Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Return to Phobos (RETURN01.WAD)

If the original Doom has given us anything, it's the basis for a bajillion episode replacements. The perennial favorite, Knee Deep in the Dead, has inspired most of them, rivaled only by Thy Flesh Consumed, likely since that wasn't part of the initial release. Return to Phobos is an Episode One replacement circa '94 from Michael Kelsey. Kelsey was the author of what many consider to be Doom's first "serious" level, STONES. RETURN delivers on the promise of early forays with the editor to produce a nice selection of early but playable Doom levels with a mostly Phobos-like texture scheme.

The plot: in what is obviously an event after the events of Doom, the marine is suffering from nightmares, fighting the hordes of hell over and over again. Each time he wakes up in bed, takes some aspirin for his worries, and retires again to more phantasms. On this particular occasion, however, he isn't dreaming about Phobos as it was. It's another nightmare, and everything's different. There's some pains made to explain his texturing decisions and lack of Satanic iconography. Some distinctly non-Phobos elements creep in, though, like green marble and red rock.

Kelsey uses the whole gamut of normal Doom monsters, shying away from the big bads. There's plenty of lost souls and a few cacos and of course barons. It's mostly KDitD, though. His design choices are, in a word, interesting. Kelsey tends to favor a more freestyle and non-linear form of map. You can typically locate the exit about 1/3 of the way through exploring. The rest is finding monsters and secrets. It's a little disorienting and a little labyrinthine, but given that it's up to you to explore the rest of the levels, I'm up for it. Every now and then you just have to throw up your hands, though, and hit the switch.

On the whole, I think I prefer Fava Beans in terms of pure E1 style replacements, and despite my misgivings the Serenity trilogy kicks out some excellent and memorable moments. Return to Phobos is well worth playing, though. It's better than so many other '94 WADs with none of the goofiness. If you're looking for the cream of the crop, well, here it is.

by Michael Kelsey

Techbase with some sewer and some interesting lifts. The switches on the raised lifts being needed to open up the other half of the level kind of threw me. I liked the soul sphere secret and the chaingun secret stash. Also thought the opening onslaught of Imps in the pool of blood was very clever, insofar as there's a lift causing them to pop out of the blood like they're emerging from the drink. If only the lift sound and teleport sound weren't so ubiquitous... All in all, some clever bits.

Very confusing techbase level with loads of secrets and side paths. It's also very neat, with a crusher trap and the mess in the southeastern portion of the level very nice for gameplay. The puzzles are a little arcane, though, and I couldn't get the exit bridge to raise after a half hour of running around. Some very clever secrets, especially the goodies in the entrance room. Finally, it's a bit harder than E1M1, but still not that hard, with the barons making a first appearance.

Huge emphasis on tech tunnels a la OG E1M2. The tunnels aren't nearly as atmospheric but they're okay, filled with barrels and zombimen. The normal exit route doesn't even involve the tunnel, really. The secret exit even manages to bypass a good 1/3 of the level, which takes place in a more marble/wooden area. The secret puzzle is kind of clever. I'd say the marble zone is the most distinct area of the map, much better looking than the tech tunnels.

Interesting and kind of tough until you get the big bonuses. You can see the more sinister aspects of Doomguy's nightmares bearing through, like the Hell cavern in the northern section of the map presaged by the faux mine, or all the blood sluices that link the areas on the western side. The lost souls boiling out of the barrel at the end of the level is a nice touch. No real standout moment except for maybe the Hell cavern.

Wow! Found a no-name exit after killing less than half of the demonspawn? It's like after finding the exit you're on a free roam to find all the monsters and keys. I couldn't even find the red key and I'm kind of bored with trying to figure it out. Each area here has a distinct flavor and there's some really cool ideas like the raised marble platform maze or the Hell room in the southern portion of the map. My only complaint, and it's starting to seem more like an intentional mapping style, is how free-range these levels seem. After finding the exit, which won't take that long, you end up clearing the rest of the level, which brings Doom back to its intentionally arcade roots, going for max kills.

More straightforward than any of the levels thus far. The highlight is the appearance of the “Frustration” door trick from Memento Mori II, its mechanics completely transparent this time. When you approach each door, you will hear a crusher in the background, and, well, I won't spoil the magic here. Otherwise it's all techbase with three major sights. There's a large, central blue-line room, a series of towers connected by staircases that forms a sort of chambered maze, and a huge facade on the eastern side that's interesting purely as monolithic architecture. The action is okay and the use of lost souls in the tower maze is a great way to keep the player on his or her toes. Plus the demons actually use the stairs here!

Very straightforward. Well, more or less. Techbase with green marble and some red brick. Starts out in a nice firefight and has a switch-heavy section where you unleash several packs of demons on you, not that they're a huge threat. There's also a nice outdoor area. The lost soul troughs near the red key door kind of drag that section out but it's not like they're a huge hassle. Really what I love is that the abundance of ammo DEMANDS unnecessary force. Once you get the plasma rifle, never look back. I also like the construction of the red key switch, it's rather neat.

Massive but no really distinct places. The only locations that stand out in my mind are the nukage tunnels with the plasma rifle and the bridge over, again, nukage, with the baron. It's vast, with high ceilings. It's not especially bland, it's just not that noteworthy. It's a little tougher though. I should also mention the goofy teleporter puzzle located just off the southern lift.

Four times the barons. Could really use a few more rockets, though. As it stands, get ready to juke and shotgun. It's decent as a boss showdown map, with some interesting iconography in the center to make things a bit more ominous. Certainly not the worst E1M8 I've ever played.



This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's Top 10 WADs of 1994

Crossing AcheronAliens TC
Doomsday of UACGalaxia
The Unholy TrinityReturn to Phobos
Slaughter Until DeathThe Evil Unleashed


  1. The E1M2 bridge worked pre-1.666 apparently. See .

  2. Ahhh, I figured it had to be an engine error as the various .txts in the .zip hinted at various states of compatibility, but this seals it. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Very polished look and feel to these levels with some exciting action. There wasn't many times I felt lost and forced to wander the level to find my next objective but the puzzles that were included were pretty enjoyable.