Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Corruption of Substation Alpha (DIAMONDS.WAD)


by Bill McClendon

If you know Bill McClendon, it's probably as a contributor to some of the best projects to come out in 1997. Maybe you know him from before, though. He had two solo releases in '95, subsequent to STRAIN and Requiem. The Corruption of Substation Alpha (aka DIAMONDS.WAD, no doubt after the diamond-shaped lighting) is the second, published for Doom II back in '95. It's a MAP01 replacement which he prefers you use IDMUS09 for. As for the story, you've been sent to reestablish contact with Substation Alpha, which has been silent for four days. Of course, Hell has invaded the base, and done a short job of it.

DIAMONDS is a pretty good stomper of a level that evokes something of Doom's second episode, in that you're fighting your way through a techbase that's undergone evident corruption, like that hybrid of marble and tech panels in the western section of the level (very cool). It's got a nice, pleasing layout with enough hooks in the detailing to keep your eyes busy as you contend with the enemy. He claims that he's put some surprises unique to each difficulty, though UV is the difficulty of choice for experts. Glancing through the others, it's true that encounter difficulty doesn't scale down across the board, though dropping to HMP will see the majority of the tougher beasts toned down to Doom II's big four (zombie, sergeant, commando and imp).

On UV, you'll see all kinds of nastiness, from the awkward pistol start to spectres in the dark and monsters like revenants entrenched in turret positions. One of the coolest surprises teleports you into a bunch of monsters from which you'll want to sprint and grab the very useful SSG, wheeling around and dodging bullets. There are a few arch-viles in troublesome places, the best place to put one. There's also the finale, where you're pitted between a balcony of hell knights, a balcony of skeletons, and two barons walking around on the ground running interference. A decent climax for avoiding the nastier facets of combat.

One feature to be conscious of... McClendon didn't utilize the "semi-random monster placement" of his previous release, Triple-Play, but he did mess around with key and weapon layout between difficulties. You can find a yellow key in place of a combat shotgun, for instance. This nominally changes the level flow, but in the end, you're still going to have to find the coded key switches in order to get total access to the crate room that serves as the level's penultimate stage. Altogether, it's cool to see McClendon in a "typical" setting, and nice to see him performing some rare experimentation where authors traditionally use difficulty to segregate monster layouts alone. I highly recommend it.


1 comment:

  1. Bill remains overlooked as a wad designer, probably due to his comparatively small number of levels released. At least he got the attention he deserved when he moved to Quake level reviews :)