Sunday, February 15, 2015

UAC Ultra (UACULTRA.WAD)


We know that horrible shit wound up happening to the UAC bases on Phobos and Deimos. Mars was never officially touched on, though, until id remade the series with Doom 3. Different PWAD authors have told their own stories about the Mars facility. In 2010, Jon Vail aka 40oz and Super Jamie Bainbridge put their heads together for UAC Ultra, an eleven-ish map episode for Doom II to be played in Boom-compatible ports. There's no clear delineation as to who did what work; like 2011's Double Impact, I assume that the authors picked over each others' maps until the levels felt complete.


UAC Ultra is, I believe, a post-invasion narrative. Mars is lost, has been lost. Demons roam over the planet's inhospitable surface. The UAC research facilities remain, however, and within them the horrid secrets of their most morally bankrupt experiments. If the tongue-in-cheek end text is to be believed, then the player is more than likely the Doom marine, sent no doubt on some kind of cleanup mission. The flavor text calls the efficacy of the mission into question, though, describing the demonic presence as "Disease. An incurable though tangible threat.". In any event, it's good to see that Doomguy remains committed to purging the known universe of demonic taint after all his hard work.


I'm paraphrasing here, but I think that a wise man once wrote that the difference between a good megaWAD and a great megaWAD is a set of cool, new textures. UAC Ultra is an interesting case; 40oz's original conception ran counter to the most popular criticism of Doom's default aesthetic, evaluating whether someone could make "beautiful" levels using only brown textures. He found a kindred spirit in Super Jamie, who had been experimenting with a texture set that reminded Vail of his own abandoned work. After a lot of refinement, the UAC Ultra texture pack was generated, creating an aesthetic that continued in the spirit of 40oz's original mission, while skirting the banality of actually using Doom's stock set of browns.


The end result is indeed a grimy, dingy UAC base built out of rusted-ass metal. The key to making any set of textures pop, though, is contrast, and the authors deliver in two ways. The first is the sheer contrast of the Martian landscape, a blood-red alien world explored in slices of topographic oceans. They're fantastic ways of breaking up the bleak interiors. When you're inside, you get a neat combination of yellow, red, and occasionally green lights that evoke in my mind the atmospheres of Doom's console-oriented offshoots, like PSX Doom and Doom 64. It's stretching, sure, but I think it's more apt than not, especially in levels like "Pyrolysis" where you have green illuminated tech columns doing a cool switch to danger red.


UAC Ultra is a feel-good episode. It's mostly run and gun action, which less capable players can do conservatively while others can bound through with reckless abandon. For the slaughter crowd, you're better off going -solo. The actual pace feels slow due to tons of quality time with the single-barrel shotgun, which adds a more classic Doom feel, with the appearance of the SSG feeling like a game-changer whenever it's picked up. The later levels cough up the big guns much more readily, culminating in "Skagway", which is a non-stop shooting gallery heavy with rockets and BFG blasts. It's all fun stuff.


40oz and Jamie included two new monsters. The first, the Haymaker, is a cool mashup of Heretic's maulotaur and the Cyberdemon and is pretty annoying to fight at first. Pro tip: always circle strafe counter-clockwise. The other is a different take on the final boss, which thankfully isn't a shooter, though it doesn't put much pressure on the player when its guardians are all dead. I'm not sure how to really enliven a creature made of sectors, but I think the authors did the best job they could. The music feels off kilter at times, like the timing's off or it's a little basic, but it definitely works within the context of the PWAD.


The only thing I'd ask for are... more maps, duh. And maybe a few less linear ones. Of all the things UAC Ultra doesn't do, the one I wish it did was have an enormous, non-linear adventure level, though such a map would stick out like a sore thumb in this fairly straightforward collection. It does nail the sense of adventure, with architecture and set pieces clearly evoking the various functional areas of the UAC complex you are strolling through. I rarely get the sense that I'm really exploring a big, fuckoff secret base, though. It's more like corridors full of nightmarish machinery... which ain't that bad, all told.


If you haven't played UAC Ultra yet, you should. It puts a new spin on Doom II's tired, dirty look, and does so while remaining accessible to a wide variety of playstyles. I kind of wish the texture pack had taken off more; watching a bunch of different authors playing around with this stuff a la Darkening E2 and BTSX would be a real treat.





UAC ULTRA
by Jon "40oz" Vail and
"Super" Jamie Bainbridge

DigMAP01
It begins. Immediately the orange, oppressive atmosphere of the demon-inhabited Mars sets the scene, and between the texture scheme and shading, it's a great opening. The action is mostly pedestrian Doom II run and gun with your weapons limited to the pistol and shotgun but the dynamic duo start punching things up by using bigger monsters as something approaching mini-bosses. I like the intermittent views of the planet's surface.

MAP02UAC in Exile
More of the same, but without those snappy views of the Mars landscapes and a more warehouse feel to it given all the stacks of crates. There's nothing approaching a legit crate maze a la "Containment Area", but the storage paraphernalia gives this level a little character, elevating it above just another portion of the grimy UAC Mars base. Still nothing that thrilling combat-wise but the revenants are starting to show in full force and the use of curved staircases makes dodging rockets a bit trickier. The arch-vile fight is pretty forgiving. You're still mostly limited to the shotgun and pistol, but the chaingun comes as a great mixer and there's a hidden rocket launcher which might help speed up a fight or two. The best part - lots of potential barrel kills.

Sifting AdjunctMAP03
This time, the team explores a dank sewer theme, or whatever excuse the UAC base has for having this much water laying around. I like that the playing area is becoming more spacious and the monster placement more threatening. Two arch-viles in that key room is about ideal and the welcome debut of the shotgun picks up the pace of the action, like the training wheels coming off. Most of the real action happens after the dual-arch-vile fight as monsters repopulate the base on your return trip to the elevator.

