Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Darkening Episode 2 (DARKEN2.WAD)


In 1999, The Darkening team released the first episode of what was to presumably be more. In 2000, a clearly exhausted Ola Björling pushed the second episode out the door. We got twelve more levels for Doom II, an impressive set of brand-new textures to play around in (though not WITH for many years), and a complementary deathmatch-oriented episode. Gone was the voluminous prose in the .TXT, eliminating any story connections between Darkening's E1 and E2, eerily echoing the relationship between id's Quake and Quake II, a comparison even more relevant when one realizes that the aesthetics of the new textures (and bits of level design) clearly evoke Quake II where DARKEN's borrowed from Quake. The other downer was the announcement that there would be no third episode as the authors had either given up on mapping for Doom or moved on to other games. Amusingly, Jan and Adam are still around and mapping, along with Travers from the original episode. Keep it strong, guys!


To kick things off, the story. You're some kind of intergalactic traveler who runs out of fuel for his or her spacecraft which crash-lands on one of the nastier holes of the galaxy. Now that that's out of the way, the rest. The second Darkening is so utterly unlike its predecessor that I was taken aback. Rough but functional brick and metal designs gave birth to a wholly different kind of techbase that as mentioned takes its cues from Quake II. You'll see that omnipresent Darkening E2 logo, a motif as populous as the Strogg sigil, and battle your way through a handful of sleek techbases whose architecture resembles Q2 while remaining distinctly Doom-like.


Darkening E2, like the first, was intended to be vanilla Doom II compatible. This isn't actually the case, as a certain list of renderer conflicts are met with shrugs and suggestions to play the mapset in a source port. Not playing in vanilla, I can't tell how bad these issues are, but a few are apparently quite thorny. E2 also comes in two flavors, 1.0 and 1.1. The latter fixes some bugs and tweaks the maps but more divisively has some new tunes from Sam "The Metabolist" Woodman. I don't particularly care for them so it might be worth your while to hunt down the original to hear more of kniggit's stuff during your single player run-through.


Episode Two's levels are longer on average than the first's, and by my reckoning, more intricate. The layouts feel more...deliberate, with a lot of three-dimensional movement. They're also comparatively well-lit and much easier on the eyes with both the new textures and the step away from the often angular environments explored in the first mapset. The team has a lot of neat tricks to show off, like hanging crates and faux-3D shelves. They also feature more playtime with Doom's nastier monsters where E1 tended toward the lesser entries in the bestiary (though still used quite lethally). In the end, I think players will find the traps found in DARKEN2 to be less fair than its predecessor, especially those instances where baddies like revenants appear right on top of you.


Between the two, I think Darkening's second outing is superior to the first. I like the gameplay and art direction more than DARKEN's rough Quake-in-Doom II feel and while the base themes might begin to wear thin if you're susceptible to texture fatigue, the combat and exploration are there to keep (or repel) users through til the very end. About the worst I could say is that the health and ammo are a little restricted on UV, but it was rarely a sticking issue for me. Download DARKEN2 and have a ball! Or don't and be a stick in the mud.





THE DARKENING
EPISODE 2
by The Darkening team

Outpost MortemMAP01
by Ola Björling
Nice opener to set the stage. Ola has some kind of storage compound built into a crater on the desiccated rock you've landed on. Getting ammo is the main check in place, coupled with the fact that every key requires some kind of lateral thinking / fancy footwork to obtain. Standout encounter for me was the battle around the lava pump, which turned out to be more serious than I'd first thought. Pretty cool!

MAP02Biotech Horror
by Jan Van Der Veken and Derek "Afterglow" Mac Donald
Cramped and pretty linear subterranean tunnel section that's still gorgeous as all get out. It's loaded with ambush points where monsters teleport in to give you what for, most notably toward the end, where the authors dump some high-HP monsters in between you and the exit, and the opening with a cavalcade of former humans descending upon you. Some nice special effects, too, like lighting and that faux-3D bridge.

Binary CompoundMAP03
by Adam Windsor
Windsor puts the new texture set through its paces with a map that feels outside his comfort zone with a slight emphasis on exploration (like that semi-hidden red key or the Flynn-esque ledge climb to the blue) but it's mostly a great big funnel toward the exit with a short jaunt through the wilderness in between the base segments. Like the previous maps, you're limited to shotgun and chaingun for weapons, which tends to drag the pace when you're fighting those packs of revenants or hell knights, so the only battles that really stand out to me are the crate room clear (threat prioritization 101) and the demon ambush you'll see on that slow elevator ride down, which is kind of tricky to handle. Fun map.

MAP04Vindication
by Anthony Soto
Soto debuts with this complex base map set in a lake of molten rock. It's both dense and interconnected, with plenty of ways to leap from section to section. It also marks the first appearances of some of Doom's heavier monsters, alongside the SSG and rocket launcher, both of which are squirreled away. I'm a sucker for skirmishing so this map's quite alright by me. Commandos and sergeants have some devious placement but the nastiest encounter you'll find is an alleyway with two heavy weapons dudes and three revenants waiting up top. Unless, of course, you got the RL, which should make handling the skellies far less tedious. Note that a lot of doors secret or otherwise are controlled by computer screens, which may not immediately dawn on you unless you are a compulsive wall-humper.

Melt-DownMAP05
by Richard Wiles
Continuing in the same vein, Wiles of DICKIE fame supplies this neat little complex with a few yards you'll have to battle through and some tunnels you'll sneak around in. Highlights include several teleporter ambushes that put your back to the wall, like the sequence with the reactor, which also has a nice bit where you need to run to the open door and out before your rad suit runs out. There's also a bit in a shelled-out computer room where you're under assault from a constant trickle of imps, which isn't ordinarily threatening, but thanks to the layout and landing spots, is more involved than your average duck hunt. Very sneaky at times, but fun. Love that explosion-triggered lost soul bump.

