Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beyond Reality (BRFINAL.WAD)

Darsycho, aka Jack101 (aka the_afrit) wants to take you on a wild ride to a dimension of pure insanity. Beyond Reality chronicles a bizarro world on the fringes of Doomspace, filled with unusual monsters that bring their own dynamic to tried and true gameplay. There's no stated reason for your intrusion to this mixed-up place; it simply is, an amusement park concocted to test your conceptions of what should be. There are seventeen levels for Doom II in Beyond Reality; fifteen normal maps, a "credits" level that has some decent gameplay, and a hidden foray in the MAP31 slot. The features of the mapset require one of the ZDoom family of ports.

Most of the otherness in Beyond Reality comes from Jack's modified bestiary, as his only weapons change is a faster fire rate on the pistol. Very few monsters escape some kind of alteration; only imps and spectres are entirely untouched. You'll see a few appearances from other Doom / Doom II monsters but they're annoyingly in stealth mode. These instances are rare enough that by the time you see them again, you're vulnerable for another surprise. Of the significantly different enemies, I'm very happy with the micro demons, uber revenants, random demons, and walking barrels. I wouldn't mind seeing them pop up in Beyond Beyond Reality.

Some of the others play fine, though they don't really fit in aesthetically. The eradicator is an interesting subversion of the mancubus in how it zooms around, though it doesn't really sell as a "bizarro" monster. Those that kind of do are just plain annoying. I'll be honest - most of the sprite edits didn't wow me, though plenty of others have enjoyed them. It doesn't break the megaWAD, but BR's purported insanity doesn't compare to old standbys like All Hell is Breaking Loose or The Sky May Be, not that their brand of DeHackEd lunacy is what Jack was trying for. It's still an experiment worth trying, though I'm more interested to see how he goes about refining the monster lineup for the next installment, if there is one. If the author is up to suggestions, I'd replace the flying crate with something more like STRAIN's polydrone.

The other big pull for Beyond Reality's weirdness are the settings themselves. The mapset is loosely organized into five three-level episodes with two outliers. The emerald zone's detailing is competent but the green theme is tiresome and the layouts uninspiring. Crateopolis isn't much better, though the influx of platforming bits with RoTT pads, fire jets and bladed pillars is a welcome addition. The ice zone is much nicer, though the boss level feels like a cop-out, and the Doom homage is pretty cool, though the two maps end up looking pretty similar in layout, if not execution. Still fun to play. The time-frozen world has a neat gimmick that kind of carries the finale to the end, though the lack of some kind of uber mind-fuck at the WAD's end robs it of its potency.

Beyond Reality has an interesting concept behind it, but it's not nearly as crazy as it wants to be. I think Jack101 is on to something but the level design doesn't sell the madness (a problem also shared with similar works) and the bestiary is for the most part humdrum. Still, it's got some aspects worth experiencing, and this WAD may just be the trip you need. It would certainly be worth your time to check out each theme; nearly every level works well from pistol start, so it's pretty easy to tour around. Go ahead and give it a try.

by "Darsycho" aka "Jack101"

Emerald PlaygroundMAP01
Jack has certainly nailed his own aesthetic with this odd green theme with the random portraits of assorted characters – Pennywise, Jak, and Strong Bad are some of the pictures you'll see leering at you. You're also introduced to a lot of the gameplay strangeness. Besides the sheer sprite changes you'll see the precious (if disturbing) micro demons and the standout if bizarre battle against two pillars of skulls in the middle of a fire-spewing arena. Of all the simple architecture in the level, the opening room is my favorite.

MAP02Tech Lab
Things pick up a bit here. Introducing a few new monsters, which are functionally cacodemons and mancubuses, I think. Encounters are a bit faster-paced with the arch-vile-pillars providing some good scares at several locations. I like some of the bits here like the outside curving walkway and the simple but effective rows of vats at the exit. The layout isn't that interesting except Jack does a good job opening it up so that backtracking is fairly painless. The only thing missing is a rocket launcher so I can put all the level's rockets to good use...

