Whatever you had planned for this week, cancel it. There are some fantastic new Doom wads that urgently need to be played. This week's /newstuff includes a new megawad in the classic style, a second instalment of Pacman madness from Epyo, and some impressive multi-player maps. That's right - there really is something for everyone this week.
- Vile Flesh by Gwyn Williams
5,415kb - Boom compatible port + Doom2 - SP - 32 maps - - - - - - - - -
Here we have an extremely impressive megawad: 32 levels and new music all made by one man. In case you prefer not to read any potential spoilers, and to play wads with as little prior knowledge as possible, I shall say straight off that it is excellent in every respect, and that for anyone with an interest in Doom, I think it is an absolute must-play, and has that rare "can't stop playing" quality.
A six-map demo of Vile Flesh was released in 2002. It looked very promising (it was certainly near the top of my list of "little known projects that I'm greatly looking forward to"), and fortunately Gwyn Williams was able to bring it to fruition. Vile Flesh clearly involved a phenomenal amount of effort. These are not small or simple maps, and some are highly complex. Throughout, there is good design and attention to detail, and the gameplay has been very finely balanced - a great deal of playtesting and tweaking must have been done.
It is a megawad in the classic Doom style. I think a few Boom features might be used, but the need for a port is mostly for limit-removal - the architecture is on quite a grand scale in several maps. There are some new graphics, most notably the skies. There are no new textures, but excellent use is made of the defaults.
There is new interlevel text for those who are interested in the "story". Note that the deh file only changes the game text and map names - there are no changes to weapons or monsters, etc. Unusually for a one-man megawad, there is new music: all original works, composed by the author. I find it very pleasant to listen to, and think it sets an appropriate mood for Dooming. It doesn't appear to be derived from or based upon other well-known Doom music (or pop/metal music that I know).
The difficulty is not insane, but it is definitely not at all easy (on UV, at least). I found myself constantly low on health and ammo, but there always seemed to be just enough to give the player a fair chance: I didn't die very often, but hardly felt safe for an instant. That's exactly how Doom should be, I think. Don't be put off by the author's comment about some of the later maps being similar to Eternal - you'll never end up searching for dozens of hidden switches. In fact, it is normally quite clear where you need to go and what you need to do next.
The early maps are mostly medium sized (or you might say smallish medium), and gradually increase in size and complexity. However, I found some of these early maps trickier than some of the later ones, since the ammo supply is more tightly controlled. I won't make specific comments on every single map, but here are a few brief comments on ones that caught my eye. Map12 is one of my favourite maps, and exciting to play, but I did find one tiny "error" here - there is a place where you can get trapped, if you do a straferun/jump into a little pen in which there had been a baron. (There's my one silly nitpick, just so you know I'm not just praising this wad uncritically.) There's a lovely and very useful set-piece telefrag of a hell knight near the start of map13 - I don't know if it was intended that way by the author, but it works beautifully. Map14 is a relatively weird map - rather dark and disorientating, and plenty of Tyson possibilities. The super-secret level in a megawad tends to be a little "different" - and "Spider Web" does not disappoint - the name says it all; well, most of it (it's an absolute riot of a map - hope you like dodging plasma!). Map16 is the obligatory castle/cathedral map - big and complex with a surprise ending, though ammo seems a little less tight than on some of the earlier maps. Map20 will test your infight-provoking skills, amongst other things. Map25 has some excellent battles, including an area akin to "Gotcha!", but you need to work a bit harder to get the spider to fight the cyber. Map26 features a lot of nukage with some sewer areas, but it doesn't overdo them. Map27 is a fun "town" level, with a lot of scope for using the berserk (which I'd recommend you get as early as possible). Map 28 leaves me baffled though. Suddenly, the good taste that has characterized the design so far is gone: weird styles, a walk along narrow ledges (like in "The Chasm"), some downright ugly areas, and events happening for no reason at all. Near the start we even have a swinging Wolfenstein door, so I think this must be a joke of some sort. The map is called "Tower Block", so maybe it is intended to reflect the ugliness of them. It is still a fun map to play though, and the living quarters are cute in a "Myhouse.wad" sense. Map30 has you pitted against the good ol' Icon, and the start has a good hellish feel to it. You have to choose between the BFG or a megasphere. I'd opt for the megasphere myself, and pray the rockets go in quickly. Anyway, the set-up is a little different from the standard one.
