Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Rebirth (REBIRTH1.WAD)

Bjorn Ostmann, aka "Vader", was one of ZDoom's darlings at one point, and assuming that The Shores of ZDoom are released, will probably remain one. Now, he's churning out really cool vanilla maps for Back to Saturn X. He's no stranger to vanilla Doom, though. His debut was one of those strangely coveted one-man megaWADs, The Rebirth, released in 2003. It's an interesting specimen, with a vast difference between the design of MAP01 and MAP29. You can almost watch Vader's talent develop real time as you play from level to level.

The story should surprise no one apart from the fact that Hell has lain dormant for twelve years since the finale of Doom II. Apparently, all it takes is a little piece of the boss brain for the whole darn thing to regenerate, and that's just what it's been doing in the interim. When Hell rears its ugly head again, you're stationed on starbase Omega2, ready as ever to dance with the devil. There are no altered text screens to describe the rest of the action, but I believe that you fight your way through the starbase to the teleporter, which beams you back to Earth, which is once again in the throes of an infernal assault, from where you eventually locate the gateway to Hell, bringing the fight once again to the enemy's home turf.

Rebirth has the feel of a classic megaWAD with a bent toward continuous play and speed runners. Ammo balance on these levels is tight, especially in the later maps, and the moments where Vader has decided to offer you a weapon do not always make sense. I assume that HMP is a more... generous experience for pistol starters, with UV more suited to continuous play, survivalists, and people that know these levels and their tricksy secrets. That isn't always true, but those instances (like MAP24) are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the confounding monsters are your standard damage sponges, those being the Hell nobles.

Speaking of which, one of the goat men has received a makeover. Barons of Hell now have a distinctly different appearance than their brethren, fielding a pair of leathery wings and pointed horns, the basis of the now ubiquitous Lord of Heresy. Their behavior is identical, however. The other major graphical edit can only be witnessed in the secret levels, as Vader has replaced the Nazi with a happy little snowman sprite with an assault broom. Even the venerable Icon has had an upgrade, should you come to face its wretched visage. Vader has also created some new textures that liven up the experience. They crop up from here to there during the first two thirds of the mapset and then explode into feature status once you reach Hell.

Vader shows a lot of talent here, though MAP01 does its best to hide it. "Operator" is such an odd break from the rest of the mapset that I can't help but wonder why it was included apart from the fact that it may very well have been his first finished level and, well, I can understand his enthusiasm. It's a very short hurdle you'll have to leap before getting to the meat of the maps, though I'm sure some players will be less than thrilled by the early assault of techbase brown. If so, don't despair! There are a lot of cool layouts to come, and inquisitive players will be treated to such sights as a wintry retreat, an infernal zoo, and a macabre Mario Bros. reference.

Rebirth is a pretty cool mapset. If the thing placement had been a little better thought out, it'd easily be one of Doom's lost classics. It's still absolutely worth a play, especially for anyone looking for something in a classic megaWAD vein but with more consistency. It's not hard to see how someone with a debut like this could go one to become one of Doom's best and brightest authors. Go ahead. Be reborn.

by Bjorn "Vader" Ostmann

Uh, heh. This is a very tight, boxy little opener that feels more like a fragment of a base level than anything. Part of the layout cribs from "Tenements", I think, with those dual catwalks split by a staircase / hallway. It's mostly zombies and imps with some shotgun guys. The lighting does a good job of disguising the simplicity, though.

MAP02Outer Base
Okay, this is a much better level than "Operator". I hope that it sets the standard. Anyway, it's a techbase with a couple of commando snipers at the beginning that will wreck your shit if you're slow and a spectre in the trench that can sneak up on you while you oust the zombies. After that, it's more or less murder by numbers, with the biggest threat being a pack of imps at the blue key pickup. The room behind the yellow key door isn't any safer, though, and the interred hitscanners may yet get the drop on you.

