Friday, September 26, 2014

The Adventures of Square (SQUARE1.PK3)


Every now and then, someone uses the Doom engine to craft what is for all intents and purposes a brand new game. Heretic was the original, but then you got your Chex Quest, your Harmony, your Action Doom II... and now, The Adventures of Square. Jimmy had a vision, a vision of a plucky cigar-chewing square that fought the evil circles of Shapeland with gratuitous paint guns. Today, with a little help from his friends, that dream is now a reality. Right now, there's only one episode to Square's adventures, but two more episodes are promised in the selection screen - Cheddar Apocalypse and In the O-Void. If they're anything like this first release, well, I'm waiting, fellas.


Anyway, Square is a shape, in Shapeland. It's got squares, triangles, hexagons, and... circles. In fact, it's a circle of evil that's at the root of Square's troubles, since a shape by the name of Doctor Octagon was kidnapped, and whenever brilliant minds are kidnapped by evil, it's not for the good of the world, unless you're Ra's al Ghul, in which case it's not for the good of everyone alive. Anyway, Shapeland goes pear-shaped and Square is some kind of Commando-esque action hero who starts hot on the Octagon trail. Hopefully he doesn't get sick and die from dissymmetry.


Square is not just a Doom TC. Jimmy and crew did not slap a brand new coat of paint on and call it a day. It has its own encounter dynamics and gunplay that are... frankly, very punishing. Doom's projectiles feel sluggish and vibrant in comparison, and most of Square's monsters shoot projectiles, whether they're cannonballs, laser beams, or sparks. Dodging in the Doom world is not nearly as difficult as it is in Square, and you are far more liable to get smoked by snipers. Advanced Doom play can get kind of cheesy since you can see a lot of those rockets and fireballs out of the corner of your eye and with enough time to dodge. You can't afford to be lazy in Square; when you slow down, you're probably gonna get hit by something. This isn't really helped by the fact that the authors likely knew this and staffed the levels pretty liberally with enemies designed to harry your every move.


Further compounding this is the fact that many of these monsters explode when killed, admittedly not a problem in the wide open spaces. In the claustrophobic confines of the bases, though, you can't just squat on stuff, even if you're stunlocking it. The best example of this phenomenon is in the secret level, "Arctic Lab", which introduces a new type of chatterbox enemy (roughly analogous to the demon) that explodes when killed. Trying to pick your way through the opening hallways can be a total slog, which only figures, since that's doing pistol starts on the hardest difficulty in a map I've never seen before. Square doesn't fuck around.


The weapons are fun to use. Your default armament is a paint gun (pistol), and if you pick another one up, you can fire faster while using blue ammo. These are nice sniping guns, way better than slot 2's oozi, which is great for stunlocking in close to medium quarters. There're also goonades, a toxic grenade in the same slot which is good for chokehold camping or circlestrafe parties. The shotbow (slot 3) is basically a shotgun, though it's not as good as Doom's for medium-range sniping. It has an upgrade in the same slot, the quadcannon, that can shoot four shells on full-auto before reloading, which makes it a powerful skirmishing weapon. Slot 4 gets the paintgun cannon, a blue-ammo spewing chaingun that is fantastic at doing damage at just about any range as long as your target doesn't move too fast. Slot 5 is the Hellshell launcher, and it's about as good as you'd expect, with the caveat that the shells travel a parabolic arc. There's also the defibrillator, a melee weapon in slot 7 that is pretty good at knocking out enemies in close quarters, though there aren't too many you'll want to get close to in the first place.


Square has a pretty good variety of enemies. There are a bunch of circle jerks occupying different niches, from paintball to knife, cannon, (elite) oozi, and jetpack, the last of which is a doddering, flying ammo sponge, much like dear ol' Hissy. The crew is pretty good about making most of the enemies fire projectiles that you can dodge; the only hitscanner you'll see regularly is the tritankle robot, with the other guys showing up in E1A10. Knife jerks and chatterboxes are basically demon analogues, though the latter is faster and tougher. The ovolts are floating monsters with varying degrees of behavior, but all of them fire sparks and all of them explode on death. The other two robots are a) cylonder, which looks like a Battlestar Galactica tiki fetish that fires lasers and b) the color cube, which has I think three different attack patterns, from normal to scattershot to homing. One very satisfying feature of combat is the level of feedback; shape enemies burst into a satisfying shower of paint that plops all over the ground. It's... visceral, and yet, it's not horrifically gory.


Square plays up Doom's threat priorities to the extreme. You're often dumped into a bad situation and forced to move constantly while you pick away at your opponents until you can finally catch a breath. The faster projectiles and exploding enemies makes this a more difficult endeavor but the monster variety doesn't have quite the inherent chaos of Doom II's bestiary. The only unusual fire pattern is left to the color cubes, which kind of rolls the revenant, mancubus, and arachnotron into one baddie. And I'm sorry if I keep drawing comparisons to Doom II, but I play a lot of Doom II, and you probably do to, so it's a decent frame of reference. I hope to see some more unusual attack patterns in episodes 2 and 3, though I'm already having a devil of a time not getting sniped by cannonballs when I stop to catch my breath.


