Demon of the Well
On the whole, Unholy Realms is a consistently enjoyable mapset, which wears a lot of its influences on its sleeve, the most notable of course being the original Scythe, also known for its small-but-formidable runaround-based gameplay. Now, vis-a-vis some of my forthcoming comments, it may be worth mentioning that it's really Scythe II and not the original (or Scythe X) that is "The" Scythe in my eyes, but I do appreciate a lot of things about the original, and many of those same things can be readily found in UR.
Perhaps chief among them, this mapset demonstrates that neither monster spam nor lack of elbow room nor scarcity of health/ammo supplies are necessary to create legitimately challenging gameplay. Now, for my part, I have no problem with periodic stints of slaughter-style play, occasional claustrophobia, or the survivalist/supply-miser styles, and UR does dip its toes into each of these pools at brief moments throughout its expanse, but for the most part it creates danger through pure and simple monster deployment; I think the fact that the WAD plays smoothly both when it's operating on a trap-centric basis (much of E1) and when it takes a more incidental multi-directional projectile-hell approach (much of E2) indicates that Snakes, like Alm before him, knows how to use the different monsters' attributes to give the player a workout, no clearer than in E3, which switches from trap-heavy to runaround play on the fly.
It's not simply a Scythe clone, though; it has attributes that set it apart from its influences and indeed, from a lot of other contemporary WADs. The best of these, I think, is the way it marries playstyle with thematics. Of course, most full megaWADs feature three (or more) general paradigm shifts in aesthetic style over their expanses, and UR does as well, indeed in a highly traditionalist way--it starts out in tech/earthbases, moves on to earthly settings in the middle of being subverted by Hell's influence, and then on to full Hell itself. And of course, most megaWADs naturally tend to be most difficult in their later stages, and least in the early stages, and again this is true of UR. But UR also quietly associates particular playstyles with particular aesthetics--techbases with traps, clash-of-realities with fast-paced sandboxery, and Hell a sinister marriage of the former two with a dash of resource austerity--which is not at all common in most megaWADs, past or present. These gameplay/setting associations greatly enhance the normally anemic 'episodic' feel of the 32-sequential-maps format, and help keep the WAD feeling fresh throughout, important considering that the author does have a pretty set-in-stone architectural/visual style.
On that point, I would say that aesthetics are probably UR's low point, though of course that's a relative term. It is by no means characteristically tacky or unpolished in appearance, with only a relatively small number of really ugly spots (mostly the rainbow-nightmare symptoms that show up in some of the earlier maps), but it is perhaps a mite too persistently understated and internally consistent for my taste. Again, it's kind of like the original Scythe in that the compact/efficient nature of the layouts tends to sacrifice very little function to form, and so there's not much room for grand spectacle, and a lot of the same types of shapes tend to appear over and over (in this case it's smaller boxes inside of larger boxes). One of the side-effects of this is that there's not as much thematic distinction as one might expect between E2 and most of E3 (though this is an area where the work of the guest mappers certainly helps out); the most visually distinctive part of the mapset is probably the odd Plutonic-Deimos bit that appears after the first text intermission and before the second. I was also a bit disappointed that E3 generally didn't do a lot visually with the Inferno/Sins theme; I'm fine with using my imagination to fill in the gaps here (in fact that's something I like about Doom in general), but there is some part of me that wishes I'd been given a little more to work with in this regard, as most of E3 consists of quite standard (though competently wrought) Hell themes. I found the music to be a very mixed bag; some of it I quite liked (particularly the calmer, more atmospheric stuff that characterized a lot of the second half of E1, and the first track in E3), and some of it I found overbearing by dint of being both very loud/insistent and very repetitive.
But all of that's a pretty passing concern, because as I said, in this case the efficient/simple construction style does suit the gameplay it hosts just fine in most cases. Overall UR is quite a consistent mapset; there were no maps in it that really bugged or bored me, just a small handful that seemed just a little below the set average in one way or another (03, 05, 15, 20, 32), and a good time to be had in the rest. Favorite maps, in no particular order:
1. Map 11 -- Death
2. Map 17 -- Missing Gamma Sector
3. Map 22 -- Halls of Fallen Undesired (Lust)
4. Map 14 -- Drifting Complex
5. Map 29 -- Snakeskin Treachery (Wrath)
Lots of honorable mentions here--09, 10, 26, 27, 28, etc.--which bespeaks the aforementioned consistency of the mapset. Once again, good work Snakes & co., thanks for making Unholy Realms.
As for Zone 300, I reckon I've already said most of what I have to say about it as a whole. But, to reiterate, I'll say that it's essentially 'Diet PCorf'--not only in terms of portion size, but in terms of its depth and richness, as well. While I stand by my earlier assessment that the 300 line restriction here doesn't seem to have been very relevant in influencing anything but overall mapsize (it hardly seems a legitimate 'restriction' at all in PCorf's case), the biggest issue is simply that the WAD has a very pronounced case of 'quantity over quality.' Some might find it impressive that Paul created this whole thing in about a month's time; for my part, I say that taking more time and releasing a more balanced/consistent product would've been a much more impressive achievement. So much of this is disjointed or phoned-in....and what's frustrating about it is that I know PCorf can do better--much better, even--when he chooses to. He's a veteran mapper that's been doing this for years and years, and has some memorable maps under his belt, and so it's difficult for me to see most of this as anything but the product of a passing fancy to tag along with a community mini-trend. About the best I can say for it is that I did genuinely like several of the music tracks, and it does seem to get a little more consistent in its last third, with maps 23, 27, and 29 probably being the three maps I complimented most, but on the whole I found it entertaining/interesting only very sporadically. Can't say I can really relate to most of the high praise it has received, sadly.
Last edited by Demon of the Well on Nov 1 2013 at 07:07