A pretty cool base level that is gloaming with hitscanners. Vader uses the T-shaped intersection wisely, planting zombies that you are free to ignore on the upper reaches and throwing a couple escalating closets of enemies at you as you traverse the map. There's a lot of Doom II trash to off with the combat shotgun, which is a nice change of pace, and all the bullets whizzing around leave just enough of an edge to leave you feeling vulnerable.

A pretty cool, compact base level that's dark brown and metal. The tight design makes the zombies more punchy but snipers have been cut down to a minimum. The only time the level seems to slow down is at the end, where you've got opposing cages of cacodemons. Otherwise, the combat shotgun makes an early (and welcome) debut. I think that northwestern area is cribbing from "The Focus" something fierce. Fast and fun.

The ComplexMAP05
Definitely channeling an "Abandoned Mines" feeling with all the dark metal and cage walls. It's a neat setup that gradually opens as you explore and clear out all the monsters. The combat has more of an oldschool Doom feel due to the reliance on the shotgun and chaingun; the combat shotgun makes a very late entry, paired with the debut of the baron replacement, and you'll have several bunches of cacodemons to diligently grind through. Being overwhelmed and out of ammo vs. hordes of demons or spectres is a definite possibility, as is getting gunned down by commando snipers. The blue key trap is... not what I was expecting, heh.

This is a brief obstacle course with a handful of zombies and a couple of demons running interference as you flip the switches and find the doors necessary to reach the portal that lets you telefrag the Cyberdemon. That's pretty much it, apart from the arachnotron stuffed behind the exit door.

This time Vader lets a little bit of Hell crop into his design with some new custom textures. They make a nice impact in an otherwise perfunctory level. Well, the mancubus room is another brilliant flash of the author's talent as far as the architecture goes, and if you miss the invul sphere, it's a challenging fight. Early rocket launcher and combat shotgun pickups ensure that this map moves along at breakneck speed, even with a bounty of powerful mid-tier monsters.

MAP08Pumping Station
Your garden-variety sewer level. The blue key courtyard looks pretty neat and I dig some of the machinery built into the walls, but it's otherwise a bunch of neat corridors that are full of demons with the base areas staffed with hitscanners. There's even a secret plasma rifle that completely paves over every potentially difficult moment. The nastiest fight would probably be sticking it out at the arachnotron ambush rather than running for cover, but that decision is completely up to the player.

The DepotMAP09
This level is ALSO in the sewers, but I like the denser layout and sudden appearance of monster closets staffed with revenants. Ammo is a bit tight, but the secret rocket launcher should take the sting out of some of the latter encounters. The northwestern room is pretty cool and  the influx of lost souls in the piping penetration room is a neat little twist. The opening area is kind of a pain to start into since it's got narrow ledges and hitscanners staffed in corners, encouraging you to hang back and pick off dudes to start with, but it's the only real pacing issue.

MAP10The Machine
I'm not sure what the machine is, but this techbase level has a really cool layout centered around a circular outdoor area with balconies to the east and west that add to the height variation spectacle. There are some other instances of neat circle architecture as well. The opposition is pretty heavy with hitscanners but there are a fair number of mancubuses, leading into the standout fight, an imp frenzy teleport ambush. There's lots of low grade action to keep you busy, plus a Quake slipgate if you can find it.

Teleport CenterMAP11
Another compact techbase level. Vader continues to hammer in on the hitscanners but there's a healthy variety of monsters including a cadre of revenants guarding the exit room, which has some pretty cool sector machinery used to introduce the teleport that gives the level its name. I also like the chaingunner / demon fight to the northeast, which is low-tier but high-threat, supposing you don't know to just dash forward and snag the combat shotgun after rocketing the gunners to death. A good bit of claustrophobia in the outdoor area to the northwest.

This is a techbase bordering some residential areas. Vader has a nice, compact layout with some neat height variation, but the ammo balance is pretty tight. Grabbing the secret BFG is a must, but not because of any big bads or anything. It's just the most economical way to clear the main courtyard. At some point, you'll fall into a berserk pack, which gives you significantly more leeway. The rocket launcher is set up at a sniper point where you can slay the final two mancubuses. The survival style gameplay gives this a very different feel, almost like a puzzle.

