Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Heroes' Tales (HT.WAD)

If I know anything about the Russian Doom community, it's that they love their speedmap competitions. A year ago, this gave birth to the Christmas time megaWAD Whitemare, but back in 2009 an assortment of entries were combined with brand spankin' new material to create Heroes' Tales. It's a full-fledged megaWAD for limit-removing ports that requires the Evilution IWAD for resources in several areas. HT doesn't work as a sequel to TNT, though. Its story is more or less draped over the framework of the rearranged levels. The text is vague and could really apply to any scenario, to the point that I'm not really sure it's even worth expounding upon. Suffice it to say that you're going to fight your way through a bunch of demon infested areas until you put the hurt on the big bad that's responsible.

According to organizer Shadowman, about half of these levels come from various speedmapping competitions while the others were created after the fact to fill out this collection. The result is a kind of infernal see-saw between short, nasty levels and larger, sometimes slaughterish (or just outright slaughter) affairs. The maps are thus quite uneven. Most of these levels are of an at least substantial size (rather than little coffins) but owing to the community nature vary widely in what's expected of the player, leaning toward tougher gameplay, peaking in examples like the ultra-long "Hell's Maw" or super-short bloodbaths like "Blood Lake". They're almost all a bit linear with the exception of the more open, sandbox stuff.

It's kind of amusing how the mapset uses the TNT IWAD as I get a bit of a TNT vibe from the mapset. Not in terms of layout or monster composition, of course, but in the overall aesthetics of the levels, no doubt a product of speedmapping and the willingness of the authors to pick one single idea and then chase it in the editor to its ultimate end. There are some pretty neat hooks, like spaceships, blasted cities, the innards of a giant monster, and more! You certainly won't fail for lack of interesting concepts, regardless of how well they're executed (and they succeed, for the most part). Shadowman's levels are the obvious highlight, looking great and doing a good job of bloodying your nose, but everyone here has something that's worth experiencing.

The Russian community isn't something I hear much from outside of a few individuals (most of them featured in this megaWAD) and recently the now defunct Clan [B0S], but they produce some super cool maps that deserve to be experienced. Admittedly, I prefer their stuff when they're not speedmapping, but I'll take any color I can get. If you like Doom II action in bite-sized doses - with a few larger chunks you'll have to chew a while - you should try out Heroes' Tales.

by various authors

Ancient ValleyMAP01
by "Lainos"
An unusual opener that's stacked with more puzzle-oriented play than gunplay, especially the opening sections leading up to the titular valley. While it's mostly a beige brick map, there's a sojourn to an abstract UAC compound with some timed crusher crawling that drags gameplay to a standstill. The fighting isn't spectacular but the special effects are neat. I like those quick staircases that build up to the portals. Standout encounter is that run into the valley, mostly down to sheer monster count.

by "Shadowman"
Like the previous level, this is a mixture of earthy areas and brick and mortar ruins (probably owing to their mutual origins as "nature" themed). It has significantly more action, with a lot of shotgun play vs. higher-hp enemies. I like the opening cavern area and the outdoor ruins to the southwest, which has a slightly tricky mode of progression. Things heat up with the rocket launcher which you'll immediately start using on some mancubuses. The staircase climb to the exit wears a little long but it comes with a nice Cyberdemon fight where you'll likely be slowly forced back down as you whittle your way through his HP.

by Eugene "Wraith" Guschin
A sandbox-style level that feels kind of like someone unraveled "Circle of Death" and stuck its various parts in a watery crater (mostly coming from the high walkways and that center room). It's a pretty cool level that has you running from shit until you get some bigger guns and you can start taking apart all those troublesome mancubuses and revenants. Since the combat is mostly incidental there's not a lot to mention except for that barbed-wire maze with the plasma rifle and that exploration and flipping switches is key.

by "Lainos"
Something more traditional from Lainos. It's a pretty linear descent through Hell starting with an elevator down into a pack of imps with spectres running around. The more congested northern section is a lot of fun to tool through though a bit slow due to having to punch through that pack of demons and imps with just a shotgun (you'll get a lot of time with your shotgun). That organic elevator ride is kind of cool as are its obvious effects on return. The only thing I don't like is that drop onto a 20% damage floor.

