Monday, May 16, 2016

Bloodstain (BSTAIN.WAD)

There is a small but potent Doom Czech community, and with Pavel Hodek of Galaxia fame for a godfather on the cutting edge of 1994, they have something of a reputation... even if a lot of that reputation was established by the two guys from Androm- I mean, the Czech Republic, Adolf Voltja and Jakub Razák, the creators of Kama Sutra (and hopefully Kama Sutra 2) and the resurrectors of Plutonia 2. It's a legacy that their compatriots felt compelled to measure up to, producing Zones of Fear in 2012. Pavel Tvrzník worked with Adolf and Jakub for Plutonia 2 and had his own entry in Zones of Fear. Now, with 2016's Bloodstain, he's cementing his own prestige with a one-man megaWAD for Doom II, to be played in Boom-compatible ports.

The story is... familiar. You're a UAC space marine hanging around Mars when the Phobos colony begins broadcasting a distress signal. They send a squad to investigate. You're not on it, though, so you chill until the follow-up. Seems like the squad they sent lost contact after arrival. Apparently the prudent decision was to send your ass, alone, to find out what happened. Since your ass is owned by the corporation, you light out to Phobos. It's no wonder they never heard back from the marines - your buddies are dead! Together with your precious pistol, Sweetness, you resolve to find out what's rotten on Phobos.

While I would love to say that I've played all of the lovely works I've cited in the opening paragraph, I haven't. My only prior experience to Pavel's work was the ballbustingly beautiful "The Fallen" from Zones of Fear, a cool MAP28 that cribbed pretty heavily from "Dark Dome" but wallowed around in near-absolute bilateral symmetry. It's hard to gauge an author based on a single level, so I'm glad that he hacked away at Bloodstain. Which, uh, borrows more from Alien Vendetta's more adventurous spirit than its slaughter sensibilities. That isn't to say that Pavel has constructed a mapset for more casual players, though. No; the author has targeted a slightly different style of difficulty.

Bloodstain starts out pretty light but quickly gives way to careful cover shooting, with many of the later levels turning into grueling crawls as you surgically remove obstacle after obstacle until you're in the clear. Rather than playing to one of Doom's strengths - the supreme mobility of Doomguy as some sort of superhero - tactical movement creates an atmosphere where the hordes of Hell are nigh-insurmountable, where ground is only gained at a heavy cost. I'm so used to authors where the typical solution is to just Surge forward until you pick up some sort of milestone weapon and then turn around to unleash your adrenaline-fueled wrath. Bloodstain Doomguy, conversely, is a sweaty wreck who knows that every ounce of demonflesh is entrenched and waiting with bated breath.

Part of this is monster placement, and part of this is due to monster blocking lines. Usually, we think of blocking lines as removing one of the monsters' threat components, their own ability to pursue the player. In cover-based Doom gameplay, though, you are forced to deal with the monster on its own terms, turning it into something like but not exactly like a door, because doors mostly don't try to eat the player. Mostly. If you are not opposed to the wall-o-flesh challenge that Bloodstain represents, I would still suggest dialing down the difficulty to HMP on your first run, because the subtle changes in monster placement involves two arch-viles instead of one in spots or, say, taking a blind lift and getting a face full of souped-up Baron when you'd ordinarily have to fight a plain ol' Hell knight.

Oh, yeah! Pavel has worked in three new monsters to augment Doom II's difficulty. The lowliest of these churls is the Z-Sec zombie, who is kind of like the SS Nazi that he no doubt replaces. I think he's packing a bit more health, though, and he fires his weapon in bursts, so dipping back into cover will not immediately break his fire. The super-Baron has...exactly as much health as a regular Baron, but he throws that green shit twice in a row, which is a really important detail when you're in close quarters. The afrit, or balrog, or whatever is a red floaty Baron that's a bit more durable and attacks in big volleys of Mancubus fireballs. You'll be toast at short range, but further out there's a small gap on your left side that you can dodge through. You will see plenty of all of these monsters, but I suspect that you'll feel the afrit the most.

