Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Twilight Zone II: Final Dreams (TWZONE2.WAD)


Paul Corfiatis, to me, is the working man's WAD author, a dude who has hundreds of levels under his belt starting from 1998 and continuing to this very day... though he'd be among the first to distance himself from his earlier, "experimental" works. His first release was a full-fledged megaWAD, The Twilight Zone, where you battled Hell through your dreams to get a good night's sleep. A year later, we got The Twilight Zone II: Final Dreams. The current iteration of TWZONE2 is a Boom-compatible megaWAD; though it was released in 1999, Paul went back and remastered it in 2014, stripping out the resources that had fallen out of favor with him... More on that in a bit.


The story has a sort of magical realism about it. More so than usual for a Doom PWAD plot, I mean. The antagonist is Johnny Boy, a kid who has somehow procured the Tomes of Darkness and Eternity and is wreaking havoc in alignment with the forces of Hell. He has enormous, Hellish obelisks called Death Clones working on his behalf and has emblazoned his image across much of reality. Your quest involves smashing the Death Clones, recovering the tomes, and then killing Johnny Boy himself in a journey across time and space aided through the use of mystical Ethereal Travel Ports.


So. There are two versions of TWZONE2. The original, which is still available on the Doom Speed Demos Archive, has some added things that you might be interested in, like some destructible props, a bunch of new sounds, and a new look for the cacodemon, cribbed from Heretic. I kind of wish that Paul had left the lich graphic in, because it took me quite awhile to figure out that the monster behavior has been tweaked. The cacodemon is much more dangerous than its original incarnation because it's much faster, in moving, attacking, and recovering from pain. Having a different appearance would have clued me in to the differences a bit faster. From what the .TXT says, it also boosts enemy health across the board... which may dissuade you from trying it out. The incomparable lupinx-Kassman created a resource pack with the sounds, the lich, and a DEH file that recreates the destructible decorations and stashed it here, on best-ever.org. If you want the muss without the fuss, it's a great compromise.


The new fist graphic - the fighter's from Hexen - throws off the berserk game for anyone whose sense of timing has become married to Doomguy's fist, but as far as I can tell, it's not an actual gameplay change, unlike the Needlesaw, originally named the Ejaculator in the first edition. This weird contraption rapidly perforates enemies as the needle pistons in and out of the device. It is absurdly powerful, hitting much faster than the chainsaw and I believe doing more damage per shot judging from how quickly it will take down a baron of Hell. It doesn't make you invincible, of course, but it helps. I usually leave the chainsaw in my backpack, preferring the power and precision of the berserk fist. The Needlesaw, not so much.


There are two new enemies apart from the Iron Lich / altered cacodemon. The first one you'll find is some kind of floating, specterized SS Nazi, dubbed the "SS Predator Spectre" in the .TXT. They don't show up that often, leading to some confusion when they do manifest themselves, but I can think of worse ways Paul could have gone. I think that some kind of aerial drone would have worked better, but I couldn't expect the author to part from his Wolf3D fetish. The other new monster is a miniboss that replaces the Spiderdemon, an ugly little dude called "Johnny's Baby Cyberdemon Marine", taken from the Cringe episode. This little bastard is super lethal, firing a chaingun that's four times faster than the chaingun zombie's. He doesn't appear that often, though, and usually has an invul sphere close by, so I wouldn't worry too much about going from Doomguy to meat in the span of a couple seconds.


TWZONE2 was originally conceived as something of a TNT Evilution tribute episode or something, but Paul was badgered into turning it into a megaWAD. The Evilution feel doesn't come across but for the textures and some of the more obvious homages, like the telefrag puzzle in "Despair" or the slice of "Baron's Den" in MAP29. Really, judging from the presence of stuff I'd associated with other classics, like the Serenity series, Memento Mori, Heretic, and Hexen, Twilight Zone II feels less like a paean to Evilution and more a loveletter to the early days of Doom WADs, if not through design then through resource appropriation.


Not that Paul's nicked everything in here that isn't in the original Doom. The MSPaint caricatures of Johnny Boy are the most obvious example, but one thing this has that the original Twilight Zone doesn't is a brand new soundtrack, part of his other major legacy to the Doom community as a dependable musician. One other thing he's added to TWZONE2 that you don't see a lot of - at least, in Boom-compatible mapsets - is a host of ambient noises (good ol' Hexen), carefully tucked away into the void of the levels and adding to the atmosphere. It definitely gives this work a distinct character, even if it's ultimately inherited from Hexen.


