Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Realm of Chaos (RLMCHAOS.WAD)

Realm of Chaos, released in 1996, is another one of those Doom II megaWADs from the golden age of modding. Its major claim to fame is that it was developed by a team of Macintosh users, hence their name. As Steve Duff offered in his retrospective, Realm of Chaos showcased the best that the Mac scene had to offer because it showcased virtually the ONLY authors the Mac scene had to offer. Clint Sago started the project but pretty quickly discovered that, despite his enthusiasm, his talents were lacking. Rob Berkowitz served as his "executive officer", filling out a large portion of the lineup as well as the role of direct leadership. Realm of Chaos is pretty comparable to its peers, in spite of the dodgy editor they had to work with, and took about as long to build as Memento Mori. It's not quite as crazy, or complex, but there are some gems to be had here.

The story is pretty simple, though it plays out fairly well through the mapset's running order in spite of the more abstract level design. It's not clear if the protagonist is Doomguy after Doom II or another UAC marine working in parallel during Doom and Doom II. Regardless, the battle begins on the UAC's headquarters on Mars, returning to Earth during the second episode, only to be captured in Hell for the final leg of the journey, ending in a fight with "the Four Lords of Hell". It kind of echoes Doom II's themes, though there are a few stabs at stronger fidelity mixed in with the crazier stuff.

Good news - RLMCHAOS is mostly balanced for pistol start! Some of the levels are a total bear to complete as such, and a few are impossible to max (like MAP29 for its Cyberdemon trap). They all hold up, though. There is a lot of combat shotgun action to be had, here, which figures as there's a ton of claustrophobic level design. Can you fight in 64-wide hallways? Of course, all the constricted layouts stand in stark contrast to the open-air maps, where the demon population is comparatively sparse. You usually get some cool architecture to go along with it, though. The plasma rifle and rocket launcher don't show up quite as often as the SSG but you usually get plenty of cells and rockets to go with either.

It's clear to see that the authors' talents insofar as encounter and architecture design go improved as they created maps. Compare "Dropoff" to one of Berkowitz's later levels, for instance, or "Sewers" to pretty much anything else in the megaWAD. Of all these guys, I think Steve Duff made my favorite maps, mostly because they're big, have some exploration, and some cool sights. "Splatterhouse" may be my favorite out of the whole bunch, challenged only by "Nova Akropola". Bagrow is probably my least favorite, but he manages to crank out a few decent mixed-theme maps in the second episode. Berkowitz was definitely the workhorse, producing about ten maps. Pestov gets "most improved" from me - "Fortress of Death" is a long way away from "Mission Control".

Some new textures and music would have been great, but there are a few new props, like cobwebs, candles and butcher knives to keep things feeling a little fresh, as well as edits of pickup sprites that trend toward ridiculous cyberpunk. If you can't get enough of classic Doom II, grab Realm of Chaos for some more action. If you've played Memento Mori and can't stomach the idea of playing levels of comparable if slightly lower quality, then you should probably give RLMCHAOS a pass. It's far from intolerable, though, and a fun part of Doom's lesser-known history.

by The Macintosh Team

by Rob Berkowitz
A simple, rectilinear opener, but don't let that fool you. It's got a few scares over your typical MAP01 thanks to the wide, open areas ringed by hitscanners - like the first major ambush - and that imps from the darkness bit in the far north. He also sets a few sergeants loose on your run back through the level to the entrance room, which is a bit of deadend backtracking. That final sequence with the raising bridge feels like it takes forever.

MAP02Outpost 27
by Antoni Chan
A tight little techbase with a circular construction and lots of congested, claustrophobic gameplay. The monsters are still pretty light but there are a few Hell knights to soak your ammo and the traps tend to put monsters very close to you in direct opposite to "Dropoff"'s exposure - nowhere to literally run instead of nowhere that's safe. Just a lot of corner ducking and careful progression. That imp ambush is probably the standout encounter.

Mars Base AlphaMAP03
by Clint Sago and Rob Berkowitz
Another super-short base map but with some obvious Hellish trappings. It's thick with monsters, debuting some cacodemons in an outdoor toxic waste pit as well as a bunch of baddies in the main chamber with the teleporter pit. It also has a combat shotgun, presented to you on a pedestal, and just in time. Bits like the teleporter pit, exit pillars, and red key receptacle are nice architectural touches. Only standout fight for me would be the blue key battle, mainly because the monsters not in the cage surprised me.

by Jim Bagrow
Like "Dropoff", this level is pretty rectilinear, but it's more obvious that most of the map is a bunch of huge boxes. You'll be boned if you don't visit the secret areas first, scoring plenty of necessary armaments before jumping into the often dark sewer floors. The firefights are pretty nasty but the essentially coverless arch-vile in the corpse room is a big no-no. At least, those silver blocks weren't doing anything to keep my ass from getting fried. That nukage fall room looks pretty cool but taking out all the pain elementals and lost souls takes awhile. Fire up that chainsaw!

