Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Beginning of the End (Part 1) (END1.WAD)


Emil Brundage, aka NaturalTvventy, is one of those 90s authors who continues to kick around this old-ass game. His most recent releases are tied up in projects like Back to Saturn X and No End in Sight, but his first set, released in 1997, was The Beginning of the End (Part 1), a pair of episodes released for the original Doom. Part 2 would follow the next year, which would complete this megaWAD, but that's a slightly different story. Speaking of story, with a name like The Beginning of the End, you'd think that there'd be some kind of framing narrative for all the crazy action that follows. There isn't, though you might be able to wrangle some kind of narrative out of the map titles... Heh.


Emil stands apart from many of those who map for the original Doom, who seem more or less content to mine the absolute depths afforded by the aesthetic themes set forth by id Software - Phobos, Deimos, Hell, and the enigmatic E4. What we get here is something more evocative of less dogmatic PWADs, like Slaughter Until Death, as Brundage looks content to explore whatever texture scheme strikes his fancy at the time. While you could attempt to pigeonhole it into E2, Brundage is far too concerned with architectural oddities, level gimmicks, and layouts for this to play as anything but his product... Not that I've played anything of his before. There's just an unmistakable sensibility that pervades the set, slowly slouching toward explosive, harrowing encounters.


The level hooks are solid, firmly distancing this from an eternity of OG Doom homages with stuff like zombies rising from their graves, a level where breaking the silence means waking the demons, a long, winding stair climb, horrid engines that seem to churn out endless zombies, and monsters that are so thick that you're forced to hold them at the door. It's not exactly dominated by seething masses, but when Emil decides it's time to force feed, you may hit your endurance limit, which probably won't be until E2M5, the aptly-named "Total Insanity". Some of the hooks are more grounded, like the open-air arenas of E1M5 (which is all about the reveal) and E1M6. The latter is unremarkable but for the Spiderdemon that stands dogged guard.


If anything establishes the atmosphere of END1, it's the soundtrack, a selection of classics that's heavily weighted toward Metallica but has a little Nirvana, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin mixed in for good measure. MIDI metal has always had the air of parody about it given the tone of the end product, and the selections used here aren't much different. There's also a sound pack full of the standard sound clips and some home made stuff that will probably find itself quickly ejected from most playthroughs but easily peg it as part of the 90s as far as the Doom user community goes.


END1 is a pretty cool mapset that doesn't play at all like the id standards you're used to, outside of the vanilla monsters. At some points, the different turns into displeasure, but I had a pretty good time. There's a reason END1 is Xaser Acheron's most recommended mapset, and that's because it rocks.



THE BEGINNING OF THE END
PART 1
by Emil "NaturalTvventy" Brundage

EPISODE ONE

Dying TimeE1M1
Your first step into Emil's world. It's got more of a TiC aesthetic sense as far as Doom maps go, favoring none of the episodes, with a tech-heavy north half and a somewhat Hellish southern section. It's full of easily-slaughtered zombies and imps, though the walking dead are thick enough to give you potential pause. The peanut gallery near the exit, quickly dispatched through some barrels o' fun, is a minor amusement. The starting room is pretty unique and I like the design of the southern, with its dual-purpose switch wall.

E1M2The Warehouse
Now this is a pretty cool map. This one is solidly techbase. It's huge, has lots of exploration, and cool secret areas that really feel like secret areas - I'm talking about the outdoor area to the north that dumps you on top of a soulsphere and has a little blur sphere shrine. There's also a ruined section of the base, which houses the yellow key, that has crushing ceilings and death pits and one bit of crumbling walkway that might send you to an early grave. There are a ton of hitscanners to contend with and the health is pretty sparse, so attrition is a real issue. No real standout fight; just constant action.

The Monster GeneratorsE1M3
A cool opening (though that strange face in the first yard is inscrutable to me - a dead smiley face wearing a pirate hat??) through some granite wilderness before entering a cavernous base that houses the eponymous "Monster Generators". It's an interesting hook, but the shotgun guys kind of outstay their welcome. You're better off just skipping them until you've sorted out the rest of the section, since you won't be getting any of that ammo back. The alcove housing the secret yellow key is a pretty cool "WTF?" moment.