Paul's level design slips up on occasion - like the enormous hallways of "Stardate Institute" or the grid 64 maze of "Morass" - but he's cut out a lot of the pointless backtracking that hampered the original Twilight Zone while maintaining that sort of freewheeling aesthetic sensibility that seems descended from the early megaWADs of '96 and '97. He explores some pretty neat gimmicks in some of these levels, like the occasional survival style map that twists you into uncomfortable positions. You'll also have to endure a handful of symmetric layouts that betray a lack of guile in monster placement, a common criticism that has dogged Paul throughout his career.


The levels don't last long enough for the downsides to grate, though, making Twilight Zone II a pretty fun mapset and an improvement that has largely outgrown the kind of careless experimentation that resulted in some of TWZONE's most dumbfounding moments. That may make it less DoomCute in the eyes of some, but it picks up the slack in other areas. If you've played all the classics and are looking for something off the beaten path, here's an easy pick.



If you'd rather play the original version,







THE TWILIGHT ZONE II
FINAL DREAMS
by Paul "pcorf" Corfiatis

Sputnik PortMAP01
A pretty basic brown base. pcorf breaks you into some of the new resources, like the hilariously mirrored sky and the UAC windows. The devilish computer mainframe to the northeast is an interesting feature. This is all zombie / imp massacre, leaning toward zombies. The combat shotgun comes with a potentially nasty shotgun guy ambush but any player worth their salt should be able to endure the hitscanner Hell.

MAP02Triton
I was hoping this was going to be some kind of underwater base, but it's actually an Egyptian castle thing that borrows heavily from "The Inmost Dens" as far as the northwestern nexus goes. Most of the action is confined to two large teleport ambushes, the first in the opening room that taunts you to kill a mancubus (which ushers in some revenants and other Doom trash) and the blue key area, which has a pain elemental in a confined space (not too bad) and a pretty big wave of... exactly what you fought in the starting area, plus some commandos, with less room to move in. Let's get dangerous. Some of the secrets are pretty fun; I dig the cave that leads to one of two megaspheres.

NemesisMAP03
A portent of things to come? This symmetrical level features a decent gameplay hook; I like the imps in the fireball shooter walls from Hexen. Once you get through the winding tunnels, you hit an open air area with shotgun guy / commando snipers on either side and a couple of projectile dudes behind the red key. Taking the snipers out is awkward but there's no good way to do it. The secret plasma rifle abolishes any pretense of difficulty, but will handily speed up the baron / dual cacodemon encounter.

MAP04Memento
A pretty cool level wrought from marble with some sinister red sigils carved out of the walls. The early lost soul ambush is a peak moment, driving the player far the fuck away from the conflux of screaming skulls. You'll eventually get to go back with a plasma gun and clear them out, if such is your wont. I also like the irregular marble maze that joins the octagon-styled hub and that white rock / ice tunnel room. The hallway of Commander Keen closets is a bit much, though. Cool stuff.

TNT BaronsMAP05
This is a pretty straightforward techbase map with a few huge traps full of shotgun guys that make up a large portion of the enemy count. There's a secret plasma rifle available near the opening that should make most of the fights a breeze and a secret BFG for the Cyberdemon fight, which also has an invul, a bunch of cells, and a megasphere. It's really hard to fuck this level up unless you get cut down by the zombies at the beginning. Apart from sheer carelessness, I guess. The winding hallway that turns into rows of zombie ambushers is a classic case of padding.

MAP06Burnett Mining Complex
Paul has some cool rooms to explore but most of this level is a big linear braid in the style of Hellish caverns. There is an early, easy BFG available to speedily deal with the Cyberdemon key guardian and which will expedite just about anything else that comes up except for maybe that pain elemental in the large southern room who might throw down a few lost souls before making it to you. Nothing too wild.

SuffocateMAP07
A "Dead Simple" clone with a tiny warm-up fight. As is the trend, there's a hidden BFG right at the opening, though I'm not sure what's supposed to clue you in to it being there. Not having it isn't a big deal since there are plenty of rockets, shells, and bullets with which to do your dirty work. I'm not sure what the purpose of the arachnotron tag is apart from the fact that it provides a slightly alternate exit route.

MAP08Porpoise
I'm not making a connection between the name and the level. This is a straightforward hodgepodge of brick and mortar and tech with a small enemy count, most of which will be taken out in the large fight to the north in what could be a potentially claustrophobic fight. There's plenty of plasma ammo for the gun, though, and it'll be even easier if you uncover the secret BFG. The hidden demon / specter chamber to the east is an odd but appreciated gesture. Dig the Innocent Crew stuff.

