Thursday, February 28, 2013

Survive in Hell (SIHR2FIX.WAD)

French author JC Dorne started work on Survive in Hell as early as 2008, looking at the sector stamps. He eventually finished and released it in 2012, a Boom-compatible megaWAD for Doom II. Not only is it BooMBF, but it's got bonus cosmetic features for those playing in ZDoom-derived ports, a nice touch you don't see often. There's no given story, and what comes across in the intermission texts is your essential marine-conquers-all scenario where you battle into the very heart of Hell to do what you do best - kill all of the demons. You'll see a lot of Hell and you'll also see a lot of less specific locales...

The gist is that it's a mapset inspired by Hell Revealed and its ilk, but less demanding than its progenitors; a beginner's slaughter megaWAD, if you will. This impression comes off the strongest in the first sixteen or so maps which are clearly knockoffs in one way or another. I've only played HR but I recognize a few of the others through their sheer infamy and know there must be more from other sources. That's not to say that it isn't fun to play; the rinky-dink slaughtermaps may not be the most innovative or demanding but it's good to practice on these neutered scenarios. The abundance of resources might turn off seasoned vets, but rest assured that newbies will still be having trouble with Survive in Hell.

Once you get past the rough-looking and tricksy slaughter levels, constructed in the infancy of JCD's career, you'll bump in to an awkward phase of tiny levels that keeps up through the set. These speedmap-like offerings hit their nadir in concepts like "Clau512", "Hard Way", and "Doom Logo", feeling more like filler than the megaWAD-knockoffs ever did. Thankfully it's tempered by some gorgeous-looking Hell levels, which JCD was ostensibly building toward. MAP21 begins probably the best run of the set as far as balancing looks and combat goes, though it's more weighted toward BFG and rocket spam than anything.

There are a lot of demon bodies to break with your varied armaments and more infighting than you can shake a BFG at. Survive in Hell doesn't have the most dynamic sets of encounters I've played, but they get the job done, and it's fun to be able to cut loose with Doom's advanced weaponry. JCD has included a set of new monsters to rub elbows with through some DeHackEd work. I think the poison soul could be excised completely; it's an annoying monster and hardly ever shows up, alongside the afrit and cybruiser, two other creatures used so sparingly that they hardly leave an impression. You'll get a lot of the belphegor, though. It's an even tougher Hell noble that throws two plasma blasts in rapid succession.

What makes SiH easy to swallow - besides the lighthearted slaughter - is JC's music selection. What I recognize most of all are a host of handheld Castlevania tunes. They go a long way toward livening things up, being a bit of a Castlevania fanboy myself, and are a nice change from the usual crop of slaughtertracks of yore. Apart from that, it's cool and at the very least educational to see JC's evolution as a mapper from homages to independence. While I would have liked to see a collection of levels comparable to the last ten or so, the rest was far from painful, and I look forward to seeing his future endeavors. It's nice to see this stable of French authors - JC among them - coming into their own.

by JC Dorne

A small, no-nonsense opening with an unusual texture scheme - brick and mortar for the central area with green techbase annexes to the north and west. It's got a standard MAP01 "demon ambush in a tight room" but working almost exclusively with the SSG instead of the berserk gives it a bit of a different flavor. The standout fight is that teleporter trap after grabbing the red key which lets loose a wide variety of beasties, albeit all in the same area.

MAP02Sector of Death
It's an inverse "Descent" where the teleporter lowers to you rather than you lowering to the floor where the teleporter is. It's also a lot easier - fitting for MAP02, really - and with all the ammo lying around you should have no trouble making it to the bottom with some rocket and plasma spam, as long as you take your time with the SSG on the early waves. The Cyberdemon at the end is a nice stinger and the new faces you see on the way down are a bit of a surprise, but hardly make a difference.

Abandoned FactoryMAP03
Something different. This level's focus is on reams of enemies, with three separate cadres of revenants along with a return trip where the opening courtyard is stocked with demons and the occasional hell knight. The third skeleton horde isn't that interesting unless you suck at laying down suppression fire on the undead but there's just enough corridor to the outdoor area to make the Cyberdemon fight somewhat risky.

MAP04Ravaged Area
This is a homely rewrite of "Dead Progressive" only with a million billion revenants. It's not nearly as complex as its template but it gets the job done. At the very least, the first revenant slaughter does a job by warping in skeletons behind you (even if it's conquerable with an easy to time invul sphere). I assume more fun will be had in figuring out how to beat this level as fast as possible rather than simply clearing it.

