Friday, April 20, 2012

Hell Awakened... (HA.WAD)

Hell Awakened... is another one-man megaWAD released in 2011, this one from Jordan Michael Saulter, aka "Death Dealer". It's thirty-two wonderful maps for Plutonia, requiring the ZDoom engine for some under the hood stuff. The plot is basically Doom 3. You arrive at the UAC base on Mars only to find it in the throes of a demonic invasion. You fight your way through the infested installation, eventually entering Hell, only to fight your way out and back to the planet. From there you make your way to the excavation site where the UAC discovered that which was not meant to be unearthed. You've got to slay the gatekeeper to end Hell's assault and spare Earth. The whole plot, including spoilers and commentary map by map, can be found in "Hellawakened Read Me".

Take Doom 3's story, mix it with Plutonia's gameplay, and add in the scope of Eternal Doom's maps (but not necessarily the obtuseness). That's Hell Awakened. Players who prefer carryovers will be delighted to know that Saulter balanced UV around one continuous playthrough. While many of the maps are still doable from pistol starts, I certainly wouldn't call them feasible, in the sense that the acrobatics required are often inhuman. If you absolutely must, dip the difficulty down to HMP, which I'm assured is still tough, but actually balanced for pea-shooter beginnings. Be warned that some of my whining for the early levels is due to my stubbornness in attempting to commando something that isn't meant to be played that way.

Saulter does his best to creep you out, using low lighting, flesh graphics, and monster teleporters build into the walls to foster an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. And he does love his monster teleporters. While you'll see many different hordes appear from the ether, the one that sticks out in my mind is a familiar concentration of ~three cacodemons and one pain elemental. You'll see packs of this ratio in nearly every level, such that seeing a single red balloon raises the hair on your neck, 'cause its friends are never far away. I dunno if the author uses a flashlight mod or what, but you should just turn your gamma up and save yourself the eye strain on the darker maps. The atmosphere is great, but when I used IDBEHOLDL just to look around for a sec, I actually felt my eye muscles relax.

Hell Awakened is big. It's huge. MAP28, "Excavation Site", features nearly one thousand monsters at its onset, and while it may be the upper bound, you'll usually have to fight through three or four hundred on average (my estimation). Gameplay is for the most part pretty linear. Each map has a clear path of progression and while you may see some secrets starting out, they pretty much vanish during the second half. At the very least, the linearity means you're rarely challenged trying to figure out what to do in order to go forward, though when you are, you get it in spades, like MAP17 ("They Beckon..."). I like Saulter's architectural style, which has huge, lovely vistas, meshed with irregular obstacles. He does a good job masking the utilitarian aspects of his map geometry without turning it into an eyesore.

The amount of environments you'll fight through is pretty varied, and more importantly, the author's aesthetic sense leads to a consistent progression of themes that really augments the storyline. It's rather refreshing after playing all the other 2011 megaWADs, which while excellent, mimicked the scatterbrained style of community WADs past, either by design or by nature. You will progress through Doom 3 style infested techbases, crawl through Martian sewers, sprint across its rocky landscape, creep through Hell both infernal and surreal, and return to reality, where the increasing demonic influence is showing. Sometimes, the intention falls a bit short, as Saulter himself notes for maps where certain walls were intended to come together to form the player's floating pathway. Where he excels is using Boom's silent teleporters to bring the player to a Hellish analogue of the Mars base, often with shocking results.

There are a few issues, of course. Hell Awakened borrows from both Plutonia's textures and TNT Evilution, so if you want to see a scant few support columns, you'll have to figure out how to load Evilution's texture lump. I couldn't be arsed. He also stripped out a lot of music, I think a side-effect of removing the bloat of the PSX / Doom64 soundtracks from the PWAD. As a result, some of the early maps actually use Plutonia's soundtrack, which mostly ruins Saulter's intended atmosphere. Afterward, the music vanishes entirely. He suggests you download the Aubrey Hodges soundtrack WADs separately, but I couldn't get them to play anything besides the title, I suppose because it's meant to be played with the Doom II IWAD. Also of note, a number of bugs to be squashed in a hypothetical patch that has yet to materialize (not that I'm complaining, as the author is probably deployed overseas).

