Monday, March 9, 2015


Some people like their Doom maps to be huge adventures or action-packed epics. Others prefer something short and sweet. Erik Alm's Scythe is the premiere Popcorn Doom mapset, a megaWAD that's composed of small levels that take a minute or two to finish. Released in 2003, it appears to take some of its cues from classic author Adam Windsor, known for his ability to crop up in classic mapsets. Windsor's Demonfear was a mapset composed of short levels that were fun to just gun through, and some levels originally meant for that project ended up in Requiem, among them a level titled "Chaos Zone", which bears a striking resemblance to Scythe's MAP32, "Enoz Soahc". Coincidence? You be the judge.

The tossaway story depicts the player, a space marine, battling demons across space and time. Apparently they've opened up a portal in the future which they're using to invade the present, with you traveling to their various assault points in order to gauge the true nature of the time-space anomaly so that you can bring the fight to them. It's really not that important and just gives an excuse for all the environments you're going to be wandering through, eventually crossing through the portal into the future, shortly thereafter winding up in a very familiar place.

Scythe was designed to be disposable, with now standard death exits that reset progression every ten levels just in case you were playing continuously and levels that field somewhere between 40 and 100 monsters, usually leaning toward 40. This means that the first twenty maps will blaze by fairly quickly for experienced players, with lots of sloppy run-and-gun action that occasionally requires thought but usually rewards reflexes. Once you make it into the third episode, though, it's a brand new game that works in resource management and monster placement, becoming more and more difficult but not at all long... Until MAP30, at least, which is a long, complex slaughtermap that stands in direct contrast to MAP26's fast and furious BFG swarm gameplay and is at odds with pretty much the rest of the megaWAD. It's still Hell of cool, though.

Some odd trends... Alm is pretty stingy with the combat shotgun until about halfway through the mapset, which may give the levels a bit of a slower pace depending on your playstyle. You'll be tripping over berserk packs, though, which means that anyone comfortable playing punch-out will have a field day, and in levels the size of these it's something of a release to know you can just horse around with the fist and not worry if you fuck up and die, because the beginning is literally less than a minute ago. Now, this freewheeling atmosphere evaporates once you hit Hell, but I hope that the swagger you get carries over so that you can laugh at yourself and the fights Alm puts you through rather than get frustrated and quit.

As far as themes go, Scythe doesn't get all that exotic. Most of this mapset is either in techbases or in Hell, and the bits that aren't - like the small jaunt to the future and the more naturalistic "Burial Grounds" - blow by so fast that they hardly have time to register. It's a more advanced mapset than Demonfear, though; Alm may have preferred Windsor's tighter, smaller levels, but the aesthetics tend to lean toward more detailed vanilla mapmaking with lots of care in particular put into lighting, which always helps to make the visuals of levels pop. It's got a great, clean design, if nothing else.

Scythe is a great megaWAD if you're looking for fast, quick, run-and-gun action, and it helped pave the way for more authors to make similarly-paced megaWADs and not feel like they were letting the community down by rendering massive epics. Perhaps, one day, Alm will rejoin the community and finish Scythe X. They always come back...

by Erik Alm

Get Going!MAP01
Starting off with opposing buildings and the only way to carve your way through the scant few monsters is via pistol or chainsaw. The pistol is for conservative players while the chainsaw helps to speed things along. No really big surprises, unless you let yourself get surrounded by imps / chipped to death by rifle shots. I like how basically interesting the architecture of the couple of buildings is.

A short and sweet techbase that is obviously weighted toward berserk gameplay, adding demons and spectres to the mix. Nothing really lasts long against your crushing blows and there's plenty of health to play recklessly; about the worst jam you can get yourself into is the fight for the berserk pack itself. There's no real reason to run around in the nukage except as an escape route... that also yields a handy green armor.

Up and AroundMAP03
Alm introduces shotgun guys in this slice of tech courtyard. He also starts out with a lot more pressure on the player and no easy arms lying around. The shotgun requires sorting through the enemies present and then a return, and I wasn't able to noodle out the berserk pack before I'd realized it was even there. Shotgun guys are the biggest threat, here, and maybe running out of ammo if you're too careless. I dig the imp ambush.

