Monday, February 3, 2014


Shadowman released Khorus in 2012, the same year he published The Inquisitor, which was set on a fan-fictional world called Khorus. I don't know whether the two are related, unless this is where Doomguy winds up after scouring Khorus from the taint of Eidolon. Given that Hexen iconography features in the title and intermission screens, that may very well be the case. KHORUS is a 9-map Doom II episode for Boom-compatible ports that takes place across wilderness landscapes, canyons, temples and sewers. I never did find my missing red cow, and I always knew why no one likes the Cyberdemon's voice, but I did feel the Spiderdemon's wrath. What is the court of Doom? Given that the episode just slides right in to "Refueling Base", it's a mystery I'll never solve... until Khorus 2.

Two big things you need to know before loading this up. The first is the music selection, probably the most contentious point. Shadowman has pulled from a glut of Russian folk tunes (and one Diablo II song) which will probably ruin the atmosphere for some players. Personally, I found the selections charming, even if I can't tell what the guy is singing in "Muryonka's Song". It gives the set a very distinct tone that sound slightly goofy, to me, which is a-okay. It's good to not be afraid to smuggle a joke or two into the mapset. It kind of reminds me of the super-secret Whitemare level...

The other thing is the fact that Khorus could stand in as some Eternal Doom levels if you want to get your puzzle on. They're pretty to look at, though you've got three outdoors maps and then six ancient ruins maps that are some kind of never-was hybrid of various cultures, though Egyptian iconography is to me the most obvious. The layout is as much your enemy as the monsters. There's one feature I've seen a lot, a prominent motif in Shadowman levels, and at this point it's not interesting anymore - the grid 64 switch mazes. I get that he likes them, but by the time you reach the dual labyrinths in "Traps and Tricks", they'll have overstayed their welcome.

So, Khorus is very pretty to look at. Shadowman has put together some very coherent themes and the architecture and detailing are quite nice. It would be nice if he'd gone a little crazy with the interior design but I guess he's married to semi-realistic dungeon crawls. The combat is heavily in favor of the claustrophobic when you're inside and sniper paranoia when you're out. The former isn't helped by the 64-wide mazes and the latter is amplified by all the foliage around, which makes sighting the hitscanners chipping away at you difficult at times. You may also find yourself prey to height differences, only to catch a shotgun blast on the top of your noggin. Expect a ton of trappy gameplay to go with the gorgeous visuals; monster closets and teleport ambushes abound.

If you want some great atmospheric levels with some challenging, at times survival-style gameplay, then you could do a lot worse than Khorus. It's loaded with puzzles, monsters, and intriguing musical choices. It's a great example of why Shadowman is such a highly-regarded author. I just wish he could come with some better map filler than grid 64 switch mazes...

by "Shadowman"

Lost TempleMAP01
A very cool outdoorsy level with an overgrown titular temple. The wilderness is pretty dense and well-done with all the grass and trees and it's got the standard topography for a Doom valley. There's a heavy exploration element as your initial supplies are all hidden in various corners and a lot of ledge-climbing, which will probably frustrate some players when coupled with the objects. I love it, though, and I appreciate the nod to the beginning of Hexen with the temple. Some sneaky arch-vile placement at the end, there.

MAP02Deep Water
A sewers map with two big gimmicks. The first defines the level; after walking through the map and seeing all the areas you can't get to, you hit a switch and lower the water table one level, revealing an entire second floor of the map, though you've unwittingly created new obstacles where there were once only metal bars. It reveals some cool aspects of the otherwise bland outer tunnels. The other gimmick is a Shadowman standby, a 64x64 grid maze that unfolds as you hit switches and unleash more monsters. Not so fond of that one. Still, a pretty fun level with some great architectural bits and claustrophobic fights.

Marsh SquareMAP03
More stuff in the ruins style. The centerpiece is a large, outdoor area with a slight "Gantlet" vibe that's loaded with commandos. The opening of the map is somewhat challenging with a berserk pack clusterfuck involving imps, demons, lost souls, and sergeants. It takes a little while to recover from the losses, by which time you're fighting chaingunners and then later the very nasty final encounter of arch-viles and revenants on the opposite side of the sluice. I hope you saved your rockets!

Another network of water-logged underground ruins. One big con - the layout and looks are pretty much symmetric, but Shadowman has done a decent job varying things so that the gameplay isn't too repetitive. More of the same layoutwise, but cramped and with more revenants and at least one nasty dual-arch-vile fight that has enough pillars for you to hide behind. The southern section is a chaingun crossfire murderhole, so watch your step when solving the riddle of the red key.

Black Moon of the ForestMAP05
If you were getting tired of Shadowman's labyrinthine sewers, rejoice! It's time for another tale from his topographic oceans. This is a gorgeous, massive outdoor level with lots of ledge hopping and navigation. You'll see natural arches, forests, a mansion, and a sailing ship. You'll also be ducking fire from snipers the whole way throughout. Like others in the same genre, it's more about incidental combat than staged stuff, though you do get some stand your ground moments like the yellow key grab, the red key trap (predictable but dangerous with the open area) and the finale, which can be pretty tricky as arch-vile-heavy as it is. Beautiful and an adventure, if kind of slow to crawl through.

On the one hand, I love the atmosphere of this level. It's an enormous tomb complex with lots of sarcophagi and secret passages and has an overall larger tomb to water ratio than the previous indoor levels. On the other, it's an absolute slog to play, starting off with tight ammo and health and tons of monsters with claustrophobic gameplay. Things kind of improve when you reach the second half, a huge area with columns and stairs and dozens of small rooms jutting off it, but your health will be nickeled and dimed away by hitscanner snipers in the dark. The big hook, random powerups on activating the shrines, is a cute idea but the fact that the SSG is one of the possible rewards - almost mandatory for this kind of skirmish gameplay - seems like an oversight. Still, a very cool map.

On the Jolly Camomile MeadowMAP07
Another "Dead Simple" map, albeit in a very nice meadow / megalith setting. It's somewhat challenging as there's not a whole lot of cover with mancubuses on the outside and some free roamers on the inside, made even worse by the influx of arachnotrons. ABM - Always Be Moving. All the good stuff becomes available after you kill the mancubuses, after which you'll have to deal with the spiders, a fairly rote Cyberdemon fight, and then a big wave of goatmen, cacodemons, and arch-viles.

MAP08Traps and Tricks
If you hadn't already guessed, this is a remix of the classic MAP08, "Tricks and Traps", done in Shadowman's temple style. Most of the encounters, like the Cyberdemon / baron fight, are basically the same, if weighted a bit differently. The one big exception is - you guessed it - Shadowman's grid-64 switch maze. Which side you get dropped in is random, with one containing the chaingun and the other the shotgun. I think the chaingun one is easier to start with, but I think the first thing you should out of all the wings is grab the berserk pack in the eastern section because starting this map from pistol is a total pain in the ass and the berserk will serve you well.

Circle of PainMAP09
Another difficult temple-style level. This one involves dancing around the perimeter of the Spiderdemon's arena for most of it, triggering waves of teleportation baddies and doing your best to kill them with your lowly starting weapons without 1) taking too many stray bullets from the Mastermind and 2) getting overwhelmed, which is easy to do if you try to blaze through things and call something up that you can't put down. The end is a big ol' clusterfuck fight with monsters around the inner ring and a crusher in the center that can do most of the heavy lifting for you. You might need it if you didn't figure out how to grab the BFG.


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