Thursday, December 3, 2015
The City of the Damned (TCOTD.ZIP)
Doomworld Forum superstar Daniel Gimmer, aka Tormentor667, is one of the biggest reasons that the ZDoom engine - and its family - is as popular as it is today. The man has an undeniable passion for the Doom community, especially on the GZDoom side of things, and Realm667 - in spite of what feels like a constant barrage of hacker attacks - remains the most organized collection of custom resources available to authors that want to play around in the Doom engine. Most of his work is highly regarded by a subset of the community that treasures each and every GZDoom level that emerges, confused and alone, into the /idgames wild. The City of the Damned is one of his earliest releases, a single level that was originally meant to showcase his Blood Resource Pack, which has an amusingly draconian permission requirement considering that all of this stuff was made by the hard workin' folks at Monolith.
The main thing I haven't liked about the handful of Tormentor levels that I've played - and uh, that's pretty much The Refinery - is his usage of powerful custom monsters that turn the game into something more of a cover shooter. There ARE no custom enemies here, which is a nice turn of events. However, the city itself has plenty of windows and wide-open streets and lots of zombies that will turn you into Swiss cheese. The opening shootout is a desperate bid for survival; it takes a very long time for all those hitscanners to funnel in, and while there is more than enough shotgun ammo to slowly whittle them down, you have no room to be gutsy as there is precious little health on a map that ultimately fields nearly 500 enemies. You'll probably be chipped to death on a number of occasions, each time a little bit wiser about where the stragglers are going to come from and how to manage all those imps and barons and demons that will distract you from the true, immediate dangers.
Apart from the reams of enemies shooting bullets at you... it ain't bad. The Blood resources give the city its own distinct identity and while the building exteriors don't look quite as polished as the interiors, I've come to realize that it's less a function of how much work was done on the streets and more the kind of detail that the artists at Monolith put into Blood's interior environments. The majority of the gameplay is either street-sweeping or room-clearing, but Gimmer has more than a few peppers thrown in the gumbo. The encounter that sticks out in my mind the most is the basement of the mortuary, which involves... three invisible arch-viles, I think? There is plenty of cover, but not knowing where the archies are makes things incredibly dangerous. There are a few other stealth arch-viles in the level, but none of those fights are as taxing. The other occurrences of stealth monsters are... arachnotrons, oddly enough. They only show up a few times, one of which is in a secret that you'll be sorry if you uncover too early.
Oh, uh, Tormentor isn't obvious about this, but you should be playing this level with jumping enabled. You won't be able to pick up the key in the cathedral otherwise, or access the cross-section of Hell to the southeast. You can grab the BFG with a really precise straferun, but being able to jump will help out if the best you can do is land the first crate. It's also confusing to be required to jump and then be blocked off from exploring, say, the hallway on the other side of the fissure in the southern building, which is blocked off with an invisible wall. Kind of an ambivalent statement, there!
The biggest problem I have with the pacing is endemic to pretty much any open-layout city level, it's just exacerbated here due to how many monsters - especially hitscanners - start out on the ground, moving toward you. Your first big weapon upgrade is the combat shotgun, but it's located clear at the other end of the level in the graveyard. Navigating all those snipers is tricky business and by the time I had the SSG in my hot little hand, I'd already killed 133 monsters. That's a lot of demon meat to be grinding down with a plain ol' shotgun. You could always make a mad dash for the double barrel to augment your killing potential, but if you didn't know about it ahead of time, you'd be shit out of luck. There's a secret plasma rifle available in the level, too, but you're better off saving your cell ammo for the big bads.
I'm not a fan of all the zombies, and the squadron that mysteriously arrives on the level toward the end is an unfortunate reminder, but the other packs of enemies that Torm throws at you are a bit more compelling. In spite of the stealth arachnotrons, I like the bunch of monsters that pours out of the center structure, and there's a pretty good moment that opens up a walled-off section of the level, revealing a less strangulating assortment of Hellspawn that you're free to beat back in your own particular idiom. The dual Cyberdemons that end the level constitute a refreshingly straightforward encounter after the drip feed hitscanner Hell that dominates much of the experience.
The City of the Damned has its fair share of annoyances, and since Torm neglected to implement difficulty settings, the best you can do is dial it down to ITYTD and use the half damage buff. It might be enough for anyone who finds themselves riddled with bullets. Anyone who doesn't mind gratuitous quicksaving or really loves the textures of Blood should have a ball with this one.