Gymea MentosMAP09
The freshmaker? Paul messes around with a wooden / gothic look mixed with water that's pretty decent. It's mostly combat shotgun action but there's a plasma gun to be had, which comes with a pretty intense fight... even if it's just crowd suppression until the arch-vile makes his way through. I like the battle in the room just west of the main hub, which has imps in a vined compartment, a cacodemon overlord, and a bunch imps plus a revenant and cacodemon on the ground floor. The northeastern area looks cool but the lack of monsters feels like a missed opportunity.

MAP10Facility
Another hodgepodge of tech and castle. The level's pretty tightly coiled and packed with enemies and secrets, like the ever-present BFGs and megaspheres as well as tons of ammo. The combat seems mostly weighted toward incidental encounters and zombimen, with the true star being the varied locales. One of the better rooms has the stained glass windows of the Serenity series. I like the inexplicable metal frames in the southern wing as well as the blue key room. The revenant ambush for the red key feels a bit cruel since your choice of weapons is pretty limited. I really dig the rusted out annex with the scrolling nukage alcoves.

Termite MoundMAP11
A short, cinematic level that sends you into the caves to retrieve the blue key, which will require the breakage of some equipment. Cool effects, actually. It's pedestrian combat shotgun action all the way. The BFG will be used to blast away at the corrupt core found behind the blue key door, which has a couple of hidden nasties guarding some unseen Keens.

MAP12Death Ship
A big spaceship with a lot of silver, kind of like Icarus. It barely conforms to any idea of a spaceship, though, since it's pretty flat and feels more like a techmaze than anything. There are a lot of zombies to ice and at least one decent teleport ambush, though the narrow passages turn it into a bit of a turkey shoot. The imp cage room in the map's center looks pretty cool. The ship consoles are deliciously lo-fi. The southern-central blue room is pretty interesting, but actually entering it with the zombies on the low ground is kind of dangerous.

D'Sparil's DomainMAP13
This slice of castle-themed level is pretty plain but the new textures add a layer of curiosity. Ammo is kind of tight at the onset, though an early secret will top out your health and armor and leave you with a handy BFG, which will be indispensable for some of the encounters, allowing you to quickly clear out stuff like the lost soul / shotgun guy tiers guarding the exit. Lots of rectangular rooms, but Paul has a cool thing going with the eastern fortress... though I think I see a hint of Dr. Sleep in there. The presence of pain elementals is a welcome dynamic. The Ethereal Travel portal is hilarious to me, though.

MAP14Hazard Base
Paul takes a strange turn into survival-style gameplay. There is comparatively little ammo in this techbase level, secret or otherwise, and while the presence of a few berserk rocks swings the odds in your favor, you'll need to put your Tyson gloves on if you want to kill everything crawling around, particularly that big lost soul / cacodemon ambush after returning with the blue key. The lack of a combat shotgun makes for pretty slow-paced action, but if you can tango with the arch-vile, you should be able to snag a BFG which you could use to go back and clear that outdoor area of gasbags and angry skulls if you left them alive.

Stardate InstituteMAP15
A large tech level with a few ugly instances of horrid design concepts. Well, mainly I'm talking about the long tech corridors that line most of the level in a big horseshoe pattern. I guess, with the lobby-like areas, it's supposed to hammer in the idea of the "Institute". They're populated with single-file shotgun guys, which are neither difficult nor delightful to take out. The rest of the map is decently entertaining, though. I dig the abstract STARTAN labyrinth to the west and the strange furnace section to the southeast. I'm not sure exactly which buttons open up the switch that grants access to the secret exit teleporter, but it's a bit more obvious than some of the others.

MAP31Morass
Rarely has a level title been so appropriate. This is an enormous maze rendered (mostly) in red brick, separated into wings locked behind key doors, so you can't get too terribly bogged down. It's still absolutely mazetacular, and the appearance of the Needlegun turns this into a pretty perfunctory outing, full of perforations. I'll grant that there's one good fight, the cacodemon / pain elemental clusterfuck tucked away in the southwest corner, but the only silver lining to this level is that Paul did not mess with the automap.

