Wednesday, September 5, 2012

20 Days in Hell (20DNHELL.WAD)

Kristian Aro has left his own Doom legacy with partner in crime Paul Corfiatis and his critically acclaimed solo releases. What many probably don't know of is his 20 Days in Hell trilogy, released through 1996 to 1998 as part of Doomed Software alongside his friend, Lauri Kivinen. The first installment – 20 Days in Hell – occupies the latter twenty-one maps of The Plutonia Experiment. The story follows the life of the Doom marine, now a celebrity for your successes at defending Earth. While out on a walk with your wife, you attempt to defend her from a purse-snatching, only to catch a bullet in the gut and die...and wake up in Hell. The ultimate evil claims that it will release you if you can survive in its domain for twenty days. If you die, though, it's never gonna give you up. As for the map themes, Aro seems to loosely borrow the names of the original map slots (or not so loosely in some cases).

20 Days in Hell is not the kindest series of maps. They're pretty rough around the edges with a few serious visual glitches and oversights in terms of playing from pistol start. MAP31 is the worst offender in the latter category, but you'll occasionally run into places where there's ammo for weapons you'll never see, or the conspicuous absence of the SSG for what seems like much of the mapset. 20DNHELL's largest saving grace is that the majority of the levels are very small, rarely (if ever) fielding over one hundred monsters, which kind of softens the blow when you're dealing with an abundance of certain death traps.

Another thing Aro does that's kind of conspicuous is the appropriation of certain familiar map layouts. Detractors point toward Plutonia, but there is more Thy Flesh Consumed in this mapset than anything else. At least, not counting the whole Casali vibe, which Kristian certainly cribs from. You'll also find some less than savory graphics based on screenshots (do we really need static, belching pain elementals?) and some new noises. The plasma rifle is no less annoying, unfortunately. Finally, look out for mandatory secrets and obtuse puzzles, the kind which average players usually despair of.

It's not an awful mapset, though! It's just tough to get through, some times, owing to what I'm assuming is the fact that these levels represent Aro's first forays into mapmaking, hence his strong dependence on familiar ideas and unusual gimmicks. Certainly, veteran Doomers will be able to tough out the nastier combat aspects while Aro's approach to puzzles may tickle the more masochistic "cerebral" Doomers. Playing with carryovers is recommended, but not absolutely necessary. I'm more interested in seeing how Aro's mapping skills develop through 20 Days in Hell's sequel, 32 Hours in Pain.



20 DAYS IN HELL
by Kristian Aro

MAP12"Speed"
Short and simple level with a heavy "Congo" feel from those dual staircases leading from the dirty pool. The blue key is in an easy to find secret, but the thing you'll really want is the unmarked SSG closet, pretty important for purging the mancubus room. The plasma rifle trap is a nice (if neutered) surprise.

"The Crypt"MAP13
Pretty short foray into some mines before a bizarre finale. Most of the action is fun, with a nice bit where you tango with a cacodemon to grab the yellow key, and the revenant teleports are both telegraphed and still tricky as Aro has used the curved hallways so endemic to Plutonia that mimic the skeletal rockets' paths. Unfortunately, when you make it to the end, you end up at a marble bridge crossing an aquifer with an arch-vile guarding it. I suppose you can vault past him and grab the medikits if you eat a blast, but don't get knocked off the bridge, because you can't get back on.

MAP14"Genesis"
Another small level that uses a red rock texture I'm not familiar with (undoubtedly one of the lesser-used Plutonia graphics). The opening is a Cyberdemon shooting gallery where you need to dart into openings to grab your primary weapon – the rocket launcher – pretty fast. There are plenty of rockets, so as long as you take your time, the bridge guardian shouldn't be much of a threat. The tough part is in the other room, which has some ugly-ass graphics based on screenshots.

"The Twilight"MAP15
This is an obtuse map whose most interesting section borrows the layout of the first few rooms of Thy Flesh Consumed's "Hell Beneath". The combat isn't difficult (except for maybe a certain pair of revenants), it's mainly a) raising the bridge in the Spiderdemon area and b) raising the bridge to the red key, which requires shooting a voodoo doll across a line trigger but not too far or you'll die. Two of the toxic pits begin in an inescapable state, so be careful when exploring.

