Saturday, April 18, 2015

Castle Phobos (CPHOBOS5.WAD)


If you're a Doom curmudgeon, you may recognize David Shrock as the author of Terror Mall. If not, well, prepare to be introduced! Castle Phobos underwent several iterations during 1994, eventually ending in its final release, converted from the original Doom to Doom II and adding a level to finish with a ten-map episode. It isn't the prettiest, or most straightforward, or well-balanced, but it gets the job done and offers some survival-style challenges for more experienced players. What few custom resources the author added manage to nail in that '94 vintage.


The story, ridiculous. But that's Doom. You're apparently out wandering on the surface of Phobos when you stumble across a giant castle built into the side of a mountain. Recalling that your comrades disappeared in this same area - why are you exploring alone for? - you head in to investigate, your stomach bearing a potent of formidable evil. During your investigation, you'll uncover evidence of a long-running plot made at the UAC's expense, battle the lords of the castle, travel through secret passages, and eventually escape after reaching the summit of the Mountain of Power.


Castle Phobos is a location-based PWAD. The whole affair is designed to have taken place within the grounds of the castle on Phobos. To this end, Shrock tried to make the levels feel interconnected, so that MAP06, "Secret Area", links to a post-massacre edit of MAP03, "Arena!", with you catching a glimpse of a bit of MAP05 from a location you saw from there. It's not as rigorous a series of connections as something like Cleimos, but it's there. It's also loaded with secrets and some fairly obtuse bits of puzzle play, but Shrock is pretty up-front about it, and if you're playing with carryovers I doubt you'll need very many of the alcoves, if any.


I started playing Castle Phobos before really reading the .TXT in earnest, which made one oafish assumption - that these levels were balanced for pistol start. As it turns out, Shrock only claims this property for three of these entries: MAP01, MAP05, and MAP09. I think any demo runner worth his salt will be able to cut through without too much trouble, since you'd pretty much have to know where all the secrets housing health and ammo (and monsters!) are. When flying blind, though, it turns each level into a survival-horror style nightmare. Unless this is your idea of a jolly good time, I sincerely recommend playing through the maps as "episodes" rather than stolidly defaulting to the sidearm.


Of course, if you're an experienced player using carryovers, these levels will just breeze by; tackling MAP04 with just the stuff I brought in from MAP03 was babytown frolics compared to making it to the end with the pistol. These reviews are all written from my pistol starting point of view. If you're wondering what they play like continuously, well, you can be pretty damn reckless. Suffice it to say, if you carry over weapons and ammo from the previous levels, you will have a very safe experience once you pick up momentum after MAP01. I can't imagine you'll encounter any real difficulty, unless you just completely lock up around the few Cyberdemons and arch-viles.


There are two sprite changes for the enemies. Sergeants are replaced by dark-colored marines, though I think the point is that they are wearing helmets purely to confuse people during multiplayer games. I'm more fond of the imps, which are now static-emitting black shadows that shoot phantom blue skulls, some kind of astral projection of their own being, which is revealed to be a singular skull upon their death. The rest of the new graphics are pretty crude things like skull levers and sword switches, plus some weapon rack wall textures. The chess piece-emblazoned door is a good laugh, though I can kind of see where Shrock is attempting to pull from. Some of the most unique content is the soundtrack, by one Ross Warren. It's a pretty varied bunch of tunes and for some people may be worth the price of admission alone.


Castle Phobos is certainly one of the more interesting ventures of '94, from a year that's been mostly defined by the Serenity trilogy, The Innocent Crew, and the Aliens TC. I'm sure that there are even more quirky offerings hidden just below the surface. I just hope that the authors were more prone to balance their levels for pistol start.



CASTLE PHOBOS
by David Shrock

Castle EntryMAP01
Secrets! I hope this doesn't become a trend, but if it does, I'm prepared. Shrock fancies himself a chess player and if the rook-emblazoned door to the castle proper is any indication, this level is meant to engage you in some sort of battle of wits. The upshot is that Shrock has made all of his moves, so there's no pressure to perform. The downside is, well, you'll be wall-humping for mandatory secrets if you want to make any headway. The monster assortment is pretty light, but there isn't a whole lot of health, so you'll have to be extra careful during moments like the cacodemon staircase shootout. I like the look of the castle walls and green marble foyer.

MAP02Storage
Part of this level is crate warehouse, the other half being a network of sewer tunnels populated by lost souls. Any one of the ten secrets here is bound to be pretty useful, especially the weapon hideaway in the southwest, which I didn't find until after I'd grabbed the automap in the exit room. C'est la Doom. If you can't find much of the ammo or health that's hidden around, this level gets a distinctive survival horror flavor as you stretch your shells out to the next encounter. Trying to handle the tunnels of lost souls is a great way to burn your stock, particularly when the little alcove hiding the teleporter to the two isolated tech rooms has what appears to be zero indication of its presence.

Arena!MAP03
A largely featureless concrete... caste-thing-interior. Good luck finding the secrets on this one. You can just about manage without, but that's engaging in some nasty survival-style gameplay considering the scanty health and ammo provided. I think I got my chaingun after killing a commando fairly late in the level. All the other stuff, like the plasma rifle and rocket launcher, are hidden behind secrets, but the plasma rifle is actually highlighted in that weird northernmost area, so at least that one's worth puzzling out. Most of the rest are sorted out via ritual wallhumping. Favorite fight is definitely the "arena" battle, where I actually felt some pressure.