MAP04Lost Warehouse
Lost souls appear in this seedy outpost where the darkness is your true enemy, obscuring goodies like the first shotgun and hiding the ever-present spectres. If you know where all the scratch is, the level should fly by, supposing you don't lock up when you run into one of those inviso-demons. The lost souls aren't at all a threat unless maybe you happen to miss them when they first teleport in.

Slimy TunnelsMAP05
A level based around a toxic sluice and two minor sewer networks on either side. The initial opposition looks fairly lite but falling in the trench opens you up to a ton of invisible meat that's sure to gum up the works. The shotgun makes for slow progress but there's a berserk pack in there somewhere. I guess the big question is which way you break once you drop into the stinkhole. Oh, first appearance of the commando, FYI.

MAP06Pressure Point
Hell knights and cacodemons make their big show in this map, which has a big ol imp barrel blast on one side, a little storehouse on the other, and a narrow way filled with the flesh of Baronkin. It's not that bad though it might go by really slow if you don't snag the rocket launcher ASAP since slowly shotgunning Hell knights is a snooze. Be careful, though - there might be a few surprises just waiting to eat your rockets up close. The finale is the first real point of no return, and the marine who hesitates will be mobbed by gasbags.

And very simple. If you don't get out of the mancubus crossfire fast, you'll be pressure-cooked. The chaingun will be more than adequate to deal with the fatsos, after which the rocket launcher and two boxes should make enough headway through the resulting spiders to clear the lower tier.

MAP08Garden Base
A green base / valley that opens up with you running the gauntlet. If you're tempted to stand still and gun down the zombies, those mancubi will show you the error of your ways. Once you blitz past the opening stuff it's murder by numbers, taking out the big guys as you come across them on the same platform. The only real snag is the end of level ambush, which is probably more chaingunner than some Doomers are prepared to handle. The northwest surprise is probably the most action you're going to get.

Computer StorageMAP09
Stepping up the size a bit with this starbase level. The monster closets and enemy composition evoke shades of E1, with the occasional hardbody and a handful of revenants. I'm sure everyone knows that clever players can snag the red key early and skip a good portion of the level, as small as it is. Attrition is probably the single most dangerous element of this level since none of the nastier monsters are used in a really compromising fashion. Dodge those bullets!

MAP10The Lords
This time Alm opts for a very controlled fight, starting out with a pair of mancubi on the central pillar providing area denial before throwing four barons at you with very limited real estate. If you can make the jump from the switch pillar ahead of the far left baron, it's pretty easy, just sweeping the first two up and grabbing the rockets to slay the others. If you're not that agile, though, you're gonna have a bad day. I dig the hole to Hell.

Sneak PeakMAP11
This has shades of the opening level with a pair of structures to battle through and enemies running interference at all points between, but Alm sets the tone of the second episode with more claustrophobic action, culminating in a mid-point battle that highlights rocket use where most of the playing area is a damage floor, with an arch-vile prowling around the meager pillars and cacodemons in the air, plus a bunch of stuff that exists pretty much to eat your explosives. Nice, fist-pumping action.

MAP12Walk in the Park
An atmospheric level whose building silhouettes contrast wonderfully against the ominous sky. The implication is that it is anything but its title, and this somewhat holds up since all the enemies roaming around the open area make for some tricky dodging until you clear most of them out. The revenants are guarding the most powerful piece of tech you can grab, which should expedite a few of the heftier beasties. I got pretty careless around those revenant rockets for some reason.

Subverted BaseMAP13
This techbase is partially underground. It's pretty easy unless you're a lightning rod for shotgun fire, as it's lousy with hitscanners, a lot of which wind up dying in the trench where you start the level out. There's a decent ambush with the southeast key grab, but that's about it. The obligatory revenant ambush is easily shelled into oblivion with rocket fire and there's plenty of room to quash the final attack, doubly so if you're still packing any explosives.