MAP31"Cyberden"
While this is level is "doable" from pistol start, I wouldn't recommend trying. You have to save most of the ammo from the cacodemon crossroads (most importantly the rockets) and then pray for luck when trying to punch through corridors two mancubuses and one revenant deep, mainly because there is an arch-vile who will screw you over. Even if you manage to do the impossible and kill the vile, you've got to be careful while you clear out all the new visitors to the crossroads and then grab the HUGE ammo cache that's hidden and which makes the map palatable. Just do yourself a favor and don't try to go back and slay all the pain elementals in the pitch black room, which houses one of two Cyberdemons.

"Go 2 It"MAP32
This is a "Go 2 It"-ized version of Aro's own MAP12. The original layout and the contained encounters are virtually identical, but you'll see some instances of the crazy shit here and there, like an expanded blue key room where you play chicken with two Cyberdemons and an arch-vile, or the Cyber / Mastermind ledge which practically infights itself. The dual Cybers was the hardest bit for me to clear, though the final encounter – a boss brain with a Cyberdemon walking around on the ledge in front of it – can be annoying if the brute draws your rocket fire.

MAP16"The Omen"
This level rather transparently borrows the primary layout of Plutonia's "The Omen", also in the MAP16 slot. It's pretty frustrating. You have enough ammo to kill every enemy, but you'll have to be frugal and use the berserk fist when the opportunity presents itself if you want any leeway. You'll also need to scam the level's secrets, where a plasma rifle and BFG can be found, which are invaluable. Really, you could just give the end of level Cyberdemon a pass (and the two areas before him). Favorite original area is the cathedral hall to the northeast.

"Compound"MAP17
An unusual map, and not quite as rough as the last few have been. Well, the worst part is the northeastern section, which includes an exploding barrel corridor and mirrored hallways you need to get through ASAP or suffer the wrath of some arch-viles knocking about for you. Then you have to kill them while dodging hell knight plasma from across the room. After that, the huge monster ambush in the mancubus starting area seems pretty low-key, and you can always just come back after grabbing the megasphere and let infighting sort most of the monsters out.

MAP18"Neurosphere"
A brutal little level that involves a lot of teleporting from area to area, which can be initially disorienting. There's plenty of opportunity for infighting; in fact, I highly recommend it when you can swing it. The fights are too small for any real standouts apart from possibly the baron surprise (and don't go up the soul sphere lift or you'll be stuck). Also the use of a deep water effect. The only real pitfall is a death teleport into a room with three Cyberdemons.

"NME"MAP19
Pretty cool map built on an underground toxic channel. The nukage (which you will literally wade through) provides a bit of a hazard challenge but there are plenty of goodies to keep you in good shape. The only thing lacking is a plasma rifle, which would be handy in disposing of the last few monsters, particularly that obstinate Cyberdemon that guards the main bridge. I think Aro kind of borrows the general layout of the opening leg from "NME", but it's quite a different beast.

MAP20"The Death Domain"
Borrows the first room from Thy Flesh Consumed's “They Will Repent” and the Spiderdemon showdown room from the ever-mimicked “Phobos Lab”. The glut of commandos make this a dangerous map but the nastiest bit by far is making it past the Spiderdemon to grab the yellow key when beginning with a pistol. Thankfully Aro is considerate and gives you a prime opportunity to box some arch-viles with the safety of an invulnerability. Some interesting quirks here, like the half-hidden staircase to the blue key teleport (which is a little tricky in and of itself).

"Slayer"MAP21
An interesting level that's mostly marble and requires some secret-sniffing if you want a shot at getting out alive. I'm thinking of the Cyberdemon parked in front of the teleporter horde, here. You'll be doing a lot of combat under duress. I'm not sure what my favorite fight is, probably the one right before the caged cross (a cool visual) where sergeants start walking out of the walls like phantoms. I like the secret sequence leading to the plasma rifle. The only real failings are some ugly visual bugs, especially in the starting room.

MAP22"Impossible Mission"
Features an inactive boss brain and a pretty cool marble hall which has a half-dozen pain elementals peeping through the windows ineffectively. You can basically take your time, but don't waste too much ammo or you won't be able to slay the pack of cacodemons at the end (pretty much the standout encounter by default). Some cool effects like the marble face rising from the nukage. The little tunnels in the map's western section are somewhat intricate but easy to figure out.

