Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back to Saturn X E1: Get Out of My Stations (BTSX_E1.WAD)

I hear whispers every month, people bemoaning a lack of output in the Doom community. It's like all the mappers have had their output drastically cut off, leaving only eager newbies to make the megaWADs of the future. Or, you know, some dastardly villain had many of the authors we know and love working in secret. But no longer! Now, we get Back to Saturn X. I thought it was going to be a slammin' Doom II megaWAD of stuff to blast through, but there's more. There's so much more. Back to Saturn X went from megaWAD to triple megaWAD, seeing release in three "episodes" filled by eager authors. This review concerns the first episode, Get Out of My Stations.

BTSX puts you back in the role of the stalwart marine, sent on a last chance power drive to the Saturn X Research Station, which has gone silent, and anyone who's ever read a Doom WAD .TXT knows what that means. The devil between your toes has returned and it's up to you to put down the evil one last time. For all intents and purposes, it's a suicide mission, since the trip you're dreading only goes one way, not that you're really expecting (or expected) to survive. But what can you do? They pack you into a suspended animation chamber and fire you at their problem, the long distance man.

First off: Doom has never looked like this. Saying it's never looked this good would be a disservice to the uncounted authors who have made WADs past and present, but I wouldn't be averse to the statement that Doom has rarely looked this good. I'm comfortable saying that Doom has never looked like this because Back to Saturn X comes with the Godhead of custom texture packs and its own custom palette that brings forth colors previously unknown to the .EXE, giving the final product a character all its own just from visual appearance. The crazy thing is, the brand new techbase theme explored here is just a fraction of the full set to be used for all three WADs.

Sitting here and extolling its virtues won't help you better appreciate them, though. You'll have to just get inside the mapset and play. And when you do (in any engine you choose, because it's cool like that), you'll get a smorgasbord of play styles. They're all techbases, of course, but you like techbases, don't you? BTSXE1 isn't for the faint of heart on UV. It's not unrealistic, but it doesn't kid around, with enemies lurking around every corner and plenty of pitched fights where you'll be dodging enemy fire while you strike with surgical (or not so surgical) focus at the hordes of Hell that surround you. Virtually every level has some aspect of exploration with optional areas or different routes to take, some more than others.

Another rarely explored feature is the use of a "hub map". Based on the end of the first level, you'll return to a train station area while you're zoning the planet, each visitation opening up more of the Saturn X main base. Later iterations of the main base feature no encounters and merely work to nail the usually unexplored story and atmosphere of social isolation, recalling earlier efforts at story maps from authors like John Bye. Finally - who got all this awesome music together? Back to Saturn X Ep. 1 features the song styles of Esselfortium, Stewboy, Jimmy, Darkhaven, and Sirjuddington. The tracks are incredibly lush and vary from moody and atmospheric to relaxed but moving to busy and frantic.

This is only the first episode of Back to Saturn X. Two more episodes are on the way. That's more maps, more authors, more music, more themes yet to be explored (for those tired of techbases). And it's all yours to keep. It's an awful bliss, waiting for the rest of this trilogy's release, but given how much fun I had with this one, I'll be there, and you should be too.


by assorted authors

Back to Saturn X Radio ReportMAP01
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso and Richard "Tarnsman" Frei
A very cool and mostly sedate opening in spite of all the higher-HP monsters which lets you get intimate with the shotgun as you take down the usual assortment of low-tier Doom II monsters. Monster placement lures you into a false sense of security so that when you start getting sideswiped by chaingunners and pesky imps, you're off-guard. There's also an extensive secret area that's fun to locate and gets you a combat shotgun for the price of a hectic teleport ambush featuring revenants on the low ground and cacodemons from on high and also seeds a few extras in the regular playing area. Very cool start. Love stuff like the train hub and that bridge over nukage.

MAP02Postal Blowfish
by Kim "Torn" Bach and Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
This is a really fun and compact level with a bit of a storage area feel but there are no mazes of crates, just cargo tucked into the corners of the maps. You don't really feel the lack of the SSG as rockets and their launchers are abundant. I like the rocket launcher trap sequence with the mancubus overseer but my favorite spot of combat by far is the big cacodemon ambush in the west. This map also sports a ton of revenants but there's plenty of room for ducking rockets so that you can get your groove on. I also appreciate the duct work, which adds a bit of depth.