Condemned StreetsMAP13
This has more of a city character, but with those abstract interiors that we know and love. This level's actually got some meat stomping around, as is the case with the arachnotrons, but all of your dangerous monsters are chaingun snipers that seem to lurk in every open window. And, uh, probably the revenants, which crop up in awkward indoor areas that aren't difficult to take out but require more maneuverability than most of the encounters you'll face. The Cyberdemon from the fountain is a neat little moment.

MAP14The Undertown
I really dig the aesthetic. It's even more city-centric in spite of being set below the earth. The layout is cool, with the naturalistic caverns pointing the way toward the kind of stuff Vader would be capable of some ten years later. The downside - it's mostly shotgun and chaingun action against admittedly a lot of zombies but there are a few pockets of revenants that will give you some trouble, not to mention a late-game Spiderdemon. The kicker is that, unless my eyes deceive me, there is a ton of cell ammo here and no weapons with which to use it. Still, pretty cool level. Just conserve your ammo if you want any chance of killing the Spider.

Ugly HallsMAP15
A really short vaguely ruinish map that, again, is incredibly tight on ammo. If you aren't tactical with your BFG use, you might not make it to the yellow key switch, which unlocks - among other things - an ammo cache full of rockets that will carry you to the end. There are still some baffling thing placement moments, like the plasma rifle in the exit room with two hundred cells found elsewhere in a secret. There's an arch-vile, but he's actually pretty easy to handle. I would be more concerned about the couple of mancubus packs you'll have to chew through.

MAP31Snowed-In Mansion
A cute little... snowbound mansion. Vader goes full Doomcute with the SS Nazi replacements, which are friendly-looking snowmen toting machine gun brooms. It pays to be accurate, since there is just barely enough ammo to get by. I had to push past some of those barons guarding the exit switch so that I could grab the cell ammo, knowing that my paltry twenty-some shells were not going to get the job done on their own. All the custom resources give this level a very nice look; I like the hedge mazes (gasp!) and all the decorations. Shame the combat is either really airy or very grueling.

The setup should be pretty obvious from the title and the markings on the doors. This is a showcase of the Doom II bestiary, squirreled away in little terrariums that evoke shades of "Tricks and Traps", but on a much smaller scale. All of your weapons are afforded at the start once you step on the central dais and the only enemy you may need to kill is the Spiderdemon. If you want to make a full clear, though, you'll want to conserve ammo through judicious BFG use, and perhaps some berserk pack abuse. It's awfully tempting to blow away the arch-viles with it, but you'll need something to oust the Cyberdemon. Another Doomcute level. The corner pits in the arch-vile room are a nice, sadistic touch.

MAP16The Musty Ones
Back to the "real" world... Continuing your break from the city stuff, as though your trip through the underground has led to something... older. The monster composition is actually pretty simple, with imps on most of the high places - especially the inner circle - and a handful of agitation pockets that open up at key moments to keep you on your toes. As always, the frugal Doomer will weather the best, especially since the easy mode secret is hidden behind a series of brick doors, one of which I couldn't be bothered to figure out. The invul sphere is indispensable for routing the sole arch-vile, who will be stomping around with a pack of skeletons toward the level's end.

An interesting mash-up... The opening has vague overtones of "Circle of Death" / "Slayer" and maintains a fairly oppressive (but fair) vibe through to the end, which treats you to a miniature "The Descent"-style finisher where you battle a mini-ambush during the elevator ride. The opening flurry is easily the most difficult portion, where pistol starters will be crying for a rocket launcher until damn near the end. You can cheat the arch-vile with some clever use of that elevator pillar.