MAP04Pyrolysis
This section is dominated by rooms full of heavy, moving machinery. The crushing column area that serves as the level's hub is the most obvious feature and the scene of two separate waves of cacodemon swarms, but I'm also partial to the green to red tech columns (very cool moment) that give way to... another cacodemon swarm! It's the most dangerous of the three, though, since they're coming from different sides. The crusher platforming sequence is potentially hairy for less deft players, but it's all in the timing given the perfectly-placed cut-outs for the marine. I love the contrast of the molten metal against the dark textures.

HardwareMAP05
The authors throw some much-needed color back into the scheme with some more glimpses of the red Martian underworld in this journey to the UAC scrap heap. They're great moments of contrast and I also like the journey to the frosted portion of the base, which puts a neat spin on the usual hazard suit hijinx. The player is living a little more dangerously here, with fending off that pair of revenants with a single shotty being an early potential speedbump, but you can indulge in reckless behavior with the more ammo / health you gather. The ending area starts out as a pretty cool coil where you battle through a trench, eventually working to the inside. Dig that yellow key mob.

MAP06Collapsys
Another huge processing facility, this one with vague overtones of waste disposal, though that doesn't really show off. 40oz and Jamie are starting to really make the shift to larger, more complex firefights / body counts and architecture in contrast to the more claustrophobic earlier levels. The northwest are of the main complex is a sterling example, fielding penned-up demons, a mild teleporter ambush, and an upper tier riddled with hitscanners topped off by an open-air duo of pain elementals. I love the secret in the blue key room which lets you defang what would otherwise be a perilous zombie trap. The Cyberdemon battle isn't as interesting but giving him the high ground adds a little nuance to the fight.

HaymakerMAP07
A jarring return to unnatural landscapes in this topsy-turvy "Dead Simple" where the arachnotrons come first, followed by the mancubuses. Exposure is the only real complication and once you snag the rocket launcher the only thing left is the terrible two that serve as a boss encounter. They're just fast enough to make the rocket launcher irritating to use against them since their flamethrower volleys will have you juking every which way.

MAP08Worst Case Scenario
The difficulty steps up and the gameplay feels more action-oriented, forcing the player forward through conflict after conflict. It feels like most of the shooting is done with the shotgun, though, in a sort of reboot of gameplay progression. The end result is that the monsters get some more personal time to wreak havoc before you can feasibly put them down. The big hangar-type area that dominates the level's northern area is the obvious highlight, the scene of several big battles including an ineffectual showdown with a Spiderdemon. Very cool architecture.

Counteraction TerminalMAP09
The SSG comes early, which turns this into a pretty hardcore blastathon as 40oz and Jamie run you through micro-encounter after micro-encounter. The dual Spiderdemon setup isn't quite as easy to exploit and the layout lets one of those Hellotaur things give you a run for your money. The imp slaughter at the finale seemed more like slaughter-lite with plenty of monsters willing to do the heavy lifting for you. I liked the outdoor area to the southwest, lots of ledge snipers to keep you on your toes.

MAP10Skagway
This is it, the big buildup. "Skagway" is linear but it's fun as Hell as you blast your way across the Martian landscape, encountering packs of high-HP monsters to be confronted with the rocket launcher and, later on, the BFG. I found myself caught offguard by the more dynamic encounters and endured a few reckless deaths as punishment. It feels fun to really cut loose after the more conservative pace that seems to dominate UAC Ultra. The final setting is fantastic, what appears to be a giant satellite dish built into the surface of the planet. I think the fights could have used a little more bang, though. Very fun.

SickMAP11
The final encounter with the sickness... The lead-up isn't particularly exciting, though the first arch-vile with the weapons will probably catch you by surprise. The end arena is pretty dynamic to start with but once you've surgically removed its elements, all you have is a boss brain that spams imp fireballs once it's vulnerable... And you know what? That's great. It could have been more challenging, but it's not another spawn cube shooter, and it looks pretty cool. A fitting coda.

MAP12The End
A cute credits map with a few Easter eggs. Thanks, dudes!

8 comments:

  1. Man, that almost-white-hot yellow lava contrasted against the mostly dark-grey textures is just gorgeous (and what I think of when I think of this WAD.) The general feel of the maps puts me in mind of BTSX E1, or maybe it's the other way around (I don't remember which I played first.) And such a welcome/refreshing take on the classic IOS boss, too. Good stuff.

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    1. UAC Ultra is to me a dingy distant relative of BTSX, though i wonder if this is just due to the unified texture aesthetic

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  2. UAC Ultra is one of my very favorite map-sets. Superb contrast usage, I think, is what puts it over the top. Without it, UAC Ultra would be borderline unbearable; tiring to look at and to play. With it, I can't take my eyes off, not for a second.

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  3. I'd been waiting for a review of this. I didn't play it until a few months ago and I really wonder what took me so long. It really is fantastic; the setting is actually quite oppressive with its damaged and broken and disused feel.

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    1. i could really go for some more UAC Ultra maps

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  4. Amazing wad, I played it almost immediately when it came out and wasn't let down. I actually used OpenGL render (GZDoom) even though it's not required and I usually just use ZDoom. Ironically it's just now that I pick up the comparison to Darkening E2 and BTSX, though both of those wads have some maps much larger than anything seen here, and I think I enjoy the gameplay of UAC Ultra a smidgen more on many levels. But it's definitely in the same leagure, episodes/megawads that use all custom textures to create a theme not quite like anything else in the community. And you finally have nothing to be embarrassed about :D

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