Monday, February 4, 2013

The Darkening Episode 1: The Nameless Project (DARKEN.WAD)

1998 seemed to mark the death of super cool community projects for Doom. Everyone seemed to be too busy playing Quake, realizing Warren Marshall's very public fear. So imagine when The Darkening debuted its first episode in 1999, "The Nameless Project", looking very much like Doom but with a keen eye for lighting characteristic of many of these authors' earlier works. Lighting isn't the only element borrowed from Quake. It's nothing like Iikka Kernanen's ode to the big Q in Requiem, but there's a certain aesthetic clearly echoed with the use of Shub-Niggurath slipgates and the new textures that clearly shows that Doom II wasn't the only thing on the minds of this team. Still, they managed to stop boxing Shub-Niggurath long enough to put out eleven more levels for Doom II.

The Darkening comes with its own story. There's a lot of text, and it's pretty descriptive, but the essentials are always there. It's three years after Doom II and you're still working for the UAC who have gotten all shadow-government behind closed doors. Pretty soon the Mars outfit you're working at goes all Doom 3 (before Doom 3, mind you) with people disappearing and, more disturbingly, outbound marines dying in tragic shuttle "accidents". Eventually you wake up after a particularly vivid flashback nightmare only to find yourself in the thick of it on waking up, gritting your teeth for another encounter with Hell.

So; The Darkening's first episode likes Quake. That much is clear. There are a few uses of floating monolith slipgate teleporters in normal areas and in secrets in a style endemic to Doom's daughter. There's also the lighting, which is usually gorgeous when highlighted. John Bye of Talosian fame is the biggest user of gradients, but in general the team has a lot of fun with contrasting light with dark, even if it's mostly dark. The new textures aren't that impressive outside of maybe the Cyberdemon gargoyle head and some of the Quake-ish cherry red stuff. It's mostly more brown metal, which isn't necessarily bad, just not very distinct in a game that's gotten a lot of criticism for being as brown as it is.

The gameplay is actually pretty rough for what's a handful of pretty short levels. The size may have something to do with how much the authors like to box you around. Most of the big monsters are used pretty sparingly; you'll find yourself dealing with zombies through demons much more than other nasties, with the major exception being the "Dead Simple" variant. Bullets will be the biggest threat as the health is pretty tightly tuned. The size also makes the maps pretty hard to get lost in, though moving to the next major area might occasionally throw you for a loop. A minor note (to me, at least): The Darkening comes with a separate deathmatch-only WAD that mirrors the normal campaign. Most of the levels - or so I've heard - are re-purposed versions of the single player maps.

I don't think The Darkening is as good as some of the greats that preceded it (like Requiem) but it's still a solid mapset that I enjoyed. If you want a Quake-like set of fast-paced Doom II maps that doesn't hold back, then The Darkening's first episode is the WAD for you. Make sure to load it alongside the RESOURCE WAD, and if you want to see the new intermission text strings, play it with the DeHackEd file as well. If you're tired of brown, no matter how cool the lighting might be, then DARKEN isn't going to bowl you over. I'm certainly looking forward to the followup.


by The Darkening team

by Jan Van Der Veken
Very short but fun blasty opener from Veken. Introduces you to some of the mainstays, like the teleporter graphic or those cool Quake arrow popups that direct you to the important places. It also clues you in to the fact that those pentagrams are switches, which will also help you out in one of the map's secrets. The blue key was a nice reveal, though it would have been nice for there to be something else to fight when you run the route back from the exit door. Standout encounter, the ambush in the southeast room.

MAP02Bloody Hell
by Jan Van Der Veken
Veken draws things out a little longer for another stone and metal offering. The layout's a little more interesting with some stairs and an outer yard with two overhangs that show some nice architecture. Dig that turning staircase area to the northeast. Veken throws a few of the heavier monsters at you but if you can figure out the SSG puzzle you'll be fine as long as you don't take too many hits; health is at a premium, unlike ammo. I like the slipgates that show up here, though the one to the blue armor is a little problematic as the commandos Jan lets loose tend to hang out just beneath the ledge. Standout encounter, the cacodemon / hell knight fight.

by John "Gestalt666" Bye
John Bye's "Entropia" is a very short, very cramped affair that nonetheless has his standard approach to sector lighting. It's odd playing a Bye map that's so gameplay-oriented. All of the action takes place around an open courtyard you don't have any reason to tool around in. You'll be offing packs of zombies (probably with an easily-acquired secret SSG) before running off into the nastier fights, like an arch-vile in a closet that will end with you flush with shells, or the easily if slowly bested mancubus. The arch-vile is probably my favorite moment, though I also like the chamber behind the yellow door, which has a baron and a few hell knights to soak up rockets while you narrowly dodge some plasma.

by Travers "Hobbes" Dunne
Things heat up with Travers Dunne's first outing. True to title, MAP04 is brutal on the player. You'll be doing a lot of work with the regular shotgun to start, only having the plasma rifle for a brief but necessary run-in with an arch-vile. Monsters lurk on every ledge, waiting to chip your health away; things don't really let up until you get past the encounter where you get the rocket launcher, and even then you'll have to deal with the final battle, a clusterfuck in the exit room where precision rocket strikes will greatly simplify things. I like the ledge leap progression, here, which together with the nonstop combat helps to distract from the bland metal siding that dominates the textures. Very fun. Oh, there's a Spiderdemon in here, but whatever.