Occasionally, Pavel indulges in a spot of congestion-fueled BFG frenzy, with some sort of differing hook. The finale of "Terracotta Palace" is downright normal, offering the player enough room to avoid feeling swamped while still throwing enough monsters to warrant careful projectile placement. "The Disciples of Babel", on the other hand, is a total flood that requires you make the most of your one, opening invulnerability powerup. "The Slaughterworks" has The Big One, descending into the scene of a previous massacre, after which arch-viles spawn in and begin to resurrect the beasties at a fiendish pace. I'm still not sure as to whether my success was due to serendipity or schooling...and I don't really care to put either to the test so soon.

IF you are opposed to Bloodstain's style of gameplay, I would still suggest taking a walk through on ITYTD or HNTR, because there are a lot of Things Not Yet Seen, including a bunch of castles (one a gorgeous if brown-ish terracotta), some really cool vistas while battling through Hell, and a unique aesthetic in the top secret level that I'd love to see developed by someone with a little more... gumption. I'm also really impressed with all the faux-3D bridges and walkways and other cheats, with some fantastic sector tomfoolery that only had a few issues. But, uh, I imagine that it falls apart like a house of cards once a second player is introduced. Players beware.

Bloodstain is a fantastic adventure, with your myriad enemies opposing you every step of the way. As with most Doomed journeys, it is one worth taking, thanks to the author's sector wizardry and eye for detail. I can only imagine what might come next now that he's put this passion project behind him. If nothing else, I am sure that it will be uniquely Pavel's.

by Pavel Tvrzník

An invigorating beginning, because doing all that ground work with the pistol is boring, so Pavel gives you an early Berserk pack. I had some horrid luck with punches in some of the tighter spaces, like the shotgun ambush, so your mileage may vary. If the chainsaw is more your style, there's one of those, too. You'll just have to find it. The level looks pretty sleek and I dig all the greenery around the entry pad and the stuff that's visible from the courtyard. The chain of exit fakeouts is a bit much, but it lets you know where Pavel's head is at, and all of the bigger bads can be slain with some adept super punches.

MAP02Brass Square
A much smaller level set in what is ostensibly a square deeper in the UAC installation. "Brass Square" is a tight map that starts you off with the shotgun and features exclusively Doom monsters, so the threat level is pretty relaxed. It also has some nice secrets to ease you in, like a little climbable slope to the Berserk pack and cheesy backpack on a not-so-narrow ledge. A pair of cacodemons isn't much of a finale, but it's cool to see Pavel dialing it back after a slightly more challenging opening. I dig all the height variation.

Conquered QuartersMAP03
Bouncing back with this outpost-style level that also doubles as something of a toxic waste dump, given all the melted tiling and pooled nukage. "Quarters" is more action-packed with plenty of hitscanner snipers vying for your attention, plus a chaingun guarded by a few cacodemons. The combat shotgun makes its debut, but I completely missed it until I doubled back, looking for monsters. It comes with a pretty hairy ambush, so be warned. The SSG should make some of the later encounters feel much smoother, like the surprise attack following the yellow key. You'll also get your first taste of the Z-Sec troopers, who are basically more durable shotgun guys. Fun and frantic.

MAP04Fallout Shelter
A dense mostly underground base level with a good number of congested clusterfuck ambushes, culminating in a welcome party just waiting for you to grab the red key, which would be pretty foolish considering that there's an arch-vile hanging out down there and the enemies thumping around can box you in. Other nightmares include the long hallway following the lost soul fight, which dumps a veritable column of Doom trash plus a revenant on you, and the also lampshaded combat shotgun pickup. The dark computer room isn't quite as rough, but the low lighting combined with all the hitscanners makes for a fairly tense experience.

The IntersectionMAP05
A merry base blast-a-thon through tons of zombies with some pretty uninspired monster placement in that snaking hallway in the western section of the level. It's got a pretty hairy opening with all that trash hanging out in the eponymous intersection, but between the green armor and the secret berserk, you should be good to pick off the stragglers after some infighting. The southern yard has some nice architecture and I like the gimmick of the northern room with its tiered arachnotrons, which are felled with relative ease if you got the blatant secret rocket launcher, and a pain elemental emerging from the pipe, with more to come later.