OK, it's obvious that I like this wad a great deal. I might even go as far as to call it the best new release since Alien Vendetta, but judge for yourself. In any case, you'll definitely want this one on your hard-disk. I guess this must be the wad of the week then. :)
- Pacman Doom 2 by Epyo
1,926kb - Zdoom 2.0.63 + Doom2 - SP/coop - 11 maps - - - - - -
Well, this is cute. Those who enjoyed Epyo's first instalment of Pacman Doom will certainly welcome this second helping, with many more maps and a great deal of variety of themes and settings. In case you're wondering what on earth Pacman Doom is, it's a recreation of the arcade classic where you are the Pacman, munching your way through those yellow dots, while four coloured monsters pursue you. The power pills work a little differently from the original Pacman, but are still definitely worth picking up before any close encounters with the monsters. Pacman Doom also constitutes a link to the early days of Doom - a Pacman sprite replacement was one of the best-known Doom projects back in 1994.
The first two maps are fairly standard Pacman mazes, though the viewing angle for map02 takes some getting used to. Then the maps start to move away from standard Pacman, into different types of mazes (with map04 especially hard to navigate, it seemed to me), while in some cases there is no maze at all. The difficulty varies greatly from map to map, but Epyo had been kind enough to provide a guide to this in his text-file. I would disagree with some of those though - map08 seemed quite easy, since you do have time to run back to collect a few that you have missed even if they are quite near the start (see 3rd screenshot). And the secret level is the easiest of the lot - you just need to avoid falling off. Actually, I don't recall Doom Jr having anything like this (I could be wrong though), but there was a map called Spider Chase that had some major features in common. The Cyberdreams tribute map is cool - in case you're wondering, the relevant map in Cyberdreams in map29. As a silly nitpick, I noticed that the blue monster ("Bashful") doesn't appear to have different AI from the other monsters. His name is based on the fact that it backs off if Pacman advances sharply towards it, and I recall this fact was quite important in the original Pacman games. But maybe it is asking a bit much for that to be emulated. :)
Anyway, Pacman Doom 2 is recommended if you want something a bit different from standard Doom.
- ZDaemon CTF by AlexMax and others
1,001kb - Zdaemon 1.06 + Doom2 - Multiplayer (CTF) - 10 maps - - - -
This is a set of well-designed smallish-to-medium Capture The Flag maps for Zdaemon. All the maps are symmetrical, which is generally considered to be a good thing for CTF - it is possible to have an interesting asymmetrical map, but making both sides' chances even is a pretty much impossible task. Each map is for two teams, red and blue, and the bases are very well colour-coded. There are always several routes from one base to the other, which should make for excellent battles, with a good rate of flag captures. The maps are all attractively designed, with clear and consistent themes. These themes vary greatly: castle, ice, tech are all there, and there is a weird one to finish. The full list of authors is: AlexMax, Ralphis, Exl, Washu, Bloodlust, ATG_Death and Rellik.
It's hard to say what could have been done better. Warmly recommended for those who like CTF.
- Ice Base by The Net Nomad
162kb - Skulltag + Doom2 - DM - 1 map - -
A lot of work has obviously been put into this rather excellent DM map. It isn't so large that the play would become slow-paced, but finds room for all weapons (including the skulltag weapons) and all the skulltag runes. Some of these are quite tricky to find, so some judgement is needed to decide which ones are really worth going for (time is money in a deathmatch). Net Nomad has provided a detailed text-file, explaining how to find all the goodies. The design strikes me as especially attractive. Several types of areas are interwoven in a natural-looking manner: the base, an outdoor area with ice, caves/passages and underwater routes. I presume Ice Base needs a recent version of Skulltag so all the runes will work correctly, but the text-file does not clarify this.
Verdict: All Skulltag fans should definitely get hold of this.
- Serious Doom by Jimi
1,146kb - jDoom + Doom2 - SP - 1 map -
"Inspired by Serious Sam." I have never played Serious Sam myself, but by all accounts it is a game where you mow down massive hordes of enemies. As such, this map achieves its aim: it is not a large map by any means, but well over 200 monster corpses will be littering the floor by the time you finish. The battles aren't especially interesting though; you have a lot of ammo, and you're not in a great deal of danger unless you get trapped in a corner. You face a cyberdemon at one point, but with two megaspheres handy, and enough room to manoeuvre, it isn't a great threat. The final wave of monsters is perhaps the biggest problem (if you decide you want to kill them all rather than just running to the exit), but again it's just through their weight of numbers.
This map requires jDoom - it doesn't work with anything else. I'm not convinced that there is anything in the map that could only have been done in jDoom. I almost suspect that Jimi simply wanted people to use jDoom to play his map, so he set it up so that they had no choice. Be that as it may, I found the framerate suffered quite a lot during the battles, thus adding artificially to the difficulty.
- Let Life Pass You By by Chris "Chopkinsca" Hopkins
21kb - Zdoom 2.0.63 + Doom2 - SP - 1 map -
This is a simple Arcade-style wad. The player is inside a carriage of some sort, while monsters pass by on either side. You have unlimited ammo, but only get one weapon at a time - like in Cyb's "Imp Arena". However, I found it less fun than Imp Arena, partly because the task is less clear. I think the player is just meant to die in the end, and the aim is to score as many points as you can before that happens. (To test that, I tried God mode to see what happens, and eventually your ammo stops being replenished.)