MAP14Power Outage
Alm takes things in a bit of a different direction with an outpost that's suffering from technical difficulties. It seems that none of the utilities are working correctly! You've got to clear out what few demons are still hanging around before getting the key to the shack where the power disconnect is located. Not much for the "Refueling Base" homage, though.

Blood BathMAP15
A tiny knockoff of "The Inmost Dens" but more cramped and with non-toxic blood instead of water. The action is a bit harder and heavier with the combat shotgun making a welcome return appearance. The rocket launcher is the real star, though, part of a pitched battle between you and a horde of zombies backed by an arch-vile. The normal exit has a pair of sorcerous guardians but you should have enough rockets to make quick work of them, provided you're not careless.

MAP31I Dunno Torn
by Kim "Torn" Bach
Torn's guest level has the highest monster count so far, even though most of it is tied up in imps and zombies. It's a fairly trappy map set in what appears to be a dungeon. By fairly trappy, I mean the hidden BFG denies you, teleporting you straight into the red key ambush, where you'll wish you'd have found the secret rocket launcher. In fact, that's just a really handy item to have, with or without the combat shotgun. The chaos of the red key room has the best action of the level, with most of the rest either mowing down trash or chipping away at Hell knights, barons, and mancubi.

Enoz SoahcMAP32
Two cramped and fast-paced slaughterfests. The first room isn't too bad since the enemies are gated and you can duck out of the mosh pit for the worst parts and let infighting do a lot of work for you. The second is plasma panic as you try to kill enemies faster than they are teleporting in, with all of the light bodies eventually giving way to more durable Hell knights, after which it's using what few rockets you have to open up a space for more traditional combat shotgun shenanigans. Fun and tough.

MAP16Burial Grounds
Alm continues the Gothic trend with this more naturalistic landscape complete with several graveyards. There's also a rare instance of using spectres to imply ghost enemies, when we've taken it for granted that they're just partially invisible demons. The northwest graveyard has my favorite fight, where you have to keep tabs on an odd bunch of enemies headed up by an arch-vile, of which you'll meet several more. The church / crypt looks nice but the fighting is just claustrophobia.

Book LordsMAP17
Startin' to feel a little more comfortable with these more difficult encounters. This Hellish library starts out completely silent but its staff when summoned is quite loud and competent at drawing blood. Some encounters are trickier if you're rushing around, like the red key fight. Others, like the pair of barons that come in behind you on the yellow key grab, are sheer meat pressure. The big finish isn't so bad since it's pretty easy to hole up in the blue key room and thin out the arch-vile's guardians. Fun level.

MAP18M/S Futura
A very short level that's basically some dock yards. The Spiderdemon overseer is fairly easy to tether to one of the Hell nobles, which will make getting around a lot easier and reduce the true threat to the few mancubi and arachnotrons that are skulking around. The crane and ship are some neat pieces of architecture and the enormous teleporter gate is pretty cool.

3000 ADMAP19
Now we're in... the future! "3000" is a nice spike in length, with something more than a handful of enemies to fight through. Granted, a lot of them are tied up in an imp ambush that will be blown through in seconds with the rocket launcher, but it's the thought that counts. The ammo feels a little tight in places, but I'm sure that's mostly due to me using my window vantage point to kill the arachnotrons on the upper tier before confronting the mancubi to the northwest. The penultimate battle is slaughter-lite, with a horde of Hell knights and revenants led by an arch-vile. Just hope the little bugger pops out before his friends.

MAP20The Starport
A bit tougher, with a tighter enemy count to boot. I'd say that most of the heat is in the finale, where a horde of imps backed by an arch-vile can be played against a sole Cyberdemon in the setting of Scythe's titlepic. You can play it any way you like, but you're stuck dodging rockets regardless of your decision. The rest of the level echoes "3000 AD" with a few claustrophobic fights in for good measure, like the pair of Hell knights at the top of the elevator. Cool stuff.

Back to Hell! It's an atmospheric slobberknocker given all the lighting and organic tunnels. If "Solitude" feels tight on ammo, that's probably because you forgot the berserk pack in the shadows, combining the main threat of "Lost Warehouse" with far more exacting enemy placement. There's still not much margin for error on a map with two arch-viles and a pain elemental.

