Friday, January 30, 2015

Stardate 20X6 (STARDAT*.WAD)

Ribbiks smashed the 2013 Cacowards wide-open with a double-shot of colorful slaughter WADs. I'm only just now getting around to playing them for the same reason it took me forever to get to dannebubinga's Combat Shock 2. I'm not nearly good enough to play newschool slaughter at a competent level, but I enjoy it as a mental exercise not unlike those puzzle levels everyone else seems to hate. One big difference is that a mapset like Stardate 20X6 has dozens of Rubik's (Ribbiks?) cubes lying about, and most of their pieces want to kill you. These challenges are thus solved under duress, adding another element to an already perplexing puzzle.

There is no story to Stardate, but there IS a theme, and that is the color purple. Ribbiks did some work and continues to do work under the Slaughterfest banner, and shows himself to be just as competent and imaginary an author as his contemporaries. If anything, I'd say that Ribbiks tends toward smaller spaces and complex structures with the fights having a more intimate edge to them, to directly contrast against Combat Shock's feats of endurance. There are monolithic, mastodonic structures just about everywhere you look, and Ribbiks's unearthly hue makes the visuals pop like none other.

Stardate is presumably set in the cold embrace of space, but it's too abstract to resemble anything purposeful or functional, and that's great. You'll see the gray metal of more traditional UAC bases but there's a lot of brown metal and wood in these orbital platforms which allows it to chase its own particular aesthetic. As mentioned above, Ribbiks's bent is largely toward more congested areas than I'm used to seeing in slaughter levels, with complex layouts that should make more casual players feel at home. It's like a... Plutonic take on newschool slaughter, if that makes any sense. The proportionally smaller numbers of monsters seem more exact in their placement as if done to extract the greatest possible amount of agony from the player.

Make no mistake; this PWAD is HARD on UV. It's also another great example that runs counter to the mantra of the slaughter-dispossessed, those individuals that claim that this style of gameplay is mostly brainless weapon spamming against gutless hordes of enemies. Stardate is about as cerebral as it's ever gotten for me, and if you find yourself struggling at all, it's recommended to dial things down to HMP, or even ITYTD. Just because I was willing to punish myself doesn't mean that you have to. And, hey, it's still great to just walk around and enjoy the scenery, with or without the carnage.

Stardate looks great, has tons of monsters to kill, and is very challenging. It's just about everything you could ask for from a Doom II mapset, plus a difficulty slider. Ribbiks has firmly established himself as part of the Doom community's anticipated authors; here's looking forward to his next project and what nightmares may come.

by "Ribbiks"

MAP01Amethyst II
Ribbiks's opener is pretty low key but there are plenty of points where he is willing to put you through the wringer in terms of pressure, with no section more evident than the opening. I couldn't figure out how to get the plasma rifle, which probably would have made the Cyberdemon sentinel go by a bit faster, but whatever. It's a gorgeous level built around a central moat that you have to traverse. Thank goodness the purple stuff has no short-term effects! There's an optional armor in the dregs that you would do well to secure for yourself and there is no shortage of surprise revenants to keep you on your toes. I really like the ending series of encounters, pitting you against revenants and a Cyberdemon with a switch showering you with cacodemons. Infighting and maneuverability follies make for a fun encounter. The opening shot of the keep in space really doesn't prepare you for the visuals to follow.

Mud BunnyMAP02
Another purple wonderland, but this one is awash in earthen tones and the occasional odd areas of metal, wood, and tech. This feels more like what I was expecting out of Stardate, with a number of battles that lock you into overwhelming odds. The westernmost area is the scene of several, both of which are augmented by teleport triggers that scare you away from using your rocket launcher, not that it isn't just fun to weave through the crowds of hell nobles, imps, and revenants, letting them sort it out for you. My favorite devilish delight, though, has revenants on pumping pillars while not one, not two, but three scheduled pairs of arch-viles teleport in to wreak havoc while you frantically try to swipe skeletons from their perches. The non-arena encounters give you plenty of breathing room between all the savagery. Very cool.

Ribbiks takes aim and blows you away with this insidious, diabolical level. "Foxhole" is another earthy level, like MAP02, but the combat tends toward the claustrophobic with space-hoggers infiltrating every major battle. Some are ingenious, in particular the rocket launcher fight, which balances the player between a Cyberdemon on one side, a pack of revenants on the other, and partway through a bunch of imps and Hell nobles as spoilers. It's an incredibly dynamic battle and a total pain in the ass but very satisfying once you find your way through. The finale is the other big one, starting out with a classic overwhelm-by-numbers approach and taking a left turn into sheer danger as Cyberdemons stalk you through a forest of pain elementals. It's a bit easier with the plasma rifle, obtained via a cool secret sequence, but not by much. I still felt safer doing some combat shotgun jousting. A very exhausting map.

This is another starbase level and while Ribbiks claims that the level isn't too difficult, you will need all of your crowd-shaping skills as you battle through some of the nastiest crowded space scenarios so far. Admittedly, they're not as tough to interpret as "Foxhole", but I still found myself reeling from the shock of the final wave of monsters in the finale. There are a few lulls, to be sure. The baron / Hell knight / Cyberdemon square is just plain fun with infighting, and clever players can duck out of the madness of the blue key room and hit it from another angle. All of your infinitely tall monster frustration will crop up in the outdoor battle, which has a very cool setting. One Cyberdemon isn't a lot when pitted against cacodemons and pain elementals from two sides; you'll have to do most of this work on your own. The monster composition of the ending is deceptively simple.

