Saturday, June 8, 2013

Soulcrusher (SCMAIN.ZIP)

Soulcrusher is basically a brand new game for the GZDoom engine by Przemek "Alter-zero" Zimny, aka Afterworldruler. Well, it has some resources cribbed from a few other things, most notably Freedoom, but the only real traces of Doom you'll find are in some of the now familiar sound effects. Soulcrusher's initial scope was larger, numbering at more than the nine maps that form the entirety of its gameplay (at least four), plus plenty of alternate exits that would change the way later levels played out, but Zimny lost his graphic artist, one Pawel "NMN" Zarczyinski. Without a replacement, he completed the project for release rather than have it languish in obscurity, which I'm grateful for. The story:

Actually, there's a lot of story, including a ton of back information, related through the intro. It's a brand new world, something in the vein of Deus Ex, where tech corporations rule. You're Jack Drax, the brother of some jackass named Francis who controls something called Nanocorps, and you're the titular Soulcrusher. I'm pretty sure you killed your father, a ruthless tyrant, and Francis filled the power vacuum. The execution is more like HACX, though, in that the nuances of Zimny's universe aren't really highlighted as you're some kind of rogue element just plowing through reams of inhuman opponents on your quest for blood (a fact he highlights in the ending). There's some dude named Baxter that you talk with and gives you objectives, but it's basically Jack vs. the world. I know there are some plot holes because at least four levels with more story were dropped, plus his envisaged ending had to be scrapped, but I was never engaged enough for it to matter to me.

The story doesn't go anywhere toward making the mod for me...but the weapons are pretty cool. Zimny has a host of armaments designed for dispatching the netizens of Nanocorps and they're all fun to use. The fists are standard but have a very nice animation. There are some berserk powerups you'll find that are used with your alt-fire; they strengthen your attacks and bump your health permanently by 5. The basic pistol is decent and has a spread fire but tends to overheat. I'm not sold on the acid grenade launcher, which is overall underwhelming in both actual power and visibility. The incendiary shotgun is great, though, definitely your workhorse for most skirmishing and it has a powerful alt-fire.

After that, I don't know. There's a laser rifle / railgun thing that's okay for stunning single targets but not very practical, same with the super rifle thing that you can super-charge. It still takes forever to kill those hulking blobs that fire super-fast rockets. About the only higher-end weapon I can recommend is the sonic sweep thing, which you'll be using a lot toward the end as it's essential for clearing out the hordes of enemies Zimny throws at you. It's not as useful for single targets, but it's better than nothing. While I suppose the game is meant to be played continuously, I'm pretty sure each level is balanced for you to start from scratch, at least in terms of raw firepower afforded to you. Oh - there's a secret eighth weapon, basically what you'd come to expect out of a rocket launcher, but super-powered. It'll tear through the last boss faster than any other armament.

Most of the time, I felt like I was short a lot of health. Most of it is available via inventory pickups, outside of those 5-point health vials. Granted, if you dump all the cash you get in the first five maps in the shop (yes, there are a couple shops) to stock up on medikits you should have a pretty significant buffer, which you'll need when you start confronting some of the more ridiculous masses of monsters, the worst of which is located in the penultimate level in that grid area. Honestly, most of Zimny's fights aren't memorable unless they're frustrating / annoying. I can recall the bosses, which are all decent encounters, but Soulcrusher tends toward enemies that fire fast projectiles (with a few exceptions), some of which like the rockets are ridiculously fast. It also tends toward bullet sponges, resulting in slow, corner-hugging gunplay which is largely compensated by health pickups you'll have to mash enter to use as the monsters grind down your health.

I do like the aesthetic between the weapons, the sprites, and the textures. The architecture is serviceable if unimpressive on average. I could have used more spectacles / landmarks like that Malice PD courtyard to keep the bases you fight through more interesting. As it stands, a lot of them feel like networks of hallways lacking many interesting features, though initially the first few maps wow me with the 3D architecture (though I'll admit I got a bit confused early on, not being familiar with the new door textures). It's definitely neat, and new, but it feels about as half-baked as HACX was, especially considering that the bland levels don't really help bring a sense of place to Jack's struggle.

I feel a disconnect between Soulcrusher wanting to tell an epic story vs. actually telling it somewhere in between all the mass murder. A central hub location a la Strife's town or even just a little home base for Jack would probably go a long way toward that. While I applaud Zimny for his crazy-ass weapons and monsters, the game feels like it gives up trying to create interesting fights partway through. If it had relied more on the sense of adventure the shopkeeps and berserk hypos imply it was founded on, then I'd probably be singing a different tune. Regardless - Soulcrusher is an interesting experience, and you should definitely take a look at it if you're dying for something different than Doom, because Zimny delivers in that respect. I wish he'd been able to finish it as he had dreamed it, but I applaud him for releasing Soulcrusher.

NOTE: Soulcrusher has a "1.2" update available here. Just unzip the contents of the original package and run SCMN12.WAD instead of SCMAIN.WAD with everything else to run the updated version.

by Przemek "Alter-zero" Zimny

Security ComplexLEVEL 1
A pretty nice opening. It's not so challenging as to not let you get your bearings but Zimny throws the elements you have to wrap your head around (weapons, jumping, swimming, the doors) so that you're not hopelessly lost in addition to getting ground into a fine paste. The automap is a little daunting at first but you'll quickly get accustomed to the new gameplay dynamics. Liked the architecture, especially that southeastern area. No real standout fights.