The maps are gorgeous and somewhat humorous. I was kind of expecting something with a bit more BUILD attitude when I started out in "Squaresville", but there aren't a whole lot of throwaway jokes except for a few scattered references, like the secret exit in E1A5 or the cafeteria and intercom messages in E1A9. And, of course, the constant one-liners from Square himself. The architecture is superb, though. I dig the entirety of the launch facility, that massive soda factory, the cityscape, and that base / tower / dam combo in "Spillway". There are also a bunch of cool scripting events that transform the maps like raising the water table, moving bridges, and destructible walls a la Duke3D. I don't exactly miss the corny references of the BUILD engine era, but I guess in some small way I was expecting them.


Square is not Doom. It is an adventure unto itself, a quest whose conclusion I am looking forward to. Jimmy and company are making a new FPS experience and pushing all the right angles. If you don't mind a bit of bullet Hell in your retro shooter or its "MSPaint" visuals, you ought to give this a shot. If I make it sound really hard, I'm a dope who played on the UV-equivalent difficulty in the least compromising playstyle (pistol start), so I reap what I sow. Playing straight through or just plain using a lower difficulty will make things much easier on you.

NOTE: The Adventures of Square has its own distribution package with a modified ZDoom.pk3 that runs Square and Square alone; if you choose not to use it, any weird happenings are your own fault.





THE ADVENTURES OF SQUARE
by assorted authors

GET IN SHAPE!
TUTORIAL LEVEL

TRAININGTraining Course
by James "Jimmy" Paddock
This friendly little training course takes you through a variety of environments set to a jaunty music track (that invokes the feel of Duke Vacation to me for some reason) that's a perfect crash course for FPS hopefuls.


EPISODE 1
CORNERED BY CIRCLES

RADIAL DAWN

Welcome to SquaresvilleE1A1
by Matt Tropiano
And what a welcoming crew. The level starts off with lots of nice scenery in Squaresville, picking off the occasional circle. At the end, you're in a modern Doom II arena surrounded by projectile monster on every heightened surface while a pack of dudes roam the bottom floor. It's never hard, especially if you can find the secrets, which will considerably boost your survivability, and anyone used to the top end of Doom's hectic gameplay will find this a nice little warm up. The layout is pretty cool, loaded with all kinds of nooks and crannies. The facility at the end is a little... square, though-

E1A2Sewerside
by Jimmy "James" Paddock
Pistol start players will be in the lurch with the pickup layout. Monsters are much thicker and more dangerous and some of the setups leave you fairly exposed to fire on all sides, like jumping into either of the sewer pits off the opening junction. The tunnels themselves are a great, claustrophobic intro to the green meanie, and fields what might be a pretty nasty trap. The big finish is an exercise in circle-strafing as you round up all the roamers in the center and gun them down before turning your gun on the cannoneers up top. That initial shock with all the jetpack dudes is pretty cool, though.

Up Shape CreekE1A3
by Richard "Tarnsman" Frei
A lot of playing with height variation and ladders this time. It says it's a creek but it looks more like a quarry, which is kind of reinforced by those gem caves. You're really exposed on every front and there are some surprises lurking in the water, though you'll want to check it out for some much needed ammo; this map sucked me dry out of paint. I have a feeling all those ledge snipers might have something to do with it, so I'd err on the side of conservatism. Near the end there's a great gimmick where the quarry is further flooded to allow access to the exit, also letting you access a few previously unavailable areas. Standout encounter is obviously the bridge shootout, a madcap blastathon with tons of high-HP flying monsters that will pressure the shit out of you.

E1A4Paint Plant
by Walker "Pavera" Wright
Murderbrawl 2014. From the onset you are constantly under siege from enemies; a torrent of the flying yellow electric things pop out to tear your ass up and I'm seeing that a lot of these big crowd battles kind of devolve into good ol' circlestrafes. The interior of the factory plays out at a much more claustrophobic pace with shooters jammed in every corner and a constant feeling of being mobbed. Making your way to the east side reveals a grueling canyon crawl with snipers everywhere. As in Doom, your basic pistol(s) makes a handy sniping weapon for those guys up high. The robot sentinel makes his first appearance, though he's something of a bullet sponge, truth be told. The design and layout of the paint plant are superb, and the caverns ain't too bad, either.

A Miner InconvenienceE1A5
by Walker "Pavera" Wright and Xaser Acheron
This is a massive mixture of wide-open shootouts in outdoors areas, caverns, and a few bases. It's also hard as fuck. You are forever locked in a crossfire of various monsters, none of which shoot projectiles as avoidable either in speed or visibility as Doom II's regular stable. Probably the hardest moment is while hopping from floating island to floating island in the instakill goop to the east, which immediately incurs the wrath of a full on spawn of fliers, plus that robot at the far end just stoically shoots lasers at you while you try desperately to not die. There's also the ambush that results, which surprises you with a brand new murderbot that can thankfully be stunlocked... after you kill the others. The finale is pretty cinematic but not quite as challenging as I was expecting what with all that open area.

