dobu gabu maru
MAP22: This map started out very appealing but eventually wore on me over time. It began well enough—moody music, a murky/sunken atmosphere, and nonlinear layout to delve into. I really like the deep blue look of this map and the continuous water theme, as I burst into apartment complexes and wiped out their hellish inhabitants. However, as I pushed along the left side of the map, something became quite apparent—this wasn’t designed to be a proper Doom level. Many of the enemies felt forced in, many of the rooms felt empty and unrewarding, and the map had a strange balance. To the western-most side was a market packed to the brim with ammunition, while all the buildings and facilities in the middle didn’t feel like there was any particular advantage to raiding them—you often lose ammo just fighting their residents.
In some way however, it does create an interesting stage as you’re exploring more realistic households, instead of how every room is strangely riddled with ammunition in every other map. But like the last map, it doesn’t create the most compelling gameplay, instead sacrificing level flow for mimetic architecture. There are a host of other issues I ran into with it, like hell knights that couldn't get out of doors thus clogging up the battle, the lack of the SSG for all of the map, only one distinct location for each of the weapons, the switch hunt, certain chaingunners lying outside of autoaim range, unfairness of six archviles being aggro’d at once, etc., so overall I’m torn on it. Like I said, I like the premise and feel of the map and feel as though it has the best atmosphere out of the entire megawad, but it just didn’t pull its weight in the gameplay section and felt overtly drawn out by the end.
MAP07: I awake to a vast horizon broken by two sharp towers, an assortment of guns aligning the wall and a coiling pit in my stomach—this is it. Unfortunately the midi doesn’t work in ZDoom (or rather, for my save, as IDCLEVing to it seems fine) so I’m left with some very unsettling silence as I pick up my arsenal and proceed to take the elevator up into an arena with HKs standing idly afar from their mechanized overlord. What starts here is only the tip of the iceberg as I descend into the stygian abyss of Magnus.
In all seriousness, this is quite a bitch to get through. Most notably the health is extremely sparse and while there’s plenty of ammo around there’s no end to the innumerable ways one stray missile can ruin your day. There’s not a fight I could tackle cleanly as I crawled my way through the vile complex, abusing saves whenever it struck my fancy (which led to some really tight situations). I’m happy to return from the adventure to confess the entire thing is possible, but it certainly features the most daunting task in the whole episode, cooling off oddly before a very torrid end.
Each battle combines the large scale ferocity of earlier maps with the frequency of the smaller bouts in Vehelits, forcing the player to march on with caution. I’ve always enjoyed how Ribbiks lets the player tackle the key of their fancy first, but the red key potion was far, far more lethal than the blue was. The tunnel section with the cyberdemon presented me with a frightening predicament as I was running out of ammo to fight him, instead having to keep him alive for all phases of its scattered battles which was really difficult to do. That part caused me more grief than anything else in the map besides the infamous finale.
My favorite section was the fight for the blue key, as the initial imp and revenant waves were laughably simple until the archviles decide to play soter and resurrect their fallen sheep. It was fun to deliberate between braving the depths down below or staying up on the mezzanine to rocket the fools from afar, and it didn’t feel nearly as stressful as some of the other encounters despite being tricky to work out. The big slaughter room was the only other fight in the whole map that was oddly relieving, since there was plenty of health, cell, room and a great-super-happy invul waiting for me if things ever got hairy. The arena itself is very impressive, especially once the awe-inspiring glowing chaingunner hive makes its reveal. In the end that room was pretty easily dispatched with (well, in comparison with what is thrown at you), and I skipped merrily through the yellow key door to be met with one more arena.
And oh, the epic fool I was to believe I had braved the worst of it. That finale is Maximum Dumb™ with Archvile overload that becomes laughably impossible when you can’t get them to go the direction you want, and took a solid 20 attempts before I could even get a reliable save in. Afterwards it was just learning where all of them were and how to kill them as quickly as I could, finally pinning it down to just two when I ran out of cell. I ran past the sea of golden corpses to hit the exit button when I saw two foreboding megaspheres and a collection of cell. The ensuring fight from the final switch was truly hellish, resulting in a poor choice of judgment as I darted past the cyber demons to ideally hit the exit button and leave, only finding the panel to lower into the floor. Stuck behind enemy lines I had a series of comical moments as I had to push my way back through the crowd into the pillars with two cyberdemons that seemed to be immune to infighting, focused instead on reducing me to the dust I’ll eventually become.
Despite being mind-numbingly difficult, I actually enjoyed the finale quite a bit, pushing it to my second favorite fight in the map because of the sheer insanity distilled within its design (except for the starting archviles, which I can only explain to myself as Ribbiks’ attempt to map under the influence of cocaine). Magnus certainly is a mighty behemoth to slay in the and, and definitely feels like a culmination of everything you’ve learned dialed up to 10. Oh, and it uh, looks really good too… visually and stuff. Neat towers.
Overall: It has a niche gameplay approach but what Stardate sets out to do it does in spades. While you can argue about whether or not there should’ve been more purple used (I liked it as highlights personally), Ribbiks does best with what he’s most comfortable with, which is creating a batshit RNG experience for the lesser of us and a true test for the dooming gods. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and as Demon pointed out it can wind up feeling guided and contrived at times (especially encountering each battle on your first attempt), but the joy is in tackling something so remorseless and unremitting that you push your own limits just for that one victory all players seek so hard to achieve. That’s why, for me at least, this has been my favorite release of 2013.
Final time was 3:56, but I would argue it took me probably double that. Bravo.