Mission ControlMAP05
by Slava Pestov
Kind of a cargo area map with an elevator gimmick linking the various floors together. The most important advice I can give is don't miss out on the rocket launcher on the top-most tier, or you'll wonder just how you're supposed to kill the final glut of monsters. It's nothing too nasty, with a weird commando cubby lineup in the blue key room. The hardest thing is probably lining up jumps onto the rad suit / berserk pack, though you'll probably want the berserk pack with all the bullets flying around.

by Steve Duff
Steve Duff transcends the maps that came before with this very cool, very large exploration level. It's one of those "Refueling Base"-types that you can poke around and gradually open up. The monster population feels a little sparse compared to Duff's enormous sense of scale but it gives it the feeling of some kind of post-apocalyptic industrial complex that's been taken over by demons. There could have been more monsters in the outside secret, I think. It's pretty deep in secrets, but Duff is a classic cryptographer, so pay attention to the walls and you might be able to score you a combat shotgun. Some nice architecture.

by Rob Berkowitz
This is also pretty simple, but not of the same design as the normal slot holder. It's got more of a tricks and traps vibe, and is unimpressive at first but quickly shifts gears as you battle through the room ringed with imps (that lulls you into a false sense of security with the demons) and the striking visuals of the southern staircase mixed with the pitch black monster closets near the top. The finale gives you an unusual choice - you can just hit the switch or fight through the trap and score a megasphere. There's a quirk about the latter, though...

MAP08Research Lab
by Slava Pestov
This is another "Tricks and Traps"-esque map, but the homage is more overt when you see the Cyberdemon / Hell knight fight and the "monsters teleporting behind you" room to the northeast. The most memorable sequences to me are the switch / teleporter porn room to the east that unlocks the exit and the teleporter steps to the northwest, where the only way to move forward is to move backward, so to speak. It also has a long teleporter ambush that robs you of any available real estate fairly quickly, resulting in a congested firefight.

Machine Gun EtiquetteMAP09
by Steve Duff
Duff makes another odd, expansive level with some unusual features splitting up the tall architecture and cool visuals. I love that marble pillar room, for instance, and the large area to its east has some pretty good progression ideas. Then you have the odd juxtaposition of Hell coals and Wolf3D blue stone, complete with a drive-by from everyone's hated boys in blue. Most of the action will take place in the southern section, which has plenty of monsters to power through including commando snipers and some nasty reveals to go with them. The finale isn't quite as daunting, but it's got revenants, and that's enough of a shake-up for some players.

MAP10Hollow Oblivion
by Jason Fowler
This is a very short hitscanner Hell map. Cover is paramount as zombies, shotgun guys and commandos are everywhere and there are a few projectile-based surprises you'll have to fight through even after you've killed them all. I think there are two different paths to the exit, but one of them has a lot more meat in the way. Would have been a nice start to a larger map; the opening area doesn't look half bad.

Mars StarportMAP11
by Antoni Chan
Actually looks more like some kind of an airport, but with architecture this generic, who can tell? Actually, there's a definite luggage check, control tower, a few docked spaceships, and what looks to be a detector of some kind at the security checkpoint. It's a very simple map but loaded with enemies; once you get in the hallways, expect to be assailed by cacodemons from all directions and probably have an imp or two sneak up on you in the confusion. Plays pretty well.

MAP12Home Sweet Home
by Jason Fowler
Back to Earth with this medium-sized, mostly outdoor level. A lot of the action takes place around a diamond-shaped compound that has a bit of the puzzle element about it as you unravel its secrets in order to gain access to the southern door. It's got pretty decent design all around and some memorable fights throughout. The yard battles are my favorite, but there's plenty to enjoy as you make your way through the gauntlet and then back to the exit. Cool little map.

by Rob Berkowitz
There isn't any blood, but Berkowitz delivers with a simple granite mountain level with some tricky fights. "Bloodlands" is pretty straightforward, rushing through hitscanners and packs of Hell knights and demons before the arachnotron chasm. The outer area with the cacodemon pits and building is one of my standout areas. It gets some nice use and Berkowitz throws installed enemies at you in stages as you progress. The dark mazes ending in dark trap rooms, I don't care for so much, but the finale's use of voodoo dolls is genius and startled me so that I hesitated long enough for the commandos to get me.