EDIT 01/02/2013: Saulter released an update for Hell Awakened on January 12th of 2013. It folds in the missing textures which makes it work with the basic Doom II package and fixes the music issues, which came from a previously mangled MAPINFO lump, I assume due to his removal of the original music tracks. The WAD is still limited to the ZDoom ports for compatibility, though.

Really, you should play Hell Awakened, unless you hate Doom II WADs, especially ones that use Hellish organics to convey the image of a techbase suffering a Hellish invasion. I guess those that despise teleport traps should sit this one out, too. The visuals, using pretty much Doom II and Plutonia textures, are phenomenal, and Saulter makes some pretty good fights. I just hope he comes out with his proposed patch, maybe adding a title card and finale screen. Me, I'm looking forward to Hell Awakened 2. Hopefully it won't take another eight years to make. Who knows if this blog will even be around by then?

by Jordan "insanoflex312" Michael Saulter AKA "Death Dealer"

Admin OfficesMAP01
Saulter starts us off with a bang. This is a short trek through a techbase that starts off with Doom trash (zombies and demons) before taking a turn toward the tough with revenants and some other monsters, most notably a huge wave of spectres you'll want to have the berserk fist for. The switch that opens up the exit door is the other big encounter, putting you in a potential melee you'll want to dart out of. Pretty cool beginning.

MAP02Central Mainframe
Basic corridor-clearing in a densely-packed techbase. You'll get to do some running around in what I can only assume are the actual "mainframes". The first big obstacle is the blue key murderhole, which is ringed with imps and shotgunners, not to mention the enemies running around on the ground. I don't mind the long arc through the teleporter ambushes and the symbols on the ground are pretty cool. The other big fight is a predictable red key trap, which if you're fast turns into simple chokepoint management.

Sector 05MAP03
Brutal but short techbase map with some surprises. The opening features a running of the revenants which forces you unexpectedly through a quick flash of nightmare before the nitty gritty, which effectively requires you to lure a few baron ilk into skeleton boxing before you can run on down the other way and get fully stocked with shells. It's definitely the standout encounter. The veined organic tunnel leading to another revenant festival is pretty good; just remember that corpses block projectiles in ZDoom and you're set. Excepting a few tricky arch-viles, you're pretty much done.

MAP04Waste Processing
Sewer-oriented map that gets out of hand pretty fast. The large toxin-flooded area is the least of your problems as there's plenty of cover. The main issue is the blue key chamber, which has some opposition perched in key areas, not to mention quite the ambush once you reach the upper platform. I like the bizarre detailing in the southwestern section, showcasing Saulter's new textures, made to simulate Hell's invasion. The combat isn't particularly memorable, but mowing down several imps at a time with SSG blasts is hardly a chore.

Sector Alpha BarracksMAP05
This mostly traditional techbase map isn't so bad. That is, it's pretty simple heavy room clearing, with the exception of the northeastern murder mazes. I doubt you're meant to jump and thus remove the maneuverability constraint Saulter has placed upon you. As if the hitscanners and imps weren't bad enough, heavier hitters teleport in as you proceed through the map, ending with a potentially tricky mancubus fight. Nothing else really compares, though the arch-vile guarding the combat armor can make things a bit awkward.

Mostly an outdoor valley complete with a cavern system. The first valley crawl is troublesome as you have to pay special attention to the surrounding enemies. You don't really feel the pain though until you double back to the other side, where you will be tested. The outdoor ambush is threatening but the red key trap is dastardly running in even at full health with your limited arms. If the initial rush of revenants doesn't do you in you'll probably meet your end squeezing past the hell knights that follow up. The rest is basically gravy, with a finale that's much easier to handle (though the Cyberdemon guardian should eat up a fair bit of your time).

