Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Plutonia Experiment (PLUTONIA.WAD)


Dario and Milo Casali were already part of TNT's Evilution, sold to id for them to publish as their own. The Casalis sent American McGee a project of theirs and the maps so much impressed the overlords that they contracted them to make another megaWAD, which was to be sold alongside Evilution as the Final Doom package. The rest, as they say, is history. Plutonia has enjoyed a more positive legacy than its sister WAD, being the beneficiary of two unofficial full-replacement sequels and countless imitators. It's thirty-two more maps of Doom II action, but as anyone can tell you, Plutonia is a beast unto itself.


There are two different stories to Plutonia. The official story, as represented in the manual and the intermission strings, involves a MacGuffin in common with the other - the quantum accelerator. It's a device that the UAC builds to counter demonic invasions, and allows them to close at will any portals from Hell. It works at first, but the demons know a bad thing when they see it and send a stronger invasion than the accelerator can stymie. Hell gains the device and retreats within the one portal the accelerator couldn't close. You're the first on the scene and decide that it's now or never, as the longer you wait, the stronger the forces coming out of the last remaining portal are.


I strongly suspect this story was developed after the Casalis handed the megaWAD over to id; the maps, while not strongly evocative of any real story, better reflect the blurb mentioned on Dario Casali's now ancient website. In their imagination, the marine has been sent to a top-secret military installation deep in the jungle to regain lost contact, only to find that the demons have taken it over. The lab had a device – the same quantum accelerator – except this one allows the user to travel to "alternative time periods" (time travel, alternate dimensions, or both?). Hell of course has played with the technology, and you attempt to use it to stop them, except you have no idea where it's going to send you. "All you know is that the evil will have got there first. They're waiting for you..."


Doom II was harder overall than the original Doom. TNT's Evilution was even tougher. Plutonia stands atop them all, with some of the most efficient and memorable fights of any WAD, ever. It's a different kind of map style than Hell Revealed, which would debut a year later and carve out its own niche. A lot of HR is about spectacle - big monsters, big prizes. With a few notable exceptions, the Casalis play a more reserved game. Rarely will you see a level in excess of one-hundred monsters, but you will feel the presence of every one of those enemies. I've often heard it referred to as a "knockabout" style. Some describe it as being more chaotic than what Donner and Niv would popularize a year later, but I don't see that great of a distinction.


Plutonia looks beautiful, with plenty of gorgeous architecture and interesting level layouts, not to mention the glut of brand new textures (grey, brown and green – the iconic Plutonia texture scheme). The one thing it lacks is exemplary lighting. Dario and Milo prefer to work with something more simple. Most of the contrast comes from no-brainers, like shadows from overhangs and the like, and they will use soft glows and things to draw attention to fun stuff. While it never approaches the care of guys like Ola Bjorling and Malcolm Sailor (who would go on to set the new standard), Plutonia doesn't really lose anything. The fact that the battles are well-lit means that fighting your nemeses is just that much less complicated.


There's a good reason why The Plutonia Experiment is loved so much. The reason is that Plutonia is awesome. Sure, it might leave some bruises now and then, but I wouldn't love it if it wasn't a little rough. Thirty two glorious levels for Doom II with new (not to mention good-looking!) textures from two authors whose gameplay predilections compliment each other and create a unified, ball-busting experience. The only thing that would make it better for me would be a brand new soundtrack, courtesy of the man himself, Bobby Prince. As it stands, I'll have to settle with the fine product id was so kind enough to contract the Casalis for.



THE PLUTONIA EXPERIMENT
by Dario and Milo Casali

CongoMAP01
by Milo Casali
Milo lets you know right out of the gate that there's no messing around. Whether it's the two archviles that clue you in or the swarm of revenants that guards the rocket launcher, you'll pick up on it quite quickly. The vaguely Mesoamerican ruins look quite nice, showcasing the expanded Plutonia texture set. I especially like the opening courtyard. Standout encounter for me is the catwalk crossroads to the east, which reveals a couple aerial monsters you're liable to flee from to cover, where a nasty surprise awaits you. An excellent opener.