by "3EPHOEd"
Another interesting wilderness level, this one based around a long, winding canyon with a few structures built into it, like the marble bridge that is your salvation. Thankfully it doesn't bogart the powerful weapons so quick players can grab the RL and PR (the SSG is a gimme). Most of the action is centered around the main canyon area and that's the most compelling battleground as the enemies are staged in several areas in different varieties and the ground isn't exactly suited toward revenant rocket dodging. The Cyberdemon could have been traded in for a neat teleport ambush; he's pretty ineffectual where he's at.

by "Archi"
Super-short level with a lot of goofy "gotcha!" gameplay. That yellow key surprise is pretty good (and thoughtfully engineered if you're too fast for it) and that reveal in the courtyard where everything's out to get you is a great moment. The arch-vile might be a little tricky but he's the only real obstacle unless you get really gutsy trying to take out the two exit switch guardians, but you can afford to take your time. I'm not sure what that spiral on the start spot is for (Dark City?) but it's a neat little detail.

by "Shadowman"
Your bog-standard "Dead Simple" level that takes place on an island in a crater in some isolated "Downtown"-looking area, except the cacos paired up with the arachnotrons add some much-needed muscle and there's a huge wave of monsters at the end that are kind of awkward to deal with in the area afforded to you, including not one but two arch-viles. The second fight is a little harsh but there's enough ammo and powerups in the caco alcoves for you to make ends meet. The real pickle is killing the arch-viles before they res the arachnotrons (or at least saving the spiders for last) or you'll find your sphere of movement that much more limited...

MAP08Upper Town
by Kolybenko "Azamael" Michaelo
Azamael busts out a short, linear city map that feels like an echo of his later works (namely A.L.T.). It's got a few great fights, like hell knights in the dark at the end or the demon trap, where you'll be scrambling to grab the SSG. Bits like the furniture detailing seem unnecessary but are certainly hallmarks of Michaelo's design. I like that it's built around an isolated alleyway / street and that little glimpse of elsewhere to the south. It's got some big architecture for what's ultimately a handful of monsters.

Exploded CityMAP09
by "Archi"
Kind of loosely a city level, but it's more abstract than anything with some use of the Evilution textures. Combat is okay, weighted toward SSG blasting. My favorite leg of the level is the "exploded" part with a journey through a bunch of warped rooms, even if they're glorified squares. I don't really like that hidden commando, though. It may be homely, but it plays alright.

by "Nil"
Nil serves up a massive city slog as you fight your way through the ruined streets of a mid-apocalyptic metropolis. Flaming craters abound and the forces of Hell are waiting for you at every step of the gauntlet. It's a bit slow to start as you'll be killing a large bunch of monsters with the plain ol' shotgun, but once you start ducking into buildings things get moving. I like the mid-assault look of the crumbling ruins and Nil does a decent job using the rubble to shape the level into a more linear layout. The invisible walls are haphazardly placed, though, which kind of ruins things in several spots. The interiors are the most dangerous parts of the level, with several very VILE traps that are bound to catch first-timers off-guard. Finally, I could have stood for a bit more health early on. Favorite segment - the southern building with that cool construction in the pit. What on earth is that?

The SourceMAP11
by "Shadowman"
Starts out kind of creepy in a forested section of some ruined city. After you run around, hopefully grabbing the SSG, you leap into a huge toxic crater filled with aerial platforms in a kind of "Industrial Zone" /  "Living End" mashup. First order of business is to grab a rad suit and clear out the bottom floor before trying to work on the skyline. The arch-vile guarding the rocket launcher is kind of tricky to handle but it's the pockets of cacos that will be the most annoying. The finale is a hundred-revenant salute you'll be hard-pressed to control as they pour out of the central building. Hint: the skyline segment starts with the westernmost teleporter pad...

by Eugene "Wraith" Guschin
A nesting doll-style level where you fight from the interior to the exterior in some kind of base. The inside looks pretty cool and has the lion's share of meaningful combat, starting out tough with a bunch of imps and revenants firing inward at you and moving to a ring of mancubuses which you might burn all your ammo on if you're not careful. The exterior is much lighter and lets you grab the rocket launcher / plasma rifle, depending on the door, with some crates splashed around. The only thing I'm not sure about is the completely extraneous eastern side, which has an optional arachnotron stomping ground and feels tacked-on.

