Saturday, February 1, 2014
The Inquisitor (INQSTR.WAD)
The Inquisitor, as released in 2012 by Russian Doom vet Shadowman, is a single map for Doom II to be played in GZDoom. It's not really Doom II, though. Shadowman cribs a lot of the vibe (and story!) from Raven Software's works, particularly Hexen II. There's also an unsavory detail I'll get out of the way right now. There's an Easter egg found at the gallows in the map with three women, two of which have been executed. The detail of the original graphics (now quite different after the blowup) created an image of sexualized violence, though why Inquisitor got so much flak for this while Temple of the Lizard Men 3 skated by, I don't know.
Anyway, it's an "Easter egg" because the three women are a reflection of Russian public anger - mirrored by Shadowman - at the members of Russian Riot Grrrl band, Pussy Riot, that protested the Russian Orthodox Church's endorsement of Vladimir Putin. The telling remark, by Shadowman himself, was that "IMHO, some women do deserve tortures, and Pussy Riot are the first candidates on it." I said I wouldn't play this PWAD, and that I found the concept unpalatable. The latter still applies, but it would be wrong to just ignore it, so I'm playing through it because the PWAD has otherwise nothing to do with Shadowman's personal opinion. And, well, the jailed members of the band were recently released. So, on to the rest of Inquisitor.
The whole story (and other info) can be read in an included .PDF. INQSTR takes place in Khorus, which appears to be one of the lands that Hexen II big bad Eidolan visited. Khorus won the battle, thanks in part due to its discovery of gunpowder, but has been losing the war. Eidolan pulled a Sauron and used the King's adviser and court magician, Blacknore, to slowly undermine the fabric of the realm so that when he returned, it would be his for the taking. Blacknore created a lich out of the king and turned the realm into an undead-plagued monstrosity after ruining the rest of the land. His rival, Rauld, tried to summon the warriors that laid waste to Korax, but the blackhearted mage found and imprisoned them. You, the tireless slayer of evil, are his last hope, and summoned just in the nick of time by the sound of it.
So. Doomguy is the protagonist (Rauld's titular Inquisitor), but the game doesn't play very much like Doom. Part of this is due to your weapon loadout. You start with your fist, get swarmed by axe-wielding zombies, and then hopefully grab the black sword of Ternis. It's much stronger than your fist, has a little reach, and can combo into a second swing if you click fast enough. Great for taking out axe-zombies, spiders, and stone golems, and maybe the bloated zombies if you have enough room to dance around them, avoiding their poison. The female assassins are also a fast takedown. Anything else, though, and you're gonna get hosed. All of the other monsters have very dangerous ranged attacks that will slay you dead in a few rounds.
Which brings up one of the most frustrating fights in the game, the outdoor area upon grabbing the gold key. There are axe zombies, okay. But the afrits and undead lords are pure Hell when attacking with the piddly crossbow. It's not a bad weapon, basically the INQSTR equivalent of the shotgun, but there's hardly any visual feedback or clue of the crossbow attack and the afrits juke quite a distance to avoid fire. Plus, the undead lords - of which there are two if you manage to drag out the one in the shed - breathe and shoot poison and take a ton of crossbow shots before going down and with the amount of running you'll be doing, you're going to miss a few shots.
Another big fight - the boss battle with Blacknore. (I didn't even know it was Blacknore when I fought him.) It's a cramped room which unleashes three iron golems (hardasses that charge and shoot slightly homing projectiles) coupled with the sorcerer himself, who has super strong skull attacks, one of which he can shoot in a usually lethal series behind cover. I spent way too much time here trying to take out Blacknore first. You should really just skirmish with the shotgun - a very handy weapon similar in execution to Blood's - and kill the golems while keeping cover from Blacknore. Your reward is the necromancer's staff, a pretty good projectile weapon that sadly doesn't get a whole lot of use apart from hosing down the spirits that guard the Lich King's tomb. And, well, the final boss fight himself.
The tomb isn't bad but the lost souls are annoying to fight as they wander around aimlessly until you hit checkpoints, after which they turn on you and gang up. If you're in the thick of it, you're done for. There's also a section reminiscent of Shadowman's MAP31 from Heroes' Tales, where you flip switches to gradually open up a maze, all the while the spirits are muddling about, and you're sitting there with a shotgun for the moment they flip on you. The actual finale is mainly an exercise in circle-strafing what with all the homing projectiles fired by Ternis, and it lasts a bit long, but it's at least pretty straightforward and has a pretty kickass leadup.
The Inquisitor looks very nice. There's a lot of slowdown in the graveyard as it's big and has a rain effect you can shut off with the "M" key (dynamic lights killed by "L"). The design and architecture are quite nice and the castle gradually opens up as you explore it and reveal distinct sections like the alchemy lab, inner sanctum, king's tomb, etc.. It kind of plays like Hexen / Hexen II, but progression is much more straightforward, probably in part due to the fact that it occurs within a single level and not across an entire hub. I couldn't figure out how to open the two skull doors in the graveyard, though I did manage to leap the one to the north only to get stuck on the other side. I found five of the other secrets, all very helpful with all the quartz flasks you'll need to quaff as you get pounded by Blacknore's undead army.
As mentioned in the .PDF, two of Hexen's heroes can accompany you in your quest if you find the dungeon key and unlock their cells. Baratus and Menelkir can fight, but getting them to the action is like herding kittens due to their pathing in the castle. I don't think I ever used Baratus, but I took Menelkir on the road to Ternis's Tomb. He kind of helped killing the spirits but he went down like a sack of potatoes in the x4 undead lord battle, which didn't really surprise me. I don't know how long Baratus would have lasted, as lethal as the monsters of The Inquisitor are. So it goes.
Shadowman has crafted an adventure that, while not exactly excruciating, is still pretty demanding, a much slower-paced adventure than Doom that requires even more caution than Hexen. I think it should appeal more toward fans of the latter, though its proclivity toward difficult-to-avoid enemy projectiles robs it of that dungeon crawl feel. If you're not morally opposed or turned off by anything you've read here, it wouldn't hurt to give The Inquisitor a shot. It's an interesting take on Army of Darkness, crossing the universes of id and Raven. Just turn the dial on lethality down a tad. In closing, torture sucks.
YOU MUST DEFEAT MORCAR - I MEAN, ZARGON