MAP02Well of Souls
by Dario Casali
A small but tough little offering with a distinctive intro, a lowering water level (the "well") that reveals a few worrying monsters. The level is mostly low key, but there are a few hairy areas, like the corridor of skull switch traps (the end ambush is incredibly deadly) and the gorge fight, which requires a leap of faith while you dodge cacodemon fireballs and revenant rockets. The rocket launcher is conspicuously absent, despite the presence of ammunition. It would help in some of the long distance fights, but you can make do with the given SSG.

AztecMAP03
by Milo Casali
The most recognizable features of this ruin map are the curved hallways that allow revenant rockets to trail you with ease. I doubt you'll be focused on the skeletons, though. Health is at a premium and you'll want to conserve your rockets for handling the level's two archviles as there is no SSG to get you by. The nastiest of these dudes pops up on the lower of two platforms. You have to step on the spot he was standing on and then race up the staircase before he incinerates you. My favorite room / encounter is the four-way arachnotron crossfire with pain elementals on the sides, which sports a crystal sector trick for the ethereal bridge.

MAP04Caged
by Dario Casali
This is a dangerous map in the dark metal style, with restricted player movement. You'll find yourself open to a nasty sort of crossfire while traversing the caged catwalks that criss-cross the level. Thankfully the weapons and ammo are bountiful if you can be bothered to glance around for them. Most of the action is dodging fireballs until you get yourself situated. My favorite single encounter is actually optional (I think?), but it nets you the rocket launcher. You get to take on a pack of barons with limited safe ground as most of the floor is nukage, but hey, rockets!

Ghost TownMAP05
by Milo Casali
A little Hellish village with an interesting layout. It's bi-symmetric from the northwest to the southeast, with the central section bi-symmetric from northeast to the southwest. It's one of those levels where you have to fight to catch your breath, under assault the moment you leave the entrance area cocoon. If you're not ducking bullets, you're dealing with nasty spots like the dual archviles to the northwest by the organic tunnel, or the surprise Spiderdemon to the southeast, which is most likely the level's most memorable reveal.

MAP06Baron's Lair
by Dario Casali
A little blowout from Dario in that cool brown / gray Plutonia style. You get all your weapons at the start (don't forget!) and then fight your way through four different chambers. The first, to the west, is the standout by far, with successive instances of revenants, mancubi, and then arachnotrons to fight through. The pain elementals might be a little worrying, but the only other bit of comparable difficulty is the final room, with a pack of skeletons to kill with a Cyberdemon duel as a topper. Really like the architecture here.

CaughtyardMAP07
by Dario Casali
Short but sweet, beginning on a little island prison before you can roam around the crater, killing all the arachnotrons. It's not too tough except for getting rid of the wave of monsters that starts knocking around the ramparts, and I guess the teleporting archvile could come as a bit of a surprise. Best encounter is at the start, clearing the monsters on the ground floor so you have some semblance of safety.

MAP08Realm
by Milo Casali
Another cool brick and stone level that reuses the hook from "Well of Souls", except this one reveals the entrance to a fortress instead of a network of caverns. There are a few really tricky fights, the first of which is the northern chamber, where wrangling pain elementals and hell knights is a must before you jump into the water with the lowly zombies. After that, the final battle is the nastiest, requiring the utmost precision to block archvile blasts while you kill them and their skeletal guardians as fast as possible. Not too fond of the damage floor room, which feels more gimmicky than anything else.

AbattoireMAP09
by Milo Casali
A lot of great architecture in this underground slaughterhouse. Starts you off right quick with the SSG, a huge timesaver, and moves on to a series of pitched battles. First is the "Abattoire" itself, made simpler with the inclusion of a plasma rifle and invul sphere. Then there's a cluster of imps waiting for you in the main hall when you return with the blue and yellow keys. Finally, the very nasty finale, where you'll want to exercise careful use of cover as you run a tight ring track with commandos in the background and four mancubi in the corners backed by skeletal valets. You're gonna catch Hell, but it's pretty fun.