Meorhanal 4 YulMAP32
Uh, yup! A strange level that involves BFG blasting a handful of barons before a tense, weird encounter with a Cyberdemon in the void, ending with a normal-looking final room... except for the box graphic for Super Mario World 2. I guess you don't actually have to kill Cybie, which is a plus since he blinks back and forth between two different locations, which might cause you to blow all your cells.

MAP16Subspace
This level is a sort of ice-bound ruin that bodes more for atmosphere than action what with all the ambient noises. Actually, there's a really big battle on grabbing the red key, but you'll need something like the plasma gun ready in order to carve a quick path out of the clusterfuck. The Hexen fireball spitters make another appearance, this time staffed with mancubuses, but they won't get much of a chance to shine unless you're unconcerned with disarming the traps. There are a few other surprises, but nothing major. I do like the lost souls in the blue key cavern.

SpacelabMAP17
Another mostly nondescript space level, though this one is a station. I dig the computer room opposite the starting room and the walkway to the docked ship is pretty cool. The combat is alright, though the winding hallway of Hell knights and barons is about as boring as you might imagine. It's a bit of order of operations since taking the opposite side drops you into a mosh pit of demons and cacodemons you'll be lucky to escape; they're much easier when handled from the observation ring accessed via the grind. I like the initial fight in the eastern annex.

MAP18The Gypsy
Some kind of weird tech dungeon hybrid, though to be fair most of the "tech" comes from computer panels mounted into the walls. It's a pretty cool map that marks the debut of the "Baby Cyberdemon Marine", though your first encounter with it comes complete with an invul sphere, so you don't really get a chance to appreciate what it can do. There are a few decent sights to be found, like the crenelated castle walls and the open cavern that leads to the southeastern wing. No real standout fights for me.

Disaster AreaMAP19
Another hodgepodge of tech and castle. The Hellish segments feel more prominent, but it's still a mishmash. Paul puts the action up front and center with the opening fight, pinning you down with a cacodemon and two arch-viles approaching from either side of the stairwell. Of course, the solution is pretty simple - a hidden invul behind you - but you're more than capable of sorting out the ambush without it. I like some of the other fights, like the cacodemon circle to the north, but Paul uses the sequential Hell knight / baron / arch-vile gimmick again, which draws it away from being DoomCute, and the snake mazes coupled with zombie reveals are getting to be a bit much. Still some cool rooms, though.

MAP20Corcous
Basically the same concept as "Termite Mound", with atmospheric action leading the way to a shootout with a not-boss shooter. The opening is made a little annoying by the "predator" fliers, but there aren't that many, and the level is practically gloaming with ammo. Go ahead and blow the BFG on those stupid Hell knights. Opening up the exit gate will be the trickiest point since the Keen caches are pretty much buried at an angle. Assault them from the furthest point...

Processing LabsMAP21
Paul's symmetric level design strikes in the worst way. Populating the hallways with shotgun guys doesn't make matters any better. If it's any consolation, the arch-vile in the northern area - which also involves a specter / demon ambush - is a decent fight. Unfortunately, you'll have to return to the center of the level, keys in hand, to remotely open the east and west doors.

MAP22Despair
This time, pcorf targets claustrophobic, survival-style gameplay in this forgotten ruin. If you want to slay everything, you'll need to make good use of your fists, because the shotgun and chaingun must be saved for your more distant enemies. The author cribs the "Last Call" telefrag maze for the red key puzzle, exacerbated by three cacodemons guarding the key and two pairs of revenant / Hell knight snipers. The northern cavern complex is a much more manageable experience, since it's mostly imps and demons. You'll still have to Sailor your way through a few revenants, given the proximity.

Who Stole the HealthMAP23
This bit of techbase contains - among other things - an obvious homage to Evilution's "Wormhole" and the original Doom's "Computer Station". The gameplay is a little claustrophobic at first, and Paul kind of delivers on the lack-of-health gimmick, but for several berserk rocks. There are still a plethora of weapons to find, though, which will quickly swing the tide toward your favor. About the most danger you'll encounter is the pistol start, which forces you to push into a crowd of imps to get a healthy number of shells with which to oust them. And maybe the couple of cacodemons that shows up in the E1M7 homage.

MAP24The Abyss
A pretty neat marble keep level with a finale through a network of Hellish caverns. The baby Cyberdemon trooper finally gets a chance to shine... But he's basically just a really mobile Spiderdemon with less health. Not that it's any easier to kill him with the plasma gun you get. There are some plentiful arch-viles to be had, and while there are two stuffed in the exit room - potentially blocked off with a silent crusher door you squeezed through - the same obstacle can be easily turned against them for a handy victory. The Hell caves are more or less shotgun autopilot. The lack of a combat shotgun or rocket launcher leave the non-plasma gun sections feeling pretty slow. Also, not sure what's up with the little Johnny Boy shrine, unless it's for an obscure shortcut out of the map.