Troop QuartersMAP07
This map careens between a light world, a fairly bog-standard techbase, and a dark world, which is a Hellish copy of the former. It's actually really well made as Saulter's organized things so that your jaunts in Hell further your progress in the main base, with a few snags. The major one is a lift in the normal world that's one way, breaking map progression if you reenter the space after teleporting to the dark world. The main difficulty comes in sorting out the opening area. Between the shotgun and the chaingun you have the tools you need to clear the hall of hitscanners, but you've got to be careful or get chewed apart by the commandos lurking behind grated windows.

MAP08Cold Fusion Reactor
There are plenty of wide-open spaces to enjoy in this tech map. Of course, this means chaingun snipers and other things. Between the lethal crossfires and hordes of monsters teleporting in, you'll be on your toes almost constantly. You'll want to find the rocket launcher – it will make the final fight, vs. two arch-viles and a baron in a cramped area with pulsing lighting, infinitely easier. Arch-viles are really the order of the day here, your biggest threat. Even if you find the plasma rifle, a nice weapon upgrade, you'll be forced to put it to immediate use. Cool, but tough.

Teleporter Labs 1MAP09
Massive techbase with a heavy teleporter theme – you'll be assaulted by warping enemies at a multitude of points, not to mention the teleporter pods that are essential for level navigation. It's rather disconcerting as the cells holding your nemeses are built into the level structure so that every meter echoes with the howls of the damned. The darkened core to the west is a great visual, but most of this map is dispatching masses of Hellspawn in the wide areas and corridors Saulter has given you. It's tough picking out a top moment in this sea of agony, though if I had to pick, the northeastern machinery crawl toward the end is my favorite, with multiple tactical ambushes requiring careful consideration.

MAP10Central Labs
Make sure you got a plasma rifle ready; you're gonna need it. "Central Labs" is a pretty good and straightforward level, with some great fights like the caged gauntlet or the "puzzle room" to the northeast. The dirtiest trap follows the second teleporter, dropping you into a pack of hell knights with specters clogging the escape tunnels. You'll have to saw your way through to safety before turning the gun around on your assailants. My favorite bit is the secret section, which puts you through a series of challenges and requires, if not some good baron-plasma dodging skills, at least a lot of health. There's also a nice assault near the map's end.

BFG StorageMAP31
Starts out looking like a typical techbase but quickly turns into a nightmare infested with Hell both organic and red-hot. If you want a shot at the BFG, you'll have to earn it, dealing with several onslaughts of enemies teleporting in, not to mention the huge area to the east, particularly the deadly sprint to the teleporter. The BFG warehouse itself is full of hazards and grabbing it initiates an assault worthy of the armies of Hell (and your brand new toy). Just be prescient of the stream of arch-viles and you'll pull through. It's hard to pick a favorite fight but making your way into the warehouse and back out again is an epic sequence.

MAP32Plauge of Corruption
Very short techbase segment that dumps you into red hot Hell. A huge number of islands jut out of the lake of fire before you, dotted with all manner of rough monsters; barons, Hell knights, arachnotrons and mancubuses turn this into a precarious run as you dodge projectiles from all directions. Making your way to each side of the cistern awards you with a key that grants access to a new weapon, though in all honesty you'll be using the rocket launcher 90% of the time. When you see the BFG, you know that the real fun is just beginning. Jumping on the central isle ushers in a new wave of monsters worthy of Deus Vult (his noted inspiration). It's riotous fun, though getting back to the central isle is quite tedious should you fall off. Dropping the teleporter to the ground after taking it would be a welcome change.

The GateMAP11
This is one great big fuck-you to the player. You start out grabbing ammo on your way through some massacred hallways, then arriving at a crossroads with three readily available keys...but no traps. The northern gate quickly takes you to a full-on brawl which is easily handled with the SSG, followed by the worst fight, a cramped brawl with all manner of nasties, including four pain elementals. Getting to the rocket launcher is paramount, but using it safely is incredibly difficult, especially with the specters running around. Once you manage to get through, the final fight is a breeze in comparison, aided along by an invul sphere and a metric ton of infighting. God do I hate that middle battle. Cool ending sequence, though.

