YEAR 23 THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
by Eric "The Green Herring" Baker
Year 23 (The Belly of the Beast) is the third map in Eric "The Green Herring" Baker's YEAR series, preceded by Year 21 (The Vanishing Point) and Year 22 (A Rock and a Hard Place). YEAR_23 occupies the MAP03 slot for Doom II and targets Boom-compatible ports, with PrBoom-Plus and Eternity being recommended. The story follows the adventure of a marine who, in Year 21, tracked down an abandoned warp gate facility, only to take an active teleporter to a rugged canyon (Year 22), where you find your way to Hell itself, where 23 begins. Though you're trapped underground, stepping stones emerge from the lava channel, as if beckoning the marine. You're in for one crazy trip.
Year 23 is a long, atmospheric map that carries quite a few nasty combat scenarios. The level has a very dark look that's somewhat due to lighting but mainly due to recolored green marble textures, giving them a dark gray look that blends well with the red rock that makes the bulk of the unnatural caverns. I love the look of the lava-filled chambers that break up the bleak ruins sections. Baker adds a lot of depth to the areas by adding eye candy, both accessible and inaccessible. Some places, like the dual lava slopes just to the north of the starting area, have an excellent sense of enormous scope.
I like the ruins more, though. The charcoal-colored marble textures are a nice change from the albeit comforting green I'm used to seeing, and it all looks great when contrasted by the radiant lava that crops up either from falls or in ankle-high depressions. There's also at least one instance I noticed of some glowing eyes on marble facades, a neat trick. Of course, both aspects of the map complement each other, and without one or the other, the level's pristine visuals would doubtless run a bit stale. Thankfully, Baker has layered atop them a large number of brutal encounters and traps for unwary Doomers to curse and spit at.
Transitioning from more low-key maps to this slobberknocker was a bit of a shock. Baker has a fair warning in the .TXT, of course, and he's not kidding. Some of these fights are downright brutal the first time you run into them, surrounding you with high-HP enemies and cutting off any chance of easy escape. One of them was particularly rough for me – on the far side of the eastern section of the map, a wall of mancubuses nearly cuts you off entirely, backed by a handful of revenants teleporting in moments later. There's a trick to surviving long enough to flip the switch that opens the exit, but even then you have to dodge a bit more before you can stroll out to safety. The red rock tunnels to the northwest also play host to some nasty close encounters, though the presence of the rocket launcher eases things up a bit.
At the very least, Baker is generous with the health at the beginning of the level. I was tripping over medikits that I really needed, always a plus when you run into a pack of skeletons that warped directly on top of you. Several berserk packs provide much-needed health resets, and if you're observant, you'll get a ton of mileage out of the seven secrets scattered around the map. A few are pretty obviously marked. TGH also removes all of the confusion typically associated with backtracking by providing guiding arrows on the floor that you'll probably notice as you creep along the map, wary of any brand new ambushes.
Year 23 is a really cool and very challenging addition to the growing library of Hell levels. About the only strike I have to level against it is the scarcity of health in the second half of the adventure. Something you may want to watch out for – much of the gunplay of this map is devoted to prime SSG time. If you're anything like me, you'll slot right into Baker's pacing, with the occasional skip accompanied by the sound of teleporting monsters. Oh, and a shoutout to the musical piece, which seems to draw some inspiration from the opening of Chrono Trigger's "Battle With Magus".