Torture ChamberMAP05
A pair of small rooms in dark grey concrete blocks. The opening is pretty claustrophobic but the masses of imps and sergeants fail to threaten as you slowly open up the side chambers. The true challenge is past the level's teleporter, which treats you to no less than three Cyberdemons, all of which you'll have to take out with the SSG (separately, of course). Once you get past that initial fight with the cacos and arch-vile it's deadly dull.

A slightly more grounded level, "Outpost"'s opening scene somewhat reminds of the exterior city levels, but it's got a pretty tight layout. The main fight is an obnoxious revenant horde that teleports into a large room at a lower elevation. They're kind of hard to deal with normally and if you flee the pit your progress will slow to a standstill as you peek over the ledge to fling pairs of rockets their way. I'm also not sure what the hordes of imps clogging the winding fences to the switches to the southwest are about, unless it's arch-vile fodder, though those guys are pretty hamstrung as it is.

Complex ArenaMAP07
This is a little more like it. It's "Dead Simple" but the triggers are less clear-cut. The switches that lower the mancubus platforms flood the playing area with imps and the narrow outer ring comes staffed with arachnotrons plus the belphegors. It's tight enough that you can't really maneuver around all the madness going on unless you're really sneaky but if you grab all the goodies the plasma rifle should help you out of any tight binds. Pretty fun and simple.

MAP08Square of Death
Short but sweet two chambers in beige brick with similar weapon platforms. You'll get a few monster waves as you bust things open but the only tough part is when you're limited to the SSG. There are a few traps associated with the rocket / plasma platforms (one of them unleashing a metric ton of monsters) but I had to go back and work at them to trigger them.

Side of HellMAP09
Things change a bit with this aggressively red Hell map divided into two main sections. There's the starting arena, where you can fight a ton of monsters, and a cool-looking cavern section that leads to the red key. Normal progression would have you grab all three keys - two from the starting area - but any relatively experienced player can strafejump their way to the switch that lowers the wall to the Cyberdemon exit guardians. The rest of the level is certainly worth enjoying, though. The crawl through the caverns is my favorite section with a nice climax.

Basically a smaller-scale rewrite of HR2's "Playground" unless my eyes deceive me, rendered in beige brick. It's mostly symmetric with pockets of arch-viles on the inner corners and cacodemon holding pens on the outside. The most danger you'll ever be in is at the beginning where you have to carefully fend off the free-roaming imps, arachnotrons and demons until you can grab the RL and start clearing out the trouble spots; after that it's smooth sailing as long as you work with some caution. Just be willing to spend a lot of time with rifle and rocket.

Gloomy CityMAP11
Not really a city, but who cares? This is a pretty fun semi-tech level that starts out relatively normal before cruising into slaughter territory with the hail of cacos in the southwestern area (fun to play against the resident Cyberdemon) and that pair of skyscrapers plus the spiderdemon in the exit courtyard. Other than that rush toward the SSG at the beginning, it's low-key compared to the past few offerings, with weird (but appreciated) bits like the switch in the computer console. Oh, I guess the poison soul debuts here. It's an annoying monster.

MAP12Congested Way
Very easy grey / dark brick level that focuses mostly on SSG / berserk fisting antics. The secrets make things much more bearable, like that imp fight or the three zerker packs, all of which are pretty obvious. While it's mostly fun, the level is mirrored down the middle, so the east and west encounters are identical and not nearly as interesting the second time around. It also looks like the demons can't come up the stairs at you, which robs them of any threat unless you've been throwing your ammo away. There's a little jaunt with revenants at the end that helps mix things up, though. The key bit a la E2M9 is just stupid.

Battle Near HellMAP13
A very congested battle by a sluice. The ground floor is full of imps and there are installed arch-viles and revenants that will do you in if you get too brave running around. You're going to have to fight to one of the weapons and then dart inside one of the "safe" houses quickly so that you can catch your breath, taking care that the safe houses have a cadre of barons and imps as well. The battles across the river aren't nearly as exciting, though that teleport sequence to grab the yellow key is kind of cool. Standout is the opening battle, by far.

MAP14Star Wars
And now for something completely different... JCD takes you on a beige brick road through the stars. The trip is mostly linear but you get some cool fights like the hell knight / imp rocket battle. I'm not sold on that imp / belphegor encounter, though. It mostly consists of edging left and right while spraying plasma outside, unless you're ballsy enough to dodge in and snag the invul AND ammo. The first leg of your journey, including the commando trap, is the best.

