Thursday, April 10, 2014

Flashback to Hell (FTH666.WAD)

Vordakk, aka Stormwalker, is no longer a Doomworld Forum superstar, but he remains in the hearts of those that loved his Heretic maps from 2011 (Heretic: Call of the Apostate and Heretic: Dark Deity's Bastion). He teased Flashback to Hell back in what seems like ages ago, but it's 2014 now, and we can finally enjoy the fruits of his labor. FTH666 is a Doom II megaWAD-lite for Boom-compatible ports that fields fourteen solid levels, a cinematic epilogue that takes advantage of the secret exit intermission screen, and two Wolf3D levels for funsies. There are two big "flashbacks" that Vordakk wanted to make with this megaWAD, the first being the issue of story in Doom PWADs. Yeah, I know, few of you give a shit. Still, authors back in '94 and '95 loved padding out the .TXTs with relevant flash fiction, no matter how insane, and Vordakk attempts to do the same here with some voluminous prose by any PWAD standard.

Basically, Flashback to Hell takes place in a post-Plutonia future. There's some cribbing from Eternal Doom, where the restriction of teleportation leads to the development of time travel. This time around, though, the UAC has the brilliant idea of sending the marine back in time to the beginning of the invasion of Earth so that he might battle his way to the Icon of Sin as fast as possible, thereby changing events and saving untold numbers of souls from a grisly fate at the hands of Hell. How could you possibly refuse? There's no way that the forces of ultimate evil might be prepared for your arrival, no sir.

The first thing you need to do is decide which version of FTH you want to download. The initial release features a brand new set of sound effects, courtesy of Per Kristian Risvik. Rather, they're high-quality remakes of the originals. They sound cool and give the PWAD a very different feel, but I can appreciate what many felt, that they just sound off compared to the lo-fi clips that shipped with Doom II. Vordakk took the feedback to heart and released Flashback to Hell - Original SFX Version so that you can decide which experience you want. Personally, I made my way through the mission with the new SFX. They don't replace quite everything, but there's more than enough to notice the differences. Also adding to the flashback effect is a "new" soundtrack from PRIMEVAL and Jimmy. If you have a good enough ear, they may seem eerily familiar to you in one aspect or another. Cool stuff.

Speaking of high-quality remakes, a lot of Flashback to Hell tries to be just that. From MAP01 to MAP11, you are running through re-imaginings of the starport levels of Doom II, down to the open-a-thesaurus naming scheme. The differences quickly outweigh the similarities, though, outside of some very broad and obvious homages. About halfway through, Vordakk settles into a definite style of level featuring large, open "hub" areas from which you visit the other, discrete areas of the maps, usually in a definite order. The homages aren't quite as clear once you reach Hell, but the strong visuals remain. I hope Vordakk makes more Doom levels - considering he hints strongly at a sequel  - because he has a lot of fun with Doom's larger custom texture library.

The combat will likely satisfy the average player. Stormwalker isn't big on locking the door behind you so you usually have somewhere to retreat to and the largely incidental monster layout isn't big on pitched battles. If anything, you'll see a lot of situations where enemies are placed in compromising positions, requiring care while advancing forward lest you get stung. Many of the situations where I wanted to run around like an astronaut were hamstrung by features like harsh damage floors. Most of my running and gunning was done while clearing out the hitscanner snipers so that I could handle the rest of the level at my leisure. Still, I had fun, and I had way more fun when Vordakk started stamping out the Doom II loveletters. You can still find plenty of places to stick your head in the hornet's nest.

If any one thing got on my nerves, it would have to be the copy / paste teleporter entry and exit rooms for all the techbase levels. I was very happy to be rid of them on my entrance to Hell, much as I was happy to see the IWAD homages dwindle away. The "battle damage" looks garish, too, the way the textures are aligned, which is a shame considering how nice and clean the rest of the level set looks. I did like the new imp and arachnotron sprites, giving the PWAD a slightly darker and more sinister feel. I guess it's blue laser vs. red laser, now?

