Monday, May 19, 2014
Fractal Doom (FD_ZD_V0.2.4B.WAD)
Fractal Doom is... interesting. It's an unusual gameplay mod from Doomworld Forum superstar Scroton that debuted in 2013. I'm reviewing the ZDoom version at rev 0.2.4b, so I expect this summary to become eventually outdated. I like surprises, though! Fractal Doom is rooted on the concept of fractals, something I'm completely unqualified to discuss. You might be familiar with fractal imagery, where a large pattern is iterated upon by itself on a smaller and smaller scale, creating wonderful, complex imagery. This is the crux of Fractal Doom, played out in enemy and weapon behavior. This review documents a snapshot of the 0.2.4b release for ZDoom, so if something is different, it's Zrev modding.
Basically, every monster either creates miniature replications as an attack or upon death, to different results. This is of course a silly idea and scroton is well aware of this as he plays up the inherent comedy, but it works. The main thing you need to know is that Fractal Doom gets out of hand at lightning speed, especially in any situation where you face a lot of enemies at the same time. The author compensates you by increasing weapon firing speed and giving you fractal alternate fires that allow you an edge against the teeming hordes. He also increases your max health, armor, and ammo, and you'll need it. A lot of IWAD encounters on the default setting ("Cartesian") explode rather... violently.
The one wild card property that took me by surprise was the occasional fractal insertion of a mini-Doomguy, or more appropriately, Brutal Doomguy. This pint-sized power train can field a variety of weapons all the while spouting Doom comic quotes. They're normally available as your fist alt-fire at the cost of some health (rip and tear). You get a reserve you can manually deposit on picking up a berserk pack, and they're a great asset in a mod where things rapidly escalate. He also appears at random whenever you take damage, a nice surprise when you're already hurting. I'm sure the inner workings are more intelligible to Scroton.
As mentioned, every enemy iterates a fractal copy of itself as an attack or upon death. Zombies are in the latter category; they fractalize into two miniatures, both of which drop little mini-weapons. I didn't really notice this during normal play, but the mini-Doomguy can pick these up and use them, which is a cute touch. Making zombies only fractalize on death is an interesting decision, as these are enemies I typically prioritize since you can't dodge hitscans. The imp, an enemy I might otherwise ignore due to the ease of avoiding fireballs, becomes a much greater threat as it will throw lunging micro-imps at you as an alternative attack, a property shared by Hell knights and barons of Hell. These first mini-imps can fractalize one step further to add to the chaos. Mini-nobles don't replicate, but their parents have alternate attacks that can fractalize on collision.
Demons, like zombies, fractalize on death in twain, their offspring flung far and wide. Their miniature copies give way to one more stage of fractalized Hellspawn. They're not exactly dangerous, but they can add a lot of chaos and confusion in short order. Cacodemons are horrid little buggers that can belch mini-cacodemons at you that behave kind of like lost souls, except they're cacodemons. They also damage everything around them when they die, and no deflating mini-cacos can take the sting out of that. Lost souls fractalize twice, like demons, but their offspring eventually become... lost, and stop bothering you if they stick around long enough. Pain elementals are death incarnate. Realizing that they're essentially harmless in melee, Fractal Doom gives them an alternate exploding lost soul attack that should come as quite a surprise. On death, they split into mini-pain elementals, which can still shoot exploding skulls, but fractalize normally on death (i.e. mini lost souls).
Revenants shoot two rockets instead of one. More importantly, their mode of fractalizing fires Slim Pickens-style skeletons (a fantastic touch) that hop off their rockets when they collide. The upshot - you can now shoot down revenant rockets of all kinds! Hallelujah. The mancubus firing pattern has been... adjusted, which should trip you up, plus they split four ways on death. Arachnotrons fractalize whenever they're hit with a hitscan attack, which can be pretty annoying, especially if you don't catch on to it. The arch-vile is basically the same, but he splits four ways on death. His offspring won't attack you, but they'll race around at the speed of light, reviving pretty much everything but the things a normal arch-vile can't.
The Cyberdemon and Spiderdemon have been beefed up to the point of ludicrousness. The Cyberdemon has fractalizing rocket attacks, shoots adult-sized Rocket Riding Revenant Rancheros (which fractalize like normal revenants), and split in two on death. The Spiderdemon, like the arachnotron, bleeds copies that shoot revenant rockets, bullets, and plasma, throws barons, machinegunes revenant rocket riders, and crumbles into a bunch of fractal Spiderdemons on death. And, uh, I'm probably missing something, but there's so much shit going on in any normally moderate firefight that it's liable to just slide on by.
The default behavior of the weapons hasn't changed, they just fire faster, but everything in Fractal Doom is faster. Everything has an alt-fire, though. The hitscan weapons take double the ammo but their bullets explode on impact. They're meant for crowd-clearing when shit gets out of hand, since the bullets still do normal damage to whatever they impact. The rocket launcher has a beefy alt-fire that's great, ripping through enemies and firing normal rockets at 45-degree tangents, at the cost of fifteen. For ten cell ammo, the plasma rifle alt has a beautiful fractal spiral pattern but needs a little room to get up to speed, so to speak. The BFG needs 800 (out of 900 max) for its alt, but it is an incredibly devastating attack. At least, it's good enough to clear out entire yards of slaughter monsters gone wild.
Well, there is the berserk pack. It's kind of a limited invulnerability mode that turns you into a rapid-fisting deathmonger that takes highly reduced damage and gets a crop of mini-marines to dump on your hated foes until the red haze ends, after which it's just normal berserk powered fists. It still won't save you from getting munched to death by mini-demons, but it's pretty fun. There's also the shop vac, which is kind of like the chainsaw except it gives you gibs to shoot each time you kill a monster with it. It can also suck up select fractalized enemies and use them as ammo, which apparently roughly correlates to the strength of the plasma rifle projectiles (way stronger than the gibs), but I didn't find it practical as a feature, more a hilarious idea that's somewhat viable.
With all the moving parts described, you can probably guess that Fractal Doom is hard. Shit gets out of hand at incredible speed in the plain ol' Doom II IWAD and many enemies some considered to be dull have been elevated to new heights of annoyance. The cacodemon is perhaps the greatest offender, becoming something of a mega-pain elemental whose offspring move incredibly fast and relentlessly track you like langoliers, not that the superfractal pain elementals are much better. Also, the boss monsters, which are ridiculously deadly. While it's pretty grueling to idclev to any map and try and work your way up from pistol, UV Fractal Doom seems more suited for MAP01 plays as you gradually gather your toolkit and have everything at your disposal for monster-slaying and even then any bad situation can go to worse in short order. HMP / Euclidean seems to be the sweet-spot for more casual play.
Fractal Doom is hilarious. It's also moderately playable. It's worth experiencing if just for the sheer panic of everything gone horribly wrong as mini-monsters accrue in wide open spaces. There's no doubt that scroton will continue to tune this to his liking; I hope that he continues by toning down the difficulty and playing up the goofy nature of the concept.
ALL WE KNOW ARE THE FRACTS, MA'AM