Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Artifact (ARTIFACT.WAD)


Paul Schmitz is a member of a very small school of authors that includes the likes of Jim Flynn, Bob Evans, and Sverre Kvernmo. It's not just the fact that all of them were contributors to Eternal Doom, but all of these people tend to make large levels where navigation and puzzle play is just as strong of an opponent as the monsters you're supposed to be focusing on. Schmitz had his big debut with The Artifact, and he's revisited it several times. The first was for Doom, and the second updated the level for Doom II. For the third, Schmitz went back and substantially reworked every level for the Boom engine on top of using Team TNT's RETRES resource pack, creating an experience that's both familiar and alien at the same time. Since the version linked in Doomworld's Top 100 WADs of All Time was the Doom II version, that's the one I played, and the one this review is focused on.


The story follows hot on the heels of Doom II. You'd think that a person of your talents would get a break for once, but as luck has it, the guy who got you put on Martian detail is your new commanding officer. Can't we forgive a little tiff after saving Earth from eternal damnation? Your first mission turns out to be another job cleaning up after the UAC's fuck-ups, this time in the Andes Mountains. At least it's a little more picturesque than Phobos. Rumor has it that they've uncovered some kind of alien artifact, which led to all the usual stuff like demons, the walking dead, and rampant cannibalism. You would have gotten a brief from the undercover operatives that were waiting for you, but none of them are alive when you get there...


Paul Schmitz was just going to make a single level, but it got so big that it wouldn't save anymore. Consequently, he divided it into three separate but linked levels. During gameplay, you can catch the occasional glimpse into the previous / future map and the exit room of one level is the start room of the next. It really makes for a nice, seemingly seamless playing experience; a coherent Doom minisode, if you will. It's an amalgam of several different themes; tech, ruin, and wilderness intermix early on as you explore your exotic locale. Eventually, the more infernal trappings of Doom begin to creep in, for a finish on the precipice of evil... to be continued in Welcome to Hell.


One of the biggest mentions that Artifact gets is due to Schmitz's "recharge room" idea, featured in MAP01. Apparently some of his friends had difficulty with the beginning map, so he added a number of extraneous passages – marked by the evil eye – in order to facilitate their playthroughs. These bonus areas contain things like health and ammo, but at the cost of sealing off access to some powerful items later on. It's a neat concept, and something that stands in addition to so many optional areas to explore and encounters to experience that completing the level at 100% is quite difficult.


This cryptic atmosphere reaches peak madness in Artifact's final encounter. I love puzzles, but solving them under duress - especially the duress of a boss shooter battle - is likely to end many an adventure, though kudos for persevering so far. For perspective, there's a large, circular platform in the center of the map. It's transparent but it's bounded by a ring of opaque rock. When you run off the edge, you'll be teleported to one of four transparent platforms in the four corners of the map. When you run off the edge of any of these platforms (whose bounds are not so helpfully outlined) you will teleport back to the center platform, which is slowly filling up with demonspawn.


The solution thus involves flipping a switch accessed by one platform which opens a teleporter alcove by another which reveals two more teleporting alcoves, which warp you on top of one of two arrow-shaped sectors. In order to leave, you've got to raise both arrows (pretty easy). Once they've reached their zenith, you can shoot at tiny holes in the wall to which the arrows point. Both holes must be shot in order to raise the exit walkway and open up the teleporter by which you access it, which is located on the ground floor, so don't make the mistake of getting teleported to the central platform again. In retrospect, it's a pretty simple puzzle. The crystal sectors and constantly spawning monsters make it considerably more difficult to intuit, however.


All that aside, I can definitely see why Doomworld picked Artifact as one of its Top 100 WADs of All Time. The end puzzle is quite inventive and Schmitz takes the crystal sector effect beyond its more or less merely decorative beginnings. He's also got some interesting ideas as far as the non-linearity and secret stashes of "Ambush", and "The Artifact" is a nice buffer whose elements take a very progression-oriented route with the raising walkways and clearing the battlements you've accessed. The most important detail I can emphasize is to EXPLORE! No encounter is insurmountable and there's more than enough health and ammo sequestered away to finish the set.