MAP10Onslaught
by Dario Casali
Something a little tougher in a techbase / ruins hybrid. You spend a looong time running with the plain shotgun and it slows much of the map's pace to a crawl, especially that first bit with the revenants, cacodemons, mancubi and arachnotrons. Afterward you're ducking hell knights in the tunnels desperately looking for something to use those rockets with, and you'll find something, but shortly after it's off to the main event. You have to contend with two archviles that are tricky to duck followed by a nasty teleport ambush...not that you can't just wait it out in the bunker or outside, where you'll finally get your sawed-off killing stick.

HuntedMAP11
by Dario Casali
The simplest level in Plutonia and yet, for the inexperienced, it's one of the most harrowing. The only enemies in this level are archviles, and you have to fight them in a maze where you exert no direct control over the doors. They're all walkover triggers and what line goes to which door isn't always clear. What you do get is a SSG and enough ammo to off every last one of the hateful suckers. The ending is a binary save or die situation, but you exit no matter which choice you make. You'll just be in a bad spot if you're playing with carryovers. Excellent concept map.

MAP12Speed
by Milo Casali
One of the nastiest maps from Plutonia is almost entirely wood, except for the blood that pours from between the sideboards into the floor of each chamber. Dealing with the killer crossfire in each of the multi-tiered rooms is bad enough, but then you've got to off the red key guardian at some risk to yourself, and the final sequence of fights leading to the exit will have most players scrambling for some sense of sanity. Commandos peek in from every window and between the several archviles and revenants, you'll have your hands full. A low health total makes the final approach, a warp to a mostly inaccessible chaingunner alcove, practically suicide, but you can pull it off with a clever BFG blast. Hectic...but satisfying.

The CryptMAP13
by Milo Casali
Short but cool ruins level that starts out with a bang in a four mancubus crossfire in tight quarters. The eastern castle area isn't that rough as long as you grab the ammo behind the western key door and take your time, though the commando squad may come as a bit of a surprise. The true challenge comes in the finale with two courtyard battles. One is designed to drive you into the warm embrace of the archviles, while the other (some pain elementals and another sorcerer) will slay you dead if you're caught off-guard. The one thing missing, of course, is a plasma rifle, in spite of the cells scattered about.

MAP14Genesis
by Dario Casali
Another quick but rowdy offering from Dario, this one occurring on a series of walkways raised out of the toxic blood that forms the map's lowest level. The main courtyard is very dagnerous, with entrenched commandos and revenants, but if you're quick you should be able to grab the SSG and then leg it over to the rocket launcher without suffering any serious harm. The standout fight is the northeastern room's trap, which reveals an L-shaped ledge of enemies you have to fight through to get to the switch that raises the walkways. Nice economy of design, there.

The TwilightMAP15
by Milo Casali
Back to the dark metal style for one of the roughest levels in the set, which can be summed up in one word: commandos. It shares a lot of the architecture of "Caged", but the galleries of commandos paired up with limited movement space and a few nasty ambushes means that secrets are practically a necessity, especially the number of jumps to get to the invul artifact. The worst instance by far is the atrium, with two corners of two commandos reviving courtesy of untouchable archviles, plus the one that teleports to revive the zombies in between. The stickiest bits are making it through the eastern passage to the yellow key (a lot easier if you snag a plasma rifle) and making it past the Spiderdemon and mobs of enemies in the final area. Look for every edge you can get; this whole level is chaingunner poison.

MAP31Cyberden
by Dario Casali
Cyberden is advertised as the second-hardest level of the set, but unless you really suck at killing Cyberdemons, you should be good. You run around in the ominously-deserted beige brick arena, gathering up ammo and flipping switches that unlock new sections of the level, guarded by Cybies. They're easily handled between the rocket fire and shotgun shells you have. You'll have a harder time killing the hidden archviles near the first switch or the two hordes of revenants that mark the finale. Good, clean fun, though after the second Cyberdemon, I've about had enough. I suppose you could always slink around and leave one or two for the end...