MAP12Outer Caves
A pretty brutal level, even by HA's standards. The opening tunnel fight requires a sprint down to the SSG if you want any hope of bumping off the arch-vile, after which you get to confront two nasty scenarios. The plasma rifle room has a great reward if you can survive the initial wave (your means of escape are not immediately apparent), and you'll need all of it if you want any hope of crossing the dangerous floating islands, where you're unusually exposed to cacodemon fire. Once you make it past the blood elevator, you're pretty much in the clear, with the rest of the fighting no less tactical but far less dangerous. Some great visuals with the temple exterior.

The BridgesMAP13
Very cool visuals in this map. Starts out with some revenants in boxy corridors before the main event, which evokes shades of the island portion of MAP12 until the rest of the chamber is revealed. This ushers in a lengthy invasion of assorted monsters. You'll repeat this process twice more before you get to a more traditional key search, though this of course gets shot to Hell in the nightmarish crusher maze behind the yellow key door. At the very least, the rising floors can't hurt you. Favorite encounter is that first time Saulter pulls the curtain back, forcing you to carve out a safe space. I'm not entirely fond of the dual pain elemental wings at the beginning, but they're a small annoyance.

MAP14Temple Prime
Things continue on the path of weirdness with this vast, marble temple, where most of the automap is hidden. Navigation isn't all that difficult, but you will probably lose your sense of place at least once, even more if map exploration isn't your thing. There are quite a few cool fights, like the revenant / cacodemon clusterfuck reminiscent of the previous map, or an enormous courtyard with a Spiderdemon-guarded megasphere that you'll have to be pretty careful around, even with all the cover. It seems a lot bigger than it is, thanks to the use of invisible linedefs. Trap of the map goes to an arch-vile fight at the very beginning.

The CourtyardMAP15
This isn't just one courtyard, though there's one that immediately presents itself. This map is built around a whole host of large, outdoor areas with both pitched fights and teleporter ambushes. In particular, you should watch out for the pain elementals. There are a few cool sequences, like jumping down the side of the cliff to the red key passage, but most of this map is laying down suppression fire in fatal funnels (and avoiding the fireballs that come your way). Watch out; I missed a staircase about halfway through the map that left me quite confused. Actually, watch out for the final fight. It's a ridiculous bridge battle with a Cyberdemon at the end and monsters attacking from all sides. I hope you brought the BFG...

MAP16Broken Village
Starts out with a huge, outdoor courtyard fight with some floating geometry (a few nice optical illusions here), then starts the villages portion, which plays out like an Orin Flaharty map on an illicit cocktail of steroids and PCP. All the subsequent action takes place on elevated platforms and walkways and the crossfires you end up in seem downright cruel sometimes (pain elementals again). You'll develop a sixth sense in expecting those aerial ambushes, though the true murder hole is an indoor area on the far west side of the map. As you flip switches you let loose hordes of demons, then revenants, and then hell knights into a cramped area flush with columns.

They Beckon...MAP17
Where the previous level more resembles Flaharty's "Hell's Kitchen", this map echoes Orin's take on "The Living End", except much more confusing. While it's got the visual style down pat, the amount of teleporters you have to take to get places coupled with some copious backtracking combine to create a dense, mentally challenging affair. Some care could have been taken to ease the amount of hoofing you have to do, particularly the fork that occurs with the two switch-activated doors immediately after the (incredibly tedious) baron / hell knight gauntlet. That said, once you manage to wrap your brain around it, it's a very cool level, provided you don't miss one of the less obvious switches.

MAP18The Moat of Fire
This is a massive map mostly based around the moat of lava that surrounds the central structure, which is between you and the exit. It's also ringed with mancubuses; how quaint. If you're not in the cauldron, you're probably navigating the blood-filled caves that dominate the map's north and south. There's a lot of ground to cover, a lot of teleporter attacks (the one that occurs at the yellow key is pretty well scripted) and a lot of ammo to burn. My favorite battles are probably the tucked-away crater battle and the northern slog toward the switch that raises the exit walkway. It's just so satisfying to use an invulnerability artifact, even though it won't quite get the job done. The most frustrating aspect of the level is exploring it out of order; you'll find yourself short a key and with a long walk ahead of you.

