Saturday, September 29, 2012


UK Doomer John Bye published a few Doom WADs before gliding over to Quake, himself having some claim to fame as a reviewer of levels for various id games. His most famous work is The Talosian Incident, a megaWAD produced as part of Black Star Coven (most of the work done by Bye and compatriot Malcolm Sailor). Before TALOSIAN, though, there was Cygnus IV, published for Doom II, I believe in 1996 (with a 1997 update). Bye originally released some of these maps serially; CYGNUSIV collects the scraps and fleshes the concept out to a fourteen-map episode (right on the cusp of the idgames definition of a megaWAD).

The story of Cygnus is pretty standard. The UAC picks up an unreadable distress signal located on the same planet (but in a remote location) as a virgin colony. Headquarters loses contact with the initial rescue team and, as you're the closest combat unit, you're sent in to investigate. Shit goes down during reconnaissance, though, and you find yourself isolated from any possible survivors of your team. You set out to figure out the source of the anomaly and put an end to the hostile forces, whatever they may be.

If you're at all familiar with Bye's maps from The Talosian Incident, Cygnus IV is in the same vein, but with less combat and even more atmosphere. If there's one thing Bye knows how to do, it's how to make legitimately eerie maps. Part of it has to do with how few encounters there are as the levels feel deserted at times, especially in relation to the gargantuan architecture, very different from TALOSIAN's compact levels. The other aspect is Bye's music score, incredibly effective. Perhaps the best combination is MAP05, a creepy crawl through some piping that shocks without even trying to kill the player.

On the flipside, these levels aren't all that interesting on their own, with or without encounters. The map size is more suited to slaughter maps, but the levels barely field over fifty monsters at the most, many of which will be Doom II trash like imps and zombies. They're not that well balanced, either. Just play through the set as the story Bye likely intended you to experience, given that each map's end contains the beginning of the next. The author was certainly ahead of his time; the levels have all the pacing and exploration of more modern shooters but with the look and action of Doom II.

I would recommend Cygnus IV for those who like empty, macabre maps or who just want to play through another Doom II story without caring too terribly much about how exciting the gameplay is. If you hated the small, atmospheric levels of The Talosian Incident, you should probably stay away from CYGNUS. It's not the greatest mapset associated with 1996, but there are still some sights worth seeing, like the ominous archways of MAP02 or the exterior of the enormous cathedral in MAP10. NOTE: As a friendly reminder, Bye packed the .ZIP with a .DEH file that changes the text strings of the first two intermission screens. Don't forget to load it with the WAD!

by John "Gestalt666" Bye

MAP01The Park
Bye's large, wooden architecture makes Cygnus's park feel four times too big. There's way too much space, too few monsters (numbering fifty), and it's made almost entirely out of a texture that's ambiguous but resembles wooden planks. It does manage to capture that feel of a hauntingly deserted city; if only the encounters weren't so spread out (and identical). I do like the look of the courtyard and the park architecture. Standout encounter is the potentially tricky arch-vile battle.

The SewersMAP02
While it's a bunch of right angles, the author does a decent job at making some creepy sewers, even though you're mostly shuffling between a bunch of square rooms. The most effective fight is your first encounter, a ton of imps in a large room marked with tons of cool midtexture arches. The rest of the battles are straightforward, except for the contingent awaiting you at the exit. What this level needs more than anything is some health, actually.

MAP03The Treatment Plant
Like MAP02, it's a pretty basic sketch of a level. What's good is that Bye isolates your movement to the catwalks so that the effective play area is restricted, giving the feeling of a very large facility without being directionless, compounded by that lit UAC booth the imps harry you from and the walkway before the red key where monsters assault you from either side. It's actually decent, though it could use a few more fights and a lot more health.

The Settling TanksMAP04
Kind of has a bit of the large yet constrained aspect of MAP03 but all the side-paths that make the area more traversable don't add much, except to increase the number of directions imps and shotgunners can come at you from. The central office / storage building is a nice feature where monsters have a tendency to creep up on you in spite of the bright lighting. Cool bits: the look back at the treatment plant you came from and a secret key which grants access to a rocket launcher.

MAP05The Pipes
This map plays much better if you can't see the monster count, a la the first level of the Aliens TC. It's a maze of claustrophobic sewer pipes at right angles. If you navigate by sight, you'll probably bump into a corpse or two, which barely registers until you're right on top of it, giving you quite a stop. One shadowy body in particular is a little creepy. Very good soundtrack.

The FactoryMAP06
Short, creepy factory. Most of the enemies are light fare except for the baron on the walkway near the beginning. You can hit a switch and activate some machinery but make sure you're prepared to start the factory proper, as a ton of monsters will start crawling out of the demon chute. While it's likely you'll hit upon Romero's head by accident, I'll save you some trouble. Pump your rockets into the back of the conveyor.

MAP07The Warehouse
This blocky UAC warehouse barely even registers. It's a few rooms full of crates. The most creative encounter is a squad of four imps and a revenant in a large, square area. Admittedly, you're pretty likely to take some chip damage if you're not careful around all these hitscanners.

The RailHeadMAP08
Simple representation of a railway station. Most of the enemies are spread-out hitscanners in an optional section, guarding what looks to be a drop ship of some kind. The railcar actually looks pretty decent with some vanilla tricks to make things look three-dimensional. It's all over very quick.

MAP09The Subway
A small section of railway whose most daunting areas are the parts of the map where the monsters are hidden in shadow. The lighting helps to liven up the otherwise dull hallways and rooms. It's surprisingly pretty well-balanced for pistol start. Very short.

The CityMAP10
A very large and very lonely map I guess I'd agree as being called a city. It's mostly streets lined with nondescript black glass and a few interior areas with a lot of false doors. I'd say the massive cathedral structure, viewed from the outside, is visually impressive in a very basic sense. There are a few roadblocks around the level that Bye explicitly mentions in the .TXT; just avoid them.

MAP11The Cathedral
A short intermission that's got more of Bye's epic architecture without much fighting. A bunch of hitscanners will melt out of the shadows and you might do some pole-dancing with an arch-vile.

The TunnelsMAP12
Another atmospheric piece kind of like "The Pipes", but you'll actually fight a fair number of monsters. Nothing here is that threatening, excepting maybe the revenant in the very dark red key area. Not very maze-like; just very long.

MAP13The Living Maze
The concept of the maze itself is ground-breaking. The execution leaves something to be desired, though. The actual maze is an enormous grid of large square sections of the map that rise and fall as you walk over them, the linedefs serving as various triggers. The maze isn't easy to figure out and it's possible to become irretrievably trapped in certain sections. There's a pack of monsters that kind of disperses through the snafu, but they're not all that threatening with the loadout Bye gives you at the beginning.

Gateway - The FinaleMAP14
A beige brown sanctum where you kill some unwitting zombies before making a break through the courtyard. A Cyberdemon guards the gate, but you have plenty of room to maneuver. Just keep an eye on the revenants in the guard tower. It's not that exciting, and feels incredibly empty if the demons are looking for the marine, but I wasn't expecting much.


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