Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Doom: The Mars Missions (MARSPR9C.WAD)

There are plenty of projects for Doom that get started and are never finished. Sometimes, the authors release demos, which become the disappointingly final releases. Berthold and Thomas's Doom: The Mars Missions saw an unfinished tech demo release in 2000, replacing eight maps (more or less) for vanilla Doom II, and it IS pretty shaky, if showing a lot of promise. The finished project would have been for ZDoom, but they never completed it. The only copy easily available is from Sparky of KISS software, simplifying horrifying install packages for ancient releases. The package includes the .DEH and .WAD, so you're good to go once you whip the little contents there are out.

The Mars Missions is yet another in a proud tradition of Doom PWADs that occur because the UAC is too stupid to leave well enough alone. They created some locks in teleportation logic that prevent dematerialized matter from re-materializing, but, well, demons make fools of us all. After the base on Mars goes dark, they get a distress signal from Eileen O'Hara, the daughter of the scientific coordinator, who relates that yes, we have demons, and they are killing everyone. You're sent to Mars to rescue any survivors and recover data, but when you land, your pilot panics on sighting some imps and hits the emergency launch button. Since you're standing on the pad at the time, you get cooked pretty well, only to be facing your welcoming party immediately afterward.

For a DeHackEd mod, there are some pretty interesting features and implementation, several of which are still incomplete, and there are plenty of other monsters encoded in the file that weren't yet implemented. For starters, there are auto-turrets, which spew arachnotron plasma at you when you're in their sights. You can disable them with controls or brute force, but the latter involves using a considerable amount of ammo. Then, there are sentry drones, which shoot bullets and explode lethally on death. Then, there's Eileen, who isn't actually a monster and must survive until the end of each level she's in so she can reprogram the teleporter and let you exit. You can tell where the authors' minds were, though, as she's an anime princess with one bared breast due to her torn clothing.

The "Hell bimbo" is one of the alpha enemies, because the only frames she has are death and attacking, so she is otherwise a four-pack of shotgun shells just roaming around until she attacks. She is a flying melee attacker that moves at a decent pace, so at least she has a sort of niche. The "princess of Hell" is an upgrade with more health that shoots baron plasma and hits harder. The homing missiles, though, are rapidly flying rockets that juke like mad. They're reminiscent of Duke3D's sentries except they're way harder to hit (if fragile) and way more lethal. Then, you've got the "thing in a barrel", which resembles exploding barrels except they're more durable and explode when you get close to them, which is a lot of fun in the dark.

MAP08 has the most annoying selection of monsters. They're possessed marines that attack with three different weapon types. Their persistence and attack strength turn MAP08 into a total crawl and battle of attrition. Lastly, if you move on to the regular Doom levels, you'll see the "shape shifter", which looks like Eileen until it attacks you, turning into a demon. Thankfully, B and T have made some weapon changes so as not to leave you too overwhelmed. The pistol fires a bit faster, but the minigun fires the fastest on top of doubling the max ammo capacity, turning it into a force to be reckoned with. The power of rockets has been doubled, too, though you lose half of your rocket cache and 1/3 of your plasma rifle capacity. Ammo seems to be more plentiful, too, or at least the normal pickups contain more, presumably because the smaller varieties had their frames cannibalized.

Berthold and Thomas have done a lot of work to increase the realism of the levels they've made. It's a shame they never got around to finishing the whole thing (in spite of their anime fixation) but they've left an impressive if flawed beast in their wake. They even added a new keycard, colored green, though its true functionality results from a bunch of workarounds. The yellow keycard is replaced with a data disk, used with computer stuff, so yellow doors are usually red herrings. There is some sector wizardry afoot, with faux-3D constructions and other things. MAP05 is a pretty good tech demo of what the conversion is capable of, I think. There's also a random powerup that can dispense berserk, blur, invul, or nothing at all.

As far as gameplay goes, The Mars Missions is a mixed bag. The fidelity and commitment to realism means that there is a ton of cramped fighting and narrow corridors. Occasionally, you get some modern Doom II dustups, but they're the exception to the rule. Pretend like you're playing a BUILD engine game, maybe? B and T show they're capable of making some engaging firefights, but they seem more interested in other things, like certain death traps that force reloads, believable environments, and anime girls. Still, it's a neat tech demo for DeHackEd comparable to works like Batman Doom, if laughably incomplete. Overall, I enjoyed myself, and if any of this sounds interesting, you might, too!

by Berthold Beckschäfer
and Thomas Lokum

At the StarportMAP01
You're fucked off the bat with an explosion that knocks you down to critical health. The imps are suddenly far more dangerous and you're way more desperate to get some health, so it's nice that there's a berserk pack behind the two spectres you let out. It's Tyson gameplay up until you get the shotgun from the cacodemon, after which the difficulty eases up. You travel from area to area in water-filled sluices and some big gameplay changeups rear their head, like specterized imps and - more importantly - the sentry gun. I think there's a transmission from Eileen, but the gameplay stomps all over the radio.