E1M9Sleeping Demons
This gimmick-based level is oddly silent at first, but one false move and you'll bring up something you might not be able to put down. All of the weapons are available from the get go, but the rocket launcher and BFG are better hidden, and you'll probably want the invul to snag the plasma rifle, Once all Hell breaks loose, you'll have a drip feed of monsters that blinks around between several locations, the biggest of which is a friendly neighborhood Cyberdemon. You can use your ill gotten gains to snuff him quickly or use him to mete infernal punishment out to your invaders. The rest of the map is pretty straightforward but for the gauntlet behind the yellow door, which is dark, staffed with sergeants and specters, and has some nasty surprise crushers. Tread lightly.

The Scum PitsE1M4
A map that is dominated by toxic sludge, bisected by a winding walkway. The opening is a pretty hectic shootout with reinforcements that last a good little while with the main threat being swiss cheesed before you can lay claim to some decent health. After that, you'll have to deal with stuff like a peanut gallery of imps that runs round the whole map and at least one instance where like a hojillion shotgun guys pours out of an alcove near the beginning. The most dickish moment is a one-time shot at the invul sphere, which would really only be useful in order to stay alive long enough to get 100% kills at the sector 11 exit in the cool as heck fireplace. There's also a massive secret annex to the southeast where it looks like some cacodemon carcasses washed up. It's always rewarding when you find new stuff through exploration...

E1M5The Arena
Trapped! This level is dominated by its namesake and which you're introduced to in a rather abrupt fashion. The action isn't all that hot, except for the fact that it's you vs. like a metric ton of demons and with suspiciously limited firepower. Things are a little tight but you're free to proceed on, to either the long, open-air hallway to the east or a large secret area to the west that grants access to the stands, a large, toxic tech bay (and return entrance to the cages you started in), and a soul sphere secret that I didn't have the patience to stick around and figure out.

RageE1M6
Another map that's built around a large, open outdoor area. This one is patrolled by a Spiderdemon, though, which will prove to be problematic given that this level's pretty tight in the ammo department, with one of the leadoff encounters being an invul-fed berserk rampage. Don't miss the chaingun in the little baron tower. There are a couple of secret cubbies off the arena that should make fighting dear old mom much easier, but you'll have to grab your rewards while under suppression fire, which may prove tricky in the case of the blur sphere. The rest of the level is characterized by claustrophobic combat and, in the case of the west wing, tricksy low-light fighting.

E1M7Blackened
A pretty simple level in comparison to the past run. "Blackened" only has 56 monsters, and they're all pretty tough to oust, but a few handy secrets - like the nested plasma rifle in the northwest complex - will quickly swing the fight in your favor. Experienced players should be able to tease out most of the gory details sans secrets, though. The Cyberdemon arena comes with a pretty cool symbol in the floor and it's accessed by a portal propped conspicuously in the center of the starting area, which you activate via an attached console, which is a neat touch.

ScrewedE1M8
A simple but effective death arena with very limited real estate. The object is to use your rad suit to circle the pit, grabbing all the ammo and weapons and get as much work done via infighting before starting in earnest, since ammo might get tight. After that it's just precarious circle strafing. The finale is right out of "Anomaly"... No surprise there, though. The teleporter chamber looks pretty cool.


EPISODE TWO

E2M1Welcome Home
A disjointed but challenging level whose main feature is a great metal wall that you'll have to infiltrate to make it to the exit. The mood starts off claustrophobic, with strange sections like chainsawing specters in the dark while pecking away at shotgun guys, and then erupts into an open-air shootout with an entire yard and the staff inside the wall firing at you. As long as you put some kind of cover - animate or inanimate - between you and the zombies, you should be okay, though the guys lurking by the rear windows may surprise you dead. There's also a sizable area with a cool, frantic shotgun guy / lost soul fight and a little crate maze that renders a handy chaingun.

Stairway to HellE2M2
One of the simplest and most straightforward maps yet. It is a big, winding stairway - though not open air - that you move forward on and encounter bigger and badder monsters and fights. Brundage makes things tricky by having monsters that teleport both behind and in front of you, which isn't so bad on the imps but might be murder when you're talking sneaky shotgun guys, especially on a level that has next to no health available. The big imp encounter at the end is a standout, which lets you try to hold the little doorway you've got or just run in and deal with the random teleports within the relative safety of the room.