THE ARTIFACT
by Paul Schmitz

AmbushMAP01
You get the shotgun off the bat and are immediately thrust into some hitscanner hell with sergeants and imps all over the place. It's pretty brutal to sort out but there's plenty of health there and elsewhere. This gives way to the sewer slog mentioned in the readme, which is chock full of switches, secrets, and imps. There's a couple of large branches off the sewer area and it's necessary to find one of the secrets in order to get inside the UAC base. Not exactly intuitive but it's clearly mentioned in the .TXT, so I can't fault it. Among the memorable encounters I'd count an entire secret section chock full of zombimen as well as some of the traps, like the cacodemon / hell knight ambush by one of the yellow keys, or the very interesting alternate yellow key ambush. Beware! The first major milestone is the blue key, after which the map really opens up. The earlier blue key is pretty well hidden, for your information, and ties into alternate ways of accessing some of the stronger weapons.

MAP02The Artifact
A very different level that takes place in a winding chasm. There are a series of switches that raise a walkway from the toxic water, allowing you to more safely traverse the ground. There are several distinct sections of the map, including a cavern full of false walls, imps and sergeants; the tiered, marble upper portion of the map, using mostly commandos and shotgunners; and a large, circular pit with a grand staircase that dominates the northwest portion of the map and into which the damaging river spills. Far more care was taken in setting up a pistol start than I originally thought. In fact, after dealing with but one chaingunner, you can access a cache handily setting you up for the rest of the map. Of this level, I particularly enjoy the raising walkway and marble battlements and the alternate routes. There are two ways to access the elevator leading to the upper map section and neither are particularly pleasant, though I'll say that the simpler method is far more direct. There're also a few very clever secrets, like the weapons pedestal. Best of all, there's a jaunt back to a previous area in MAP01, where you can grab that BFG that was tantalizingly out of reach, though don't expect to just walk away with it.

Hell's GateMAP03
Once again, a very different pace. It's a series of epic encounters and architecture that heavily use the "crystal" sector effect first utilized by Leo Martin Lim in Doomsday of UAC. There is an excess of monsters here given your allotted ammo, especially when you're put against sequences like the SSG walkway which introduce you to a very special bullet hell, or the various densely packed forests of shotgun guys and imps. There are a lot of barrels deliberately placed to help you out, though. The two greatest showcases here as aforementioned involve the crystal sector effect, namely the climb in the center of the map and the two jaunts in Hell. The center structure climb is pretty fun and the first Hell room is very evocative of UAC_DEAD, though it's not that clear what the torches outline unless you look at your automap. The second Hell room is a larger issue. It's the final battle, which puts you up against a somewhat obtuse teleporter puzzle and a boss shooter at the same time. You don't have to kill the head, and after awhile the mechanics of the fight are fairly obvious, but I hate to think of the attempts one has to sacrifice in order to earn the solution.

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES!
WELCOME TO HELL!


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's Top 10 WADs of 1995

Fava BeansInfinity
Boothill / A Fistful of DoomH2H-Xmas
The Final GatheringArtifact
Nostromo's RunObituary
The Enigma EpisodeDWANGO5

7 comments:

  1. It's a shame he wasn't able to fit it all into a single map; it could have been comparable to Prower's pair of Spire maps. Still it's a very unique and challenging trio of maps that definitely are not for newcomers to the game. The only fault I had with them was the final battle which, even for an experienced player, I believe is too obtuse to be completed without cheating. I HATE TO CHEAT.

    Anyway, a great and accurate review. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I haven't played Spire yet but I've heard great things about it. The final battle is honestly the only thing I can slag this map for

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  3. I also cheated with NOCLIP because at final part even though I shoot the damn holes, I still get teleported in middle of area with monsters and doesn't let me to get to the exit area. Shame.

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    1. Yeah, it's one of the least graceful final maps I've seen.

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    2. I forgot to mention I played with AEOD 5.29.1 which made it even more frustrating. Now I'm playing through Obituary because you know, I started playing every wad featured in Top 100 and Cacowards section.

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  4. These three maps were re-released (as individual Map01) replacements using the Return Resource pack (so go to themes/TeamTNT/return). It's worth looking at because they're not just straight converts with some Eternal textures; Schmitz appears to actually have revived the layouts & aesthetics themselves too in the meantime. Prepare for more mind-bending puzzles though!

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    1. i realized this when I was retooling the review when i updated the screenshots. The wording of the intro paragraph might imply that I'm ignoring the remakes, but I will eventually get around to playing them. as I recall while doing a quick walkthrough, they were pretty fuckin psychedelic.

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