Monday, February 22, 2016

The Void of Hell (HVOID.WAD)

zrrion has built up something of a reputation as a minor GZDoom sensation. Here he is, just starting out, with this little minisode for Doom II titled The Void of Hell, released in 2012. Apparently, this set owes its existence to ZPack; or, rather, ZPack's failure to embody the sort of black Hell of zrrion's own imagination. Embracing the principles of DIY, he decided to render his nightmare in his own image. The Void of Hell is actually pretty short as far as map packs go, consisting of two normal levels, a boss map, and a silly secret that involves, among other things, a Dalek. It also has its own story.

It's pretty bleak. During Hell's assault on humanity, one of your fellow troops killed your commanding officer. Unfortunately, all signs must have pointed to you, because you're the one who was tried, convicted, and sentenced to isolation on a demon-ridden planet. While you manged to survive the depredations of the Hellspawn, you can't survive the needs of your biology and quickly succumbed to dehydration. After escaping your cage of flesh, the monsters took your defiant soul and sent it to the "void of Hell". which you seek to escape. You couldn't know that you'd be able to count on an unlikely ally...

So, a quick disclaimer. The Void of Hell relies on some sort of health regen mechanic, with pretty much zero actual health pickups. I didn't do as close a reading of the .TXT as I should have, so this feature was not known to me until I had finished the thing, and I didn't realize it because the mechanic broke somewhere between the beginning of MAP01 and my trip to the secret level. I still managed to make it through MAP02, admittedly with quite a bit of save scumming, but I don't know how it broke or why. So, uh, fair warning in case you find it happening to you. I don't think that I did anything untoward, but you never know.

zrrion has made some changes to the core weapons. The "old shotgun" replaces the pistol and is pretty useful, having a tight grouping, though it does have a reload animation. The pulse nailgun replaces the rocket launcher and is great for sniping with a more dps-oriented secondary fire that shoots at a slightly slower rate but in a burst of multiple nails. The BFG becomes the plasma disruptor cannon, shooting a ripper projectile that explodes like a rocket when it hits a wall. You won't be able to use the last against anything but bosses unless you bring it over from the secret level, "Extermination!"

The Void of Hell also has a bunch of the Realm 667 regulars, like the blood fiend, flesh wizard, shadow, smoke monster, vulgar, and the mighty gatekeeper, plus other strangeness. There's the dire, for instance, an electrically-charged spellcaster that resurrects the unclean. You'll also see several strange varieties of cacodemons, some of which are upside-down (and sometimes invisible), while at least one other drips magma. There's also an odd pain elemental variant, the Mentallic, that breaks up into teleporting lost souls called dream creepers. Whatever Mentallic is supposed to do, well, you can lock him down with the nailgun alone. I'd be more concerned about his offspring. Pretty much all of the regulars have an alternate recolor that's better-aligned with zrrion's black Hell aesthetic, so you don't have to panic in spite of the usual trepidation felt when confronting recolored monsters when Realm667 is credited.

zrrion's gameplay is okay, recognizing that my health regen foibles were not intended. Most of the open areas you'll find are the source of some sort of miniboss showdown, the last one being a classic Cyberdemon fight. The in-between sections are pretty straightforward, with the occasional bout of backtracking to well-marked key doors. You can also expect a healthy number of snipers and to fire back in kind, particularly in the main scenic area of MAP02. It's not the most nuanced series of firefights, but I don't expect much when butting heads against the repository's Beastiary. zrrion still manages to crank out a few surprises, though.

My biggest complaints are essentially polishing issues. Clearly, there are aspects of The Void of Hell that are meant to be accessed by jumping. I mean, I think you can play through the mapset without jumping, but some of the secrets and goodies definitely require some mountain goating. And that's fine, except you can get stuck by jumping in some of the wrong locations, like behind the boxes opposite the secret exit, or stepping off the secret ledge in MAP01 and onto the scenery. One of the visual cheats that makes the tunnels of MAP02 look more cavernous crumbles under the scrutiny of a close, personal tour. It's easy to handwave this stuff away as unimportant with the dead-ends avoidable via saving / reloading, but when the rest of the execution is fairly slick, it makes these hiccups all the more jarring.

The Void of Hell has an interesting setting and some pretty cool mechanics. It's an especially nice detour for those loving Doom's more fantastic settings but less enamored of traditional fire and brimstone Inferno. Certainly, it marks the beginning of a promising career for one of those rare, GZDoom WADsmiths.

by "zrrion the insect"

Your intro to this bleak corner of Hell, a weaving of the abyss and the void with some caverns as well. You get used to the power of the shotgun pretty quickly and between it and the combat shotgun you'll be able to do a lot of heavy lifting. There are some decent fights; I particularly like the battle with the wizard (the "Dire"), interesting seeing something cribbing the arch-vile's resurrect without the hot instant death. The smoke monster will probably get you once, but the supplied plasma rifle is more than adequate at arresting its attacks. It's interesting that the structured sections of zrrion's nightmare are so orthogonal, but it's a nice contrast against the more naturalistic caverns that make up the level's eastern side. The secret exit is accessed by a chain of switches, the first of which is a bitch to find. If you find it early, though, the rest of it should come naturally. Climbing the rocks to get to the chainsaw secret seems impossible, and it's possible to get stuck if you try to explore the speed boost secret, or leap in several other portions like the alcove opposite the secret exit's. Be careful; save often.

A very silly bonus level that starts out with three waves of shadows that decrease in power at an exponential rate and then your showdown with your unholy overseer, the infernally-aligned Dalek. The Dalek isn't a very interesting opponent, though his disruptor ray is tough to avoid while circle-strafing unless giving him a wide berth. Your reward for sticking it out is your slot 7 weapon, the void disruptor cannon, which isn't tremendously overpowered but has its niche.

Burn With MeMAP02
If the regen bug bit you, you're going to have a bad time. Outside of a berserk pack early on in the level, there is zero health to be found. You'll have more armor than you know what to do with, though. There's some pretty cool scenery going on in this level, like the shards of ice platforms that leads to the strange blue elemental fight to the northeast, or the enormous catwalks than span the Hellish cistern to the west. The nailgun is the supreme weapon for most of this since it's pretty good at sniping just about anything, but the combat shotgun is still great for those skirmishing moments, like the one arch-vile fight. The finale is a pretty humdrum Cyberdemon shootout in a neat-looking void chapel thing that, now that I think about it, bears a strong resemblance to MAP04.

MAP03Demon's Gate
Your showdown with the gatekeeper. It's a good thing that the level isn't flat, or you'd have a pretty easy time just mowing him down with the disruptor. The open area makes avoiding his counterattack spikes pretty simple; the main danger is in falling off a ledge and eating some splash damage from your plasma-fueled rocket launcher or finding yourself disoriented and finding a way back to higher ground. The arena looks nice enough, and if you know about the squirreled-away disruptor, you could do this from pistol start, not that it really matters.


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