Last year, a great British explorer and his training partner ran 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents. Now witness the newstuff equivalent - a world record breaking 81 maps!!! And they're a varied bunch, too - an old classic, a Hexen map (!), Doom 1 maps, tribute maps, ZDoom and Skulltag frag-fests (normal and novelty), a map to mark the passing of 2003, two 8-map wads (silly and serious), misc graphics, a skin, and the long-awaited sequel to the toughest megawad of all time! 2004 is well and truly off with a bang, and if you can get through this lot you deserve a medal:
- Blitz of Pain by Jim McColm
61kb - doom.exe - SP -
We get this leviathan Chronicles moving with a classic Doom 1 map that was uploaded a couple of weeks back, but both Deathz0r (intentionally) and Grazza (accidentally) missed it. A positively huge map back then (it used to crash the savegame buffer in Doom v1.2) but just big by today's standards, this E2M1 replacement has a real mixture of themes - tech, gothic, wooden, industrial and outdoor (although most of the map is underground). It somehow manages to pull it off, and despite the architecture being quite basic in many places, the texturing and use of scenery makes the detail feel quite good. The gameplay is interesting - with evasive manoeuvres to get going, a choice of two ends to start the main section at (each with different weapons nearby), the possibility of shortcutting to the blue key from the adjacent room and starting from there (making two reverse routes possible as well) and an almighty battle at the end. It's even fairly tough by Doom 1 standards, with plenty of monsters, health pretty scarce when you need it, and you may struggle for ammo in the main section depending on which end you start at (or which end you go to first if you manage to shortcut). This is a quality, interesting and fun map that should not be missed by anyone.
- Mitnal by Bob Larkin (Brad_tilf)
750kb - doom2.exe - SP -
A patchwork-quilt of a map that has a partially nonlinear layout. 3 different routes, each with a different theme and key, that can be done in any order. Graphically there's plenty of stuff, including lots of fake 3D and lighting effects in darkness. A suitably dark spooky tune complements this and the detail is pretty good overall, with great use of the nb5 texture set. Gameplay is fairly balanced and has some sneaky traps (monster teleports mostly), although nothing to write home about. Much depends on which way you go first, as this will affect the difficulty in the three sections (paying a visit to the exit-containing 4th section first helps a little). Ammo and health aren't really a problem, monster-wise it's ok, but the yellow key requires a speedrunning trick to get, and a very difficult execution of it at that. It's certainly dark and creepy, and although I don't really like this sort of map that much (teleporter-based maps with several sections, all isolated from each other), the detail level will be enough to make you want to play.
- Abandoned Chapel by Christopher Emirzian (Udderdude)
157kb - ZDoom Hexen - SP -
OMG a Hexen map!!! And not only that, the first ZDoom Hexen map ever!!! The setting is a citadel/chapel where you start outside. Detail is pretty much what you'd expect from Hexen maps, nice enough to create that gothic atmosphere that always works. The layout is symmetrical - right down to the tasks you have to do, which could lead to repetitiveness, particularly in the two spiral sections outside the citadel. It doesn't share Hexen's puzzles though, as only keys and switches are used. As with any Hexen map, choice of character determines gameplay so my review is based on the fighter (which the randomiser gave to me) - it's pretty tough right from the start. You'll have no mana trouble, but will be lucky if your health goes above 50 once it goes below. So some skilled tyson play is required to keep going. Of the others, I'd imagine the cleric would find it extremely tough round the outside but health problems will disappear once the serpent staff is grabbed, and the mage wouldn't have much trouble early on but might struggle for mana later, as well as having trouble with close range fights (which are quite common here). Overall a good map that certainly looks and feels like a Hexen map, although the lesser Doomers might find it annoying difficulty-wise. If you're a Hexen fan then here's a good map to ease your craving for new maps, if you're not then play it anyway - you might become one, you never know.
- Compound 13 by ob3kenob
69kb - source port - SP -
A Doom 1 map with a sort of base/wood/sewer theme. 2 main bases, each with a harmless sewer and a few teleporters in, connected by an outdoor bit in the middle. Detail isn't that good although there are no texturing bugs, and the gameplay isn't much better. A mostly zombie population plus two traps with imps and demons in. Ammo and health are too abundant, and the layout is a bit confusing. This would've made a good deathmatch if you could get a fair few people round, but is not really suited to single player.