Go 2 ItMAP32
by Milo Casali
If Plutonia has a single most well-known level, it's probably this one, in the minds of some the classic slaughtermap. A modification of Doom II's MAP01 (the layout of "Entryway" features as the level's core), "Go 2 It" has an assortment of the most dangerous monsters available. The only Doom regular to make an appearance is the lowly baron, and at the level's finale. Most of your play time is managing crowds of revenants, archviles and arachnotrons in tight spaces while dodging projectiles. "Go 2 It" isn't very difficult if you take your time; the trick is in doing things fast. The worst scenarios for me tended to be the two outdoor ambushes, particularly the one with the nest of archviles ringed by arachnotrons and backed by two Cybers. It's a lot of fun. I couldn't really pick out a standout encounter. Maybe that revenant reveal in the outdoors...?

MAP16The Omen
by Milo Casali
A mostly outdoors map in dark grey rock with mostly non-toxic green sludge to prance through. Most of the level's action is centered around a few notable ambushes, particularly the blue key (my favorite), which showers revenants and mancubi upon you. It's difficult to maneuver through the playing area (stumps abound) so you may be inclined to wait it out in an alcove to set your enemies up for some rocketeering. The red key trap is also pretty tricky, putting you between a rock and a hard place. The final room looks incredibly annoying but if you've been economical with your cells, it's elementary. I like the look of this map, especially the yellow key room and exit.

CompoundMAP17
by Dario Casali
Short tech / ruin hybrid where the main gimmick is navigating through the nukage that floods most of the level. The opening is a neat little touch, where you have to endure the poison until you can grab your rad suit and weapon and make it to the main area, where you reach the different sections via a #-shaped catwalk. The combat is subdued except for the finale, which pits you against a horde of imps with a few tough nuts mixed in that you'll want to save your rockets for. The yellow key grab is a clever, sneaky trap. Very nice.

MAP18Neurosphere
by Milo Casali
An enterprising rewrite of Doom II's "The Inmost Dens", except it's blood instead of water. Also, MAP14 didn't start you in the middle of a nasty crossfire with a horde of imps sporadically teleporting into your personal space. "Neurosphere" never really lives up to the action of its jolting beginning, but that's okay, because it's fun enough replaying the geometry that makes the level tricky to navigate. All those chaingunner pillars can't ruin the day. The only detail I find weird is the complete lack of a rocket launcher in spite of all the boom laying around.

NMEMAP19
by Milo Casali
My initial experience with this map some two years ago was not good. I have considerably softened my stance, to say the least. It's several disparate areas connected by teleporters. Like "The Omen", it's atmospheric wandering while killing some few zombies with the lulls punctuated by super fast and super lethal teleport traps. For the uninitiated, this will play more like Dragon's Lair than Doom, with encounter after encounter you can't really react to until you've already died to it. I'm thinking mostly of that blind teleport trap near the end. The middle one with the huge bunch of revenants is my personal favorite fight.

MAP20The Death Domain
by Dario Casali
A tight little Hell fortress with a very nasty beginning. You have to duck arachnotron plasma and commando bullets and dodge into the considerably safer sewers or you won't have much of a chance. From there on the gameplay is more claustrophobic, sporting mostly SSG dancing. The highlight is an open fight vs. four barons that blink around the balcony they're on, often ending up behind you. The pits of revenants is another nice hook, though not at all that threatening (unless you're trying to blitz through the map!). Good stuff.

SlayerMAP21
by Milo Casali
Very tight map that draws from Doom II's "Circle of Death". It has an exposed beginning but at least has the courtesy of giving you a ton of guns and ammo. The biggest trial you'll undergo involves careful handling of the pain elementals that are let out sporadically and which will drive up the monster count. The only other battle that really registers to me is the huge end of level teleporter rush which can be beaten back with rocket launcher suppression fire. Still, if you can't dodge a revenant rocket in a wide hallway, you'll be feeling the pain. My favorite feature is the temporary walkway that raises up for you to grab the red key and which promptly recedes when its job is done.

MAP22Impossible Mission
by Dario Casali
Dario switches things up with a classic-looking sewer level, with the exception of the outdoor areas to the northeast and northwest. It's a bit larger than the usual fare and has a lot of cascading nukage that keeps things looking fresh. Standout encounter is to the northwest, with a collapsing bridge and a ton of monsters you'll be scrambling to survive against, most notably a few angry-looking pain elementals and a staircase layered with skeletons. The monstrous baron platform is a cool visual if pretty boring to deal with. Apart from the sewer section, the one thing that comes to my mind with this level is the tiny maze to the north with the false walls hiding chaingunners.