It gets worse! The majority of this level is puzzling out the big battle in the outdoor area. It helps to know that there is a hidden BFG because the confluence of cacodemons, revenants, and a pain elemental in one area plus the Doom trash monsters makes for an enormous clusterfuck. Once you get back in the caverns, things are a bit more fine-tuned. If anything is still standing upon your glorious return, you'll have to contend with a Cyberdemon before a cramped finale. You might want to save a BFG shot for the end, but good luck with that.

An impressive hornets' nest style level where enemies are stuffed in every corner. Grabbing the BFG and dealing with the resulting chaos is job #1; surviving the drip feed enemy ambush plus dual Cyberdemons from the key room is the second major step. Sticking a pair of barons in the rocket launcher cubby is a nice touch since it forces the player to stick to a dangerous position if he wants it off the bat. Trying to sneak the BFG isn't much better, but there are some actual choices.

I'm starting to feel it, now. "Hatred" has the pell-mell opening of "Anger" but your important weapons are now in far less obvious locations, with the rocket launcher prompting a big, sweeping gallery of revenants and the BFG behind double locked doors. Grabbing the blue key turns an already burgeoning wildfire into a nightmare as cacos, Hell knights, and barons vie for your affections. It's really fun. The only thing I'm not particularly fond of is wiping out the mancubi in the red key area, but your leftover BFG ammo should do most of the work.

Time for some nail-biting action. This dark corner of Hell has limited supplies, and the berserk you get doesn't mean a whole lot when most of the enemies are arachnotrons. "Envy" kicks in when you run into the nasty Spiderdemon room, where difficulty peaks as you try to handle the arachs with momma overseers and then a big ol' cloud of cacos rising up from the middle. The Cyberdemon fight near the end isn't hard, but it will probably bleed you of what little ammo you have left, so the arch-vile staredown will be an unwelcome surprise. Of course, you can skip some of this with a ledge leap, but you'd miss out on all the fun!

A scintillating slaughter level. While all the weapons are afforded to you, all you really need is that sweet BFG and a route in mind. You can let the dudes upstairs mess with each other while you mop up cacodemons and revenant hordes on the lower floor and then eventually fight your way round to the key caverns, which are basically "blow through three Cyberdemons as fast as possible" x 3 if you want the convenience of the few invuls. As long as you can kind of move through hordes while reaping demon souls with the BFG, you got this.

This feels almost downright normal. "Terror" leads you back and forth through a Hellish library as monster closets open to reveal more party animals with every sweep. It's much slower-paced than I'm making it out to be as you're facing handfuls of Hell knights and revenants with the primary weapon being the combat shotgun. There is a little terror involved throughout the map since it works pretty well at building suspense. The big show is the Cyberdemon trio right when the player gets dropped on a blur sphere; that's when true terror begins.

MAP28Run From It
Ah, the infamous "Run From It". It's a race against time through Hell, and if you can't beat it, you'll be squished. The biggest threats to your success are the lost souls and imp near the blue key switch since they make ducking through those columns pretty tricksy. The rest is shaving off time and straferunning as much as humanly possible. Killing the arachnotron guardian shouldn't be hard if you're still holding on to your BFG shots. I'd be more concerned about the revenant tight rope. 

Hell on EarthMAP29
This is a "Downtown" style level set in a frozen landscape. The imp snipers have been replaced with revenants and there are a bunch of Cyberdemons lurking around, ready to be BFG-bumped into oblivion. There isn't any freedom in progression, but the buildings are interesting to fight through and full of cramped gameplay scenarios emphasizing SSG combat. The rogue arch-vile running around on that strip of land to the northeast gave me more trouble than I'd like since he had taken a shine to one of the Cyberdemons that teleported into the courtyard. The final no bullshit Cyberdemon guarding the exit is a bit of a letdown considering all of the other stuff you've fought through. I really liked the plasma rifle ambush.