Invaded LandMAP15
Concentrated rewrite of "Resistance is Futile" down to the Cyberdemon bridge guardian with a gracious invul sphere to start so you can fast-forward to gleeful BFG zerking. The ground floor is easy to clear out with the tools provided; the main issues will be dealing with the switch guardians to the north. There's at least one battle that stands out, a timed cage where you have to deal with hell knights on four pillars. Easy but fairly dynamic; JCD could have brought a few enemies into your playing area to make things interesting. As for the rest, the identical imp / Cyber rooms fail to please along with the cacos / imps, but the afrit makes a surprise appearance, and I had fun.

It's not much to look at given the grid-based textures but the architecture while basic is very effective in evoking what JCD is chasing. Combat shies away from slaughter except for the trap reveals which are more about crowd suppression than anything, especially the yellow key. You'll have the walkers on lock-down; it's the flying enemies you need to watch out for. It'll be pretty densely-packed on your way to the exit - just watch out for that cybruiser and maybe grab that secret level if you poke around a bit. Standout fight, probably the yellow key release.

Tron EvolutionMAP32
The previous level flirted with slaughter but this is an all-out megaslaughter in a rotationally symmetric layout. The main goal on the onset is to fight your way to one of the weapons on the platforms (probably the BFG) and then start clearing some breathing space. Once you hit the eight column switches things lose their luster as you're subjected to the same fight three times in a row. One Cyberdemon, a bunch of demons randomly teleporting on to the ground floor, and a huge wave of cacos. It's only fun once, though doing bombing runs through the packs is kind of cool when you get the door opened across the way. Just plow, restock, plow, restock...

MAPINFO beneficiaries go here; otherwise I think you've got to WARP to this map under your own power. The fidelity to Minecraft, which I haven't played (but seen videos of), is impressive, and touches like the mineable secret, chests that contain valuable items, and the creepers, help to make this one of the most unique Doom levels in recent memory. Unfortunately, the combat kind of sucks until you snag the RL. The CG is nice but won't help you against the huge waves of revenants / cacos or battle belphegors down the tunnels. Beware - creepers that suicide don't count toward kills.

A knock-off of "Dark Dome", I believe. It's a squareish "Living End"-esque level that starts out flush with nasties but you're generally safe in the blood. A not-so-secret invul removes most of the pain in getting the rocket launcher, after which the rest of the map should fall in to place. The only real snags are the Cyberdemons, the latter two more so than the first as dodging two separate rocket sources, no matter how close together they are, is quite dangerous (even if you've got a BFG). There's one final surprise, but you probably saw that one coming, didn't you?

MAP17Beta Industry
A very short brown techbase map that focuses more on claustrophobic gameplay, as the zombimen and imps at the onset can attest to. There's some nukage but unless you suck pretty hard you won't spend much time in it. The teleporter imps might surprise but the real test is dealing with the arch-vile toward the end, especially if you somehow manage to miss the rocket launcher secret. Pretty fun, if cramped. I like the turn toward more advanced detailing and architecture, at least.

Delta SectorMAP18
Another super-short techbase, this one green and gray. Combat again emphasizes confinement, but enemies are more accessible with the lack of height variation. Past the barrel-laden opening, as long as you bide your time you'll be alright, even with that arch-vile crew that warps on top of the red key. The big surprise is waiting at the exit.

Done in the style of Claustrophobia 512. It's a hard stair climb with a few monster closets opening up on your way to the top. The layout is somewhat interesting considering what you have to work with but slapping two belphegors on top of the SSG is a huge drain on fun, unless you're supposed to risk bumping them. Trying to avoid dying to the afrit in what little room you have is far more interesting.

Hard WayMAP20
Like MAP19, this is barely more than a map fragment, but the combat holds up pretty well. It's a SSG slog as you advance with cacos popping out of the cubbies in the hallway; then you work your way back past hell knights, taking care not to get overwhelmed in either scenario. And that's it.

MAP21Mars City
A very tight techbase built into a squarish crater. After an initial semi-frantic exploration phase as you get your bearings, you'll run your way through the various keys. JCD does good by saving his surprises for singular experiences. The tide of imps happens only once and while a bit much is perfectly at home in his creation. The wave of cacos is hard to trigger but just as overwhelming, and it comes right after a pretty packed brawl. It's a bit basic, but I'm liking the way the levels are starting to lean.

Shores of HellMAP22
Very cool Hell level set into an infernal chasm; where JCD's tech levels seem stale, his unearthly settings flourish. There's only one major complaint, a pair of belphegors in a rad-suit timed lava tunnel that are kind of a pain to get through. The rest is pretty nice, though, with tons of infighting opportunities and tricky footwork as you dance your way past installed monsters to clinch the BFG for the obligatory end of level Cyberdemon. The window dressing is nice, too, with tons of little lava windows to give the map some depth (and a potentially sneaky afrit).

