Saturday, March 3, 2012

Voodoo Guns (VG.WAD)

by Alexander "Eternal" S. aka "Deadall"

Voodoo Guns is the most recent original release by Russia's favored son. It's a Doom II minisode in two parts for GL engines (GLBoom, GZDoom and, in the near future, Risen3D). Eternal has thrown together some never-was hybrid of American Western and steampunk, looking pretty creepy with all the gas-mask wearing portraits, not to mention the soundtrack from American McGee's Alice. There's no given story; I can only assume that the player's character is the sole survivor of some supernatural event. He wakes up on a still-moving train that arrives at a seemingly-deserted city. Exploration uncovers a sinister presence bent on your annihilation. You'll have to fight your way out or get put six feet under.

Eternal's done a lot of work to establish his world. Beyond the immaculate architecture and Boom trickery (most notably the ubiquitous swinging doors), there's a slew of textures and sprites gleaned from tons of sources, not to mention a host of creepy posters and art pieces, like otherwise ordinary portraits where the people are wearing gas masks, or diagrams of women filled with clockwork machinery. Brilliant commentary on the objectification of women or just steampunk fans wanting to bang a clock? There's also a significant number of weapon replacements, some with new behavior, like the plasma rifle / nail gun or the dual pistols. Others just get a kickin' rad new sprite, like the Voodoo Gun. You'll also find a few new enemies, primarily in the second map, which has a more frontier / American western theme.

Like some other Russian releases I've played from 2011, Voodoo Guns isn't your typical set of Doom maps. They're very atmospheric, completely lacking monsters until you hit a certain point in the map. With "Dark City", the opening number, the build-up is very lengthy. You've got a lot of ground to cover before you set foot on the ground floor, which gives you plenty of time to drink in the sights, especially with that bird's eye view from the train station. "Ghost Village" is similar in its pacing, except you've already seen the big surprise, with most of its shocks reserved for the town's unearthly mines. In both cases, you're largely unmolested until you trigger an invasion of sorts.

Between the city and the town, I prefer the change that occurs in the former. After seeing the "dark citizens" wandering around, you venture into the only open building, to the northeast. There's a neat jump scare, quickly followed by the true moment of unease when you solve the puzzle and return to the main city. Things are a bit different. There is no explanation for the enormous, flashing spires jutting out of the ground, and I prefer it that way. Coupled with the molten cracks in the earth, it's quite unnerving, especially when hordes of demons rise up from the subways while imps and zombimen filter in from all over.

"Dark City" is all about the contrast between the action outside the buildings versus the interiors. Several times you'll be forced to confront the armies of Hell in the city streets. You're typically exposed, but not without cover. Those giant spines are a boon when you're playing hide and seek with several arch-viles. The skyscrapers conversely are cramped affairs, with monsters lurking in every corner. You'll want to investigate, though. The buildings house all the decent weapons, not to mention the keys for progression. Just remember that Alexander's handle is Eternal, or you'll be stuck on the silver key bottleneck for the longest time.

When you've finally beaten the badasses and opened up the gate to the exit, be prepared for another shift in gameplay. "Dark City"'s finale is a slow river crawl that resembles a shooter on rails; once you take that plunge, your movement becomes incredibly sluggish. Shoot fast; there are a few nasty surprises that may ruin you if you didn't grab the megasphere secret. In the end, you reach the city limits, where you see something very unnerving – another gunslinger, like you, until you hear that unearthly laughter. I'm curious as to what the significance is. Did this dark stranger bring doom to the city from where he came? Or was he a gunman like you until evil overtook him? Who knows?

As I mentioned earlier, "Ghost Village"'s opening is a lot like "Dark City". You'll be exploring for a bit, investigating the ghost town, until you grab the silver key through a feat of platforming. Suddenly the town becomes a lot more populated, mostly with voodoo gunmen like the one whose horse you rode in on. It's mostly building-clearing like the first map - you won't be fighting any hordes of Hellspawn. No; the memorable section of the map begins when you take the staircase down in the saloon's back room. You're treated to a creepy underground gauntlet starting with a pretty easy teleporter puzzle, some cramped tunnels, and my favorite moment, which actually shocked me, near the tail end. Sure, I was expecting something weird,

Predictably, you emerge from underneath the church, one of the few buildings that remained unexplored. The action isn't very dangerous unless you're rash. The actual danger lies right outside, an ambush of voodoo gunmen and those eerie black phantoms that debuted right at the end of MAP01. Once you explore the final building, you'll unlock the boss fight. He may look like he's straight out of Doom 64, but he's not quite the same. Certainly a bit more dangerous if you try to take him out like the original. Regardless of how you handle him, his demise is your ticket out.

Both of these maps look impeccable, "Dark City" in particular. It's invited some comparison with Lainos's Doxylamine Moon, also from 2011. Both are urban masterpieces rich in atmosphere that emphasize exploration. Voodoo Guns stands apart with its more deliberate encounters and bizarre hodgepodge of fictional genres, not to mention its HD textures and, well, that whole descent to the city itself is absolutely wonderful. Eternal establishes a narrative through exploration and action that's tough to beat and left me creeped out most of the time. I would recommend VG if you're at all interested huge, gorgeous city-esque maps; exploration; the American western genre (nominally steampunk); and, uh, an unsettling atmosphere promoted by a carefully chosen soundtrack, among other things. Really, you should at least give it a look.

NOTE: VG.ZIP clocks in at around 135MB. I had some trouble getting the whole thing to download from the idgames mirrors, so make sure you get the whole package. Also, make sure you're running up to date builds of the select few engines that will run (mentioned in the .TXT).



  1. Eternal always makes visually impressive maps, but I always have some qualms with his gameplay, it seems. This one's no different. The setting of this one is enough to make it enjoyable to me, though.

    Nice review, as always.

  2. Yeah, I want to pain the best picture of the gameplay so even though you know I enjoyed it you can tell whether or not you'd get anything out of it, especially with how polarizing this one is.