MAP30Fire and Ice
A map that bears little resemblance to the levels that have gone before, except perhaps "Fear". In terms of themes and layouts, it seems to crib from the large-scale Hell Revealed levels and their ilk, like "Resistance is Futile", "Post-Mortem", and their Alien Vendetta equivalents. (EDIT: Also copying architecture from Dark Covenant!) Thankfully, with all the crazy shit going on as you slowly carve out a usable play area, you don't have to worry about a boss shooter, and there's only one real scenario where you can get telefragged (I think), which in the context of MAP30s past and present is a pretty clever trap. Any kind of progression involves pulling teeth, so be prepared for the long haul unless you're going to use the yellow key skip trick, which bypasses the vast majority of the encounters. The central area with the "Perfect Hatred" staircase ramps is probably the trickiest of all to conquer given your limited movement space and that surprise pocket of revenants plus arch-viles on the return staircase. I like the cracked and broken road to the south. Oh, and flooding the northeast area is a nice touch that makes things feel less like a static slaughter landscape. It's very pretty poison.



  1. Map30 is also obviously inspired by Dark Covenant, just look at its seventh level.

    1. i really ought to give Dark Covenant a play

    2. yeah, heh, the resemblance of the north section of SCYTHE MAP30 to the opening area of DARKCVNT MAP07 is uncanny.

  2. You really should. I find it baffling that it wasn't in the top 100 of all time. I found it more enjoyable than some of the stuff that did make it into 96's list.

  3. Woops. This was meant to be for the conversation above.

    1. Wow, I ended up doing it twice

  4. Dark Covenant is a mixed bag, but that's not really the subject at discussion here & the Map07 reference is clear.

    Map30 of Scythe is kind of love it/hate it, Map29 would be more a crowd pleaser for a larger, penultimate level (though it's actually less sprawling than Map30 is). Map28 on UV is a bit over the top tight on the time limit - one more second would have helped it, but I'm actually a fan of the concept. As for the wad as a whole, it has aged some, but still one I find as a go-to for quick fun Doom action, and it's above Demonfear for me.

    1. "Dark Covenant is a mixed bag"

      Detail-wise, I guess. Gameplay-wise, I only didn't like map09, since its a bit of a slog.

  5. Weird thing about Map16: if you run over the grave "monster closets" before triggering them you can actually fall into them and get stuck (and quickly finished off by whatever's in there). Not sure if this is the author's oversight or an engine bug (I played in ZDoom).

    1. it's not an engine bug; vanilla Doom, "limit-removing", and basic Boom ports have what's called "infinitely tall actors", which for practical purposes means that you cannot travel under or over monsters or, indeed, most any object whatsoever. These pits aren't a problem when you are playing with "vanilla" compatibility settings [Doom (strict)] in ZDoom, since it switches infinitely tall actors back on so that you do not fall into these pop-up pits. it's not author oversight, either, because Scythe plays just fine in vanilla doom, its base-level source port. Your issue was one of user knowledge, or rather a lack therof in the specifics of source ports. having read this, i hope you use this newfound information to protect yourself from such devil dens in the future!

  6. Maaaan THIS!!! The first time I played I got really bored because of the shortness of the first maps. But then I decided to try it again and boy I don't regret any single second. I must admit that sometimes it gets unfair to me, a beginner-rookie player who recently learned to dodge Rev's homing rockets properly... anyway, the hell levels were astonishing, I never got frustrated (which is common in me). Sometimes I used iddqd cheat just to see ambushes of monsters fighting cyberdemons, and still them winning f*** them... Overall it's a 9/10 for me.

  7. Hope you review someday Scythe 2. I know your busy, and this blog has become the most professional Doom wads reviews out there (if there are still some alive). Cheers!

  8. The imp and Lost Souls near the start of MAP28 can be taken out at leisure in a pre-emptive surgical strike from the first room, as the countdown doesn't appear to start until the player emerges into the blue key room. Doing that was probably worth a vital two or three seconds to me, and enabled me to complete the map on HMP. Goodness knows how anyone can do this one in UV though - I'm pretty sure I couldn't!