MAP02The Sewers
More waterways, but these are toxic, and absolutely choked with imps. There are only two major areas, the underground network to the east and the vined, ruined base to the north. Both have a lot of claustrophobic gameplay, but the east is worse, with a budget stealth section in the blue key pit that requires sneaking around to a switch to lower the platform you use to enter a room with a rocket launcher, after which you can finally breathe. The northern area is kind of interesting with all the imps in what are basically cages but it's got at least one instant death trap - quicksand, I guess. That spectre / baron fight in the dark room was easy enough to survive with the megasphere, but I imagine less apt searchers might have some trouble.

The Container BaseMAP03
A fairly dense and trappy storage facility with some wide, open outdoors. About the only really nasty bit here is the baron cage trap. As early as it is, you're better off giving the blue key a pass and collecting stuff from the outside. Nothing really memorable about the fights, except maybe that big inner courtyard which raises up a bunch of Hell knights. There are a few nice details in the interior (plus a convincing link to the previous map) but for the most part it's super-cramped gameplay.

MAP04The Arena
Just a placeholder map with eight gargoyles from Heretic. If you've ever wanted to test out your Doom Tyson skillz against Corvus's lowliest opponents, here's your chance!

The Missile BaseMAP05
The coolest level in the set so far. It's got a decent outside and a lot of moving parts, like a minefield you have to walk through whose safe path is revealed by the computer map, which is guarded by some red key bars, so you have to launch a rocket to grab the red key, which you need the launch codes for from the office, which you have to get to by deftly vaulting through a gauntlet of monsters and security turrets. The combat isn't that bad and it's got kind of an INVADE2 vibe as far as the fidelity of the base goes. That death trap at the lockers is a cheap shot.

MAP06Help Me!
Another pretty cool level, but your success will be determined by whether or not you know where the ammo is. It's another tech complex with an upper office area, a storage facility, what I believe is a computer core, and a specimen lab. The enemies are once again quite dense, though until the green key the encounters feel more like cheap shots or sheer desperation instead of challenging. The green key reveal is a fun arena fight, considering you should have all your weapons by then. It isn't 100% obvious what you have to do with Eileen, but if you herd her into the teleporter, she'll open up the exit for you.

The Shooting RangeMAP07
Keeping Eileen alive until the end of the previous level was easy enough. It's a little tougher, here, and if you fuck it up you'll have to reload, but you'll know better the next time. There's a big arena fight to start off with but you should have all of the good stuff and the security turrets will do a lot of the work for you. The actual shooting gallery is a pain if you drag Eileen up with you but if you leave her downstairs, you can just do the whole leg and then bring her back. The one death drone is a pretty nasty surprise.

MAP08Space Marines
If Doom were a super unfun cover shooter, it would probably play like this. This level is full of evil marines, either shooting shotguns, plasma or rockets. It's an absolute crawl and truth be told a lot of saving and loading. The worst bits are in the middle, where you have to fight through a checkpoint ringed with snipers and then duck around a very awkwardly placed security turret. That nuke vat area is also pretty shitty to fight through. The concept is decent, but the execution is agony.

Wrong Game?!MAP09
Aaaand the last level of the MARSPR9C is... a Heretic map? It's a sandboxy H1 level that's loaded with gargoyles, with the occasional interjections from the non-tech Doom monsters (discounting the questionable revenant). Gameplay is exploratory and a little tedious since gargoyles are so prevalent and when they're not you're usually in some kind of claustrophobic setup, like the fight with the two succubi, two Hell knights, and a revenant. It's kind of fun to poke around, but there isn't a whole lot of depth. There's some very cool detailing in the interiors, though. Dig that ladder up to the platform in the southeast area.

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  1. I'll be honest, there seems to be little if any reason to play this wad. I'd be interested to know how many people followed the download link, although I'd imagine some of those who do just want to read the /idgames comments, which are often more entertaining than the maps themselves.

    The idea of having to babysit someone through each map is very interesting and that alone would make this worth a try, but I cannot imagine Doom's pathfinding would make this fun or easy. They can't even get it right in modern games (Aliens: Colonial Marines being a case in point, with comrades simply giving up and standing there rather than activating doors etc), so God only knows what the Mars Missions is like.

    The new enemies sound interesting, especially the turrets. Shame the wad wasn't finished, we can only guess at the possibilities.


    1. The pathfinding isn't horrible by any means; Eileen is drawn to you like pretty much any monster in Doom, so if you have any experience in luring monsters around, you can corral her in the same way.

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  3. Esta chido el wad y funciona perfecto con el doomsday engine. Y ESTA SEXY LA MORRA