpkinSmasher)
62kb - Legacy+Doom2 - SP - 1 map -
I've really tried to think of something positive to say about this wad, but I regret that I have failed. Short review: skip this one.
OK, so you want more description than that... Firstly, the story is that you are tracking down Saddam. Current affairs/conflicts are in general a rotten base for a Doom wad, and it certainly adds nothing to the enjoyment here. Secondly, we find ourselves running round a boring maze of featureless corridors. Thirdly, while the gameplay is by no means easy, the challenge is provided by the most annoying means of all - very little health and lots of hitscan enemies slowly chipping away at your health. Fourthly, this is a Legacy-only wad, but no attempt has been made to make it OpenGL-compatible, even though this is one of the features that attracts people to Legacy. Running glBSP over the wad generates a long list of errors, and sure enough it looks a complete mess in Legacy's OpenGL mode. Finally, Legacy crashed part way through the wad. Those of you who find Legacy to be unstable will not be surprised by that, but on my machine it has always been extremely robust - I think this is only the second crash I have ever had with Legacy, so I suspect it is a map issue.
I uploaded five old wads this week. As normal, these are more descriptions than reviews - it would be silly for me to upload something just so I could slag it off. I hope that these descriptions help you to identify which ones you might find most interesting.
- Squares by Costa Lappas
32kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
This map features fairly simple design - basically a bunch of interconnected square rooms - but offers fun and challenging gameplay. The rooms are packed with monsters, but you are supplied with an abundance of ammo and health to deal with them, and there is plenty of scope for alternative strategies. This map has proved quite popular with the demos community, but for some reason had never made it into the archive. A UV -fast demo would be interesting - I have got far enough through to believe it to be possible.
- Beach Ball Castle v2.0 by Richard C. Steiner
75kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
This one is a swine - a really extreme challenge. It's a medium/large map where you'll be fighting for survival the whole time, whether you are in the wide-open outdoor area, in the castle's courtyards or fortifications, or in its dark and claustrophobic interior. Some map knowledge is probably necessary to get through it in one piece.
- Hitler's Caverns by Sam Nyfeler (AKA Cybernator1)
161kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
There are some memorable areas in this large map (at least I remembered them, upon replaying the map about eight years after I had first played it), but it is certainly not without its blemishes too. The poor areas include a lengthy sequence of rising/lowering pillars, and a corridor with a crushing ceiling for which you get very little warning (this is towards the end of the map, so you may wish to save your game here and there). To compensate, there are some good battles and generally pretty good health and ammo balance.
- Fluvial by Nick Anderson
147kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map - -
This is really quite a nice map, from the author of Quantum4. It's large and complex, but it's always fairly clear where you should go next, and you feel like you are constantly making progress. There is a reasonable level of danger throughout, but if you stay alert, it should be possible to reach the exit without dying even if you haven't accumulated extensive prior knowledge of the map. There are a couple of crushers to look out for. The terrain varies considerably, though it doesn't feel random - I never felt that I had suddenly jumped into a different map. Quite a lot of the map is hell-styled, and there are many "liquid" floors, in keeping with the wad's name - most are harmless water, but some hurt.
- GangUp by Doria Biddle
107kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
A huge and difficult map (by the author of Zoo) awaits you here. I think that if you survive the initial underground areas, and reach the massive arena with all the large buildings, it becomes a little more straightforward. There are 459 monsters on UV, and you'll need to be quite cunning to get the better of them. Design-wise, it's a bit of an odd mix, but with some pleasant-looking areas. Expect it to take a good hour or so.