- Doom-X by ob3kenob
480kb - source port - SP -
Another Doom 1 wad, this time a set of 4 maps (E1M1,2,3,9). This time the base theme is more evident, although other themes do make an appearance now and then. Detail is below average in most places, but the old-school atmosphere is conveyed here. The gameplay is nothing special, with nothing really to challenge you, however you may get caught out with low health in one or two places. Ammo is too abundant, and health isn't much of a problem either although getting the supercharges is partially to blame. Like his other map, the layouts are sometimes confusing and there's many places you don't need to visit, together with lots of teleporters that go here, there and everywhere. Old-school fans will enjoy this, but I'm not sure about the rest of you.
- Xaser's Arena (Version 2) by Xaser
100kb - doom2.exe - SP -
A small but intense map set in a combat-training simulator (but the wounds are real). Using a grid texture reminiscent of one of my early maps, this takes place in a series of cramped, square corridors complete with roaming hellspawn. A lot of you will find the start area impossible, with 4 cacos determined to block you in every way (make sure you use a port that allows you to cross over/under things!), and no items for support. If you can evade them and reach the shotgun room (prior knowledge required) then it becomes straightforward once the cacos are down. The room outside the arena is nicely detailed, but the rest of it is plain as they come. On the plus side it's a little different theme-wise and the music is excellent. Play if you like close-quarters fights and you're a good dodger or speedrunner, if not then ignore it to avoid frustration (unless you cheat).
- An E1M3 Level by MegaZzZeux
157kb - doom.exe - SP -
A small Doom 1 map, which is mostly Phobos with a little bit of Deimos at the start. Detail is mostly low, but some areas don't look too bad, however the texturing in the first room is bad IMO (sticks out a bit). Gameplay wise, it's up to the usual Phobos standard - weak monsters, lots of ammo and enough health to survive. It's perhaps a bit too small for a tribute, but only if it was meant to be one. Apart from that, something for the old-schoolers.
- Baseball DM by MegaZzZeux
68kb - Skulltag - DM -
OMG a Skulltag map! As the title suggests, it's set on a baseball pitch, which comes complete with scoreboard. You get to battle on the stands, in the changing rooms, both dugouts and of course the diamond (all with unspectacular but sufficiently themed detail and architecture). Skulltag weapons and powerups are scattered throughout, which should make it fun for all you baseball-loving Skulltaggers.
- The Forgotten Temple by Agent Spork
183kb - Skulltag - DM -
Another Skulltag map, but one completely different from the above. A Quake-like gothic map with one open area and one looping passage connected to two sides of it. Detail is impressive (particularly those windows) and should make for an atmosphere. There's a couple of Skulltag weapons and powerups in addition to the conventional ones. The layout suggests a fairly fast flowing fragfest, although there are a couple of dead ends which could affect things. Still, the new weapons means there should be fun to be had...
- Doom: Operational Support by WildWeasel
2850kb - ZDoom - n/a -
A non-map wad that has many sprite replacements, new status bar graphics and a whole load of new sounds (some of which you may recognise) and the ZDoom lumps to make them all work.
- Insanity: Episode 2 by Rishabh Mittal
2300kb - source port - SP -
Ugh. A wad that replaces most sprites with crappy Paint graphics, sounds with a variety of silly substitutes and sticks them all in 8 crappy maps with crap detail, crap layout and crap (although just playable) gameplay. Perhaps has some short-term humour (ie. going round trying to prod silly shapes to death with a window wiper) but don't even bother playing this anyway. It does have a good sky texture, though. (hopefully someone will rip it and put the sky to better use)
- The Last Level Made in 2003 by Paul Corfiatis
14kb - doom2.exe - SP -
A small map made just for the occasion. It's a combination of red brick and wood, with some nice lighting effects and low detail apart from those. There's a close-quarters hell knight fight at the start, after then it's all zombies. I'd imagine the speedrunners would have a battle royal over who can get the fastest time, but apart from that it's not really interesting. It's better than what I expected though. (re: other wads knocked up quickly for special occasions)
- The Last Strike Deathmatch 2004 Edition by Various Artists
3260kb - ZDoom - DM -
Not sure what the updates are, but anyway. A set of 18 varied deathmatch maps that make great use of ZDoom features. Detail is pretty good in most of them, and ZDoom features make the maps stand out from your average DM fare. There's a variety of themes, too - from base to gothic to earth, fire and air (and a couple of bizarre ones, too!). The maps are made up mostly of new graphics, and there's even a texture in each map telling you who made it. Gameplay should be varied, as there are open, cramped and somewhere in between maps. There's also a railgun instead of a shotgun to make things interesting. Deathmatchers should not miss this, even though there's one or two hideous maps inside. In any case, those who've played previous versions will be in a better place to comment there.
