Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Beginning of the End (Part 2) (END2.WAD)

Emil Brundage, who goes by NaturalTvventy nowadays, published Part 1 of The Beginning of the End back in 1997. The following year, he finished the follow-up, which - of course - goes by The Beginning of the End (Part 2). Since we never saw a Part 3, I suppose that this is the finale of the series, more analogous to the original Doom than the Ultimate version. This release also forgoes vanilla compatibility, more for savegame reasons than anything, judging by the .TXT. The official port of END2 is Boom, which puts this right at the time when the port was being introduced. It's also more inscrutable than its forebear, which at least had map titles. The new sky enforces a strong sense of place, though, and that location is... some kind of starry galaxy.

Brundage shows a lot of maturation as an author, though I kind of miss the gimmicks that gave END1's maps such strong identities. They're not gone, though; they just don't make up the majority of the level's identity, instead appearing as individual set pieces, with the exception of E3M8 and E3M9, of course. The occasional sojourns to the place beyond all infinities and the Quake-ish end of level teleporters are also a great way to bind the levels together. The overall aesthetic is about as wild as Part 1, but - and I don't know why - the galactic backdrop really makes things click in a way that feels more restrained.

This mapset is also a fair bit harder, minus the bits of total crowd frenzy that drug down a few of END1's levels. It kind of picks up where E2M7 left off, but with a brand new emphasis on death labyrinths as smaller castles within the level, not that they're necessarily trappy, but they're really cramped and force an acute level of spatial awareness that when coupled with a sometimes precarious balance of health leads to a lot of strain on your survival skills. Of course, there are plenty of wide-open spaces. They're just usually staffed with horrible things like Cyberdemon watchdogs (and Spiderdemons in E3M4) that you won't be killing anytime soon.

There are a lot of cool sights to see, like some fantastic lightcasting (especially in E3M7), but my favorite level is E3M6, which is split by an enormous gorge that you'll have to cross, one way or another. E3M7 feels more like a kitchen sink map, having most of what Brundage has thrown at you so far and then some. E3M3 is a study in the deathtrap dungeon phenomenon I mentioned earlier, and you're not any better for having escaped due to the mobile rocket turrets patrolling the perimeter. All of the levels are tied together by what I'd call harsh but fair pistol starts, including the hornet's nest that is E3M1.

END2 is pretty cool. I like where Emil was taking things, and I'm stoked to be able to see how he's grown between 1998 and his contributions to Doom the Way id Did: The Lost Episodes and No End in Sight. If you want a Doom episode that doesn't just rearrange the chairs on the well-established cruise ships of Phobos, Deimos, Inferno, and E4, you won't do much better than this.

by Emil "NaturalTvventy" Brundage

A brutal opener. Emil's setting feels more deliberate in its metal and marble trappings but the starry night sky carves out a distinct niche that's less E4 and more, I dunno, Dr. Sleep. The opening pits you and a berserk pack against a bunch of imps in cramped quarters, shotgun guys firing down from on high, and a potentially capricious RNG. I suggest you find the nearby secret chaingun, sniping out the zombies, and then get down to business. The secret soul sphere is a great reset button. The E4M1 vibe continues with a bunch of nasty baron encounters, but there's a subtle secret rocket launcher that should make it go by a bit smoother. I didn't find it on my first exit, though.

Fierce. This is an underground death labyrinth / obstacle course filled with barrels, barons, and even a Cyberdemon. The start doesn't have any important secrets - in fact, there really aren't any in the entire map - but you might have to quickly pop some barrels to clear out most of the rocket launcher room and then do some very fancy footwork to ice the baron, claiming your first safe spot. Another memorable moment involves a berserk-fueled rampage through a 64-wide lava tunnel where you have to move fast or get cooked. The eastern area, with the soul band, has a pretty memorable aesthetic, though the main fight you're going to get out of it is a Cyberdemon who is easily handled with the BFG you got from the infernal tunnel. Cool abstract map.

Some kind of earthen, infernal keep in a crater, surrounded by a moat. This is a very dense and very cramped level with some slaughter-ish gameplay, mostly centered around breaking into the orthogonal concrete area that dominates the keep's center. There are a lot of monsters running around, including shotgun snipers in the alcoves, and when coupled with the surprise Spiderdemon things get a little tense since your BFG ammo isn't exactly unlimited. Once you've cleared it, you can move on to the inner ring, a fairly uninteresting loop filled with Doom trash monsters that you have to clear in order to reach the outer ring, where you access the last portions of the keep. The outer area is locked down by two Cyberdemons and some other stuff that makes hanging out dangerous, so be on the lookout. I dig the waterfall effect.