E1A10Arctic Lab
by James "Jimmy" Paddock
The hardest part is just getting started, and short of carrying in an annihilator like your number 4 slot weapon, you're going to have a lot of fun getting to a safe spot once you take the elevator ride up. The initial entry point is congested with tons of enemies that explode when killed and I found myself getting sniped quite a bit or backing into monsters like an idiot. Deeper areas use purple tanks as lockdown snipers, but I think you ought to have the slot 4 weapon by then. Health is certainly at a premium, especially since the water in the outdoor environment is so cold that you take damage just by standing in it. The construction is genius, though, with the map gradually opening up as you grind your way through, and that bathysphere-type thing to the north is really fuckin' cool.

The SpillwayE1A6
by Augustus "Alfonzo" Knezevich and Xaser Acheron
Something a little more muted, for the most part. "Spillway" is in the same vein as "Miner" in that it's mostly underground with caverns and several installations built into the thing. There is a lot of scripting wizardry going on, particularly that aqueduct that turns into a bridge after it dumps its contents into the pool below. It's also huge and pretty crazy to explore. Well, at least the early base area is. The towers in the gigantic cavern afterward aren't quite so bad but that toxic sluice to the northwest is kind of a pain in the ass to clear. The final battle is a pretty nasty clusterfuck with the crossfire but the starting area is much worse given how punishing it seems toward aggressive play. Lots of fantastic architecture in this one; the towers are an obvious highlight, but there's also a huge dam and the base interior.

E1A7Geometropolis
by James "Jimmy" Paddock and Xaser Acheron
Square does "Downtown" in flying colors. As could be predicted, it's total chaos with tons of enemies on rooftops and ledges and on the ground. Health is kind of scarce, and ammo will probably feel along the same lines. There are some pockets of powerups, but they're well defended. It's mostly about holding out long enough to get a good bit of the streets clear so that you can properly explore the buildings without getting shelled. The flying volt creatures make this pretty hard since they sneak around all the open air, but you can handle it. If nothing else, the map is pretty up front about the challenges you face. Just keep calm and beware those purple tanks, they're stuffed into the worst positions...

Fizz-O Pop FactoryE1A8
by James "Jimmy" Paddock and Xaser Acheron
A super-fantastic open air level that is just as hard as something like "Geometropolis" as far as your exposure goes, but for some reason, I had more fun. I think the vast area you have to run around in makes getting hailed by paint and other projectiles much easier to stomach as I feel less pinned down and can instead focus on trying to get a weapon, any weapon, besides the rocket launcher thing. Not that it's a bad weapon, considering this level debuts the color cubes, another super-tough robot that can fire random scattershots. The ruined look of the factory exterior is curious but it's fun exploring all the fizz vats, the assembly line you run down toward the map's end, and all the little secrets. That password key is a nice touch to shake things up.

E1A9Launch Base
by Richard "Tarnsman" Frei and "Clonedpickle"
This is it, the brass ring. The launch facility looks pretty cool and it's got a lot of neat jokes hidden in there, like the intercom messages and the lunch room. It's also swarming with monsters, including new, lethal oozi guys and jerks in suits. Map progression flows pretty much naturally as you work your way through the base. The upper ring is a little grueling but it's not too bad. I think killing the fish in the basins near the end is a more tedious task. The boss can teleport, which makes him pretty lethal, and he can also throw red acid on the ground, which means you have to watch where you step. It's all about trading punches without getting punched. Just watch out when you take him down - he has a surprise waiting for you. A masterful finish.

IT'S HIP TO BE SQUARE


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2014 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Going Down32in24-13Bauhaus
The Adventures of SquarePushBloody Steel
Back to Saturn X: Episode 2Rage CTFMayhem 2048
PlasmaplantBest Gameplay ModWhitemare 2
Shadows of ChronosDemonSteeleYou Dig
Monster Hunter Ltd. 1/2Mordeth AwardThe Wailing Horde
ResurgenceDoom 2 in Name OnlyReconstruction/
Mayan MishapMockawardDecomposition
Urban Brawl: Dead of WinterBrutalist Doom
Thy Flesh Turned Into a Draft ExcluderMapper of the Year
Joshy

5 comments:

  1. There's also Hexen and Strife that came first as commercial Doom engine games. Then you have the freeware like Chex Quest, Harmony, Action Doom 2, and TAOS (those which you already mention).

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    1. in your haste to fill out the list of stuff i didnt mention you forgot HacX, and probably some obscure things i cant remember

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  2. This truly is like a brand new Doom-engine FPS, only better than most of the official ones. But I only have the shareware right now. That's the only problem. Where do they sell the full version?? :D

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    Replies
    1. presumably the full version will be available for $0 when they finish it

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