MAP06Anomaly Entrance
Revving up the bodycount in excess of 300 for another action-packed outing. It's an ornate brick and metal base level with some locked-in teleport ambushes and some wide-open spaces in the outdoors for you to cut loose in. My most memorable moment was that goofy haunted walk down the computer corridor, which got a bigger reward than I was expecting plus a mob of imps and revenants to beat back. Well, the finale is pretty cool, too, with a tiny elevator shaft fight including cacodemon insurgents and the ending having the walls collapsing to reveal the arena with the new Barons of Hell. The second big teleport ambush, the one behind the yellow key door, is the level's nastiest fight.

The AmpitheaterMAP07
Apparently, it's Phobos, but if so, it's had something of a Plutonic makeover. This is basically a "Dead Simple" level on steroids, shuffling the player from arena fight to arena fight but saving the big triggers for the middle segment. Pavel is prescient enough to ensure that you've still got room to move around during the inevitable flood of arachnotrons, and if you stop moving at any time during most of the level, you'll wind up dead pretty quickly. The most tricky battles will be the opening, since it's loaded down with Barons and skeletal snipers, and the finale, as the tiny slice of ruins is awkward to move around in when dodging revenant rockets.

MAP08Toxic Sea
A fun, frantic level built on a fortress awash in a sea of green stuff. Except, the green stuff doesn't hurt you, so feel free to linger. "Toxic Sea" has a heavy lean toward mobility gameplay, where a moving player is a healthy player, though the Z-Sec snipers and some other encounters feel more like corridor skirmishing. There's also the Berserk pit with the lording arch-vile, which is completely doable using the switch as your cover, if highly claustrophobic. The opening imp / cacodemon battle and the cacodemon / mancubus fight right after are my favorites, but I'm also partial to the revenant overwatch chamber. The final stinger, between some rockacos and a harch place, will ruffle some feathers.

Mountain OutpostMAP09
A densely-packed section of topography. Due to all the tiers of play, navigation is slightly less than straightforward. The man-made segments are occasionally choked with hitscanner mobs, which aren't too bad if you can approach them on a level playing field but will probably get some cheap shots in if there are any discrepancies. Most of the level is clearing out Hell knights and the like under constant exposure, meeting milestones like the combat shotgun and rocket launcher, but it gets more exciting toward the end with the arachnotron / mancubus centerpiece that gives way to a Cyberdemon roundabout. Blocking the arch-vile and super Barons guarding the exit means that they're slightly hamstrung, but the only other way of making them a threat without being able to mob the staircase would involve restructuring the entire layout. I really like the megasphere secret.

MAP10Shimmering Grotto
This is a pretty cool earthen caverns and cascading waterfalls level, with some nice scenery built into the periphery. Pavel eases off the gas a bit resulting in a level with half as many monsters to clear. There are a few hectic moments, like the start and the teleport ambush in the blue key room, but you are generally able to back off into a safer area and regroup. The cavern complex in the southwest / central portion of the level has a lot of tension given how few and far between the Hell knights / Barons are. All of the meat, like the mancubuses, gives the level a slow, deliberate pace measured out by super shotgun bursts, though there's a secret plasma gun if you're up to speed. The final arch-vile may come as a shock to lollygaggers.

Another naturalistic level, this one rendered in green. It's essentially one big coiled path path that doubles back on itself for some interconnection. The heavies come on much stronger, with squads of arch-viles and several arch-viles, the biggest shock coming at the finale, which the author tries to prep you for with a megasphere. If you don't forget grab the goodies at the temple to the east before heading out, you should be more than flush with rockets and cells to take on the northwest annex. Battling mancubuses and arachnotrons in close quarters is a fairly regular occurrence, so if you know how to do some cramped juking, you can keep the action rolling. There are some cool visuals, particularly the ethereal bridge leading to the BFG. The Spiderdemon / revenant fight is pretty fun.

MAP12The Slimy Dens
A grueling tribute to Alien Vendetta's "Crimson Tide", minus the crimson. Well, besides whatever Pavel gets out of you. The first few minutes of this level were, to me, the most painful. The opening area has some commando snipers and a Baron locking down the porch and you've got to muscle your way through some demons and a Hell knight before you can catch a breath. And then, there's the courtyard, which has an arch-vile and two archnotrons watching over the combat shotgun while the dark sewer platform is staffed with a couple of pain elementals. It's pretty slow going, at least until you grab the yellow key, which lets you explore the edges of the fortress. Sure, the author throws another arch-vile into the courtyard on your return, but the rocket launcher and plasma gun will make things much simpler. Until that black magic Baron ambush in the penultimate room. Good thing you can always RUN AWAY.