MAP18Death Pit
An interesting dungeon-ish level with some neat architecture and, you guessed it, tight ammo balance. Granted, a lot of this is based on picking the "correct" direction to forage for advanced arms; it is imperative that you head north. While you'll immediately encounter a locked door, you'll also have a combat shotgun at your disposal. Certain sections of the level can get pretty hairy based on what kind of guns you have; I went west, and then east, only grabbing the SSG after getting chased out. The central room has some interesting dynamics. The northern area, not a great way to chase down the rest of the action, but it's better than the end of "Tenements".

House of PainMAP19
A pretty cool level that's showing the slow bent toward bloody dungeon. The secret shotgun right next to the start area is a must-grab, but it's pretty telegraphed. This level is kind of uncharacteristic in its use of shadow to exacerbate some of the fights. Nothing's too bad, though, so you can default to the chaingun and navigate by the weapon flashes. The cage fight to the east is pretty toothless. My favorite battle is the cacodemon trap to the southwest, which hits all the right notes re: claustrophobia. The final area isn't as interesting combat wise, but I love its design.

MAP20The Gateway
We're back out of the blood-soaked passageways for another city level. This one has more of a "City of the Unavenged" vibe but without the soul-crushing monster placement. While there are a fair number of snipers to contend with, particularly among the battlements separating the north from the south, the available ammo (and health, especially later on) is very forgiving, with an early "secret" rocket launcher and several invul spheres. The biggest problem you'll have is getting smacked upside the head from one direction while you're being distracted from another. The final room is a fantastic set piece.

River of FlamesMAP21
Finally, the first foray into Vader's Hell. It's, uh, pretty unforgiving, too, if it wasn't obvious from the opening. Most of your weapons are either acquired late or only through significant hardship, like the placement of the shotgun or the hidden SSG in one of those Hell knight / cacodemon monster closets in the yellow key room. It's pretty well-suited to Tyson play, though, with an early berserk pack facilitating some of the more basic encounters. The eponymous river is a potential hazard, but the author has enough stepping stones for you to avoid any serious damage.

MAP22Withered Fields
More shenanigans across Hellish topography. As always, you're rushing to find some decent ammo and weapons to take out your enemies, but Vader takes it to a new level with the Hell knight cave off that southeastern staircase. It might be possible to lure them out and then use the ammo behind them to finish them off, but the author had a different scheme in mind, with a Super Mario-flavored Eater egg sending you back to the troop with a BFG in hand. About then, I think, you'll finally be able to catch your breath. Well, maybe not until you've slain the pain elemental trio. 

Dark ArenaMAP23
Captured! A very succinct level. The secret BFG / backpack combo is pretty obvious and the fights, with the exception perhaps of the red key chamber due to the sheer congestion (which should be easily handled with the BFG), are very straightforward. The arena itself has a drip feed of demons, Hell knights, and mancubuses, with first revenants and then imps staffing the observation decks. Opening the exit will let loose a Cyberdemon, but with all the weaponry you have at your disposal, it should be a very quick battle.

MAP24Halls of Despair
I love the layout of this level, with spiraling staircases leading away from the central column of nukage that descends into a huge pit. There is a severe dearth of ammo, though, highlighted by the overwhelming presence of barons and Hell knights that appear to slow the player down in the map's late game. Getting 100% kills requires being a master manipulator in getting your enemies to do much of your work for you, because there is far from enough ammo lying around to get the job done yourself, which is a shame.

The TowerMAP25
I guess we're moving up! Rather than taking place in the Hellish void, the empty space is because this tower thing is way up in the air... I guess. Rather than be a complete pain in the ass, there's enough stuff to fight with, but the rocket launcher is a really late pickup, so half of the difficulty is in order of operations (like, picking the elevator that doesn't exit into two Hell knights) and diligently chainsawing that bunch of demons. You'll get a few BFG shots, so use them wisely. The cacodemons are threatening at first, but they can't actually invade your space, so cut loose with that rocket launcher.