The Room Taking ShapeMAP03
by Paul "Skillsaw" DeBruyne
A short but punchy affair for the author's first entry, as is his wont. The layout is a knot that constantly feeds you back through the central area. Skillsaw keeps a constant flow of baddies toward your direction; you won't walk far without bumping into a lurking monster or opening up a closet. The constant pressure is sure to keep you on your toes. The first big fight punishes cowardly players with all of the alcoves that open in the atrium. The second is the obvious standout, a tiered room with trick crushers; because their upper path is obscured, you don't know exactly where they're at. Making your way through the gauntlet triggers much heftier opposition.

MAP04A Good Flying Bird
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
A very cool and action-packed base level that draws you forward in search of goodies that you can use to take care of the uglies that have been left behind. You could stand your ground at the combat shotgun or run all the way to the rocket launcher. Most of the uglies will be fought in the outer yard to the east. There's quite the assortment of monsters from revenant overseers, a horde of cacos, and a sneaky arch-vile which might get the drop on you if you're too fixated on the gasbags. I really enjoy the trip down into the basement, particularly with the change to the rich blue tiling.

Total ExposureMAP05
by Walker "Pavera" Wright
A pretty brutal map from Pavera that breaks out the first Cyberdemon. He's just a distraction, though. This level excels at leaving you feeling exposed, as per the title, mostly moving through spaces where monsters can fire at you from the high ground while you're forced to do your dirty work on the bottom floor. Highlights include a bridge battle with cacodemons and the token mancubus and the arachnotron-policed sluice but the real star is the Cyberdemon ring. The initial Hell knights aren't a big thrill but the later revenants might just convince you to back up and dodge homing missiles in the rocket-free zone. Right when you're getting your swerve on a timed release arch-vile drops in your safehouse. Once you throw in the rest of the lurkers you'll find your attention drawn in opposing directions. And that's the most dangerous part of "Exposure"; with all the chaos surrounding you, you're bound to slip up sooner or later.

MAP06Mix Up the Satellite
by Trevor "Iori" Primmett
Iori's level eschews the more compact techbase style for something more branching, loaded down with opposition, nearly 100 more than any previous map. It's all great action you'll want all the health for, especially with all the sneaky arch-viles driving you back. The standout encounter starts with an ominous corridor full of recently deceased bodies. No problem, right? Well, then the arch-viles pop out and start ressing guys, assuming you're not cooked off the bat. I also like the brawl in the northeastern room which does a good job of releasing tricky packs of enemies into the basement so that you can't really relax.

Metal MothersMAP07
by Bjorn "Vader" Ostmann
Taking things in a bit of a different direction, Vader delivers this stunningly non-linear level that delivers another strain of arachnophobia. Arachnotrons and a large number of Spiderdemons populate the level on top of a healthy supply of revenants. Pick whatever direction you like and fight your way toward the advanced arms. It's kind of tough to get a foothold with just the shotgun but after you do some exploring you should be able to work a route to the SSG / plasma rifle / rocket launcher and be able to move on from there. Vader drops some enemies here and there during gameplay but the masterminds aren't that problematic. Dealing with all the smaller monsters, including the ample revenants and hitscanners, will be the tricky part.

MAP08Get Out of My Stations I
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
Revisiting the tram station layout from the end of MAP01 and moving on to the next hub. Nothing to see but it's fun to poke around the deserted area.

Some Drilling ImpliedMAP09
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso and Travers "traversd" Dunne
Essel and traversd tag-team another criss-crossing techbase with some respectable nukage pits. It's a bit lower-key compared to the past few levels but still rocks out with smart use of more basic Doom II monsters, with cameos from mancubuses and arachnotron in one of the neater, tiered rooms. I'm always a sucker for pit traps like the one leading to the basement by the rocket launcher and it's neat that you can backtrack and surprise the monsters from behind if you're so inclined. Favorite encounter is the drop back into the nukage area following the red key doors where some new buddies are waiting for you. Cool exit area.