by Sanya aka "Dragon Hunter"
Claustrophobic and trappy little level from Sanya. It's based around a pretty cool setpiece, some kind of tech core with stairs winding down to the bottom. Most of the bad surprises are arch-viles but the commandos in the grated-off sections are bound to cause some undue stress. One of the trickiest bits is the blue key trap, which ushers in some revenants on to the staircase. You'll also have to locate all the colored key switches to get outside, which may prove slightly difficult for some. It's fun, if a little brutal. The only really unfair thing is the Spiderdemon...

by Kolybenko "Azamael" Michaelo
Another cool city level from Azamael. It's a little scatterbrained at first, running around various themed areas and flipping switches until you open up the various alcoves, but the actual starport has a neat spaceship and some heavier opposition and tons of plasma ammo to roast them with. The earlier area has some good fights, too, like a cadre of revenants you'll be dancing around while you pound away with your SSG. The only thing I don't care for is that three-key intermission in between the city and spaceport sections.

by "Archi"
Archi has a little bit of fun in this goofy level. After a short semi-ordinary ruins run you jump into a warehouse swarming with imps. You'll be blasting the little buggers on several occasions, their numbers likely to overwhelm unless you get a little gutsy exploring and unlock the rocket launcher; great way of putting pressure on the player. The warehouse crawl lasts for a bit before a super-silly imp slaughter. You can either tackle this on your own...or be a bit ballsy with three very special guest stars. You'll definitely save yourself a ton of ammo doing the latter.

MAP31Secret of the Pharaoh
by "Shadowman"
MAP31 has two names! The other, revealed in the automap, spoils the surprise. "Secret" oozes atmosphere and tension as you crawl around the winding Egyptian ruins but it's bound to rub people the wrong way when you have an arch-vile fronted by a handful of revenants cruising through the 64-wide hallways. It helps to know how to get some of the secrets to give you some much-needed leeway. The finale went by much smoother than I was imagining. It's a cool idea but wears on the player much faster than Plutonia's "Hunted".

UFO CrashMAP32
by "Cherepoc"
That opening visual of the UFO is phenomenal. The rest of the level, not so much. Cherepoc wants to do a map with an overturned UFO but either part of the ship spun over 180 degrees or he just couldn't handle keeping up with the flipped perspective. It also has a lot of insufferable shotgun action which drags the pace out considerably. Some bits like the ship's power core are pretty neat (standout fight for me), and that little Egyptian shrine with the raising pyramids. On the other hand, wham, Nazis out of nowhere at the finale!

MAP16Dark Cave
by "Archi"
Back to something more earthy with this black rock cavern from Archi. It's got a leaking lava motif and you'll spend a fair bit of time dancing on coals as you move from area to area. It's not terribly complicated or difficult, though that BFG trap might be a bit too congested for some players; it certainly caught me off-guard my first time. The outer canyon crawl is probably my favorite segment, in spite of the casual slaughtering of imps and demons. What I like most of all is the quick access to the SSG and an (obvious) secret plasma rifle. Nice way to kick up the action!

Holes of EvilMAP17
by "Memfis"
A nasty CYOA from Memfis, again based in a dark cavern setting. I say it's CYOA because there are several different paths you can start with, after which you're stuck in the main playing area. The north is the easiest by far, with some calming imp-pistol whipping before an easy shotgun score you can use to tackle the larger chamber to the north. The other routes are significantly more scavenger-oriented, including a demon mosh. The north chamber is probably my favorite encounter but the blue key area is a close second.

by "Dragon"
Taking a turn elsewhere with Dragon's small little techbase. It uses a lot of viles, much like the rest of the mapset, but makes them considerably easier to handle by dumping them in to the base lobby, which has monster blocking lines so they don't get loose and start rezzing all the ammo-devouring monsters. It's pretty homely but it has some neat sequences like the reactor core interlock and tons of moving machinery.

Spawning VatsMAP19
by "Shadowman"
Another very cool level from Shadowman, taking its name from one of the more iconic Shores of Hell levels. "Vats" has some tricky gameplay to open as you're outside but the real action begins once you teleport into the adjacent building, where two hordes - one of imps and the other demons - warp in to clog up the ground floor while attendants snipe you from various locations. It's a desperate battle, a lot of which you'll probably end up skipping at first as you clear the east and west wings. The big show is the ambush triggered by the southern room, which teleports a ton of arch-viles into the main chamber (among other things). My favorite segment is that "monsters in stasis" area that's mainly just for looks, though the exploding factory is a neat effect. What's that message in the secret chamber translate to?

