Thursday, 27 October 2011

Back to Doom

Amongst the slow, slow progress modeling architecture and props for my game project, I've been taking some time to return to playing Doom.

Every so often, I peruse the newest maps or "WAD" releases over at Doomworld. Doom has an enduring simplicity in its gameplay, and vast possibilities allowed by its level design. Fans are still releasing new levels, map packs and addons for it to this day.

Paired with a "source port" such as GZDoom which adds many useful features to the game such as high video resolutions, mouse-look and various graphical improvements, Doom continues to make for a compelling and satisfying sci-fi action thriller of a game. Certainly there aren't any FPSs being released any more where you can expect - shock horror - more than one enemy on screen at once? Let alone two or more of different types.

So, here are the map packs I've been playing lately.  I'd highly recommend taking a look, there's more fascinating level design in one Doom level than there could ever hope to be in five hours of Call of Duty.

UNLOVED by BlueEagle

Author BlueEagle cites Silent Hill as an influence upon this staggeringly well designed map set.  You wake up - as you do - in your bedroom, only to find that things aren't as they should be.  Unable to leave your house, you find an eldritch-looking entrance to a gothic dungeon, infested with critters that must be put to rest, with haste!

Unloved exudes Lovecraftian, gothic bleakness from every pore.  The "house" is designed as a hub, though progression is linear until you have all the keys necessary to open the final door.  I've been assaulted from all corners, distances, and often in enclosed spaces.  Upside-down studies, corridors resembling decrepit hostel halls, crumbling artifices and evil forests packed with corpses that come to life to fight you.

And the great thing is, BlueEagle is currently producing the sequel!  Unloved does suffer from "key/switch/door-hunt" syndrome (some might call "Hexen syndrome"), but it is tremendously well balanced, even quite possible to play through on UV difficulty using "fast monsters" (a special option to further push the difficulty of the game).

Top marks, thoroughly imaginative and simply great fun.

Here is a video playthrough.

LUNATIC by Skillsaw

Skillsaw seems to be a relatively recent addition to the Doom fanbase, but that hasn't diminished his impact on the scene.  I've only played this one map pack by him so far, but it's up there with the likes of Scythe.

As the title and screenshot hint, this map pack takes place on the surface of the moon, though this is mixed with a few tech bases.  Combine the relatively unique (in the Doom world) scenario with expertly-placed monsters, absolutely gorgeous visuals, and near-perfect difficulty pacing, and you have some top quality Dooming.

There's some clever secrets, interiors are well-mixed with exteriors, and the finale is a healthy challenge which I shan't give away, but is a fitting end to the pack.

There were one or two moments where UV / fast monsters made the maps a touch too difficult without a bit of crafty quick-saving.  If it gets to this point then I feel like I'm having to cheat to continue, but thankfully Lunatic doesn't quite tip into the realms of the unfair.

Deserves a Cacoward, highly recommended.

Here is a video playthrough.

NO REST FOR THE LIVING by Russell Meakim and Richard Heath of Nerve Software

This is an additional 9 levels available when one buys Doom 2 on the XBOX 360 live arcade, so I cannot link to a download here.

Unlike the previous two map packs, No Rest For The Living is an official Doom release!  The first commercial map pack since Final Doom was released in 1996.  Also unlike many fan-made maps, it is also resolutely "vanilla" in appearance.  This certainly isn't a negative and, if anything, speaks volumes of the visual diversity capable with the Doom engine.

Enemy placement is perfect, the gradual difficulty curve is well-placed, and the levels exude that classic Doom-ness (a proper technical term, dontchaknow?), where you'll find yourself in tech bases, green marble hellrooms and dingy, eldritch pits fighting off enemies from every direction and often many of them at once.  There are tons of secrets, too.  No Rest steps out of the vanilla Doom tropes on occasion though, with some excellent outdoor stone / dirt "canyon" areas with imps and arachnotrons sniping at you from the distance, while you dance with nearby revenants and demons.  Another example of the tremendous diversity Doom's gameplay is capable of presenting the player.

It's just a shame there's rather too little of it.  Russell and Richard should consider producing further maps, and preferably available for the PC in some official and legal capacity, please!

Here is a video playthrough.