MAP14Die Hard
by Jim Bagrow
"Die Hard" is a mishmash of things, a series of relatively disconnected areas unified only in their inflated scope. Each area has a fairly interesting gimmick, though, and there are a few bits of surprisingly cool architecture, like the eastern gate and the shadows cast on the ground. The opening chasm is fullbright but has a desperate shootout on top. The crate maze is predictably cramped but has a neat switch trick (I think). That conference room is fairly inoffensive Doom realism (compared to the hilarious desk lamp elsewhere in the level). The marble pit is kind of annoying to cross but Bagrow has placed some cover. Overall, way more interesting than "Sewers".

by Rob Berkowitz
There are a few cool ideas but situations like the main room with its mirrored looping staircases and all the ground you have to cover makes this map wear on just a tad too long. I love the westernmost staircase room and the crawl around the edge of the nukage lake is pretty cool, especially when the arachnotrons start in harassing you. The southwestern switch gauntlet is too repetitive for its own good, though. It's a shame the first half drags so much; the second just about makes up for it. The secret exit isn't that hard to sniff out, especially if you pay attention to the automap.

MAP31The Mansion
by Slava Pestov
A serviceable house-style level with a shit ton of shotgun guys waiting in the foyer. Once you kill them, you can pretty much explore the mansion at your leisure, with the caveat that the western door is a one-way trip. At least, if there's a way of getting the lift to come back down, I couldn't find it. Bring all three keys before descending. The fights aren't that interesting but the arch-vile squad was a neat surprise and the outdoor area required a little nuance with the layout and the pain elemental. The secret exit here is more of an alternate exit, albeit located right next to the normal one.

Nowhere to HideMAP32
by Rob Berkowitz
A nice, simple arena fight that introduces monsters in waves and keeps players on their toes with exposure. The center island provides some cover, but it really isn't useful compared to simple running and gunning. It's pretty fun to dodge and hit all the switches to introduces the main monsters before finishing up. There could be something more in the outer lanes; imps aren't at all threatening with the armaments you have.

MAP16The Wolf's Hour
by Jim Bagrow
Bagrow pushes out another grab bag level that starts out in an outdoor area with some rudimentary buildings, moves into a bare essentials 64-wide sewer, and then a cavern section that's kind of rough to deal with as the outer edge is ringed with hitscanners with mancubuses and demons patrolling the interior. It's a more compelling fight than the finale, if a bit frustrating given the level of exposure. No great shakes.

No EscapeMAP17
by Antoni Chan
A very compact, very orthogonal base map with a Christian Klie-ish layout - i.e., no wasted space. Well, there's that huge outdoor area with a Cyberdemon that you'll have to kill with mostly combat shotgun blasts, and the level tends to drag with the high-HP enemies and SSG-centric fighting, but it has some cool gimmicks like the "RUN" room and the red key room. I also like the yellow key ambush. The coiling corridor that unlocks it, not so much. Decent action.

MAP18Dead Radio
by Steve Duff
Another cool base level from Duff. It has some neat setpieces, some not so neat architecture, and a glut of potentially tricky battles. The only areas I don't really care for are the crusher farm to the southeast, which looks nice but has enemies stomping around in the toxins you'll probably have to dive in to deal with, and the stunted swazi pit to the northeast, which lacks considerable depth (though the teleporting arch-vile is a nice surprise). The combat feels largely incidental but you run into a few nice fights as you explore, with one secret surprise that stood out to me involving lost souls and revenants.

Port FuryMAP19
by Steve Duff
Starts out with a claustrophobic techbase with some marble (the marble fight is pretty cool, even if you have to retreat to re-stock) and then turns into a massive outdoor port area on a river that doesn't have a lot to it. The tower you start out in is a fun fight but then there's a carrier boat that as far as I can tell serves no purpose and a warehouse filled with Nazis. The nukage tower, whatever it is, has a good opening onslaught, at least. This could use some more monsters or structures in the actual "Port Fury".

MAP20Teleporter Central
by Antoni Chan
Starts off with a teleporter hub that takes you to six (seven) distinct locations, four of which are linked in pairs, I think? You need to visit some before you can complete others, at least. The only standout firefight is the tan column slaughter, and you even get a BFG there, which robs the finale of any potency as you take out a Cyberdemon among a bunch of slow-repeating elevator columns. The red key surprise is pretty cool, though, and the little encounters held my interest through to the level's end, which has a cinematic finish.

The PrisonMAP21
by Rob Berkowitz
Hell imprisons you but can't help to pair you up with a bunch of armaments. Berkowitz's architecture is greatly improved over his early stuff, but the reused jail cells hardly awe. The rest is okay, though. I like the torrent of imps at the onset and the sluice crawl with imps at your level, barons beneath, and revenants up high is a nice mix-up. I also like the guard tower surrounded by blood in the end. The ending is another wash, this time with chaingunner poison. 