"Tombstone"MAP23
Very simple and laid-back level. For example, Aro gives you the plasma rifle off the bat, a sign of good things. The most intense fight you'll get into is an ambush with a pain elemental in a very open area, but you should have plenty of ammo to break the horde's back by then, and you get some goodies as a reward. The baron portrait with the opening and closing mouth is a pretty cool effect, but it would be more impressive if the texture was pegged to the top of the mouth.

MAP24"The Final Frontier"
Borrows the fortress facade (and I think a little more) from Thy Flesh Consumed's "Against Thee Wickedly" for the western area. The east has a heavy "Spirit World" / "Heck" vibe. It's not a very tough map, though the switch that reveals the yellow key – on the opposite side of the map – is located through a secret teleporter. You don't even need to slay the huge teleportation horde, which appears again on the opposite side of the map, but if you ready your BFG you can get some gratuitous gore in there. Standout encounter is the aforementioned pack of monsters that warps in near the end.

"The Temple of Darkness"MAP25
I still don't know what's up here. It's a very short map, most of which consists of claustrophobic SSG combat outside of clearing the infernal hall for the first time. Aro has a bizarre special effect where if you approach the eye, silent crushers cause a chorus of demonic howls. It's actually pretty cool. The other bit worth mentioning is the megasphere trap in a not-secret to the northeast.

MAP26"Bunker"
A sprawling outdoor / city style map with spaced out buildings and a Cyberdemon stomping around the exterior. I'm not 100% sure how, but it's possible to break the switch that opens the door to the northeastern building, which can upgrade the map to impossibly frustrating. I probably killed around an hour trying to figure it out before I restarted and got a prompt response (the trigger not being that obvious, either). Standout moment: definitely clearing the southeastern warehouse, which can be pretty dangerous, even forgetting the Cyberdemon who forces you inside.

"Anti-Christ"MAP27
Short but very rough green brick map with a lot of "save or die" situations. First of all, you'll want to hit the plasma rifle grab, or the three baron room will take interminably long. Then there's a four-way death teleporter where only one of the locations does not result in messy, instant death. If you dally for too long in the corridor after getting out, you'll be hemmed in by hell knights and probably die. Finally, the exit portal lowers to the ground with four arch-viles staffing it. Basically, have fun.

MAP28"The Sewers"
A mixture of sewers that leads into a crate maze culminating in a disorienting Cyberdemon battle, as one part of the outer yard causes him to teleport to the other. Pistol start is tricky with some infighting recommended and some good boxing skills (and foreknowledge) to take out the pain elementals. Things ease up considerably once you get into the crate area, but the final battle requires rocket dodging, both straight and homing, so keep light on your toes. The outer yard is definitely my favorite fight, with a nice look.

"Odyssey of Noises"MAP29
Really short and dark series of death traps. The initial imp melee isn't so bad, but the demon / chainsaw ambush is much better handled with a little foreknowledge. Then there are the literal death traps, a small chamber where one switch floods the chamber, killing you, or a choice between two teleporters, where one telefrags you. The ending is an E1M8 scenario with some 60 monsters worth of overkill.

MAP30"The Gateway of Hell"
A short romp through Hell before you take on the obligatory Icon. The room clearly resembles Plutonia's own IOS fight ("The Gateway of Hell") but the invul and BFG make it pretty easy to clear off the guardian Cyberdemon, after which you can just plop on his platform and do your victory dance.

20 DAYS IN THE HOLE

5 comments:

  1. lol, I had a dream few days ago that this wad was an official ID Software product that came along Master Levels! Can you believe this?

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  2. I can't actually understand it.

    These maps look excellent, as far as I know some of Aro's maps met with mixed reception in the Community, but I'd like to give his megawads a try. Not really a fan of mandatory secrets and obtuse puzzles, but they won't put me off at this point.

    -MajorRawne

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    1. 20 Days in Hell is not excellent, but you're welcome to try it. You'll have a much better time than I did if you don't pistol start each level.

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  3. When co-oping this with fellow doomer Aquasa, I counted like 6 instances with insta-death/inescapable pit traps with no predefined warning. I'm not sure when Kristian's appetite for such cruel guessing games ended, but hopefully that flavor gameplay was axed after this wad =P. That being said, it was cool to explore his roots. Needs more Chris Wilkens music.

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    1. seeing Kristian develop over the whole 20 Days in Hell trilogy is actually kind of cool. especially from him starting out like this.

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