Flashback to Hell is a fun if not fantastic PWAD that keeps closer to classic gameplay than its modern offshoots. I hope Vordakk does more Doom II in the future, because the way the latter portions of the mapset were looking, they'll be fun to see. It would be nice if he mixes in some more locked-in fights, though, because I play Doom best when my back's against the wall. Oh, and more huge secret areas. Thanks, dude.

by "Stormwalker" aka "Vordakk"

The basic core of "Entryway" is here, but the monsters are packed a bit denser, in spite of there being so much more space to explore. Granted, a lot of it is for outdoor vistas to secret-slink around in, but still. It's a nice, light MAP01, full of imps and zombies. It also looks pretty sharp with the new textures, except I can't get that lego brick battle damage on the walls out of my head. The massive outdoor secret is much appreciated, though I can't help but wish there was a little more to it.

MAP02Lower Corridors
"Underhalls" 2.0. I'm sensing a theme here... There are more shotgun shells here than you can shake a boomstick at, so have fun once you grab the SSG. There are a few hitscanner surprises, but nothing that threatening. You'll fight a few more demons, here, but the map becomes a blur once you upgrade your arsenal. The opening area has a nice gimmick - lower the pads and get a weapon plus a new area to explore. There's also, uh, a little Wolf3D homage in the tunnels. I like the outer facade of the building that houses the red key.

The TrialMAP03
"The Gauntlet", duh. The relationship is less clear, though, outside of that early squad of zombies. The commando debuts here in a big way and marks a fairly large step up in difficulty. Vordakk is more ballsy when it comes to traps and keeping a lockdown on the chaingunners is a must, like the switch that reveals the trio in the sluice. Another memorable trap - that demon teleporter room. You know that it's coming, of course, but the delivery is still fast enough to catch you off-guard. There are two very nice outdoor areas to horse around in. I especially like the courtyard to the southwest.

MAP04The Convergence
Dare I? Nothing new here, but Vordakk works a lot more crossfire into the map, making things much more dangerous. It's all about those commando snipers, though there are some close-quarter sergeants that might ruin your day, too. Gameplay is very fast and furious as you race through the base. One major departure is the crate room, which looks nice and plays about as you'd expect on first glance. Crawl forward carefully, because you're bound to wake up monsters with every step.

The Sewage AqueductsMAP05
It's dark, there are zombies, and bullets are flying everywhere. Help! Not paying attention is the #1 killer here as there are plenty of windows in the sewers and monsters will not hesitate to attack you through them. They're deviously stuffed into the corners, too, so you can't be too sure that you've slain them all. The lost soul, cacodemon, and Hell knight all debut here, to varying degrees of success. I think the lost souls work the best, but the cacodemons get to lord over the outdoor secret area, which also has some Eternal Doom logic in getting the soul sphere. It's fun to explore.

MAP06The Pulverizer
Of course, there's a Spiderdemon that isn't much of a threat, but this level is all about claustrophobic gameplay or open-air shootouts that leave you feeling exposed, whether it's a bunch of zombies at strategic locations or a wave of cacodemons bearing down on you. One revenant ambush left a considerable impression on me, though I forgot that I had a plasma rifle from earlier in the map when it surprised me. The major areas have neat layouts. I'm not too fond of the labyrinthine opening, though it's a great location for a confusing all-out firefight as monsters appear to approach from every angle.

Simply DeadMAP07
Another "Dead Simple" level with a few monsters in between to mix things up a bit. The only real issue is the positioning of the mancubus cubbies, which are tough to hit efficiently with SSG blasts. The arachnotron wave is much less hectic, unless you somehow squandered all your plasma rifle ammo.

MAP08Deceptions and Snares
Something different. Vordakk re-contextualizes "Tricks and Traps" within a more or less normal map layout. You may see a few familiar faces, like a pack of demons or the baron / Cyberdemon fight, but the overall feel is of a typical Doom II level, albeit with sneakier monster placement. The pain elemental makes its first appearance, and initially it isn't much of a scare, but the major battle might catch you off guard. As before, I enjoy the way Vordakk puts together the larger areas, like the southwest annex. The finale is a decent elevator descent, but handily fended off with a plasma rifle.

The HoleMAP09
An enormous departure from "The Pit". The opening view is an impressive vista, an enormous canyon bisected by the bridge that joins the two man-made installations. It's a bit of a crossfire, of course, with imp fireballs and chaingun flak from afar. The meat of the map lies in ducking into the main compound's basement entrance and then fighting your way up through a devilishly arranged army of monsters, with revenants in bunkers and other unsavory things waiting to ruin your day. When I grabbed the blue key and entered the front door, I found it amusing that it housed a teleport to the stairs leading up to the climax. I guess I expected a little bit more. The ending is a mess of imps and demons and other creatures as you fight your way down the cavern into the eponymous hole. As dark as it is (though not annoyingly so), expect to be surprised.