MAP10A Proud and Booming Industry
by Paul "Skillsaw" DeBruyne
Skillsaw knocks it out of the park with a vast base featuring plenty of valley area to explore and no small amount of toxic waste to wade through. I'm thankful for the optional areas, housing goodies you'll want to score, especially the SSG. DeBruyne pockets enemies cleverly enough to keep you watching your back but doesn't skimp on the more choreographed battles, like the final area with its aerial insurgents preceded by the dual arch-viles. Actually, surprise arch-viles are a common theme, as you'll see. I was kind of let down by the blue key trap, where Hell's sorcerer has no company. Overall, a blast you'll enjoy.

The Colossus Crawls WestMAP11
by Ed Cripps
An oddly accurate choice of name as the level's starting section feels like an inexorable march through the base as doorways close behind you, forcing you through the infernal denizens as they come at you in waves. The opening teleport ambush, where you spend some quality time with the regular shotgun, sets the tone. Ed is good about attacking you from multiple angles and reuses pretty much all of the ground you'll cover so the map seems very crowded as you cut back and forth, but not impossible to clear. Standout encounter for me was the yellow key trap, which gives you some of the heavies to worry about in addition to nasties coming from both entrances.

MAP12Underground Initiations
by Travers "traversd" Dunne and Paul "Skillsaw" DeBruyne
The largest map in the set so far. It's nonlinear in that, once you have the central area cleared, you can choose one of three different directions, each of which houses a key. You'll be kitted out accordingly for each leg of the journey, but carrying a key from one area to another will confer certain... bonuses... mostly in shortcuts and weaponry otherwise unavailable, depending on the order you choose. The southern area, a fusion of toxic caverns and dark and seedy base, is the largest of the three, and accordingly the most violent. There's a lot of good fights and surprises, with a fitting timed finale culminating in a Cyberdemon showdown. Fantastic stuff!

I'll Replace You With MachinesMAP13
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso and Paul "Skillsaw" DeBruyne
Super-cool and action-packed level that keeps moving at the speed of light. That SSG placed at the beginning definitely sets the tone, as does the opening room and its pair of arch-viles, where the awkward crate placement makes things not so cut and dry. The level makes use of tons of high-HP toughs mixed in with the riffraff so the need for target prioritization is paramount, especially with the intermittent pain elementals. Bonus points for some cool basement pits to kick around in. Standout encounter, definitely that first room.

MAP14Big Chief Chinese Restaurant
by Matthew "Foodles" Edwards and Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
MAP14's more relaxed soundtrack belies the sneaky enemy placement that dominates this level. Appraising any given encounter is difficult the first time around as there are enough moving parts (or things stuffed in crannies) to keep you occupied so that even the lesser enemies get in a potshot or two. Like the previous levels, there's a healthy balance between nice outdoor courtyards to knock around in. If I had to pick a standout encounter, it would be the blind drop into the area behind the blue key door, where there's no retreat and ugly jerks waiting in the wings, making you second-guess every move.

Tricyclic LooperMAP15
by Brett "Mechadon" Harrell
Mechadon delights with a large, exploratory map that houses its own sinister riddle with the secret blue key needed to reach the alternate exit. It's not as rough as the past few levels, instead focusing on the lesser monsters of the Doom II bestiary, with a few exceptions. It's kind of like an augmented OG Doom, what with how much time you spend using the shotgun at the beginning. That doesn't make the battles any less lethal, as I can recall a few ambushes that laid me low, the most memorable being in the tunnels by the secret plasma rifle. As mentioned, it's pretty free-form how you want to approach the level, with the yellow key opening up a significant portion for you to horse around in.

MAP31The Hard Way
by Paul "Skillsaw" DeBruyne
Of course, the secret level is a lite slaughter map from Skillsaw. The twist is that you only need to grab EITHER the blue or yellow key to get to the red and thus the exit. Layout is pure DeBruyne, very clean and with some goofy fights like the Cyberdemon room (which is ripe for infighting – save the BFG for the finishing blow). Lots of spaced out lesser enemies to draw your attention, which is kind of clever as a commando is just as distracting solo without being as lethal as an assault team, and you're tempted to switch to lighter arms so as not to waste those precious cells and rockets. Very fun – I hardly noticed I'd taken as long to finish as I did!

Get Out of My Stations IIMAP16
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
Another return to All My Stations, with this stop showcasing a view of the Saturn X ridgeline, including some ominous buildings in the distance.