Satanic CathedralMAP19
There’s not really a lot of cathedral to be found here. This map’s layout resembles "The Moat of Fire", as the central area is a huge lake of lava bordered by ramparts with a small fortress at its center serving as a junction. Teleport assaults are the order of the day; expect enemies from the ground and the sky, with the ubiquitous pain elemental / cacodemon packs dominating, especially in tricky areas like the northeastern switch in the southern moat. Picking through the entrenched opposition in the southern area’s canyon is a bit more interesting as you’ll probably tire of pounding rockets into tight channels while dodging lost souls flitting about. I like the organic tunnel to the southeast; a neat rib cage texture makes the segment pop.

MAP20Internal Bleeding
Boss shooter map. Grab all the ammo and health you can get; there’s no reason to leave any of it behind. After you leave the intestinal tunnel, you drop into the main event, a gross organic pit. You’ll have to wax several platform-bound Cyberdemons along with Spiderdemons on the ground before you can pump some rockets into the boss brain. Very short and straightforward.

Teleporter Labs 2MAP21
The opening echoes the beginning of "The Gate", except rather than take a teleporter, you end up in another section of the Teleporter Labs. It’s a long and brutal map, clocking in at over 700 monsters, featuring oodles of teleporter waves, though it’s mostly low-tier trash like imps, demons, specters and lost souls. Still, these enemies are dangerous en masse, especially in the pulsing lights of the murder pit, found in the western section of the map (my standout encounter). Really, the most frustrating part to me is clearing out the big junction in the map’s center. Those rows of sergeants and commandos are a pain in the ass to bust down, resulting in tedious firing from cover. There’s also a jaunt to the Martian surface, where the low lighting combined with hitscanners make for some good ol' fashioned pain.

MAP22Excavation Processing
Continuing in the vein of the techbase is this more muted map, using only 250+ enemies. While there are several teleportation ambushes you'll have to fight through, the fights are on the whole easier to handle. The standout encounters are the yellow key ambush and the shootout in the crate annex, reached via the red key trap. They're both congested battles, with the first featuring tougher monsters in Doom's bestiary and the second using a bunch of former humans and demons. The second stands out in my mind as the bevy of hitscanners ramp up the desperation factor. There's also a pretty obvious trap in a pentagram-lined hallway that will keep you on the edge of your seat. As far as visuals go, that chunk of machinery in the northeastern room is quite striking. Don't miss the hell knight / column sequence.

Nukage StoringMAP23
Another dense techbase map that's inundated with toxic waste. The nukage leads to a misstep in the western section of the map. If you explore the northwestern wing before grabbing the red key, you'll have to soak some damage running there and back again. The western loop is a dangerous crawl, where your dodge space is limited to a catwalk while you take on numerous cacodemons, lost souls and pain elementals, some of which will warp in behind you. The true murder room, however, is the eastern poison pit, mainly due to a couple of chaingunners and mancubuses on either side that tend to catch you unawares as you're blasting the demons in the bile. At several points, smart play dictates pumping rocket after rocket into a pack of cacodemons until you kill the arch-vile in the creamy center via splash damage. The revenant ambush waiting for you in the main area after a teleport is similarly brutal.

It's not so much a tramstation as a trainwreck. This map resembles "Surface" in that the majority of the level takes place in an earthen series of caverns and canyons. You're thankfully spared the indignity of teleport ambushes after a fairly early shock. The system is dark, leaving you open to surprise from hitscanners and spectres. When you reach the open area to the south, you'll know the fear of confronting pain elementals and lost souls in free spaces. Nothing compares to the finale, though, a blood-inundated compound choked with dangerous enemies as fixtures, including two Spiderdemons and a Cyberdemon. Be careful as you clear things out; the chaingunners do a pretty good job of chipping away at your health. Good thing there's plenty of ammo and health to be had.