Claustrophobic caverns and the ruins built into them rendered in fall colors. It's a level that looks pretty sweet, with a fair share of potential annoyances like chaingunner turrets four respawns deep. I was doing pretty good until the locked-in teleport ambush at the red key switch, at which point I wish I had taken more time to blow combat shotgun ammo instead of my rockets and cells. I really like the northern area, with its scattered imps and central area full of cacodemons and pain elementals, that really feels like I can cut loose with Doomguy's speed and maneuverability. The revenant plasma gun secret is a hairy but fun secret fight. The channel that divides the north from the south is a cool landmark with other features, like the combat shotgun tower to the northeast, and the bridge that crosses it. The wall of Barons is another one of those "wish I'd saved some ammo" moments.

MAP14Dryad's Garden
Okay, this is a really cool level. It's got the viny aesthetic of "Verdant" but with a lot more ruins for a classic Plutonic color contrast. It opens with a really hectic start with some choice opposition at the combat shotgun. The monster gateways are slightly relaxed, here, with a bunch more arena fights. You've got two separate encounters in the crossroads chamber, the first - which puts arachnotrons on the ground with cacodemons coming in from the sides - being perhaps the nastiest since you're dealing with shuffling between the rocket launcher and plasma gun. Though, I'd stick with the plasma gun. I really like the bit on the southwest battlement, dealing with clown-car cacodemons on two sides, a row of Hell knights, and revenants choking your two escape paths. The end segment, with the winding arachnotron cave and the arachnotron / Spiderdemon finale, is slower fare, but I really dig that cat tail marsh in the center.

Secluded StrongholdMAP15
I love this level. It's a huge castle sitting on a rocky island out in the middle of nowhere. Snagging the (fairly obvious) combat shotgun is a must before really getting into the thick of it. Monsters come at you fast and furious and the ramparts are littered with a peanut gallery of shotgun guys, commandos, and imps that are almost as easily sniped. A few aspects of the level escaped me at first, but once the wooden elevators come up, you are free to explore the copious secret chain that nets you the secret red key... but you might want to grab the yellow and the BFG before doing that, since you'll have to contend with several Cyberdemons, several squads of arch-viles, and a wave of cacodemons led by a few balrogs. Well, I dunno if all of that mess shows up at the same time, but it did for my careless ass. The platforming is really 3D-aware and really plays to my puzzle sense. Some of the teleport ambushes might overwhelm, but there's usually some sort of safe area to fall back to, from which you can pound the hordes into oblivion with a rocket launcher.

There are two of them; one is a grid 64-ish hedge maze circumscribed by a dark, dingy brick labyrinth. The first comes with a nasty shock, where the vines halt all progress and a bunch of telltale walls open up revealing imps and revenants, and you with probably not a lot of combat shotgun ammo. I hope your fisting is up to snuff! The outer labyrinth is staffed almost exclusively with Hell knights and the occasional Baron guarding the switches to the key rooms. There's another puzzle in there involving the obvious torches that nets you a BFG, which will be invaluable for the secret boss at the very least. The blue and red key guardian fights are easily handled with the rocket launcher if you skirt past them. The yellow key is, uh, arch-vile madness in a paper-thin circular vine maze. You should be able to work it with the invul, though. I imagine that a lot of players will hate the shit out of this level. I think the secret slot suits it well.

Now, this... This is a pretty cool theme. The gameplay isn't quite as interesting, since it involves copious amounts of specters spawning in to the fullbright of Heaven, and the rest of your opponents are mostly spread-out arachnotrons and bunched-up arch-viles. It looks brilliant, though, and the combat has a sort of heavy-handed charm, with two instances of frenzied BFG-blasting as you beat back a clown car arch-vile spawn. One of them pretty much requires you to use the exit gate as your cover, and given your limited movement space, it works pretty well. I would love to see more maps in these floating zen gardens.