TombstoneMAP23
by Milo Casali
"Tombstone" is one of Plutonia's largest levels, fielding in excess of 200 monsters to begin with. It's got kind of an OG Doom arrangement, with most of the monster arrangements looking more incidental than carefully staged. Enemies have a pretty good chance of getting the drop on you as you stir up trouble in several different directions; the deadly opening is perhaps the best example of this phenomena. While you're carefully mopping up the enemy forces, be on the lookout for the standout encounter, a big reveal with a ton of skeletons and two archviles. Also, be careful with the liquid floors; some are damaging while others are not.

MAP24The Final Frontier
by Dario Casali
A very short but jam-packed level in the style of "The Living End", that is to say a huge underground cavern with toxic blood as the ground floor, and most of the action taking place on the ledges on the edges of the chambers. In spite of all the land-bound dangers, including several archviles, the biggest threats to your safety are the packs of pain elementals and cacodemons that crop up here and there, and dodging Cyberdemon rockets along that southern stairwell leading up to the commando bunker. The secrets really make the level go by smoothly. You certainly won't die for lack of ammo.

The Temple of DarknessMAP25
by Milo Casali
Milo busts out some of the rarely-seen Hellish textures for some of the outdoor sections of this level. It has a sedate opening, exploring some infernal trenches before you reach the temple entrance. Then things get really nasty, starting off with the hell knight / baron battle in a really tight space, followed by the outdoor brick area, where you're backed by a half-circle of sergeants. The topper is the red key trap, which leaves you high and dry facing pockets of commandos and some mancubi roaming around in the lava below. I like the look of the Hellish segments and the main yard with the sergeants is a fun place to die.

MAP26Bunker
by Dario Casali
This is a fairly large underground techbase. Well, it's actually a bunker built into a cavern system. It's one of the few maps that starts you off wondering just where all the ammo is, so as you're scrambling around for shells, you're ducking imps, sergeants, cacodemons, and rougher enemies on your way to some kind of solid ground. The bunker comes under assault at several points during ordinary play; the monsters do their own thing once they land on the map, so you're never 100% sure where all the baddies have wandered off to as you hunt through the exterior tunnels. The assault on the balcony overlooking the level exit is my favorite, a prime moment for suppression fire laid down by rockets.

Anti-ChristMAP27
by Milo Casali
Another "The Living End" level, except that this has way more nasty fights in it. The opening battle, for instances, forces you to run around the pain elementals to gather essential ammo and armaments before you can actually start fighting in earnest. You'll also let loose several packs of fliers, the worst being a horde of pain elementals fronted by barons after grabbing the blue key, which has quite a rough ambush itself. When all's said and done, you have to do a deadly dance with a Spiderdemon to reach the exit. If you can keep it distracted long enough, the bookcase right behind it is the perfect bit of cover. Oh; watch out for those self-replenishing commando pillars.

MAP28The Sewers
by Dario Casali
Dario's final level in the set is a huge sewer complex that is nonetheless very straightforward to navigate. The playing area is divided into four different wings, accessed by a crossroads of sorts in the level's center. The combat is less incidental; rather, you roam the mostly empty sewers until you trigger some kind of massive attack from the hordes Hell bent on your destruction. All of the fun stuff happens once you enter the northwestern area, with the cistern fight, the arachnotron crawl, and then the last ditch invasion by the monsters when you're boxed in. The finale is a surreal battle vs. a teleporting archvile and his revenant cubbyhole guardians. Great architecture, great fights... I love it!

Odyssey of NoisesMAP29
by Milo Casali
Another atypical entry from the Casalis. This is a city map reminiscent of Doom II's "Downtown", except it's really big and has a couple of huge, dangerous craters. It might be a little too expansive; that row of buildings to the west feels superfluous and the map feels deserted in spite of the enemies you see lurking in the windows. Still, I like the way it looks and plays. Milo unleashes enemies into the map on three separate occasions when you complete objectives, and if you don't hear them wake up, they'll probably sneak up on you quick-wise. Honestly, the Cyberdemon is an ultimately unimpressive feature as the only time he presents a danger is when you're going for the red key. I'd rather have had one or two galumphing around the city blocks. Still, a great level.