- Black Fortress X by Christopher Emirzian (udderdude)
251kb - ZDoom - SP -
This is an update of the wad that was reviewed last week, so I'll point you towards it. Personally I don't agree with it, as I found the gameplay was a bit off in skill 4 (not enough health/ammo, and the map itself was a bit big IMO) so if you haven't played it yet, you'll either want to play on skill 2/3 or give yourself a chainsaw to complete skill 4.
- Hell Keep by Owen Lloyd (sargebaldy)
21kb - doom2.exe - SP -
An E3M1 tribute map designed for Freedoom. As expected the map is tiny, however it manages to be totally different to the original. The start is similar (ie. pistol a caco to death) and is slighty tougher but what follows is different. However, you need some reverse logic to be able to complete this map, but apart from that it serves it's purpose well.
- Taradino Cassat Skin by Matt Cibulas (RottKing)
88kb - ZDoom/Legacy - n/a -
A skin that replaces the player sprites and some sounds with those of Taradino Cassat from RoTT. 'Nuff said.
- Endgame by Various Artists
1200kb - Boom port - SP -
The second 8-map wad this week, this one is thankfully better than the first one. A mixed bag of maps, they cover various themes from Phobos to sewer, from brick to Quake gothic, from dark techbase to rocky. The detail is fairly high throughout (except maps 02 and 08 where it's a bit basic) and many a nice lighting effect to boot. The layouts are a bit suspect though, they can be confusing and sometimes it can be hard to work out where to go next. Gameplay is fairly easy and not too special, although it gets tougher later on and indeed the last map has a touch of Hell Revealed about it (which is always welcome in my book). Overall it's a bit hit-and-miss in places, but it's not bad.
- Hell Revealed 2 by Various Artists
2430kb - doom2.exe - SP -
And now the moment you've all been waiting for...the sequel to the toughest megawad ever. It goes without saying then that this wad should carry a public health warning about it's difficulty, which is extreme as you'd expect. Skill 4 is beatable, but you have to be a Doom god or thereabouts to do it (most of you will have to drop to skill 2 or 3). But if you can hack it, the gameplay is really great and you'll have fun. So, how does it compare to the original? Well, on the plus side HR2 doesn't take 12 maps to get going (unlike HR1), but on the minus side there are very few 'classic' HR-style maps (those really against-the-odds maps with a special layout that requires a good tactical approach as well as lots of in-yer-face BFGing and relentless rocketing). There are some (notably maps 12, 15, 27 and 32) along with many others that feel like HR maps (eg. 07, 19, 24, 25), but quite a few of them (eg. 16-17, 20-22) just seem like ordinary maps that have been beefed up a little. The team-based nature of the megawad leads to the maps all having completely different styles and standards, giving it an atmosphere that makes you feel like you're playing a conventional megawad rather than a Hell Revealed sequel. As a result, diehard HR fans may feel a little short-changed by the sequel. The detail is better than the original, but I can't help feeling that this has impacted on some layouts and made them more conventional, thus sacrificing the famous HR gameplay a bit. (as it feels like the gameplay was built around the layout as opposed to the other way round)
To sum up: It's a great megawad that's really fun to play as well as more challenging than most wads out there, and it's definitely recommended as one of the greatest wads ever - but it doesn't live up to the high standards set by the original, and consequently isn't as good IMO. Source port recommended.