MAP06At the Heart of Decay
by Jan Van Der Veken
Veken's base eschews the Doom style he's known for to embrace The Darkening's new textures with another sleek construction whose features include some nukage-ridden air ducts and a bombed-out bridge. The author pushes map difficulty a bit farther than previous levels with a few sneaky arch-viles (like the one backing the sergeant army, admittedly I believe a strictly optional encounter) and areas like the bridge fight that will have you stopping on a dime to retreat to someplace a little less dangerous. While there's a lot of nukage, there's also enough health and rad stuff that it shouldn't vex you. Dig those archways leading to the exit.

Waste ProcessingMAP07
by Nick Baker
Baker beings exactly where the previous mapper left off, for a change. The themes of this level draw heavily from what Veken explored in "Decay", so I suppose it's only natural that the ammo balance is so off, with beginning shotgun and SSG hidden away in semi-secret and secret areas, and the very needed rocket launcher available only in the map's final moments. The survivalist gameplay tends to take away from the nice tricks Baker's worked in, like those doubled up grates you walk over at two separate occasions or the fake 3D floors that house the crates in the final area. Ammo was so tight in this map that I'd be hard-pressed to name a fight I remembered solely because the action was good; maybe the cacodemons in the cavern with the yellow key.

MAP08Lucifer's Laboratory
by Richard Wiles
Slightly larger, fielding over 150 enemies, including basically everything but the big two. It's another fairly intricate base map, using teleports as connections and a little restrictive on ammo early on, but you should eventually work up a buffer. There are a lot of baddies to blow away, many of them showing up in clever teleport traps, like that bridge to the yellow key door which introduces lost souls alongside some head-on revenants. There's also some rerouting of geometry to the north to make up some three-dimensional space, which I always enjoy. A fun tech romp.

Hard CoreMAP09
by Jan Van der Veken, Ola Björling, and Anthony Soto
Jan, Ola and Anthony combine their powers to bring this enormous fortress with several neat special effects, most notably the hanging crates found in the northernmost area, one of which is a silent crusher. It's also significantly tougher than previous levels, in part due to sheer size and also to some borderline unfair teleport traps, with several instances of surprises that will probably catch the unaware player, like the dual revenants in the southwest overlook or that arch-vile that pops out of the vat in the final moments. Other moments like the Hell knight / cacodemon clusterfuck in the northern outdoor area are just huge HP soaks. On the plus side, you do get a BFG, and the architecture is quite nice, with very nice flow from area to area when your movement isn't being dictated by teleporters.

MAP10Plasmorgasm
by Richard Wiles
Rick's final level is another labyrinthine base swarming with monsters. The opening can be a little hairy with all the hitscanners you have to take out, but if you're quick and clean, you should have the mess sorted out without too much corner popping. The rest is textbook Wiles, with some waves of monsters let loose into the map at certain intervals, mostly when you're mucking through the toxic tunnels to the northwest. There are a lot of timed sequences that will either delight puzzlers or turn away runners tired of waiting for lifts (or those just too slow to make them). With all the fights here, the standout encounter is definitely the finale, a huge wave of cacodemons which you'll have to take out the hard way (the "plasmorgasm") unless you're nimble enough to score the BFG left tantalizingly on the nearby ledge. If not, it's a great moment of sheer pressure on the player.

PowerplantMAP11
by Ben Davies and Anthony Soto
Davies' map doesn't start out that auspicious, as it's some cramped if gorgeously detailed tunnels, but things look much better when you start hitting the more open areas, with some neat structures (like the eastern section) or the various glimpses to the vast exterior, which you'll have to confront at the map's end. The mapset's first Cyberdemon is an obvious standout fight with the hatch controls staffed by a huge wave of demons and it's fun to get Cybie to take out the insurgents while you sit back and laugh. The base is a lot of fun to explore and its cramped interior makes the returning monsters that much more deadly when you race back through. One revenant in particular almost had me...

MAP12Toxicity
by Ola Björling
Ola's finale is just as clean and impressive a show of the new texture set as the opening but the stakes are considerably higher. "Toxicity" is perhaps the most complex level of the set, with a lot of wading through nukage to get from area to area and portions of the map connecting as you grab keys and start opening doors. There are plenty of rad suits to protect your ass, though I could personally stand for a bit more health as there's a lot of tricky monster placement that either tends to chip away at you or take you out in one fell swoop if you're not careful. It's nice to see things open up, though there are the occasional rude surprises, like the caco swarm to the northeast or that terrifying elevator with an arch-vile and his posse. The finale is an appropriate slaughter fronted by a narrow Cyberdemon fight, after which you probably won't have to lift a finger to off the Spider. Very cool.

3 comments:

  1. I jumped into the project pretty late in the game, after about 18 months of not mapping at all, or even playing Doom. Map03 was very much inspired by the other levels in the wad, many of which were complete or nearly so by the time I got involved. That's probably why it feels different from my earlier work. And hey, it led to me finally finishing Demonfear, fixe years after I started :)

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    Replies
    1. Ah, interesting, especially the inspiration. Thanks for reading / commenting!

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  2. I really like the gameplay and aesthetics. But the music unfortunately doesn't do it for me, and at times even comes off as very annoying.

    As lazy as it sounds, I honestly would've preferred them taking the E1 route again with music and reuse stuff from other wads.

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