Monday, November 2, 2015

ICAR2015 (ICAR2015.WAD)

Eternal is Russian's favorite son, a multi-Cacoward toting author with several fetishes, one of them being classic megaWADs - especially in the TNT flavor. It should come as no surprise that he eventually got around to making his loveletter to Icarus: Alien Vanguard, the aptly titled ICAR2015, an eleven-level episode published in 2015 for Doom II that must be run on top of the Icarus megaWAD. As could be expected, this release is completely compatible with vanilla Doom II, not that there's anything stopping you from running it in another source port.

ICAR2015 doesn't have a tangible plot, but it follows a similar format to the original - minus the holo-portals - that divides levels into three rough themes. The first category, in which you begin, consists of levels that occur on the good ship itself. The second and most numerous are the "simulation" missions, which were pretty abstract in the original Icarus but - in here - might as well belong to the "planetary" levels considering how grounded they are. The away-team maps use some sort of teleporter-pod that bears a slight resemblance to a TARDIS as your final destination, which stands out from the simulator levels which have nondescript exit doors that return you to a fairly generic exit room.

This iteration of Icarus feels like comfort food for classic megaWAD enthusiasts, and justly so. It isn't terribly ambitious with its encounters and set pieces, preferring to stick to sensible techbase geometry and hallway / room clearing with the occasional wild delta, like the "Chasm"-esque stylings of "Waste Raw". It would be possible to sleepwalk through much of the action were it not so claustrophobic in parts, with several UV ambushes feeling pretty nasty the first time around, appearing to come at the exact moment your eyes start to glaze over. Then it's skeletons for you. The bigger, more complex fights turn up as you progress deep into the episode, with several opportunities for BFG-bumping Cyberdemons and one pretty fun plasma-fed free-for-all.

The levels are also, for the most part, pretty straightforward. Eternal plays with a lot of verticality to keep the action feeling fresh, like the opening of "Shift Phase" or the entirety of "Waste Raw", but I rarely felt any real difficulty in figuring out where to go, the main exceptions being "Phantom Pain", "Starship", and "Tresspasser". The first, because of its layout; the second, because it's pretty much the largest level in the set, and because of some sawtooth idiosyncrasies; the last, because it's the most puzzling level in the set, and because I am an idiot who could not glean a dual-purpose switch, though I found just about every other secret in the process.

ICAR2015 doesn't aim to break any new ground; it's a tribute to a megaWAD that's damn near twenty years old as of this writing. It's fun to see Eternal tackling this vintage flavor, though, and he does it with a lot of heart and wrings some Things Not Yet Seen in the process... and I'm sure that a new generation of authors might manage the same with this old texture set.

by Alexander "Eternal" S.

Force ReturnMAP01
An action-packed opener that draws you back into the bright, silver world of Icarus. This level is pretty approachable as a shotgun frenzy, but the combat shotgun (which I did not get my first time through) will step up your game by quite a bit since the most dangerous monster to be found is the lowly revenant, being staffed mostly by Doom trash. The cooling engine bit is a nice callback, with some nice architecture. The central room is simple but effective and the raisable bridge offers some dynamic level geometry to sink your teeth into.

MAP02Secret Energy
Apparently a simulation level, though it could be from practically any earthbound scenario. It's also got an homage to "Underhalls", which makes me wonder if I missed any MAP01 in "Force Return"... but I digress. This one forces a lot more quality time with the regular shotgun, including a cacodemon and Hell knight. The descent into the waterlogged crawlspace is a nice bit of easygoing claustrophobia and thrusts the combat shotgun in your hand. I like the outdoor area with the monolith / windmill scenery. It's also the scene of a nice, simple ambush.

Phantom PainMAP03
Another slice of Icarus base. This particular iteration is based around a horseshoe-shaped watercourse with a few spectres running around in it. Most of the difficulty is based around navigating your way from the central isle to the outer edges, with the added thrill of a bunch of hitscanners. If there's a combat shotgun in this level, I couldn't find it. There IS a secret plasma rifle, though, plus the rocket launcher, which should help against those wascally wevenants. The orthogonal room clearing is broken up by the channel and the "Quarry" that dominates the eastern portion of the level, which is sparingly staffed, all things considered. I like the loading dock-style arrangement to the south.

MAP04Shift Phase
A circuitous level with pretty standard hallway-clearing action as you slowly pick your way through all the foes tucked away into alcoves and the like. With such low stakes, most of the threat comes from hitscanner surprises and the occasional revenant ambush. The opening area has a pretty cool gimmick as you make your way up the tiers of play, leaping from one to the next. It's almost absurdly straightforward for an Icarus level, though, with never any question as to where you're heading... unless you failed Doom 101. The red key room is a pretty cool hornet's nest.