Chopkinsca recommends that we play the map on skill 2. He doesn't say exactly what the problem with higher skill levels is. Less health? More monsters? Does a 16-ton weight fall on the player? If they are completely unplayable, why are they there? If they are playable, it would be nice to have some idea what we'd be taking on.
Overall: If you love arcade-style Doom maps, you might enjoy this. Otherwise, it's rather forgettable.
- Counter-Doom: EDGE by BlackFish
12,164kb - EDGE - weapon replacement - no maps - -
That's right, it's a weapons replacement (based on Counterstrike), for EDGE, and it's a 12 meg download. Apparently, Blackfish is already planning to release a modified version with a smaller file size.
The weapon graphics are attractive, with smooth animations of firing and reloading. The reloading takes quite a while in several cases - quite long enough to be a major problem if it happens during a fire-fight. As far as I can tell, you have no control over when this occurs, apart from simply wasting ammo to force a reload at a convenient moment.
The first four re-releases are maps by someone called Slaytan. I don't know who uploaded these - either Slaytan himself (though he didn't update his text-files, which you might expect when uploading them 5-8 years after their initial release), or someone else who chose to remain anonymous. Anyway, these four are a real mixed bag:
- Amazing by Slaytan
39kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
Amazing it is certainly not, except as a pun. It is a large featureless maze, with masses of health and ammo. This makes the light sprinkling of monsters no challenge at all. The gameplay consists of finding, at considerable length, three keys and exiting. At least there isn't a teleporter maze though - it looked to me, for one awful moment, like there might be one near the exit. Oops, sorry, that wasn't a very even-handed review. OK, it should appeal to maze fans, and at least the automap works, and the light levels are adequate.
- The GoldMine by Slaytan
57kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
This is by the same guy as Amazing.wad, but it is not maze-based (phew), and overall isn't a bad map. It has some annoying features though: a surplus of damaging sectors, unmarked (or poorly marked) doors, etc. There is little logical flow to the gameplay, and I found myself using a lot of trial and error and backtracking a fair bit. There is again a surplus of health and ammo, but there is at least a moderate challenge, with a cyber and a spider to deal with, and an archie early on. Still, none of this should trouble a moderately experienced Doomer. The biggest threat perhaps comes from the barrels, which are littered about in the main area with the cyber. Once you've dealt with most of the bad guys, there is a less-than-fun sequence of climbing up buildings (or rather structures) and jumping between them. Just as a final smack in the face, a useful teleporter is denied to you just when you'd like to use it to get to the yellow key "door" (it's a part of a wall with a couple of yellowish areas), so you have to go the long way round. Gameplay-wise, it's not a bad adventure though.
- Nexxus by Slaytan
44kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
Another map by Slaytan, but I enjoyed this one. There's plenty of weird stuff, and elements that could easily be regarded as poor mapping (rather plain areas, use of nazis), but it's quite grandiose, and fun. The layout is simple - a large square central area with four smaller areas North, South, East and West of it, and in each area there is something that needs to be done. Don't bother wasting ammo on the cyber - you deal with him in another way. It's easy to die if you tackle the areas in a poor order and are careless, but generally the gameplay isn't too difficult.
- The UnderDark by Slaytan
94kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
The fourth Slaytan wad. It's a bit random in terms of design, but quite a fun map. Plenty of enemies and more than enough ammo and health makes for one-sided slaughter-style gameplay. I needed to use the automap to work out what I was supposed to do with the red key, but otherwise it was clear enough where to go. The exit is reached via a long nukage tunnel, so make sure you have plenty of health before entering it, or else keep an invul (you've got plenty) or rad suit handy.
The three other re-releases were uploaded by me. Just three random maps that have some quality to them and were missing from the archive.
- Fiendish by Steven L. Frantz
79kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
A fun map, and quite challenging. Good and varied battles.
- Mongo II by Bradley Beacham
64kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 1 map -
I suspect the creator of this map has an interest in mathematics, since there are some geometrical figures included, most notably an early iteration of a well-known fractal type (Sierpinski gasket). Quite a difficult map until you know your way around. There are a few too many little passageways, but that doesn't seriously detract from the fun.
- Kill Them All and Let God Sort it Out by Jeffrey J. Martin
361kb - Doom2.exe - SP - 3 maps -
Your first impression of this set of three maps may well be that it is some awful newbie creation. That was certainly my reaction. However, things improve as you go along, and there is some real fun to be had. Map02 is probably the best of the three. There is some overkill here and there, as ideas are developed a little further than they really needed to have been.