Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Last Sanctuary (TLS.WAD)

by "cybermind"

The Russian Doom Community never fails to amaze. It's not that they have fun events like the First-try Demo Contest (FDC), but the fact that they manage to secure fantastically memorable maps as FDA fodder. I still remember the labyrinthine, action-packed techbase of 2013 - Archi and C4tnt's Fuel Devourer. This time, it's Cybermind's chance to shine, an author I only know through his contributions to Whitemare and Whitemare 2. This particular item, released in 2015, is The Last Sanctuary, one bigass MAP01 replacement for MBF-compatible ports.

As one might expect, there isn't any story to go along with the map, but there's an implied narrative that you'll pick up as you explore. Doomguy arrives via an underground tram to some sort of abandoned UAC installation which isn't the eponymous Last Sanctuary, points the way as a sort of guard post / distribution center / industrial complex that's connected via an enormous valley and some railways you're blocked from exploring to the entryway of your final objective. The gate is locked with a six digit code, though, and the red keycard is nowhere to be found. Could it be that the demons have it secreted away? You'll have to track it down to a massive underground ruin that your peers managed to unearth and in fact invade before being slaughtered themselves. Looks like you're the last marine. Again.

The Last Sanctuary is an enormous level, and while it's easy to divide it into three separate segments, doing so doesn't do the full scope of your task any justice. As mentioned, there's the opening tech complex that you arrive in and fight your way through, eventually exiting the enormous blast doors and spilling out into a vast, naturalistic landscape, a canyon / badlands hybrid with copious amounts of mountain goating to be had if you want to snag all the secrets and slay all of the nasties perched on its walls in as expedient a fashion as possible. By way of a man-made mineshaft, you'll find the local outpost of Hell, though it's more like an enormous fortress built within a wide column of earth and surrounded on most of its sides by molten lava.

The primary challenge of this level is in "exposure", leaving the player squared up against monsters that are difficult to attack but offer a significant level of threat, be they commandos, revenants, or arch-viles. This style of play is exemplified in the various portions of the canyon complex, but exist in one way or another in the other areas. If you're gritting your teeth while you're moving forward, it's usually not because of any suspense but because you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. It can be devilishly annoying, particularly with those chaingunner snipers, and I'm not sure what I would suggest for monster placement given that the geometry of the canyon doesn't really lend itself to anything other than a fairly standard canyon crawl. You already have to deal with a massive aerial invasion the moment you open up the blast door.

The outpost of Hell to the east is a level unto itself, with surprises like lost soul pockets coming from the edge of the cavern and invading through the various collapsed walls and several elevators that allow you access to four different tiers of height to further confound confused explorers. You'll also see Cybermind at his least subtle, with traps that teleport revenants directly on top of you and the red skull key battle, the largest pitched fight of the map complete with a Cyberdemon overseer, a rogue's gallery of revenants, and a commando sandwich to start things off. Even if you make it through, the slice of ruinous tunnel to the north offers your last major challenge as you avoid arch-vile fire while keeping track of pain elementals and other sundry delights.

So! While I think that the combat is a bit of a mixed bag that sometimes distracts from the things that make adventure maps fun, that's on Ultra-Violence, a difficulty you don't have to play, and giving up would be missing out on some outstanding innovation. I don't know if these are things peculiar to MBF, since that's the author's target port, but the fact that it isn't done via ZDoom scripting is fascinating. The biggest, must-see thing is the canyon area, which undergoes a relatively rapid day / night cycle that changes both the sky and the exterior light levels and adds quite a bit to the atmosphere. You'll also see several closets marked with a "SHIELDING" label; standing on the pads of these installations will gradually increment your armor one percentage point at a time and appears to be virtually unlimited, which won't be necessary to any speedrunner worth his or her salt but will prove invaluable - if tedious - to less apt players.

I must also express fascination with the six-number code to the gate, bringing to mind now ancient moments like the bank vault of Jim Flynn's "Beginner's End". The presentation is flawless and the solution completely obvious once you access it... which, I guess, makes punching in the code a superfluous exercise, but I always enjoy the odd bit of faux-interaction a la Duke 3D in Doom. One thing I'll point out - the author has included some ambient noises that play around the waterfall and the lava in the Hell annex, but they didn't play nice in my two-year old build of ZDoom. Make sure you're using a recent rev lest you be puzzled by vagaries like the sounds of groaning demons by the water or exploding arachnotrons in the lava.

The Last Sanctuary more or less succeeds with its narrative. I'm still intrigued in what exactly is going on; is the title some last bastion of humanity that Doomguy is fighting to, or the last pocket of Hellish resistance that the UAC has unearthed? Given the super secure teleporter with dead technician, I'm leaning toward the former, with the current situation the result of a cautious probe of the immediate locale unearthing a hive of Hellspawn, but the lack of any direction leaves most of the details within the realm of imagination. And, hey, that's cool. I think that Doom's most effective narratives are told as they are found.

Cybermind has made a pretty cool adventure map. The sniper placement is a bit more grueling than I'd like, but you can always dial that down, and it's worth seeing for some of the crazy MBF stuff you rarely get to see since the emphasis has been and might always be on the Boom-plus standard. Go ahead and begin your journey for The Last Sanctuary.



  1. runs like shit with brutal doom, but so does every wad worthy of playing...

    1. I never saw much point in brutal doom, especially since most .wads are not meant to played with BD, or are impossible to play/beat with BD...

      Try the later sunlust levels with brutal doom... You'll see what I mean...

    2. Probably because Brutal Doom is a bloated resource hog of a mod, running on an engine that's already poorly optimized, anything that's even remotely detailed or features any larger count of monsters, is gonna run like molasses.

      And the point with Brutal Doom would be to make it a different kind of game, different gameplay, graphics, etc. It's just fun to play through a nice campaign with a gameplay mod that feels fitting.

      That said, I think Brutal Doom is pretty overrated, and there's many mods that do what it does better, without bloat, spaghetti code, or the berserk fatalities (the novelty of that wears off fast).

    3. I'd also say that Sunlust is a mapset with a much higher difficulty than your average mapset or original maps, naturally it's going to be a poor fit for something like Brutal Doom, which aims to make for a more modern gameplay but with more aggressive and difficult monsters.

      Sunlust also features a whole lot of monsters at a time if I recall right, so that'd be a poor combo, making for a lot of slowdown and drop of framerate.

    4. nah brutal doom is good stop being such a whiny purist it runs just fine if you dont have a potato pc and makes the game fun as for the map just meh shit secrets too many shit enemies encounters that try and be hard the ending part was pretty good tho