MAP20Guard Tower
by Eugene "Wraith" Guschin
Another short, rough level, where you start on an island in blood connected to the "Guard Tower" by a narrow, winding walkway. The opening is an obstacle course and tricky to get 100% kills as you'll be dodging imp, Hell knight, and mancubus fireballs from several different directions with very little space. That can be an interesting exercise, but killing the Cyberdemons at the tower top is not, particularly when there are teleporter lines for them to access. The trick columns - three hollowed-out bits of cover with three more installed Cybs - might catch unwary players off-guard but once the action is over, they take forever to kill and present zero threat.

Hell's MawMAP21
by "Shadowman"
This map has some very cool visuals but is an absolute monster. The opening isn't bad at all and that grand staircase with imps is pretty manageable but once you start tackling the two towers you're in for a world of pain. Each plays like a vertical obstacle course with terrifying enemy reveals and installed revenants in every corner. Fortune favors the bold, though. Once nice feature - you don't have to tackle the towers in order, and the first one you conquer will have a nice ambush waiting for you on the return trip. In order to get to its sister structure, you'll have to fight your way past the other's surprise battle. The finale is best approached with the secret BFG in hand as it's perhaps the largest, nastiest swarm of enemies in the level, probably enough to outlast the two invulnerabilities. Hardcore Doomers, enjoy. Casuals, take it down a notch.

by "Archi"
Another slaughtermap, but this is kind of an inverse "Post Mortem" meets "Downtown" where there are initially tons of monsters hanging around and a lot of buildings you don't want to spend too much time next to, but the ground floor is safe to walk on. You could probably blaze through it if all you wanted was an exit, as long as you knew where each teleporter led you, but it's kind of fun running around scared from huge packs of demons and cacos while several arch-viles stalk you. Fun, if basic. The finale is another multi-Cyber yawnfest.

Deuce Take It!MAP23
by "3EPHOEd"
More abstract Hell, with strong "Spirit World" vibes, particularly in the cavern that joins the starting area to the large, outer yard. The opening sets the tone, more or less, as you'll be harried by arch-viles and random fireballs at nearly every turn. Revenants make a strong showing, as do cacodemons. I like the opening battle and most of the level plays nice but that running platform segment on the way to the yellow key is absurd. I also think dodging / trying to kill the arch-vile on the central strip is annoying, either a waste of ammo or a waste of health due to how he's staged.

MAP24Blood Lake
by Sanya aka "Dragon Hunter"
The back half of "Blood Lake"'s gameplay is decent with some cavern exploration and a Cyberdemon fight that's a little fun (barons ahoy!), but the opening stroll into the main playing area is a total nightmare I only survived due to what feels like random chance. There are several different layers to the encounter that surgically remove all fun to be had, most of which are due to the fact that it's a wide open area with almost no cover. Once you get past this awful hurdle - with a killer red key room as a stinger - you're past all the pain.

Hell's AtriumMAP25
by "Shadowman"
Shadowman takes ultra-hard in a bit of a different direction. This level's brutal opening requires you to wrest ammo from the hands of shotgun guys that teleport into the starting area before going on a dangerous journey through the blood canal in the southern region. The resulting combat isn't truly dangerous, but after you grab the berserk - which you'll definitely need after the sergeants - there isn't much leeway. My highlight is the return trip to the central hub when you're about to exit, though figuring out where the hidden arch-viles are might cost the player the first time.

by "Dragon"
Another tense level, this one is a bunch of connected hallways in the vast moral vaccuum of Hell, with certain sections falling apart. The actual plane of action is pretty flat but there's plenty of eye candy and nasties as you walk through the level. It starts out scavenger-style with some berserker action but seems to crest during a long outdoor walkway with a nasty finale which leads into revenants and arch-viles crawling around the place a la Shadowman's MAP31, though less annoying because of how less maze there is. Fun stuff.

by "Shadowman"
Another sandbox-style Hell map like Archi's "Citadel" but with a lot less cover and a lot more (lightly) damaging floors. It's also got more buildings to explore, though there's not a whole lot to each one. Mainly you'll be clearing out the initial troops until you snag a rocket launcher and start to work on the keys. Things get a little tense afterward, the main surprise being the climax, a fight you'll definitely want to save your invul for as four Cyberdemons and bunches of arch-viles do not an easygoing play experience make. Still, it's a pretty cool map.