MAP30The Gateway to Hell
by Milo Casali
So, you get all your guns and then suffer through a few slightly tricky firefights. Then you step forward to deal with the commandos and end up opening the rest of the arena. You have to eliminate the Cyberdemon before you can eliminate the Icon, which can (and probably will) be accomplished by some good ol' BFG zerging. After that, you just have to know the right time to fire your rocket and all will be well. A pretty hectic finale, worthy of Plutonia.

STRICTLY PLUTONIC


This project is part of a series on id's
ICONS OF SIN
DoomHeretic
(Thy Flesh Consumed)(Shadows of the Serpent Riders)
Doom IIHexen: Beyond Heretic
Master Levels for Doom II(Deathkings of the Dark Citadel)
Final DoomChex Quest
TNT: EvilutionThe Plutonia ExperimentStrife: Quest for the Sigil
Console DoomThe Wraith Corp MegaWADs
Doom 64Perdition's GateHell to Pay
No Rest For the LivingHACX

9 comments:

  1. Very nice review. While Evilution was okay, Plutonia was the main highlight of Final Doom. A little question about the author credits, though. Was this what the Casalis confirmed? I could have sworn from the design style that MAPS08, 13, and 25 were by Dario, and MAP28 by Milo. I still consider MAP24 by Dario, though, since there's a resemblance to Memento Mori's Map 24. Anyway, Thanks for reviewing the Final Doom duology megawads. They were fun to read.

    T-Rex

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    1. I used the list GhostlyDeath received from Dario, then integrated into the wiki. It may not be 100% accurate after 15+ years, as earlier interviews suggested work was split 50/50, but without otherwise strong proof (the few publically available levels not being foolproof for stylistic determination) I'm comfortable using the given info. If there are any errors, they're probably due to Dario not remembering making a specific map and just assuming Milo did it.

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    2. Okay, not a problem. Just brought it up because I notice that both brothers have their own mapping styles. Milo's maps have curvy corridors and circular areas, while Dario has some abstract architecture, yet versimilitude thrown in. If you have another playthrough, you'll notice that Map28 looks like a map by Milo as they have curvy corridors and the large circular room shown in the screenshot, and Maps08, 13, and 25, look just like the rest of Dario's creations including his contributions to Evilution and moreso his famed Map23 for Requiem.

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    3. Since you referred HR, I do agree there's a difference between Donner and Niv's megawad and Plutonia. HR focused on nasty fights with armies of heavyweight monsters while Plutonia relied on sneaky traps and sadistic monster placement to be as brutally challenging as it is. Regardless, fans will continue to compare both megawads together, and there's no doubt that both Plutonia and HR paved the way for future megawads like AV, Scythe, and Kama Sutra, which make usage of their gameplay idioms.

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  2. Plutonia has always been my favorite ID Software-licensed IWAD to play. I find almost every level to be enjoyable. Plus even if not every area is beautiful, it's almost never an eyesore to look at. And finally the challenge level, while still short of some modern classics, is easily the closest to what many of today's wads offer.

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  3. And also even considering the lack of new game content, Plutonia has always made me frown to any review concluding that Final Doom is not worth it. I consider Plutonia to be just as much a wad every Doom fan should experience as I do the numerous classic free megawads from over the years and decades. And then factor in 1996: there weren't even many great megawads available for free. I don't think any other contemporary freeware megawads except the MM's (and those are good for very different reasons to boot) can hold a candle to what Plutonia delivers.

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    1. more importantly getting any freeware megawad was a pain in the ass back then, let alone something with plutonia's polish

      haters gonna hate tho

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  4. Oh, jeez, NME. You know, that map reminds me quite a bit of E2M1, Demios Anomaly. I think it's the use of teleports, the way you start in a vaguely L-shaped corridor terminating in an overlook over a toxic pool you must skip across, and the overall dark hellbase theme.

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    1. i think at least one member of the community commented that plutonia was more or less doom and doom ii rearranged, and while i dont think thats purely teh case he does have a pretty good point

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