Plasma FactoryMAP03
More emerald shenanigans. This level has a circular arrangement where you explore offshoots of an outer ring, grabbing the keys and flipping switches until you get access to the chewy center of the map. The outdoor area has a nice arrangement, but the green is starting to wear – so it's good that this theme is drawing to a close. Jack also introduces the mysterious walking barrel, which will probably surprise you the first time you encounter it. They'd be more effective if like Boos or those rocks from Commander Keen 4 they only walked when you weren't looking at them, but so it goes. I like the look of the outdoor levels and that northwestern room, though the latter wasn't used for anything interesting.

The change in scenery is nice but the wonderful world of crates is kind of banal, regardless of the fact that it's floating in a cloud tunnel. There's an obligatory crate maze, of course, and a fountain made out of crates (kind of neat) but the whole outfit seems... boxy. The lost soul replacement makes its debut here, the disembodied head of Doomguy, which is kind of disturbing. Most of the action is standard room clearing but the crate maze has some potential snags (like the living shish kabob) and on your way to the end there's another pillar fronted by a bunch of spectres but you should be well off with rockets and plasma by that point. Oh, actually that pack of mini-demons in the maze got me a little frantic. Little buggers.

Box FactoryMAP05
Jack lets it out a bit with more RoTT goofiness including a conveyor gauntlet where you must dodge past erupting flames and whirling blades. The crushing ceiling portion to the west is not so interesting, but the crate area to the east is more dynamic than previous locations with some three-dimensional movement. The southern arena is a letdown. I was expecting some kind of massacre but there's just a lone supercomputer thing which after some plasma spam isn't much of a thing at all. The Doomguy heads are the most dangerous thing here; they're pretty aggressive and that opening shootout with the SSG will likely end up causing you some pain.

MAP06Crate Island
Starts out with an island facade rife with imps before moving on to the main event, a crate maze with vertical movement involved that's also hidden on the automap. That's...not so good. The floating heads and walking barrels do a good job of sneaking up on you. After that you move to the liquid area which is a bit more interesting and has teleports to a few battlegrounds before opening up the massive tech hall that leads to the exit. The totem pole troopers make their debut, though they don't really stand out outside of being garish. My favorite fight is the grand hall where the superbeast plus the fast-flying fire squids give you room to move but not with impunity.

Frozen NonsenseMAP07
I'm digging the arctic void. It's still got enough clashing parts to match with Jack's sense of "?" and has another bizarro theme going for it with the Alice in Wonderland pickup sprites, topped off with the appearance of giant imps. Cover is worthless against them – you have to outrun their fireballs. On the plus side, they can cook themselves, which is a nice bonus. There's a fair bit of platforming involved but most of the cool stuff occurs through a series of teleporters through a more surreal void outlined in blue which is accessed by a fairly obscure runway that overlooks the rocket launcher. Pretty fun play!

MAP08Elpmet Retaw
The best level of the set so far, Jack plays around with the quintessential gimmick from Ocarina's Water Palace with several water levels you'll raise / lower to in order to gain access to certain areas. The encounters feel more planned out, though I'm not totally sold on that zombie-smorgasbord in the northeastern room. While I'm not a fan of the fade in / fade out lighting in the southeastern cavern section, it's delightfully surreal as the sound cuts out and you inch your way around the invisible walls to get your pot shots in. Also love the blue key room with the bouncing pillars. Cool stuff!

1994 randomness meets Beyond Reality. The floating in space gives it a layout that's certainly similar to "Frozen Nonsense". Jack gives you zero weapons besides the BFG, presumably because you had to enter this from a secret exit in the first place. It doesn't make the map impossible, but it's significantly more tricky as you dance around the monsters he's placed around. There is at least one section worth seeing, where a horde of barrel walkers teleports onto a pirate ship. Blowing up one turns into a self-sustaining chain reaction as long as they keep teleporting in; it's pretty cool to watch.

MAP09A Place of Some Sort
A low-effort bossmap where you blast through some randoms and then pick your way through a head-infested tunnel before the arena which is a bunch of the strongest monsters you've seen so far, with huge columns of water providing cover. The one big twist is the appearance of the mega cacobus, which is appropriately overpowered head-on but easily bested with some circle-strafing. Nothing special.