MAP17Navigating Flood Regions
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
Another super cool level from Essel, this one with a bit of spectacle. The most memorable moment for me was the sinking of the nukage lake in addition to the platform I was standing on ("Navigating Flood Regions" indeed) though the pillared Cyberdemon and his merry band of revenants was a close second. One neat detail – the stuck elevator out of the Cyberena and the secret cave to the invul sphere, though I'm not sure how useful the sphere is given how far away it is from the action. Very nice!

Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday)MAP18
by Simon "Sirjuddington" Judd
Judd's offering is with one sole exception an underground network of techbase tunnels staffed with nasties. Gameplay involves setting out into the base, finding a key, and then returning to the atrium, where key doors reveal switches that open up the path to the next key, as well as flushing some baddies into your realm of existence. The standout encounter for me involved two huge vats of water from which emerge cacodemons, but there are other conventionally challenging gunfights to tickle your fancy, and a possibly stressful trek down a lava-filled corridor. Good stuff.

MAP19U.S. Mustard Company
by Matt "RottKing" Cibulas
RottKing delivers a supreme underground installation whose opening visual hints at things to come. The slow fight up the sides of the chamber is a great beginning. There are a lot of incidental lower-tier fighting where you need to be on your watch for incoming potshots as well as some more pitched battles, like the nukage vat that drains to reveal an arch-vile and his guardians, or the southern chamber in the western compound, which gets a big influx of opposition. One interesting tidbit – you have two different ways to enter the western area from the east, though both lead to the same jumping-on point.

Failed Experiments & Trashed AircraftMAP20
by Nick "Hobomaster22" Laurent and Richard "Tarnsman" Frei
This Hobomaster / Tarnsman joint features a little bit of exploration and a lot of congested fighting, including more arch-viles than the average bear. The action is pretty intense for what's one of the shorter maps, when compared to the surrounding material, but surprises like the dual archies in the yellow key room or the plasma secret punishment keep you guessing at the next twist. I liked the secret areas, here, which weren't exactly hidden, just requiring a bit of drawing conclusions.

MAP21Gonna Never Have to Die
by Matt "RottKing" Cibulas and Paul "Skillsaw" DeBruyne
RottKing and Skillsaw pool their considerable talents together to make this beast of a level that's loaded with great fights. The crate yard is the obvious action star, with all kinds of snipers (including a Cyberdemon) harrying you as you try to pick your way through the riffraff on the ground. Immediately prior is an imp army led by an arch-vile general. The rest of the base espouses this tricky enemy layout, including some sneaky lost souls that aim to startle. Another standout segment – the jump into the water-inundated caverns to the northeast, with some good claustrophobic fighting. A good penultimate level.

Get Out of My Stations IIIMAP22
by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
The final visit to the episode hub, which involves a much longer hike from the now down-powered tram system through an underground network of caverns to the military base's southern wing. Haunting, in a good way.

MAP23Tough Skin River
by John "Tango" Oksasoglu
BTSX's finale starts out playing like the previous levels but takes a turn toward the height of slaughter in the second half with a staged battle to remember, with five different waves. If you can make it to the Cyberdemons, you're pretty much done. Not to take away from the tricky arch-vile / mancubus finale or that huge crowd of imps in the cubic region. And that's not all! There are some nice vistas for you, like the walk on the wall of the base that faces the cistern, and a neat SFX right at the level's end. The layout is intelligent in that Tango excels at dumping the player near the next objective, key in hand, while shoving them ever forward with the intractable lure of deadly action. It's a great way to end the first episode.


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2013 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Back to Saturn X: Episode 1EyedeaInterception
Doom 2 the Way id DidSamsaraHadephobia
Unholy RealmsEon DeathmatchHellbound
ZDoom Community Map Project: Take 2Best Gameplay ModHigh / Low 5
Fuel DevourerProject MSXSoulcrusher
KuchitsuMordeth AwardStomper
Forsaken OverlookZDCMP2
Stardate 20X6Mockaward
Pirate DoomExtreme Weapon Pack
Swim With the WhalesMapper of the Year


  1. Glad to see such great MODS getting made today, I gave this a couple of hours tonight and loved every minute :-)

  2. An excellent set of maps, as you said. The "Get Out of My Stations" levels are a stroke of genius on the part of the authors, providing a subtle alternative to traditional storytelling cues. They convey a sense of isolation and solitude without resorting to intrusive means such as forced cutscenes and text pop-ups. The fact that they went the extra mile to include them makes a huge impact on the level-set's tone.

