Malcolm Sailor's CHORD series is renowned for its uncompromising brutality. It only stands to reason that his swan song for Doom, CHORD3, is the nastiest down and dirty level in the family. It's a MAP27 replacement for Doom II, meant for limit-removing ports. It's also a return, of sorts, to the themes explored in CHORD1 and CHORD2, the first two being Promethean explorations of the style that would dominate what was (is?) in his mind the pinnacle of his authorial career. To that end, CHORD3 begins in a Hellish mansion, much like the aforementioned levels, but plumbs new depths as Sailor takes you on a strange journey.
Like anything by Sailor, things start out with a bang. There's a baron on the floor, a bunch of chaingunners in the wings, and you have squat for ammo. You rush into the next room and there's an arch-vile on a pedestal. There are several exits off, and every pathway is dangerous. For my own part, I jumped into the berserk pack trench where you'll have to beat of a congested horde of imps, followed by even more punch-out with otherwise benign monsters. I think CHORD3 is the most spartan map in terms of ammo to enemies; you'll certainly see a lot of lively fisting on UV. He does a great job of eliminating cautious play with fast teleporters to seal off immediate escape, like in that darkened cavern with the demons (with an arch-vile on point), or the switch that opens the blue key area which throws two different packs of cacos at you plus an arch-vile on the ground, which threatens the already razor-thin ammo margin.
In terms of monster conservation, it's Plutonia on steroids. Except for maybe a pack of demons and spectres that attacks once you hit the red key switch, I felt threatened by everything Sailor places on UV. I'm glad I provoked as much infighting / did as much punching as I did or I'd be SOL; I think I had to fist at least one arch-vile. Ammo conservation and general conservative play in terms of safety do not line up, here. While I managed to get the monsters in the blue key room to more or less take each other out, it wasn't easy. Getting there wasn't very easy, either, for me at least. I have yet to master the art of caco-punching, which probably would have helped save me some shells / bullets here and there.
What I like most of all is a return to the sort of scripted encounters Sailor used in CHORD_NG but which didn't exactly carry over to CHORDG. Many of the fights I've mentioned count but there are a few I haven't that really stick out to me. The timed battle in the fire tunnel was primarily suspense. It's an easy fight in retrospect but the first time you play it, you have no idea how long you're going to be in the flames. The true standout, though, is the finale, which starts with an arch-vile and a pack of commandos, and which I assume is pretty much impossible to do going in blind. You have to use the arch-vile as a shield from commando bullets and use the chaingun fire to draw the arch-vile blasts off you. All the while the walls of the cramped room are opening to reveal packs of Hell knights and barons that must be corralled and whittled down with the SSG. It's fantastic; I barely remembered that this map had a Cyberdemon.
Ummm, that's not to say that the encounters are the only thing the level has going on. CHORD3 looks gorgeous, an updated retread of the Hellish mansions he built at the beginning mixed in with a phenomenal red rock basement that's dark and delightful. Like CHORDG, it's cramped with no sun in sight, but it helps to breed the oppressive atmosphere Sailor wants to evoke. The exit room in particular stands out to me, but the rest of the level is certainly worth strolling through, with or without monsters. Some of the wall reveals are very snazzy, if not exactly threatening, like that imp / demon cubby in one of the hallway elbows.
CHORD3 is a fitting sendoff for Malcolm Sailor, though he would go on to make his "leftovers" available a few months later. Nowadays he's a jazz musician, a fitting coda to a Doom career as a self-professed anarchist. Download CHORD3 and enjoy it for its beauty or how skillfully it leaves the player twisting in the wind on its highest difficulty settings. You can always dial it down; as Sailor himself says, "If skill 4 is too hard for you, its very easy to switch to an easier skill level." The worst thing you could do would be to not play it at all.
THE BAFFLED KING COMPOSING "HALLELUJAH"
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Malcolm Sailor's CHORD series