MAP26Burning Canals
Something from a kinder, gentler Vader. This level is still gloaming with high-HP monsters, but you've got more room to maneuver and more ammo at your disposal, provided you take care not to jump into the "Burning Canals" themselves. The layout is pretty cool, and the usage of Vader's gray / skull texture set gives it a unique look in the same way that "Withered Fields" stands apart from vanilla Hell levels. Lots of mayhem to be had, but the agitation in the northern area prior to the red key door is my fave as far as encounters go. The revenants to the east and west feel oddly ineffectual.

Wired HiveMAP27
An underground base wrought of bio-organic Hell, complete with puddles of blood. The opening is pretty grueling, requiring you to pick your way through two groups of arachnotrons with barely any ammo and sneaking past a crowd of Barons before you get any of the good stuff, like the handy-dandy rocket launcher. Things let up a bit after that. The final leg of the level has some great action going on, from several Spiderdemons and an arachnotron swarm to some classic rocket suppression encounters fielding revenants and even more barons / Hell knights. I say rocket suppression, but you could use the BFG, too... if you can find it.

Getting tense... This is a journey through underground Hell, kind of a mix of the outdoor areas plus Vader's uniquely infernal architecture. He gives you two directions in which to push, and you're going to need a little something from everywhere in order to make it to the exit. There are some Things Not Yet Seen, like the vibrant pool of red to the northwest, but most of the sights are squandered by Vader's survival style gameplay. At peak madness, you'll have to fend off an attack by a pack of revenants backed by an arch-vile and a few demons. It's simple enough to juke past the skeletons and then rocket the arch-vile from the low ground, but make every shot connect. Just about the right balance between fun and frustrating.

The AbyssMAP29
Making a clean break for a more classically-themed underground Hell level, where the familiar brown is almost... refreshing. This network of caverns has about as many tricks and traps as you can stand, with some cool moments like the Cyberdemon arena, even if the actual battle is pretty tame. Lots of good fights to go around. I like the giant staircase room that dominates the map's western area, with enough pressure from multiple angles to feel like a proper slobberknocker. I also like the game of escalation in the library. Just a neat, fun level.

MAP30Hells Innards
A pretty straightforward Icon of Sin fight with some nice scenery leading up to the main event. After that, it's a pretty simple switch hunt followed by pumping a hojillion rockets into the brain, since its lifespan has been artificially lengthened by the presence of a handful of unseen, interdicting monsters.


  1. A decent megawad overall. Would love to see Vader do another megawad someday, showcasing his more modern mapping style.

  2. An underrated little megawad, I loved the layouts, the atmosphere, the perfect level of detail, and overall it's just really fun to play and it feels like an adventure..

    I had a lot of fun playing this when I first started exploring Pwads until eventually I started craving higher difficulty mapsets with less "controlled" gameplay.

    1. rebirth definitely gets the job done, partly due to vader's new textures and partly due to the fact that he was actually really talented at the onset. it certainly can't compare to the challenge levels we are getting used to seeing but this is a fantastic sleepwalking mapset for funsies. like you said, it's really fun to play and feels like an adventure, rather than a trial

  3. This megawad came out on a total surprise and in 2003 it was really good! It's still decent after a dozen years. As you said it probably 'just misses' being a classic. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Vader do a revamp of this, bringing the maps closer to his modern skill, but keeping vanilla compatibility and the moderate map sizes intact.

    1. i think Vader's time would be better spent doing Rebirth II than moving the furniture around

  4. That title screen is bitchin' as well. I'm starting to wonder if the Shores of ZDoom is in development now, or still just hopeful rumors. Haven't played Rebirth yet, so I guess I'll give it a go.

    I just finished a 3-episode partial conversion called Strange Aeons, and I'd love if you found time to do a review of it (if you think it's worthy, anyway). You can find the current build on my wordpress site if you're interested and have an afternoon or two to kill.

    1. you have definitely piqued my interest when i get some time

  5. Map32 looks like it was heavily inspired by Duke Nukem 3D's demonstration map "Zoo".

    1. huh, never heard of it. but if youtube is any indication you're not that far off the mark