LEVEL 2Containtment Area
Basically same idea as the security complex. A few new monsters debut but you're mostly trudging through some ankle-high water and clearing out a slightly less confusing industrial area. Well, after you deal with the guard beasts, which are handled via a scripted encounter, which is okay but nothing too pressing as they move pretty slow until they attack. The big draw is the boss, a super-cyborg who fights in what feels like a deathmatch arena with those jump ramps. It's a fast-moving fight and I think Zimny nails it without it feeling too erratic.

Prison BlockLEVEL 3
Pretty non-linear prison map where the mutant guards are apparently being produced. You need a keycard in order to enter the computer room that unlocks the exit, but there are three different keycards in the level, and each one works, so a lot of the level doesn't even have to be touched. I am bemused at the bits of verisimilitude (bathrooms and identical barracks) but it's probably the least confusing map in the set so far and the eye candy like the catwalk leading through the cells looks pretty neat. The downgraded boss cyborgs are a little awkward to handle but thankfully toned down.

LEVEL 4Administrative Sector
Another large but fairly indistinct military complex. It's swarming with monsters and flush with computer banks and storage areas. Except for the relatively cool sections to the west, one of which houses a secret with the seventh slot weapon, I get the feeling that it's just a huge assembly of hallways which makes it kind of weird to get around in at times. Some of the fights are nice and the first appearance of those huge tanks comes as a shock but as a level goes it's kind of boring.

Outer CityLEVEL 5
The change to the city streets is welcome, as sickly green as they may seem. The layout makes things slightly more challenging as some of the more high-powered enemies stalk you, like the fast spiders, or playing cat and mouse with the abrupt mobile launchers. The shopkeep is a nice presence. The courtyard for the police department is a gorgeous staging for the boss fight. He isn't as spastic as the cyborg but he has a variety of nasty attacks which you'll do well to block using the four carefully-staged fountains.

LEVEL 6Malice-PD Headquarters
It's got the same kind of layout as the prison block with lots of incidental combat but the enemies are thicker and more dangerous in spots. About the only area that really stands out to me is the upper / lower cell block section with all the sonic shooter guys on the top in six groups of three while the larger monsters sneak up on you from below. The shooters are more annoying than anything as you have to do a fair bit of corner popping to get by. The boss here is even slower / methodical than "Outer City" but he has some very nasty attacks, particularly the rocket launcher that starts in a single, straight stream and then splits in two, sweeping aside to catch perpetual runners.

Canyon AssaultLEVEL 7
A pointless slaughter that's supposed to be an epic battle. Most of the body count is just you holding down the fire button with the sonic blaster, taking occasional cover as you work through the entrenchments in the canyon. You'll see most of the major enemies here, with most of the real threats confined to the bunkers. Actually, the "big tank" enemies are probably the nastiest, where you'll see a handful of them at once in the open area at the halfway point. The boss is just an exercise in circle-strafing, as big as he is. The attacks look neat, though.

LEVEL 8Nanocorps HQ Tower
"Canyon Assault", part two. A madcap leadup with all the drones that shoot homing missiles - can be very frustrating to start - followed up by tons of enemies slowly leaking into a huge sloped room with a grid of columns. It's really dangerous at first but if you know about the health pack tiles you should be fine as long as you duck into an alcove and wait out most of the ugly stuff. The boss fight is against the Drake and Dueres, whose scissoring rockets will probably lay you low a ton of times, but they've been slightly neutered in other aspects.

Hard CoreLEVEL 9
The grand finale is an overpowered boss battle. Francis has two forms, both of which have elements of frustrating randomness. For the first, it's his super-fast cloud of sparks (not to be confused with his other spark attacks), which as far as I can tell can't be consistently dodged. The second form is less insane and you have a metric ton of health packs to mitigate the damage, honestly more suited to his rocket-spewing stage, but if you get nailed by those exploding spheres, all the health packs in the world won't save you.


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2013 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Back to Saturn X: Episode 1EyedeaInterception
Doom 2 the Way id DidSamsaraHadephobia
Unholy RealmsEon DeathmatchHellbound
ZDoom Community Map Project: Take 2Best Gameplay ModHigh / Low 5
Fuel DevourerProject MSXSoulcrusher
KuchitsuMordeth AwardStomper
Forsaken OverlookZDCMP2
Stardate 20X6Mockaward
Pirate DoomExtreme Weapon Pack
Swim With the WhalesMapper of the Year


  1. i cant play this wad with gzdoom help!!!

    1. Hey, dude! make sure you're running the latest version of GZDoom and that you're playing it with Doom II! If you want to run v1.2, extract all the files found in the SCMAIN .ZIP and get SCMN12.WAD from /idgames. You'll want to drag all the .WADs from the .ZIP on to GZDoom, except for SCMAIN; use SCMN12 instead.

  2. Just to let you know there is a 1.3 patch that Alter said should be loaded with the wad. I really enjoyed this wad so far. - Springy