MAP04Cathedral
This is kind of manageable and I love the atmosphere, my favorite of the levels so far. If you don't find the berserk pack, though, you're going to be in trouble, because while this level is stacked with plasma ammo, there is nary a rifle to be found. It's by design, of course; Shrock's challenge to the player is to blow through it only keeping your save at the beginning. As it stands, be prepared to do a lot of fisting and keep an eye out for those shotgun guys; they work great at tearing your health down. There are a few big battles worth mentioning, like the sheer chaos in the cathedral proper, which will mostly be punching demons and specters in low lighting. There are a lot of them, though. The big, final area has a healthy variety, including a pain elemental, but by the time you get there you're better off racing to the exit door switches and blitzing through.

Mansion of DoomMAP05
Still heavy on the secrets, and still loaded down with cells with no rifle to show for it, but it's a much more forgiving map with plenty of hallway to lure enemies out into, and the intended solution for the big bads is... entirely expected, to be blunt. Some of these rooms are actually pretty cool, so it's a pity that they're connected by the drab wooden corridors. I like the Baron eyes / horns motif in the throne room, and the outdoor area that hosts the showdown is pretty neat. No real standout fights, though, besides the "Gotcha!".

MAP06Secret Area!
This one isn't so bad from pistol start. I mean, you're entirely reliant on the shotgun and chaingun, and killing the arch-vile will almost assuredly involve some arachnotron wrangling, and the pain elemental can ruin the whole affair, but it isn't so bad. The level is an interesting idea, linking the previous one to "Arena!", which still has the stink of the dead laying around. It's also gloaming with ammo, a lot of it if you know where to find it. Not that all the cells and rockets will do you a whole lot of good. The only new portions of the level are deadly dull, though - just a bunch of concrete rectangles linked by staircases.

Nuke MazeMAP07
A victory of truth in advertisement. If you know where the exit is, this level can be done very quickly, provided you don't get bogged down in the mob of shadows in the penultimate room. First timers, though, are in for a double whammy, as the maze dominates the level's central area and it's hidden on the automap. If you run out of enviro suits while blindly exploring the tertiary areas, though, you're fucked. There are some appearances by the SSG, thankfully, so between that and the secrets demo runners should be able to plan a pretty painless route. If it weren't for the setup, I'd probably love blasting away all the lost souls plus pain elemental in the starting labyrinth.

MAP08Five Towers
Back to the castle motif. Indeed, there are five towers that you can investigate on your way to the blue key. One of them is optional, though. I think. Anyway, it's back to survival style, since the copious cells and not so copious rockets have no relief valve. The Cyberdemon stomping around the ground floor is instrumental in taking out most of the chaff and indeed if you want to off everything including him you'll have to herd everything around for maximum infighting potential, particularly all the nasties lurking behind the blue key door. I still found myself with eight bullets left at the exit.

The Great HallMAP09
A gauntlet of sorts that leads you through some large, outer areas in the castle. There is more than enough ammo to go around and all of the main weapons, too, so just go all out. There are a lot of rockets offered up in the final showdown, a main event that features two Spiderdemons, a Cyberdemon, and an arch-vile as a potential spoiler, but any Doomer worth their salt knows that the big bads will smoke each other down to the last boss monster. It's a relief to be able to just cut loose.

MAP10Temple of Power
This level starts out feeling pretty lenient. An early, easy to get berserk, plus a plasma rifle. If you squander all your earnings, though, you'll find it very tough to get ahead in the final areas, including several sequential arch-viles and barons plus cacodemons. Tyson veterans will have the advantage, but you'll still have to pull some teeth to take care of a few troublesome beasts. The lights shining from the entrance are one of the best visuals this mapset has to offer.

HAVE FUN STORMING THE CASTLE, BOYS!

4 comments:

  1. This is one of the Doom I episodes I had (along with Serenity & Eternity) way back in the mid 90's so it holds a bit of a niche spot in my heart.

    [Of course I know this review is the Doom II version - but it also existed as an E2 replacement for Doom I, as briefly referred to in the first paragraph of the review.]

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  2. (Same person as above.) The only versions for Doom I on /idgames are CPHOBOS and CPHOBOS2. These are 4- and 6-level minisodes for Doom I E2 respectively, with the first 4 levels of CPHOBOS2 being modified CPHOBOS levels. There is also no new music or sky in these versions. CPHOBOS3 and CPHOBOS4 are not on /idgames; only CPHOBOS5, the Doom II version covered in this review, is. However, the version I had back in the mid-90s was a full Doom I replacement for E2 (9 levels, E2M1-E2M9) and it did contain the new music and sky. I'm presuming I must have had either CPHOBOS3 or CPHOBOS4 but is that correct? (I don't have it on my hard drive anymore, and can't find a place to download it.)

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    1. The closest thing I can find is Jive's "Doom Legacy WAD" version (http://www.doomwadstation.net/dlw/Doom/CPhobos4.html), which excepting whatever Jive did to it before archiving it is probably what you're looking for.

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