A pretty cool map with a strong grid 64 feel, a crate maze, and tons of verticality. Don't miss out on the armory at the beginning, or you'll be out some easy weapon pickups! "Database" is full of timed switches and leaps of faith, running all the way through the criss-crossing eastern area, a nice change of pace in an inexplicable sewer section, and has one neat trick that I haven't seen before - teleporting monsters onto walkways that are raising out of the floor. It's a genius workaround considering that your other options involve either letting them wander around on the floor or blocking them in with lines, which just looks weird. Still not a lot of pitched fights, leaning heavily on drip feed zombies and imps, but the four or so cacodemons in the eastern room were nice and there's an arch-vile guarding the exit in a slightly awkward setup.

MAP06Sacrifice of Time
A welcome change of place, switching from the simulation levels to an away team mission. This is an overgrown section of ruins with some neat, open spaces to get rowdy in, even if it does take like forever to get the combat shotgun and rocket launcher. It's still clogged with Doom II trash, but the slightly more open space brings a welcome change in combat dynamics with more room to duck those skeleton ambushes. The main event is a Spiderdemon fight, but one secret ought to give you plenty of health and ammo to kill it... and another, unofficial secret works as a fast forward button. You'll still have to deal with the riff-raff now clustered around the exit beacon...

Back on the spaceship. Things finally feel proper with the appearance of mancubuses and arachnotrons, plus it's a massive exploratory level with some cool geometry and set pieces. Some of these bits feel like a proper "Starship" with the tiny crew pods in the beginning area and the couple of hangars. Others are good ol' abstract Doom II, virtual reality obstacle courses for you to run and gun in, like the metal room adjacent to the west docking bay. It's also loaded with secrets, including the aforementioned crew quarters, which are each unlocked via semi-hidden shootable switches spread throughout the level. I also like the slices of ship internals liberally using the Icon of Sin piping. The finale is a good ol' monster arena room that makes decent use of its space. You won't be in any real danger unless you decide to hot-ass around. Cool level.

MAP08Waste Raw
This simu level has just the barest of snatches of Icarus, feeling more like a cross between "The Chasm", "The Living End", and Orin Flaharty, done up in a vast, metal-clad sewer theme. It's a pretty cool level, though running around in the open is hazardous at first, especially because of the zombie shooting gallery on the southern side of the central island. All of your movement between the alcoves built into the sewer walls is governed by a series of criss-crossing catwalks that escalate in height. There aren't a whole lot of monsters running around, but if you want a slaughter, you'd do well to find the secret BFG room which gives you a pretty good reason to blow through your cells.

Earth StationMAP09
Another planetary visitation with a massacred UAC base. There are some neat little setups, here, like the Cyberdemon gazebo with an easy button and the stepping stones in the northwest section of the base. Both of your usual workhorse weapons - the combat shotgun and rocket launcher - are stuck behind the blue key door, which does not necessarily have to be cleared before reaching the exit gauntlet, so I would suggest going ahead and hitting it up before clearing the rest of the map, where you will be found wanting given the mix of Doom II trash and Doom II heavies. While there are two Cyberdemons, you'll only need the BFG for one of them. Fun map.

MAP10Control Round
Another orthogonal Icarus base. It's a bit more punchy, though, with a lot of skeletons running around and some decent set piece fights like the blue key arena and the BFG brawl, the latter of which can get out of hand pretty quickly. I like how interconnected the bulk of the level is, that being the hive of rooms in the center of the map, complete with a tiny sewer section that houses a rocket launcher that you'd be loathe to pass up. Given how integral the BFG is to the level's progression, the Cyberdemon won't pose a threat to more experienced players. Nice level; dig those 45 degree angles.

Time for a little bit of home invasion! Well, actually, it's sort of a tribute to "Feeding Frenzy", and sort of a castle that's dedicated to preserving the arts of fast food. "Tresspasser" has all the room clearing that you've come to love, injected with a healthy dose of Team TNT puzzle-solving. Lest you be flummoxed, each of the three skull keys can be acquired without the others. My main problem was getting access to the red key, because my brain hadn't anticipated that the same switch you use to get the combat shotgun - which you can ride to another secret - also lowers the bar blocking the southwestern passage. Whoops! The more dastardly stuff include a breakable window (which did immediately leap to mind when I saw it), a skull switch that's hard to activate with anything but the combat shotgun, and the switch hiding in the vegetable garden, a True Blue Eternal moment. The finale is a pretty good excuse to blow all your rockets and cells, complete with a potential dual-Spiderdemon showdown. It's fun... if you don't get stuck.


1 comment:

  1. Icarus was starting to really show its age IMO, I think this works as a quite solid 'expansion pack' of more modern quality.

    While it is eluded to in the review I'll still mention Eternal made wads for TNT Evilution and Eternal Doom as well, in the form of reimaginings the first 11 and 3 maps respectively.