MAP05Sector 8
It gets worse. "Sector 8" has a complex layout with several tiers of exploration and every step is pulling big, sharp, nasty teeth. Being able to fend off several hordes at once is a must-have skill, as is picking your way through a crowd. The action is actually kind of muted to start off with, feeling more like a hornets' nest, but the slaughter stuff starts off in a big way when you poke your head into the blue key room, fending off cacodemons from three directions, followed by a smaller showing of pain elementals. Zounds! If you still have the ammo, you can boogie on over to the claustrophobic x-square to the southeast, where you'll bounce rockets between two different fronts. And, oh, the wonderful, atmospheric climb to the final confrontation, an enormous horde of revenants backed by a handful of pain elementals. The revenants aren't the hard part, really; it's the meatballs plus lost souls that will fuck you up as you try to tease everything out. In all my haste, I forgot to set the Cyberdemon free until he was the only thing left. I doubt I really wanted him around all that bullshit, though.

Starts out feeling a little more manageable, but that's just because you came hot off the heels of "Sector 8". MAP06 quickly eclipses the previous level, the difficulty exacerbated by a relative dearth of supplies that will put your Doomguy McGuyver skills to the test. In terms of sheer efficiency, the five arch-vile battle to the southwest smoked me pretty good, but just about every major room has a fight that's a solid contender. The northeast, central, and southern battles are perfect examples of organizing chaos, though the outdoor area is the only one that I managed without just slamming switches and ducking out for a bit. I'm not enough of a contortionist to cut through those clown-car teleport packs, much less when the final sting is a pair of arch-viles. By the time I made it to the four corners of revenants in the end, I didn't have the stamina to sit there and control the crowd. Some cool secrets; dig the "KUDOS" room that, if found, can nullify one of the latent threats of the finale. Thanks for giving some of us mere mortals an out or two... not that I should really be banging my head on UV.

Everything you've been put through has been leading up to this moment. "Magnus" is a glorious fusion of all the tricks and traps set to a floating fortress in the purple ether. Apart from a gimme fight or two, like the secret megasphere, the whole journey is utterly demanding, as made readily apparent in the opening firefight where your real estate between two dangerous fronts is very limited. The southwestern area feels like one of the cruelest legs of the adventure, since moving around is pretty tight and there isn't a lot of health to go around, a lot of which will probably get smoked in the pit. The Cyberdemon / revenant blinker match is a nice topper. Arch-viles figure pretty heavily, so have fun as they race through every available space like superheated steam. As could be expected, it wouldn't be a final level without an epic battle, and the BFG makes its big debut in a no-holds barred grudge match between just about every conceivable monster. Thankfully, there's a secret invul available for the predictable arch-vile-laden stinger. The true, ultimate encounter is the worst of a nasty lot, leaving me a twisted-up tangled mess. When you're done, though... You're done. Fantastic and exhausting.

Welcome to the blunderdome! This coffin-sized space station is absolutely flush with arch-viles. You'll need to know everything you can about Doom II's resident magician if you want to get out alive. You'll also have to be really snappy with your BFG blasts. There is a substantial secret leg to the map that opens it up more, but either way you are dropped into an arch-vile mosh pit for a closer. Your actions will determine whether you have to wait it out or make a hasty exit with the yellow key. What I learned is that I really suck at arch-viles.

This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2013 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Back to Saturn X: Episode 1EyedeaInterception
Doom 2 the Way id DidSamsaraHadephobia
Unholy RealmsEon DeathmatchHellbound
ZDoom Community Map Project: Take 2Best Gameplay ModHigh / Low 5
Fuel DevourerProject MSXSoulcrusher
KuchitsuMordeth AwardStomper
Forsaken OverlookZDCMP2
Stardate 20X6Mockaward
Pirate DoomExtreme Weapon Pack
Swim With the WhalesMapper of the Year


  1. AW YISS. I still need to play the back half of this set, but there's no doubt that Ribbiks is a friggin' genius. "Mud Bunny" was such an eye-opener for me: it just absolutely blew me away, and remains one of my top 3 I-really-just-played-through-THAT? experiences (along with Misri Halek and Deus Vult I.) It is exhausting stuff, though (even on HMP continuous) which is why I still haven't worked up the courage to dive back in. :D (Although I did manage to tackle Swim With The Whales: just as amazing, but a fraction of the commitment.)

    1. you really ought to finish it, idk how much nicer HMP is but there are some devilish fights and great layouts galore.

  2. Well-written review ( as usual ). Makes me want to go and relive the purple nightmare again.

    The KUDOS room in Vehelits.... Good find, I didn't even know about that one. A pity it doesn't let us bypass this %ù**£ pillar-jumping sequence instead, like in Swim With The Whales.

    1. thanks! yeah, the rad suit cache was kind of a let down, i dont think the nukage was my main concern during the finale, unlike that Cyb plus pillar sequence in swtw.