Amy's KeepMAP25
Who the heck is Amy and why does she get her own fortress? Paul throws a few twists into this symmetric castle, but once you get past the swinging doors and the breaking glass, it's pretty perfunctory. There's another mini-Cyb, plus a battle with a normal Cyb as a gate guardian. Both fights pretty much push invul spheres at you in easy to find secrets, which combined with the BFG are pretty convenient for speed runners but not so thrilling for regular play. I do like the mini-Cyb annex.

MAP26Den of Insanity
Okay, this will grate on the nerves of some, but Paul plays with some pretty decent gimmicks. The nastiest part will be the ammo balance, which is horrible until you find the secret Romero / TNT shrine, which is right at the level's end. The opening has a pretty cool descent that sends you into a lava maze which has some necessary goodies and rad suits. I'm not really fond of the switch maze for the blue key, and the arch-vile / Cyberdemon fight is a weird setup, but the insanity of the caged imps / revenants and released lost souls is peak madness, fighting your way from rocket box to rocket box in a desperate attempt to stay alive. I liked it.

Place of ReckoningMAP27
A pretty solid map. The ammo flows freely, more or less, and most of the action is confined to a series of large rooms that turn into proper brawls, starting off with an imp / lost soul carnival and quickly spinning into a mass of demons with corner mancubuses. It's really easy to get hemmed in on the latter, but there are several escape routes you can fight toward, one of which houses a needlesaw. I'm not as fond of the zig-zag canyon area since there's no easy way to clear the imps (like a single shotgun), and the dual Cyberdemon battle in the western area is basically a plasma gun plus invul fight. Still, a fun little outing.

MAP28Unholy
Kind of an infernal castle level. The secrets, including a combat shotgun, a plasma gun, two megaspheres, and a BFG, are really handy grabs. The opening fight is the nastiest as the handful of cacodemons roaming about in the central hall are worthy opponents given your restricted armaments. Nothing else really compares, but I bet it's a pain in the ass if you couldn't find any of the goodies. I guess the eight chaingunner salute in the western section could get pretty dicey. The large outdoor area to the east feels underutilized; it's got two mancubuses and a baron on what is likely to be your first visit, and then the big finale is just a horde of lowly zombimen.

Caverns of DarknessMAP29
In the penultimate level, Paul chooses "Baron's Den" as his TNT spirit animal. The big lava bridge buildup is actually a neat gimmick, but the secret rocket launcher at the beginning is required reading if you want to take those little windows to Hell out with any sort of comfort. The big cavern to the east is a memorable moment, if not exactly thrilling in terms of combat. The finale is where pcorf's TNT fetish comes to the forefront, with a cadre of arachnotrons storming through the toothed marble pillar door thing. It's probably one of the least dangerous fights of the map, though.

MAP30Jon's Arena
A big square arena with a monster drip feed after you kill the four Keens. This time, it goes Hell knight to baron to two (!) cacodemons to a memorable shootout with a mini-Cyb. It's still easy to corner hump him to death, but there is no invul to back you up. The final switch reveals Johnny Boy and his imp guardians. He's actually just a boss brain with way more health, but his floating, MSPaint ass has way more charisma than Romero's severed head. Just dump whatever you got into him and try to avoid a sloppy death.

THE PLACE IS A MADHOUSE, FEELS LIKE BEING CLONED

5 comments:

  1. There are still some 2015 wads that you didn't get around to yet (and thus were not considered for Cacos):

    Monument
    NOVA2
    2048 Unleashed (PCCP2)

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  2. Do you still plan on reviewing newer releases? I'm just surprises at how many old wads in a row have been put up, plus the Itinerary is gone, almost makes me fearful of some type of 'shutting down' going on behind the scenes. I hope I'm wrong because this has become a great blog!

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  3. The only wad where you play as an interdimensional bagpiper/warrior traveling from space stations to castles in an effort to stop a little boy's ambitions to rule the Universe.

    ...that might just be my interpretation though

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    Replies
    1. that's pretty spot on, i think. well, i dunno about the bagpipes, but why not?

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    2. Heh yeah, the bagpipe thing sorta popped in the head after hearing all those bagpipe solos in the midi music =P

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