MAP23Knee Deep in Hell
Another gorgeous Hell map, but this one fills a vast space (which reveals the weakness of Doom's tiling textures when viewed from afar...). Mainly the goal is to leap from pillar to pillar until you lower the red and yellow keys for access, then go wrest them from the hands of your enemies. All the big encounters are teleport-fests. The key battles have plenty of room to move around in but have pretty much the same composition; some variance (not just in random teleport order) would help. The big one is in a much more cramped space, so you'll be doing more weaving and BFG zerging or risk being overwhelmed. Finally, good luck with the gate guardians, unless you just blitz past them...

Styx BattleMAP24
You'll be kicking demon ass up and down the river Styx in this massive level. Infighting takes care of most of your monster woes and there are enough rad suits to keep you safe while you snipe to your hearts' content with any of your armaments. Except for a couple of small caverns, the fights you'll be subjected to are enormous mob reveals with pretty diverse crowds. It's hard to pick a standout fight when it's mostly just waiting out the inevitable, but the one that comes with a handful of arch-viles was probably my favorite. I do like the way JCD collapses rock into the river to open up new / old areas. The ending seems designed to fuck with speedrunners.

MAP25Doom Logo
Well, huh. JCD creates arenas stylized after the letters of the Doom logo - D O O M - and has you fight your way through them. The opening is kind of dull if you tackle it head on but if you're smart you'll get the Cyberdemon to do a lot of your work for you. The rest of it isn't at all interesting, though there's potential to get the Cybie to take out an afrit for you as well.

Climb to DescendMAP26
Feels like one of the earlier levels due to the simplicity of the concept. You climb a big series of stairs, fighting the whole time, and flip a switch at the top that reveals that you've been on an island and the lowered wall has a ton of baddies to greet you. The dudes on the ground are easily handled with the BFG but you'll need to stay out of range of the arch-viles while you tackle them plus the huge horde of cacos that's poised to assault the rock you're on. I'll admit, caco jousting with the BFG was pretty fun.

MAP27Blood Industry
Imagine Plutonia's "Speed" scaled up by a factor of four and you have "Blood Industry". It's textbook wood and blood with platforms to run around on with some JCD slaughter pockets as you progress. The hordes are easily dispatched with a few caveats. The second big fight, with the pain elementals and afrit coming from the other side, caught me off-guard, and the yellow key ambush might be nasty if you decide to work for 100% kills, but it's all good slaughter once you get down in the muck and grab some gunsnammo - after blowing wide those revenant cages.

Plancks of PainMAP28
The last level created for this PWAD as it replaced "Minedoom?", now relegated to the super-duper-secret map. It's a very tight and VERY nasty bunch of wooden walkways set in blood. The two major key rooms are flush with revenants and, more disturbingly, handfuls of arch-viles teleport into the map at several key points to undo you and your hard work, a lot of which will be accomplished with the normal shotty. They're the obvious standout feature, overshadowing a nasty Cyberdemon. You'll have to dance around him to get a more appropriate weapon to take him on.

A very cool techbase level, and one of the best in the set. Technically it's several compounds built into a river-carved canyon, but whatever. There's a lot of randomly-assorted Doom II trash monsters but JCD doesn't pull any punches when it comes to traps, like the plasma rifle battle, or the secret soulsphere which I thoroughly regret grabbing as early as I did. The major complaint I have is that half of these monsters are going to die by either chaingun or single-barreled shotgun, which makes things very tedious starting off. Dig that waterfall finale.

Crowning GloryMAP30
I'll say this much - JCD knows how to set a finale. The animated burning background coupled with the enormous pillar and crater you start out in is very evocative. It gives you a lot to take in as you run your way through the vast hordes of Hell; the first 600 or so manage to take themselves out via infighting. The second wave is trickier to deal with thanks to some cacodemons and pain elementals that enter from far away. Personally, you're probably better off just taking down the boss than trying to pick out all the stragglers. The head honcho - labelled as the Hell Smith in DeHackEd - isn't that nuanced; he basically just lets out huge waves of mancubus fireballs. Still, it's not something you want to take on the chin.



  1. Cool megawad, plenty of levels are good fun. though I feel some of the new enemies weren't necessary. The perfectly still idle frames also weirds me out. heh

    1. yeah, a lot of the enemies either rarely show up or feel kind of crowbarred in. I liked the way Skillsaw used the custom monsters in Valiant much more.