MAP28Mount Doom
by Sanya aka "Dragon Hunter"
A Hellish epic that's hard to describe. After some claustrophobic tunnel action you lower the walls to find out your battling in a "Living End" style crater where spires routinely collapse to reveal caged arch-viles hungry for your soul. After running around and visiting the various side locations you end up in a larger outdoor area that's the scene of several slaughters, with monsters teleporting in at several different locations in diverse assortments. Ripe for infighting, of course, though you'll want to keep an eye out for the viles. Lots of different locales to visit. My favorite non-slaughter encounter is that crazy spectre / baron room to the west.

Evil InsideMAP29
by Kolybenko "Azamael" Michaelo
The penultimate Heroes' Tale involves a fight through the innards of some infernal worm or something. Maybe a Cthulhuian dragon? The first half is one huge obstacle course with monsters that you'll be dodging around and some nasty reveals, like that revenant ledge, but the hardest part (besides the kill switch guardian, perhaps) is jumping onto the ground floor for the first time. Once you have that cleared out you can take your time and try not to waste too much health. It pays to look around for the BFG. It's not in plain sight but it's not exactly hiding.

MAP30Call of Cthulhu
by "Watchmaker"
Just a boss map with a decent opener. The ending is kind of novel, requiring you to make two track circuits under fire from revenants and hell knights before the boss pillar raises. The hardest thing about this level is probably keeping your nerves while fighting the guardian Cyberdemon in very close quarters.

Sacred DreamsMAP33
by "VACion" and "Archi"
This super secret level is a very particular slice of Hell, most of which is carved out of marble. What this map has more of than anything is incredibly tight ammo balance, on the scale of living from shell to shell. The abundance of heavy-HP enemies like barons and hell knights doesn't make it any easier, nor does the almost farcical arch-vile release in the western area of the level which results in a ton of monsters being resurrected which you are ill-equipped to handle. The finale is nice, though dangerous at low health. You get two classic infighting scenarios, a pair of Spiderdemons and a Cyberdemon vs. some barons. Rough, but should thrill survivalists.



  1. The secret message on the floor in MAP19 reads "Не пей — козлом станешь". This translates to "Don't drink [this] — [or you] will turn into a goat" and is a (presumably twisted) reference to a Russian fairytale. In it, a girl and her little brother get lost in the woods. In their wanderings through it they become very thirsty and happen upon a goats' watering hole (or maybe a brook). Alyonushka warns her little Ivanushka to stay away from it, "Don't drink from it or you will turn into a little goat kid". Needless to say, the little guy ignores his sister warning and is transformed into just that. I don't remember the rest of the tale, but IIRC after several more adventures they lived happily ever after in the end.
    Now the twist is, as I perceive it, is that the warning's wording was "turn into a little goat kid". The message in H'T MAP19 uses "turn into a goat" (adult vs kid). "Kozyol" (literally, "goat") in Russian jail argo means the submissive rape target. It's synonymous to "faggot" but the closest match in English is "turned" from Steven King's "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption". So this gives an innocent-looking quote from a children story distinctly sinister overtones. In everyday world, however, the word is widely used as a pejorative that would translate to something between "asshole" and "douchebag".
    HTH and keep up the good work, KMXEXII. Your site is what Doom Underground should have been had it kept going. Ten years ago that was the yardstick by which I measured all other WAD reviewing sites, few as they were. Except I'd say now OneManDOOM left DU way behind, and that's not going by the numbers alone. You're much more of a writer than its authors have ever been, you obviously have classical background (that tag line at the bottom of the Statistics section simply cracked me up as it was Mark Twain who was on my mind as I clicked though to it); but most important is your self-professed unbridled enthusiasm for the WADs - *any* WAD - you review. Enthusiasm that doesn't spill into gush/hype, at that. And no, the term is not "circle jerk"; I got your meaning there man, but the idea wrong. What you are doing is a beautiful thing.
    OK, before I get all gushy myself let me wrap up by pointing out the occasional use of "reveal" as a noun in the reviews here is tacky and makes you feel like you're reading a blog rather than a premium DOOM site.
    Long days and pleasant nights, stranger.

    1. that is a more thorough explanation than i could have ever hoped for. thank you for that and your praise. i couldn't have known when i started back in 2011 that i'd still be writing about doom wads but when a fixture of the community drops by to tell me that they like what i'm doing, its a pretty powerful motivator.
      as for "reveal", well, i ain't makin any promises.