Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Plutocracy (PLUTCY.WAD)

by Franck "franckFRAG" Livolant

franckFRAG has made a bit of a name for himself as a purveyor of levels that seem composed almost entirely of death starts, mostly in his Swift Death, where every map begins in a bad situation that only seems to get worse as you poke your head around looking for some sort of foothold. Plutocracy is sort of a logical offshoot of this action brand, a MAP28 replacement released in 2015 to be played with The Plutonia Experiment (naturally). Like most of Franck's work, it doesn't come with any sort of story, but you're free to insert it anywhere in your personal Doom chronology. I think it fits in pretty well with the spirit of Swift Death, if not in its entire execution, but historical sticklers may note that it started out as a Plutinya 1024 map before quickly overgrowing its bounds.

The core of this level is a treacherous murderbrawl rendered in a sort of Plutonia aesthetic, with stationed arch-viles, revenants, and hitscanners locking down the outdoor area. Unlike some of Swift Death's later areas, there's a pretty obvious path of least resistance to that southern staircase leading out of the toxic tunnel. From here, with a dash of sniping, the world is your oyster. The most important pickup is the rocket launcher that the arachnotron is squatting on, which you can use to oust the revenants and arch-viles centered around the combat shotgun and make your life much simpler.

Once you've cracked the nut of the opening area, the action and pacing becomes much more traditional. Speaking of which, while I'm sure their may be other homages crammed in here, the only one I recognize outright is the pillar bit in the room to the west, clearly borrowing from "The Omen", though there's a substantial surprise waiting for you when you use the lifts / pillars to access the upper ridge. The area behind the red key doors has a few nasty claustrophobic traps, but the fight that takes the cake is the BFG blitz, a complete clusterfuck of arch-viles and revenants if you do it the fast way. There's more than enough ammo to get the job done; the problem is avoiding that initial fire blast until you can get to work. I suppose that it's possible to do it slow and steady, releasing each row individually... but frantically throwing out BFG blasts is so fun!

All of this is leading to a rock and a hard place scenario in the valley to the north. It's initially staffed by some non-threatening imps with a cadre of revenants guarding the gate. Not too bad. Then you get too close to the gate and unleash a horde of barons and Hell knights that are initially backed by a Cyberdemon who will generally teleport into an alcove that opens behind you. Now, there's no way you've managed to blow all your cells by the time you reach here, so most seasoned vets won't have any problem dispatching the Cyberdemon and then returning to deal with the wave of Hell nobles. Good thing Franck was kind enough to offer a handful of cacos invading from the north as a spoiler along with the last damn arch-vile.

Plutocracy's themes reflect its development history. The core area is dead-on for the sort of patchwork texturing that exemplifies franckFRAG's speedmaps and looks to roughly fit the 1024 x 1024 grid. Conversely, the sections that Livolant has tacked on feel consistent unto themselves and feature more... deliberate, for lack of a better term, encounter design. The resultant pacing is sort of unbalanced, beginning with an intense opening that eventually gives way to a traditional rhythm of incidental beasties with the author injecting the occasional sharp shock whenever you make a strong movement.

It's a pretty fun map that feels like it's got a little something from all of Franck's styles. Plutocracy kind of delivers on the Plutonia front, but you've got to make it past the Swift Death / 1024 in order to really get there, which will likely turn off some players. I'd say that it's a must-play for anyone who's enjoyed Livolant's work, and if you have, you know what you're getting into.


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