MAP10Recharging Station
Like MAP09, this is a big departure from "Refueling Station". The bigass building in the outdoor area smacks of "The Factory", but it feels like "The Hole" part two more than anything. The exterior hub has a bunch of enemies to slay and you're kind of hard-up for ammo in the beginning. You can snag a plasma rifle in the tower to the west, but that installation has two Cyberdemon guardians. The invul helps, but it only lasts so long and it's not immediately obvious. The monster closets are one of the few obvious remaining bits of Doom II, next to the homage as fuck zombie cubby holes to the northwest, complete with hidden powerups. Cool map, cool visuals, cool fights.

Ring of OblivionMAP11
The most memorable element of MAP11 is here, that being the ring. It's a -bit- larger, though, and the center is dominated by a huge tech installation. The setting is a pretty gorgeous crater, with all sort of eye candy around the inner and outer edges. It's also dense with monsters. The opening is another sweep of hitscanners before you die due to attrition, but Vordakk throws several mobs of monsters at you as you progress, one of the more striking being a horde of demons immediately followed by a cloud of cacos. There's also the total clusterfuck ambush in the stock-up room, which is backed by an arch-vile of all things. What a way to introduce everyone's favorite sorcerer!

MAP12Realm of Desolation
The journey to Hell comes as a Godsend. It looks like Vordakk has settled into the pattern of an outdoor hub area featuring rugged terrain that links together the major indoor sections. It comes with one fairly nasty fight against a bunch of cacos and a few pain elementals whereas the pair of Cyberdemons guarding the red door are less threatening. The eastern cavern is fun to explore, with a small keep and some teleport ambushes, plus a monster arrangement that's designed to harry you with every step you take. Some of the monster popups will knock you flat on your back. There's more room to handle the scares in the northwest area, but a few of them - like the Spiderdemon - still come as a shock.

Where Sinners BurnMAP13
Same general idea as MAP12, but there's a lot more damage floor to navigate and the overall feel is something more like "The Living End" but with a giant series of ramps in the middle that leads you to four major teleporters, all of which are unlocked through the acquisition of colored keys. The opening is a madcap chase, trying to secure armaments while avoiding enemy fire, especially that of the friendly neighborhood arch-vile. Afterwards you can kind of take your time as long as you slay those isolated spoiler pockets of resistance. Lots of gorgeous visuals to let sink in, and a neat moment where the catacombs you've traversed become inundated with molten lava, forcing you to press onward through some genuine pressure.

MAP14Symbol of Iniquity
A long, linear series of challenging firefights that eventually wraps around to the beginning with an Icon of Sin rush. Those dual arch-viles with the cloud of lost souls sets the tone as you chew through a bunch of awkward monster placement with lots of sorcerers sneaking up behind you. It's as relentless as you let it be, though, and some fights (like the caged Cyber) don't offer the same threat level as, say, the cloud of cacos in the lake of fire to the east. I do like the large, silent secret area with the soul sphere. The boss fight is a pure BFG zerg to the top (well, that's how I did it). The shooter has its own trick, and it's not one that I've seen before. Interesting.

A cinematic finale that points the way toward a sequel, I hope? And if the feel is any indication, something along the lines of Eternal Doom? It's pretty effective for what it is.

MAP31Nazi Castle
Vordakk avoids some of the Wolf3D foibles by including shotgun guys and commandos. The secret exit is also slightly satisfying. Still, it's basically E3M1 of "Die, Fuhrer, Die!". Yawn.

E3M9 of Wolf3D, of course. Revenants replace the Fake Hitlers, which is a nice change, and the boss is - you guessed it - a Spiderdemon.



  1. Thanks for the review, KMX E XII! As for more DOOM levels, we'll have to see what the future holds, but I can't help but think that there may be another "massacre" to come.


    1. I would be sorely disappointed if you never made another Doom map, if that helps.

    2. Well I did end up making another Doom map after all :). I released a project called Oblivion earlier this year, and now I'm about 90% done with a new single Heretic level. Thanks for continuing this site and writing great reviews! Hope all is well!


    3. yeah, I saw oblivion! I believe that I will be playing that relatively soon. glad to see that you are still mapping!