Hand of DoomMAP05
by Jan Van Der Veken
Veken continues the trend of nasty difficulty with "Hand of Doom", a larger, dark map with a lot of nasty enemy positioning. It's also kind of short on health and ammo, depending on which way you run around the level. The semi-secret chain that grants you a combat shotgun is practically indispensable for the several barons you'll fight, not to mention an arch-vile near the map's end. The rest of the toughness comes from reams of hitscanners which do a good job of sniping at you from the darkened catwalks that surround the lower pits you do most of your fighting from. The teleporter room to the east is particularly dangerous in this regard; you're almost safer just darting in, flipping the switch, and then running out. Getting the chaingun for revenge is pretty satisfying.

MAP06The Mines of Death
by Nick Baker
Very short and very violent. Above ground it's the usual brick and metal theme but below ground it's some green-black cobbled mines you'll be hesitant to nose around in, though they're initially unstaffed. It's pretty straightforward, with most of the action arriving once you grab the red key, which dumps the rest of the nasties into the playing area, including an arch-vile with a mancubus bodyguard you'll be treating very gingerly. Favorite segment is actually an umarked secret, an off-room near the exit that grants access to a tantalizing megasphere. The bit with the panel lying on the floor is a very nice touch.

Dead Simple ][MAP07
by Nick Baker
It starts out looking like "Dead Simple" but takes a left turn very quickly. The map is considerably more forgiving than the original, with a lot of other monsters to fight. The trademark mancubuses and arachnotrons don't offer much pressure as you can take your time and use the various doorways to protect yourself from the worst of it. Still a lot of fun trying to figure out just when the hammer drops.

by John "Gestalt666" Bye
John Bye's second level is a bit longer than its counterpart but it's just as cramped and full of hitscanner monsters, if not moreso. Several stages have reams of shotgun guys with little health to show for it, with other areas showing copious medikits. The flipside is the red key room, a crate storage area that's flush with demons and has several arch-viles thumping around. About the best you can do is stand on the stairs and clear a path for them to get to you before you get waist-deep in pink flesh. It's probably my standout encounter given the vast difference in what it takes to tackle it. The big thing that might throw players is Bye's use of computers as switches. Virtually every console does something; give it a push!

Military ComplexMAP09
by Jan Van Der Veken
Veken throws out a tough as nails E1-style map that barely gives you room to breathe in its myriad traps. It's got a very Doom in Doom II feel as most of the action is handled with the shotgun with rocket launcher fun reserved for a wave of barons, one of the most dangerous fights as you're bound to lose track of them while they're approaching you from different sides. As for the rest, you've got plenty of up close and personal demon fights and perhaps the nastiest surprise, the blue key trap. Four cacodemons have rarely given so much trouble. Rough, but fun. I like the dark computer room which houses the yellow key.

MAP10Underearth Outpost
by Travers "Hobbes" Dunne
Dunne puts together another brutal map that handily outclasses his earlier "Relentless", if only in the environment. MAP10 is some kind of underground base with a dark crate section you can navigate through (watch out for imps!) and an earthy area that'll see you under assault from several cacodemons. It starts out pretty frantic, with that wave of demons fronting the pain elemental / cacos. After some more relaxed fighting you get a blind drop into a cadre of former humans with a bunch of nasty airborne monsters waiting in the wings. Take care not to unleash the exit guardian or you're going to have a completely different danger to worry about. The plasma rifle is almost mandatory to speed through the final brawl, but unless you're incapable of straferunning, you'll be good.

Stone TyrantMAP11
by Adam Windsor
Windsor caps things off with a very short map as is his particular style. It's a great hall with small siderooms; most of the danger is in the opening firefight where you're bound to eat crossfire from hitscanners, if not the various imps and cacos that can be found. The other bits aren't as dangerous but there's a Cyberdemon guarding the final gate. You can exploit him by standing up on the ledges, but you're not a chump, are you? Don't miss the rocket launcher like I did or you'll be wasting a lot of bullets.

This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's Top 10 WADs of 1999

Batman DoomThe Darkening
Chord GJägermörder
Twilight WarriorDemonfear
Tei TengaHerian 2

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