Friday, August 28, 2015

Phobos Massacre (PHOBMASS.WAD)


Vordakk, also known as Stormwalker, bedazzled us with a brand new Heretic episode in 2011 (Call of the Apostate), eventually belting out a sort of Doom II inspired megaWAD in 2014 with Flashback to Hell. His first big release, though, was Phobos Massacre, a Knee Deep in the Dead replacement for the original Doom, to be played in ZDoom-derived ports. Phobos Massacre eventually got its own remastering in 2015 with Oblivion, but its progenitor is still lurking on /idgames, waiting for any poor unfortunate soul looking for more E1-themed levels to play. The episode doesn't have any story, but it has plenty of thematic parallels with the original, so you can just frame it as you like it.


Phobos Massacre is very much a beginner's Doom mapset, though it exhibits a lot of structural sense. It's got a lot of wide, open rooms connected by hallways with little in the way of connecting features like windows until you start reaching the later levels. He does a decent job of distracting from the reality of the corridors by cramming them full of traps, though this won't win any points with some players. The author plays with some gameplay hooks, but they're usually left unexplored, like the cherry red false wall structures in E1M5, which are only used twice: once for a few imps, which you may not even see if you surprise them from the secret, and once at the very end with a shotgun guy. Some more of those things staffed with imps could have made for a memorable experience from both visual and gameplay standpoints.


Staying true to the E1 roots, Vordakk's combat scenarios are mostly a mixture of incidental encounters and monster closets, with teleport ambushes appearing as the major battles of the latter maps. All the space makes most of the fights pretty easy to navigate and manipulate but you'll find yourself backed into a few claustrophobic corners if you're not careful. Ammo and health become more scarce as time wears on which makes the abundance of zombies fairly threatening; attrition is a very real problem for the player. You'll also run into instances where you'll wish you had the chaingun, like, one hundred monsters ago, but the shotgun is a perfectly serviceable firearm - it's just not as fast, or efficient, as the ol' chaingun cha cha.


The first half of Phobos Massacre is a bit plain for my tastes but the later levels are pretty cool and Vordakk shows improvements in architecture and encounter design. I know that there is a subset of Doomers who are more than happy to play E1-themed stuff, and this will be right up their alley, supposing they don't mind playing it in one of the ZDoom-derived ports. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the author has reinvented himself in Oblivion, the remake / remodel.



PHOBOS MASSACRE
by "Vordakk" aka "Stormwalker"

E1M1
A fairly sub-standard E1 level. It's got zombies, sergeants, and imps in a bunch of wide-open areas. The good: All those zombimen coming from the northern area makes for a decent drip feed threat. The imps on pillars in the outer area are a decent early shot at varying up combat height. I also like the mess of auxiliary rooms running from the north to the southeast, which does a lot to liven up the stuffy symmetric western and central areas.

E1M2
A bit better. The actual progression is linear and stringy. Like, if you could uncoil the hallways and rooms and create a straight line because there aren't windows or anything attaching the path of gameplay, it's stringy, and this fits the bill. The rooms are slightly more interesting, though. The author does a decent job with traps, with some crushers and typical monster closets stuffed in the connective tissue. I particularly like the closets next to the health bonuses and medikits in that southwest room. Lots more imps and zombies to slay, but nothing all that challenging unless you get careless.

E1M3
This layout feels a little more natural; the windows in the starting area are a great sign. The design is a pretty straightforward central hub where you explore the only available room, killing everything in your way and opening up the next annex. The rooms are kind of cool; I like that giant drainage area to the east. The most compelling battle pits you against two large crowds of mixed Doom trash enemies, though with all the room you have to run around in the northern yard, it's easy to send them to oblivion. I dig the teleporter pad design.

E1M9
A decent attempt at making a thematically consistent circular map. It's got kind of an oblong octagon hallway that stretches out the time you'll be running around. Like E1M3, you'll be attacking each of the key-locked annexes, after which you'll move to the next. The south and eastern areas have the best interplay; I like the southern section for its towers and the likelihood that you're just going to get dumped into the outdoor area. The northwestern stretch is a mild-mannered challenge gauntlet whose most memorable encounter has zombies lined in cages... which successfully distracts you so that you're caught offguard by the demon pit trap. The central section is a wide-open shootout which is augmented by the limited non-toxic area, but it's pretty easy to blow through if you've been saving your rockets.

E1M4
Now this is pretty cool. This level feels just a tad bit more interconnected. More importantly, the huge outdoor area to the east adds a ton of character. It's got a guard shack with gate controls, two monster bunkers, an enemy cage (?), and the small exit fort. The northwestern bit is a little bland in comparison. I like the staircase / pillar section that looks like Cartilage Head in the automap. The yellow key puzzle is bound to trip players up since Vordakk hasn't used any secret-style logic for required progression so far.

E1M5
I'm not exactly sold on the enormous central nukage chamber that houses the tower. It's not a strikingly good example of macrotecture, with a plain / bare look, and nothing like a proper firefight to show for all that open area. E1M5 is a little tighter on the ammo. The secrets should set you up properly if you can find them, offering niceties like a rocket launcher and some also much needed health. Vordakk plays around with false wall turret-style stuff, but I disarmed the first of them before it could make much of an impact. The second time it comes up, it's housing a shotgun guy instead of imps, which feels kind of cheap. Using a bunch of those could have been a decent gameplay hook.

E1M6
Taking the level design in the same direction as E1M4. There are still a ton of hallways, but the rooms are starting to get pretty cool. I think my favorite section - plain as it may be - is the tan / blue / comp maze to the northeast, which is visually striking, has some good lighting, and has an open layout that facilitates enemies surprising you depending on where you poke your head in. The enormous computer core is a cool visual and the southeastern outdoor area has the first big teleporter trap. Still Doom trash monsters, but it's an awkward layout with lots of nukage so it's semi-effective. I like the ambush locked behind the yellow key doors.

E1M7
Some neat room shapes in this map. Vordakk really lays on the monsters in this level, though most of them will come at you in the teleport ambush at the blue key, which involves a ton of baddies including imps on the high ground and scads of demons and specters on the low. I like the sound-triggered ambush in the southwestern column room; it's always a nice surprise to have a bunch of enemies dart out from behind cover rather than monster closets or teleport traps. Cool stuff.

E1M8
Basically a remix of "Phobos Anomaly". It has a few cool points, though. I dig the giant brimstone symbol / leviathan cross and the rocket launcher battle in the baron room in Hell has some nice tension, since it isn't immediately obvious how you get the goods. Also, the bruiser / demon fight is classic Doom just by the sheer meat pushing you back. The rest... is okay.

LEFT TO DIE WITH ONLY FRIEND,
ALONE I CLENCH MY GUN

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review, sir! Looking back, this project was definitely a learning experience and hopefully through the years I've gotten at least a little bit better than I was back then. I'm going to play through this again to see which parts you liked; perhaps I can derive some ideas for future maps based on your preferences.

    -Stormwalker

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    1. I really dig this map set. I really enjoyed the remake/updated Oblivion, I think you will as well KMX. I super enjoyed Flashback to Hell, which I had not known of before this site. To Stormwalker, keep up the good work. I can't wait for more.

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    2. it was just a shock seeing some of the most interesting bits of architecture cut out, but all that really does is ensure that there is a reason to go back to play PHOBMASS, rather than just be forgotten, which some people seem to espouse

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    3. The playthrough by Zdenda1990 on youtube made me look for more info and led me here.

      https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFK2eL5cls5aUaDsNMdzTBtDpMA9P5JLg

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