MAP16Malleus Maleficarum
I like the dingy, dark city. Pavel basically forces you to leave your little sanctum to grab the combat shotgun, after which you can do some legwork. The eastern section of the town is particularly thorny with all the sniper monsters and best dealt with once you have the rocket launcher - and maybe the secret BFG - in hand. Some bits, like the revenants that flood the blue key area, lack any real punch since nothing is stopping you from shelling them to death at distance, but it's still satisfying to slay skeletons with rockets. The red key battle, which is accessible via two different avenues, puts pressure on the player with a distracting arch-vile to start off with and then two streams of Hell nobles including balrogs. These guys also show up in the final fight, but it's pretty easy to get them to infight with the Cyberdemon that also shows up. There's a secret invul that might make your least favorite encounter much simpler, but you'd have to know where it is and, furthermore, what opens up the megasphere tier. I dig all the 3D bridges and the pier area.

The Eerie KeepMAP17
All of these cool castle levels have me thinking of Eternal Doom, for some reason. Except, uh, no death-by-Raven-textures. This one is a non-linear map bisected by one enormous, grand staircase, with several different avenues of approach. I went back and forth as my whim suited me and had a lot of fun once I had a little safe zone carved out. The layout heavily favors the cautious probing of claustrophobic rooms, often with heavyweight snipers like Hell knights, revenants, and mancubuses. The central stairway is guarded by Barons, whose new attack pattern makes SSG slightly tricky. I really like the faux-3D effects, adding some decorative depth. The bridge that spans the gap to the yellow key corridor was a little buggy, refusing to go back down so that I could safely clear up to the rocket launcher, which would have been nice. The final fight after flipping the Spider's switch doesn't have enough oomph for a climax, but I really enjoyed the imps and Z-Sec guys amassing at the top of the stairs. Imps alone would have been laughable, and commandos a bit too brutal. The Z-Sec hit just the right balance for me.

MAP18Terracotta Palace
On the one hand, this ornate, Quake-inspired level looks gorgeous in spite of its overwhelming palette of brown tones. I especially love the prevalent arches. On the other, it's a grueling slog no matter how you slice it with hitscanners liberally sprinkled in key holding positions and heftier foes guarding the goodies. When you finally manage to carve out an island of sanity - which can be tough what with all those lovely windows and things adding a sense of interconnectedness that cuts both ways - you can start the cover shooter-esque clearing process. The big zerg fights are fun simply due to their sheer simplicity; the pain elementals, because it's just laying down suppression fire with the plasma gun, and the finale because figuring out the best places to drop your BFG blasts while you run like Hell is full of exciting, split second decisions, especially with a crowd as diverse as that one. The revenants that come down the stairs to thump you after grabbing the blue armor got me, but it's such a fun, silly moment that it got a smile. You better believe that I got the plasma gun before going down there again, though.

An outdoor level built into what looks like a glacier. It kind of reminds me of "Mountain Outpost", but that's just because it's some base segments united by the icy wilderness. It isn't nearly as cramped, but you might not notice if you roll through the yellow key area first, since it's chock full of hitscan snipers and a monster closet full of skeletons. The central base is kind of fun to root out, but it's more about short, tactical bursts than hectic least, until you grab the red key and are assailed by arch-viles, balrogs, and other things. The north and east compounds are decent, circular key arenas much in the style of some of Pavel's earlier closeouts. The north is just plain claustrophobic, with some devious monster placement, but the east is pretty simple, the most dangerous components - besides zombie exposure - being the arch-viles. The big surprise is pretty much what you'd expect while walking toward the exit. The intro of this map is pretty cool, with a blind drop into a pack of imps that jumps your pulse up something quick. The big underground tunnel to the north is a neat map feature.

MAP20The Great Furnace
A little bit of "Icebreaker" with some highly claustrophobic caverns requiring some careful ordering followed by volcanic machinery. There are some really cool faux-3D effects in the latter area, including but not limited to the walkway spanning the valley of lava and the duct / tube you have to climb up and inside of to drop down on top of the yellow key. The combat has a grueling, tactical pace at times, like breaking into the aforementioned yellow key tube room, but at others you can turn the level on to its head, like the finale of the red key area, where you can run back, past the Cyberdemon, and let him deal with the cloud of cacodemons and, heck, even those Hell nobles, provided you didn't take care of them yourself. An early secret BFG is indispensable for some of the more surgical clears, like that arch-vile waiting for you at the top of the elevator after grabbing the blue key, but Pavel is sure to give you one for the big brawl in the slaughterfest confines to the map's east. You're not in any danger of running out of ammo, but the enemy placement is just a little tricky with the arch-viles, and the reveal once you hit the switch is a bit of a bugbear. Save one of those invul spheres for the big finish, though. It's quite a flood of archies.