    1. yeah i'm really keen on the intermissions. i wouldn't mind even larger stations but i doubt they were ever considered to be a meaty part of the release

  3. I hope the final product will feature 32 levels of each episode and not 24. Isn't that right? Because it's version 0.99 and means is still being worked on.

    1. probably not unless some of the other guys on the team decide to crank out some more techbases. not that i wouldn't mind getting techbase maps from contributors like thegreenherring, use3d, joshy, etc..

    2. I'd like to see too the finished wads featuring 32 levels. It makes more sense if they are full megawads. Heck, some other megawads even feature 33 or more levels, so I think BTSX should have 32 levels each episode.

    3. I disagree. If they are done, they are done. Why force yourself to pad out a megawad to 32 maps when some of it will be repetitive and filler? 24 maps is lots enough IMO. Especially since this is the first of 3 episodes!

  4. someone is obsessed with Guided By Voices!

  5. By god this mapset was excellent, I can't wait for the next episodes.

    A stellar companion to the Accessories To Murder gameplay mod.

    1. BTSX is pretty much my most-anticipated vanilla Doom project, next to maybe NEIS

  6. Missing the new Map19 Bingo Pool Hall of Blood, any plans to update?

    1. there is another new Skillsaw map in the dev version, too. im waiting on the final release before i update, which will probably involve a full replay because there has been a lot of rejiggering since my review

  7. The strange map naming convention and the overall look of the mapset and its sequel seems to be very Marathon-inspired. Considering Marathon is one of my favourite "why have I never played this until now?!" series (just went through the trilogy this past October) I consider that a good thing.

  8. I find the idea of placing a shotgun near the start of map01, before you even encounter any monsters, to be a bit silly.

    But overall, this an excellent mapset and I look forward to the final version (if it'll ever get released)

    1. btsx's central design philosophy is putting the encounters at the forefront of the game. every aspect of the level design and thing placement has been tweaked to ensure that the only thing that trips the player up is the monsters themselves. i think this absolute focus on level flow is what turns some people off, since some people have become accustomed to some of the knobbly bits that the team has attempted to sand off, so to speak. as such, its no surprise that they elected to hand you a shotgun before you even see something to shoot at. would the gameplay of the thing be improved beyond a shadow of a doubt if it adhered to the stolid standard of killing a few zombies and imps with a pistol?

    2. Sorry for late reply. I didn't mean I wanted to pistol some zombies first. I more would've liked a berserk/chainsaw at the start instead. I prefer E2's map01 because of this.

    3. True, but without the heavy hand of people like dew, or Joshy, or Snakes, the likelihood of someone lobbying for Tyson gameplay starts goes down exponentially. I don't mean for the whole map of course, just to get your bearings

  9. for UV, I kinda wish the chaingunner thats found with an arachnotron in the main path near the blue key in E1M01 was replaced with an additional arachnotron.

  10. "the secret cave to the invul sphere, though I'm not sure how useful the sphere is given how far away it is from the action."

    Yeah. Just played the map myself, and it ran out before I even found any threats. I'm thinking the megatextured version should replace it with a BFG or something.

  11. Just finished this. Awesome megawad.

    With Map24, I reckon the imp horde and the caco horde when you're getting the yellow key were a bit overdone. Not so much that they were hard (they really weren't), but that they drag, like the only point to them is to waste time. On first attempt, they may seem inoffensive, but after several restarts from dying much later in the level, I just ended up finding these early fights to be painfully tiresome. Might have been better to just leave the hordes to when you reach the cavern.

    1. I can see that being a bother when you're playing through in the hardcore style.

    2. There is no Map24 in this review (yet).

    3. I was referring to was the map "Tough Skin River". It used to be map23 in older versions. The current version brought an additional map called "Bingo Pool Hall of Blood" which became the new map19. The original maps from 19-23 were thus shifted to becoming 20-24.

  12. Now that its no longer in beta, I look forward to you're eventual update for this review. Particularly interested in seeing your thoughts on Bingo Pool Hall of Blood, and Optical Hopscotch.

    1. it won't be for a while. most of my free time is currently forfeit to overtime.

    2. Thats fair enough.