Knee Deep in the Shores of InfernoMAP10
Rolling on with the third episode, Jack starts messing around with the elements of the original Doom. I think he has the informal episode 2 / 3 layout down to a tee. Funnily enough, I think the gameplay in this more "primitive" design outshines the gameplay of much of the previous outings, with a lot of exploration, ambushes, and the newest enemy, the ghost of revenants past which is a refreshing sprite edit that can walk through walls. I'm not too crazy about the "Slough of Despair" area – it's a little too basic – but it works. Love all those little glimpses into bizarro land in the void.

MAP11This is a Map
More of the same style but with more wide-open spaces compared to the previous level, which felt more constrained. There's less straight techbase, feeling more like a blend of E2 and E3. There are no new monsters, but there is a surprising appearance from a stealth arch-vile, which is slightly scary. I'm not fond of the blue key puzzle; between the fire jet and the slow crusher it's probably more punishing than it has to be. That hopscotch with the freezing fires and normal flames, though, is pretty fun, and Jack does a good job in leading you back to the entrance via a different route. Not much else to say except resources are really tight; don't waste your shots and try to get any secret you can.

Tower of DisMAP12
Layering the EXM8 levels together with the new monsters serving as the bosses. The dual random demons are a little tricky but not nearly as annoying as the Babel section. Those floating heads are just a pain. After you kill the cacobus (pretty easy) you have to take on four Maephistos in the corners of an enlarged Dis. It's honestly not that hard to off them with all the health and ammo, provided you don't get sniped from across the map by his powerful projectiles. Nostalgic, but not at all thrilling.

MAP13Inanimate Corridors
Same kind of layouts as the first three levels but with different textures and a brand new gimmick. The entire level begins frozen in time in a gray-scale. You can grab powerups and weapons but the enemies are invulnerable, with the exception of the super revenants, which are apparently timeless. As you progress you'll flip switches that return color to sections of the map and life to its inhabitants. There's a platforming section, which isn't that annoying, and a room chock full of haunted swords, which could be a very dangerous fight if you're not careful. Jack does a good job shuttling you around with teleporters so you spend very little time backtracking after you've had sufficient time to bask in his black-and-whiteified world.

Tower TopMAP14
The gimmick is the same but the implementation is different. Frozen sections of the map are blocked off; you can only tread in the living ground, which again is activated by hitting switches. You unfreeze sections of the map and once the residents are killed you complete some kind of platforming challenge to reach the next bit. I like the fights here more than the previous level. Navigation (and fighting) is made incredibly annoying by invisible walls that are presumably used to prevent jumping exploits. Also, the one little hutch just northeast of the ziggurat is stupidly tricky to jump since the elevator is a shade below the path you run on.

MAP15Forgotten Castle
Jack throws all the former designs out the window with another gauntlet / boss style level. The opening is the exterior of a dead castle that's wrought with all kinds of shrubbery which you're liable to get hung up on while running away from a host of revenants and a never-ending stream of haunted swords. That's literal; I'm guessing the unlimited sabers are supposed to funnel you towards the castle once you open the gate. After you bring the light back and flee into the castle you have a few decent fights but the horde of Hell at the end lacks oomph; another new enemy would have done a lot to give this final chapter some life. It's kind of fun watching them beat up on each other, though.

Skyward ClubMAP16
It's not just a credits map, but it is a credits map. The club looks decent (I like the floorlights and the stocked bar) and is overstaffed with monsters that will teleport in as you finish off each wave, so use at least a little caution or you won't be able to see it through til the end. The highlight is probably the swarm of plasma elementals toward the finale.


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2012 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Doom the Way id DidWhoDunIt?Beyond Reality
Strife: Absolute OrderBest Gameplay ModMasters of Chaos
PutrefierRussian OverkillFrozen Time
5till L1 ComplexMordeth AwardPlanisphere 2
Community Chest 4Community Chest 4Coffee Break Ep. 1
The EyeCall of Dooty II
Combat Shock 2Mapper of the Year
Winter's FuryKhorus
Base Ganymede: Complete

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