Olympus MonsMAP25
This techbase, set in a Martian volcanic mountain, evokes shades of the previous "Cold Fusion Reactor", particularly the wide-open area to the middle east and the rows of panels resembling some kind of computer section. The base is under invasion by demonic influence, and while this means some of the organic fixtures we're used to seeing, the western area has a cool building facade that combined with the lighting drives up the creep factor. Room clearing is a tricky affair, requiring intelligent use of cover, especially in the more open segments where commandos either snipe or sneak, leaving you in the lurch. The standout fight is the final room, a lethal gauntlet of entrenched opposition. I can't help but feel that there's too little health at the very end.

MAP26Desecrated Flames
This is a large, underground fusion of Plutonia ruins and future tech. The opening act, while a bit claustrophobic, gives way to more open slaughters and deadly crossfires. Twice you'll be confronted with nasty ambushes with some limited invulnerability time to help sort things out. There's also a slight bit of switch hunt action, so make sure you fully explore every cranny before moving on to the next, or you'll be scratching your head, wondering why your way is blocked. There are some really cool segments, like the north central elevator stacks and the enormous eastern cavern / base, which is striking. My favorite encounter is the invul-led ambush in the central ruins room, 'cause while the rocket punching to the northwest is fun, the crossfire in the ruins is much more thrilling.

Screams of the SilentMAP27
Pretty small map but densely packed. It's more tech / Hell, kind of Saulter's spin on "The Living End" type levels, as much of the action takes place on walkways fixed to the level's walls, though the very center of the map is terror firma. Regardless of its tight monster count (a little over 200 before pain elementals) it's pretty nasty, especially the northeast / southeastern corners. These segments of the map are reachable only via teleporter and are difficult to navigate, putting the player under considerable pressure with flying enemies and projectile-spammers. In spite of its ornate detail, my favorite segment is in an isolated section of the level, where you have to deal with a wave of teleporting enemies in a tight area immediately followed by a small maze of demons and imps. Watch your step!

MAP28Excavation Site
Here it is, Saulter's magnum opus, a map he considered releasing as a separate work. The excavation site is a fusion of caves, techbase, and Plutonic ruins, and it's huge, starting just shy of 1,000 monsters, so you know you're in for some pain. The biggest issue I have with this map isn't its size, it's the fact that much of it is ridiculously dark, which makes the little health you get feel comically insufficient. There are some utter Hellholes you'll have to fight through. The two that come to my mind are the red key room, which ushers in a huge horde of monsters you can't really dodge around, and a nukage room to the northwest that's loaded with commandos, not to mention the demons and spectres at your back or the sadistic soul sphere guardians. My standout encounter is quite understated compared to the rest of the map. It's near the end, trapping you in a cage where demons and imps teleport in and you have to contend with two arch-viles that blink between raising and lowering pillars. Final note – expect to do some hoofing to grab the exit key.

The RemainsMAP29
The final regular level is an enormous, Hellish fortress in the style of Act 2, complete with a few vistas of floating islands. Early progression involves finding ways back to the opening atrium, either to grab keys or grant access to a key route. Both east and west wings have a lot of precarious combat, leaping from islands while you're under assault from the usual teams of cacos and pain elementals. One fight to the east is particularly dirty – I was forced to use the plasma's hitstun supremacy to clear a path to a cave, from where I dispatched monsters at my leisure. The actual palace to the north looks stately and stygian, with some neat curved pipelines giving it that sense of immense scale. My favorite moment – triggering a huge wave of pain elementals and cacos, then baiting the Cyberdemon guardian into wiping them all out. Good times.

MAP30Chiron Awaits
Boss map! It's another Hell / fortress thing, with a bit of a Hell Revealed feel. The main arena treats you to Cyberdemons, Cyberdemons plus an aerial horde, and two enormous packs of hell knights and revenants. Good thing you've got a ton of rockets and they're loaded with cells. Chiron's domain is an open island that's kind of painful to tease out if you don't cheese it, as there are arch-viles guarding the main powerups. The boss himself just spawns cubes unless you hit him, after which he enters a counterattack state and spams all sorts of projectiles, including I think more cubes. It's pretty neat, but fucking annoying on the limited real estate you have. Thankfully, you can grab an invul and supposing you saved up some BFG ammo just wade into the lava with him, earning a Pyrrhic victory. Hey, you've earned it.


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