Friday, April 29, 2016

Phobos Mission Control (E1M4B.WAD)

by John Romero

The man with the blood on his hands is back again. Romero released his first Doom map in, like, nineteen years with Tech Gone Bad. Just as that one was an E1M8 replacement, Phobos Mission Control - John's newest publication - slots into E1M4. And, like E1M8B, it requires some kind of limit-removing port to run. As Romero points out, E1M4 was built on top of a framework supplied by Doom co-conspirator Tom Hall; E1M4B completes the clean sweep, giving his fans something they'd (probably) always wanted, an entire episode of Phobos-themed Doom maps. I can only hope that his Kickstarter campaign for BLACKROOM continues to yield such dusky jewels.

Phobos Mission Control takes place between "Toxin Refinery" and "Phobos Lab" and offers just a little more motivation for the lowly Doom marine. Apparently, you won't be able to get access to the lab without using the computers at Mission Control, which are currently processing data from all the study of the anomaly. Unfortunately, since it's the computers from Mission Control, they also access a bunch of other stuff in the complex. Normally, we'd take that to mean sensible stuff like doors and security cameras and not, you know, the basic firmament of the installation. But, well, that's what happens when you're dealing with an industrial complex designed by the corporate equivalent of Bloody Stupid Johnson.

The end product bears little if any resemblance to the Hall / Romero joint of 1993. It is an intricate, jumbled beast of tiered playing areas and hallways that gradually opens into one huge playground by the time you open the exit. Monster closets have been carefully seeded and open as you progress, sometimes after uncovering precious secrets. The computer area to the southwest is rife with sector machinery, including ambush lifts built into the walls and segments of the floors that rise as you walk the tops of the banks of the UAC's supercomputer. Some of the station's pathways are built precariously around the edges of nukage pits, with disturbing fissures eaten into the settling ponds.

It's rollicking chaos, and while you're never quite sure of the next time Romero is going to pull the curtain back, the restraint of Phobos monsters means that the biggest threat apart from shotgun guy attrition is simply being mobbed, which isn't very likely. There's one big teleport ambush in the computer area, but the volume of monsters stands firmly on the side of fun rather than frustration, and the constant drip feed through all those monster closets means that you're usually on the lookout for something, and that something is usually on that upper walkway, a great vantage point for hitscanners and imps that you just plum forget about until that fireball smacks the back of your head. I can't say that there were any real stand-out fights, but a rollercoaster like this level hardly needs any.

The level unfolding is a very cool gimmick, and Romero performs it with his own particular flourish. Phobos Mission Control has no keys; instead, the switches that resolve level progression are coded by numbers emblazoned on the floor with sector lighting, and the places they effect are similarly marked, just so there's no ambiguity as to where you should be looking after pulling the lever. Once everything has fallen into place, the map feels fairly abstract, like Mission Control is a building with a mind of its own and no interest in the sensible activities of a UAC marine. John's given it a nice, clean look, though, with distinct areas including the computer nightmare / obstacle course with drop-down surprise monsters and a fun secret sequence.

When I heard that Romero had made another level, I wasn't thinking it would be something like E1M4B! But, well, I would have to be insane to think that he would sit around and rehash the things he tried back in 1993. Instead, we are fortunate to have another Doom author back in the fold with a career's worth of experience under his belt, and the longer he plays around with a Doom editor, the better. Thanks, John!



  1. The entire review is on the blog front page, is that intentional?

  2. Just played this recently. He's certainly still got it.
    I hope his upcoming demo for Blackroom looks good fingers crossed.

  3. This doesn't really feel like a map from the original game IMO (even more so than Tech Gone Bad), but it's still pretty nice, and I'm for any Romero surprises. I really hope he'll pump a couple more Doom treats out for us while working on Blackroom (assuming the fundraiser succeeds, which has been postponed due to high demand for some in-game footage).

    1. no, it's much too complex with sector machinery to fit in with the dungeons-and-dragons layouts of the original doom

    2. Still think it's a good map, though.

  4. Great review KMX; I always enjoy reading what you got to say :)

  5. Played great with Project Brutality on BD presets.

  6. Great review, KMX. I flat-out loved this map. Managed to die a few times during the hectic parts, with the final drop-down being especially nerve-wracking thanks to fire from literally every direction. So much fun. Liked it even better than Tech Gone Bad. One of my favorite parts is in the big computer room when you're on your way to the RL and walking on the top of the mainframe, and a lift comes down ahead of you with just 1 Imp, and that Imp always made a sideways step from the lift to the top of the computer. I went through that a few times because it put such a smile on my face.