An interesting level that jumps through a variety of themes, the most memorable in my mind being the invul shrine that warps you to an encounter in the void with a Cyberdemon guarding his own little temple. There are a lot of not-secrets that are essential to a smooth start, like the little shotgun alcove that lets you handle that initial wave of imps. The plasma rifle not-secret in the hall of fire is a little obscure. I dig the baron pop-ups in the hallway that wraps around the rocket launcher room. The cherry red platforms add some oomph. The final area is a big outdoor section with three Spiderdemons and, later, a Cyberdemon. You can get them to ice each other pretty easily; just be mindful of the spectres.

Another dark, complex fortress. The opening has a bit of "Containment Area" panic since the monsters are so dense and you are lacking for weapons. There's a shotgun nook tucked away somewhere, though, and if you're on your secret sniffing game, you'll be able to grab the chaingun, rocket launcher, and BFG (!) in short order. This is one of the more trappy levels, the north wing including a crusher gauntlet (albeit bypassed by the RL secret) and a Cyberdemon hazard that you'll have to come back to kill, once the invul / soul sphere combo is open. The concrete tech behind the red key doors houses some potentially nasty teleport ambushes that are heavy with baron flesh, but you'll have to shut down the force fields to trigger them. The outer area is, unsurprisingly, staffed by a few big bads, but the Cyberdemon surprise comes as a bit of a shock. The long cavern crawl to the exit doesn't compare as far as thrills go, but it's a nice bit of constant action that builds to a cloud of cacodemons you'll have to deflate.

The cramped ambushes are there, but E3M6 has a decidedly different feel. The main setpiece of this level is a long, winding canyon, with a shattered bridge you'll have to rebuild to access the red key and some side areas. It's got an exploration feel with a couple of deathtrap labyrinths in the starting area and the far west. In fact, starting the level is just about one of the nastiest fights, since hanging outside with the shotgun guys and spectres isn't very appealing and finding out the best route for the interior may take some trial and error. Chaingun in hand and barrels exploded, though, you can start to make a stand and unravel the secrets of the gorge. The westernmost keep is pretty murderous as far as traps go, including some corpses that turn into living zombies, and there's a sequence with barons in the dark that you'll want some light amp goggles for, or may the invul sphere. Emil says that you have one chance to get to the secret exit; that's because it requires an invul-fueled series of precision rocket jumps, and there's only one powerup that's close by. I used one by the Cyberdemon / imp melee after realizing I'd blown it, and it lasted long enough to get me through the first couple, leaving me with about 10% health on touching down on the final tier. Thankfully there's a soulsphere, because you're put between a rock and a hard place. Hope you brought the BFG and some cells!

A short level whose layout is based on one of several symbols I've seen recurring in the END series, specifically in END1's E1M7. The setup is mostly roaming zombies, which will do a decent job enough of turning you into swiss cheese, coupled with a couple of Cyberdemons that start out in the center and then teleport around. I mean, the zombies do the same exact thing, but it's more of a devil trying to track down the Cybs. There is more than enough plasma rifle for the job, though, and the couple of fights you trigger to raise the candles to the exit (a neat effect) aren't as engrossing.

A massive, torturous level, a tale of two keeps on the coast of infinity. Both of the fortresses are deathtrap dungeons, full of cramped battles and low on health and, initially, ammo. It takes awhile to build up enough steam to start feeling cocksure. You start out in a veritable hornet's nest and things don't get much better on escaping to the outside when you realize that there's one Cyberdemon on the periphery and another stomping around on the grounds. I have a feeling that part of my difficulty might be due to ducking out of the southern nukage area and going north, to the pillar / BFG puzzle, where I wound up punching a couple of barons to death. The southwest building is a bit more straightforward, given that you'll have all of the major armaments by the time you have all three keys, and it's got loads of cool light casting and a bizarre slice of pandemonium in its southeast corner. Every secret goes a long way, not that the early automap will clue you in any of them beyond the little cell duct. Exhausting and freewheeling... But very cool.

The ultimate showdown in the void. Emil sets you up with the BFG, but it's an empty gesture since the atrium and each of the five Spiderdemon wings is backed by voodoo dolls. Fucking up on your positioning will result in quick and nasty death by voodoo and the intermittent Cyberdemons turn into frenzied tight dodging and BFG spam since one wrong move equals voodoo doll meet rocket. It's the kind of encounter you would hate to see at the end of a super long map, but distilled to its essence, it's pretty cool, if totally diabolical. "Watch where you're shootin!" indeed.


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