E2M3Outpost of the Forgotten
Secrets kind of hobble some of the most demanding aspects of this level, but you'll still have to combat a relative lack of health vs. claustrophobic corridors. The main gimmick tying this map together is a central secret room, accessed from several different locations, which houses an invul that you are free to use as you like. The western corridor starts out with water and then turns into a bloody mess where the only safe ground is held by imps. Still, not too bad. The northeast corridor complex is thicker with monsters, and the whole thing kicks off from a memorable mechanism with cherry red columns that opens up the blast doors that was holding back a huge storm of cacodemons. Good luck sorting that one out. Of the two false wall monster traps, the first - fielding shotgun guys - feels a little cheap.

Grave DangerE2M4
A cute level with a dire opening as you stare down the two guard towers that overlook a dusty cemetery... in Hell. First, though, you've got to deal with the incumbent monstrosities. The secret rocket launcher would be handy, but I ended up moving past and into the graveyard, which causes a bunch of zombies to slowly wise from their gwaves. As you can imagine, that much of the undead in a big, open space is pretty dangerous for your ass, so it's nice that Emil gave you a "secret" soulsphere and a "secret" plasma rifle, though the latter is really for the finale. Opening up the mausoleum conjures up a wave of Doom trash, and grabbing the red key inside summons for the final guardian, a Cyb and a conga line of barons. Of course, it's easy to get Cybie to turn on his buddies, and the leftovers are easy pickings for the plasma stream.

E2M5Total Insanity
Emil swings way out into super abstract territory that features a teleport gauntlet in the image of various sea fauna (and a fish hook); a FIREBLU outdoor area with tiny safe islands that is initially swarming with shotgun guys, imps, and cacodemons; and a shotgun guy infested bunker that ultimately gives way to the marble temple that marks a relative return to sanity. Oh, there's also the bamboo pole crusher room off the starting area to contend with. While the big ol' outdoor melee might be insane on the inside, as the Doomguy perched at the doorway, it's just a bottleneck. The insanity stuff happens when the dust finally settles and you get to the teleport maze. It's still not that insane, but the author has worked pretty hard to supply us with some unusual texture combinations.

DoomedE2M9
On to something a little less inscrutable. The opening multi-tiered cage maze is a little claustrophobic, but once you're past that, the encounters are pretty simple with some neat set pieces for each room, like the fleshwall step pyramid near the map's center and the ominous marble cistern that's really just a gateway to the northern area, which as a fairly decent teleport fight. Of course, the big show is in the red rock arena, which starts out versus a single Spiderdemon - easily dispatched with a hidden blur sphere - and then turns into an awkward BFG battle against twin Cyberdemons.

E2M6Bonus
A strange level that starts out silent until you trigger an invasion of epic, congested proportions. It sort of brings to mind the bottleneck of E2M5, except you have way less room to back into, and the location is in some otherwise humdrum tech corridors that have the look of futuristic prison cells. The big red rock outdoor area is a much less harrowing bunch of fights, though the pack of imps may come as some surprise. There's also a "Gotcha!" moment for good measure, though it's not at all threatening to remotely canny Doomers. That Metallica logo is badass.

The MadhouseE2M7
A very large level that has a bit of that slaughtermap-but-for-the-original-Doom vibe. The monsters are packed in as dense as they've ever been and in the wide open areas you'll have to contend with hitscanner Hell, whether it's dealing with a ring of shotgun guys or baiting two Spiderdemons into taking each other out. Each of the main wings takes the player through a trap-laden journey, each with its own particular gimmick. The southern area is pretty straightforward, its main challenge exposing you to a bunch of ordinarily harmless zombimen, with a lone Cyberdemon as the confounding factor. The eastern leg has a dark tech chamber behind a metal guard shack where you'll have to beat back demons and spectres in the dark, and it's also the scene of a pretty big ambush. The northern leg is the longest, with a walled-in area that slowly opens up; a collapsing bridge into some nasty nukage; and some columns that allow a drip feed of nasties to issue forth. The finale is a big ol' clusterfuck, but if you have all three keys - and saved the invul sphere - you should be able to fight back, turn around, and start rocket punching stuff to death. The lost soul chamber just off the Spiderdemon room is pretty cool.

E2M8The Hive
A pretty simple boss map that starts out with you in the middle of a bunch of cacodemons, facing out, in a central chamber that's adjoined to four satellites, each of which has a force of a Cyberdemon and some lost soul lackeys. There are plenty of rockets, a BFG, and even a Spiderdemon that will pop up in the middle if you make some noise, making this a pretty forgone process for veteran Doomers, but a fun exercise nonetheless.

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