CAFEBRK1.WAD: Coffee Break Episode 1 by Matt Tropiano
I've played a fair few MegaWADs over the years. While it's tempting to assume that a 32-map monster WAD is where most of the fun is to be had in Doom's copious range of fan-made addons, it would be doing many good map authors a disservice to ignore single and "episodic" map packs only because they somehow appear to offer "potentially less" gameplay.
A few days ago I reviewed a couple of standout single WADs, this time I took on Coffee Break which is an 11-map "episode" that's been brewing since 2009. Matt says he decided to release this as is, despite not having a full 32 mapset (his original intention), and it was a damned good thing he did. This is one of the better episodes I've had the pleasure of playing.
Highlights include Map 4 "Toxic", set in a dingy waste processing facility. Featuring a claustrophobic crossroads / hub structure with the usual keycard-locked doors surrounding a central area. In this central area are two conveyor belts pushing toxic barrels, this is one of those cool map features that not only serve to give the player the impression that they are indeed running around a dangerous waste facility, it is tremendously useful in the opening fight!
Map 5 "Control" goes for a more open-plan design, initially challenging the player with multi-directional battles with imps and sergeants and only a minigun to fight with. Starting in a typical base room, the player is then thrust in an outside area surrounding a central room inaccessible at first. Like all the maps, Control features cunning traps and monsters placed at varying levels making good use of height. One of the greatest aspects of Doom's game-play is the challenge of dealing with fire from various directions and distances. This isn't a case of running forward, shooting and hiding behind cover a-la Call of Duty.
Map 9 "Channel" is another highlight. Starting in a room connected to a monster-strewn outside area, this unusual flash of green is connected to an ochre atrium with some challenging rooms, trickily-placed Revenants, and a fair bit of vertical fighting crossed with some touch-and-go monster traps. The final section takes place in a large stream of water dug into some earthy areas. Here the map introduces some high-level firepower and throws a ton of monsters at you, and I found it easier - and more thrilling - to attempt speed-running this section.
Matt peppers his maps with mini set-pieces such as this, but also with small touches and attention to detail. (The aforementioned conveyor belt room in Toxic houses some cool UAC logo windows, through which falling waste can be seen. Such decoration shows a level of map design that borders on the artistic.) Though the maps are generally small, they don't feel claustrophobic and - particularly due to some appropriately clever and unpredictable monster placement - do not ever feel tedious.
I'm not usually fond of "MegaWADs" where pistol starts are suggested, instead preferring to carry over weapons onto maps that "keep this in mind." But I played Coffee Break like this and it kept up a consistent and steadily growing difficulty (at UV -fast, as always), and gradually more intricate level designs with superb visuals and monster placement. Play it as soon as you can.