Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chapel of Chaos (CHACHOS.WAD)

by Chris "Mr. Chris" Pisarczyk
and Joonas "Jodwin" Äijälä

Chapel of Chaos is a MAP21 replacement for Doom II, to be played in Boom-compatible ports. It's also a collaboration between Chris and Jodwin, though who did what, I don't know. What I can tell you is that Chris lists himself as an "Oblige RMG participant", which kind of puts me on edge, but I'm sure either author (or the tester, SuperJamie) can shed some light on the situation. The map actually has a plot, but it's pretty simple and presumably fits right into the Doom II storyline in place of "Nirvana". You arrive in Hell and first encounter an enormous, infernal chapel, a bastion used as a staging point for the invasion of Earth... or perhaps Hell's first line of defense? In any case, you have to clear the stinking fortress before you can move on.

CHACHOS is one of those big, exploratory levels. I wouldn't call it non-linear, but there are a lot of rooms to see and monsters to kill, culminating in a death arena designed to trap and kill you with a sizable ambush. The only downside to its construction are some instances of dead-end backtracking. If you've been paying attention, though, you should be able to recall where the most likely progression candidates are. There are also about six secrets in the level, only one of which I managed to find during normal play. The locked-away BFG and soulsphere at the end are part of a rather deep timed secret chain, one I didn't bother to explore in spite of the hint, but which should give you some considerable leeway for the finale.

The map flip-flops between claustrophobic combat scenarios and more open-air fights, plus the occasional hitscanner ambush that will slay slower players dead. One of my favorite moments was the red key ambush, which has demons and Hell knights flood the entrance hall from the hallways at the opposite end. It's a very cinematic sequence since you can't see the teleport fog and it's likely one of the first moments of real pressure exerted on the player by something that doesn't shoot bullets. Other fights aren't quite so deadly except for perhaps the yellow key cage switch trap, given that an arch-vile and his army stands between you and the exit. I also enjoyed the hitscanners on lowering pillars surprise just across from the start of the exit wing, just a neat visual. The final battle is pretty cool but the trio of arch-viles plus horde of mancubuses easily trumps the second fight in terms of threat.

Did I mention that it's got great architecture? CHACHOS strikes a fine balance between those pesky "over-" and "under-"detaileds through irregular room shapes and sheer theme contrast. It kind of looks like a kickass classic-era level, to be honest. The altar area, library, graveyard, and others give their particular sections a clear sense of place, which helps in an area like the east wing which has a series of teleporters that leave you feeling disoriented if you don't immediately pull up the automap. I also like that badass fast staircase that initially cuts you off from any escape. The final stage feels a little generic in comparison with its formal wood and metal colonnades.

It's a wonder that there aren't more collaborative maps in the Doom community since they tend to be such interesting fusions of design sensibilities. Chapel of Chaos is a pretty cool Hell level full of classic Doom II action. If you can handle a bit of wandering around, you should load it up.


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