Saturday, June 9, 2012

Phobos (PHOBOS.WAD)


Roger Ritenour’s Phobos is a four-map minisode for Doom II that reuses the implicit story of the first four maps of the original's "Knee Deep in the Dead". The player arrives at the research facility on Phobos, fighting through the hanger, the nuclear plant, toxin refinery, and then Command and Control, where the demons undoubtedly struck first. However, rather than reinventing the wheel with another Episode One style mapset, Ritenour worked to make each location as realistic as possible. He does a pretty good job. Where Earth had some gorgeous surf and sand, and maybe a glass elevator, Phobos is filled to the brim with specialized textures and ingenious special effects that help to develop the character of each level.


The amount of care poured into the levels is staggering. Check out those tiny faucets in the bathrooms, or the construction of virtually every chair. There are a lot of textures created specifically for signage, most notably in the nuclear plant and Phobos space port. Where Earth sought to pour the level geometry into rugged naturalism, Ritenour’s chief concern here is invoking the artifice of humanity. That’s not to say that PHOBOS is devoid of the caverns that virtually defined his earlier episode. The rocky landscape of Mars’s moon is apparent everywhere, with the first three maps housing small tunnels as secrets and the fourth with a cavern complex that dwarfs the actual "Command and Control".


The combat bears Ritenour’s indelible stamp, with fixed battles dwarfed by monsters that teleport, awake, on a semi-random basis into different spots in the level. Sometimes it works, and facing a horde of demons that’s looking for you as opposed to diligently waiting for your arrival is a nice change of pace. Other times you see arachnotrons and mancubuses crammed into places they don’t really fit. "Command and Control" has the same problem the subterranean portions of Earth had, where it’s too dark to see anything and your first warning of an adjacent commando is your rapidly depleting health. It’s certainly challenging, but the best method of circumventing the “challenge” slows the action to a crawl as you fumble around in the darkness.


That said, I do enjoy the layouts and the exploration involved in each map. In spite of the drive toward "realism", they lack the kind of stale architecture found in hyper-realistic levels. Ritenour takes pains to establish a specific purpose for each room rather than a mess of nearly identical small areas. An office complex is reduced to a single mess of cubicles, the walls upon which you can nonetheless climb; the nuclear plant control room is greatly simplified, with only one console row that again does not impede player movement; about the worst example would be the nearly identical turbines in the nuke plant or the paired men / women bathrooms, but these are few and far between.


I prefer Phobos to Ritenour's Earth. It leaves a greater impression, from the very beginning, with Holst's "Mars". The maps are more distinctive and, though I have to agree that some of the tricks of Earth are quite breathtaking, I find the craftsmanship of Phobos to be superior. I would have liked to see Ritenour tackle the rest of "Knee Deep in the Dead", but he evidently ran out of interest by MAP04. I'd recommend a playthrough, though don't go in expecting anything close to the experience of the original Doom. The encounters are an acquired taste and if you're a stickler for the less representative composition of typical levels, you may want to sit this one out.





PHOBOS
by Roger Ritenour

HangerMAP01
Okay, this is just too cool. Ritenour’s take on the Hanger is actually more of a space port, with runway, gates, and a commercial area with a bar, magazine shop, and other things. There’s a huge runway complete with lights and a ship that takes off as you approach it – neat effect. You may happen upon some secret tunnels in the vein of his Earth, but they’re pretty safe and just secrets. The combat is fun, if not particularly challenging. There’s some great use of textures and shadow when monsters seem to attack from multiple windows of a ruined building. The finale is great, too. After the plane takes off you have to get the blue key from the control tower to get access to the teleporter so you can remove the hijacker. Very neat map.

MAP02Nuclear Plant
Wow! A nuclear plant that actually looks like a power plant (well, it’s missing the mess of pipes and things that usually come with the structure, but I guess the future is streamlined). Other cool bits include the fuel pools (neat rod texture), the transformer yard, a painfully accurate control room,  and a super secret toxic waste dump. And, uh, the cool climb across the reactor itself for the blue key. The randomized monsters tainted the combat; I saw, for instance, an arachnotron chilling on top of the reactor rim, completely useless. It usually works, though. You never know where the pain elementals are coming from. Cool stuff, regardless.

Toxin RefineryMAP03
A short map with a lot of space to move in. It looks very much like a chemical plant, with distillation towers, storage tanks, and security control points (cool swinging sign!). I just want to say that those step ladders are genius. The map is pretty straightforward with a few neat secrets, like the duct work system, which you should really explore fully before tackling the rest of the map – you’ll need the goodies inside. The monsters are in full force and out for your blood, with several packs liable to hang out on the other side of vital doors to ambush you. Ammo is very tight if you don’t explore and some spots, like the pair of vats on the north side of the building, are a murder box if you’re not packing a plasma rifle.

MAP04Command and Control
Feels like a rewrite of Earth’s "Strategic Defense Command", down to the crack in the wall leading to a network of caverns. I’d say maybe 1/3 of the level is “realistic” techbase, with the highlights being the overlook to the east, the office cubicles to the west, and the very cool yellow key tower. The rest is either pitch black tunnels a la Earth or the gateway to Hell, from where the demons invaded. I’m not really sold on the abstract texture in the Hell area. The room is unremarkable; I get the feeling that Ritenour is more skilled in adapting examples from real life than coming up with something more fantastical. The randomization makes for a frustrating level when you run smack bang into revenants in narrow hallways with nary a weapon to effectively fend them off. Loved the caco pack at the radio tower, though.

WELCOME HOME, MARINE


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's Top 10 WADs of 1998

Gothic DM 2Cyberdreams
PhobosEarth
VenomTantrum 2
DICKIE10Run Buddy
ODESSA14Crestfallen

1 comment:

  1. A very neat mapset for sure. I can't help but feel that it inspired some of Eternal's work (namely his remake of Map10 in Remain1.wad). The visual effects blew my mind the first time I tried this, and I still run through every now and again to keep it fresh on the brain.

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