MAP22Nova Akropola
by Steve Duff
This is some kind of enormous castle thing - an acropolis, of course. After your initial blitz out of the last remnants of "The Prison", you head out and storm the fortifications. There's an inner building, which looks impressive, but doesn't have much of anything in it. The meat is in the side areas, which like the main section have neat architecture and some psychedelic sights. I prefer the western bit, myself, with the red and yellow key rooms. The east involves an imp / Nazi swarm that's brutal on players with low health, even if there's a secret megasphere close by. The finale has a paired Cyberdemon and arch-vile - always one to get a jump - followed by an underwhelming corridor crawl. I like it, though the opening is quite nasty - try to start off with as much health as possible.

by Steve Duff
Another large Hell map with some tall, impressive architecture. I particularly like the northeast and starting zones. There's a healthy monster mix, though stationing arachnotrons in hallways is not recommended. The final area is kind of challenging due to your limited real estate, as the inner area is dominated by a pit filled with demons you won't be able to easily kill, since there's no way out of the embers besides the slowly rising platforms you raise out of it via switches. I do feel like there are a bevy of hitscanners, but there's plenty of health to be found, and some of it in hard-to-reach plain sight areas.

MAP24Burnt Guts
by Slava Pestov
Another short map from Pestov. The setting is a decent mix of dirty Hellscape and marble temple, with your progression limited by channels of fire filled with demons. The yellow key's teleport ambush lacks teeth, and battling cacos in the western room's doesn't thrill me, but the inferno area to the southeast is a nice touch, and the Hell nobles imprisoned in the columns in the yard are clear threats that can't simply be rocketed away, because you don't have anything with which to kill them at the start.

Castle of the HellknightsMAP25
by Antoni Chan
Another super-short level, this one prominently featuring the Icon of Sin. It's not real, though, even if its Hellmaw opens up to swallow you, admitting to the second half of the level. Combat is intensely claustrophobic, with a lot of barons and Hell knights in roughly 64-wide hallways before a short key-gated challenge gauntlet. You're going to be using your SSG quite a bit in order to reach the exit switch.

MAP26Above and Below
by Rob Berkowitz
A marble map with a gimmick held straight through to the end. There's an upper level and a lower level, the pits and the walkways, so to speak. The pits are filled with all manner of demon trash while the walkways are mostly clogged with imps you have to clear out. If you want to purify the lower chambers and hallways, you'll want to at least edge your way over to the SSG, which will make your life much, much easier. Some of the encounters can be really nasty; both featuring arch-viles are there to ruin your day.

by Steve Duff
This Duffmap is more free-form. It's still got huge areas like the elevator step pyramid of the western section (with not-quite-hidden pressure plates) and the toxic marble catwalk that joins it to the rest of the map. I kind of like the ending grand hall, even if the fight is a bit underwhelming (and the enormous yellow key door garish). It's not the best of the Duff maps I've played, though. It's loaded with hitscanners and has a bunch of areas that are marked as secrets but aren't, really.

MAP28Fortress of Death
by Slava Pestov
Pestov's last level is a pretty cool Hellish fortress that's big on teleporters, switches, and damage floors. It's kind of a pain to get started but once you bust into the blood pit with the rocket launcher you can start to let your hair down. A lot of the fighting is claustrophobic; in fact, the one big open-air fight is choked with big bads and will mostly sort itself out via infighting with a cursory BFG mop-up. I like the action, though, and I like the progression. The fortress slowly unfolds as you conquer it and there's plenty of rockets to fire, as long as you can find some free space to shoot them in. Neat.

The FountainMAP29
by Rob Berkowitz
This is a chain of larger areas joined by some kind of marble elevator hub. The opening is a super-dark subterranean lava flow that's tough picking out targets, plus the weapons are all hidden away in side passages or in non-obvious locations due to the lighting. The southern area is okay but the space reserved for it contrasts with the monsters Berkowitz has placed. It's got kind of a surreal feel with the darkness and blue torches, though it'd look better with solid black textures. The northern section looks cool at first but climbing the giant lift staircase to the trigger opening up the other staircase is bonkers. There's a "Gotcha!" fight at the top, but if you hit the wrong button, you'll have to dodge maybe a dozen different rockets to get out alive.

by Rob Berkowitz
A big ol' square bossmap. If you go the route of the pacifist until the end, you won't wake up the several other boss shooters that will quickly stock the map with monsters. Just head clockwise around the level; the pits house essential weapons and health while the wooden shacks house switches that open up the next wooden shack. The shooting platform is very straightforward and is "guarded" by two voodoo dolls, though they seem to be mainly cosmetic. It's not the worst demon spitter I've played.



  1. Another interesting note is that map04 sewers made its way into the xbox port of doom (though in the release it isn't normally accesible, but still there in the file), because the author of that map worked on the port.

    1. Uh, I think you may be confusing David Calvin's "Sewers" with Jim Bagrow's of this port. Looking at, they are not remotely the same apart from being 94 as fuck (and I mean that in the best way)

    2. You're absolutely correct.
      I feel dumb now.