The Purgatory GatewayMAP21
A rude awakening, your first glimpse of the Inferno involves a rocky Hellscape with a small outpost and, like, a bunch of nasty monster placement. I'm thinking of the arch-viles, mainly, but that balrog is right there, too. It's made more difficult by a fairly exacting ammo balance, but the berserk pack might help you out provided you can float like a Doomguy and sting like a Baron. It feels like the rocket launcher shows up really late (and maybe the one secret I missed would have helped out), but mainly because I was groaning once I realized that I'd be dealing with another arch-vile, PLUS two barons in the key switch room. Of course, I didn't figure out the megapshere secret until after I'd already finished the level. The cathedral-ish structure that houses the exit looks wicked cool.

MAP22Chambers of Suffering
Once I got inside, I realized that this was a "House of Pain" remake, but using dark stones instead of marble brick. It's a tough grind, full of classic Doom traps like crushers and close-up monster closets. The opening firefight is pretty cool and the terraced red rock makes for tricky maneuvering while you try to wheel around the cacodemons and, after you open the door, all the nobles. Pavel plies a pretty common motif, pairing groups of monsters with arch-viles, which gives some of the fights a desperate edge, given all the heartache from the previous level. The blood-flooded red rock cavern is a little tricky to get around, but you're rarely barred from seeking some sort of retreat, which makes some of the clusterfucks easier to swallow. The big revenant-filled staircase leading down to the Spiderdemon arena is...a little awkward, but not too bad. The big bads are a bit of a rest break before descending into the penultimate revenant pool, made difficult through their restricted horseshoe-shaped movement. There's some really inspired window dressing and faux-3D, here.

A lot of big caverns with a couple of isolated Hell structures and a lot of meat to chew through. I think the first fight is the best, since you're forced into carving a safe space out of one of the opening areas, though you can kind of game it by snagging the combat shotgun and running outside before firing your first shot, thus avoiding getting hung up on the mancubuses. The first cavern area, with the blue armor, looks Hell of cool, and I like the mosh pit fight where you get the non-secret BFG, even if it's just BFG zerging. All of the other parts move pretty slow, emphasizing tactical cover-based progression, though the bunch of Hell nobles (including balrogs) that wade in after you grab the red key - combined with the initial commando surprise - makes for a nice moment of pressure.

Oof. "Sulfur" has the Hellscape down-pat. It's also one of the most grueling pistol starts yet, since there's one balrog guarding each of the weapon upgrades. The combat shotgun is the easiest to snag, but you'll have to be a blitzing crowd surfer if you want the rocket launcher or plasma rifle, since they're pretty far down the other legs of the level. The environment is Hell of cool, though, and once you wrest your weapons from the floating Hellbeasts, it's full-on slaughter time with an enormous fight erupting when you peek your head into the cavern and another involving a revenant vs. BFG zerg with a couple of surprise arch-viles pointing toward the finale... a big wall of cherry-red fiery balrogs. A short, nasty affair.

The Disciples of BabelMAP25
A massive fortress wrought in dark, black stone. It feels more manageable than "Sulfur", if only because you have that much more room to start clearing and handle those first few balrogs. Well, in spite of all those hitscanner snipers, anyways. The western wing moves interminably slow in parts, since the Spiderdemon makes such a great sniper, but you can use him to ice most of the cacodemons that issue forth once you storm the central structure, from which you can safely snag the plasma rifle. There's another prime infighting opportunity once you snag the blue key. I completely missed the point of the sewer section, which is made simple through simple plasma gun spam, and without burning too many cells. The red key floating in oblivion is a fantastic image. There's some kind of a mosh pit waiting for you on your returns to the opening area, but it doesn't add a whole lot of pressure, unlike unleashing all the Cyberdemons into the grounds and giving you one invul sphere to dust the worst of them. The finale is a true BFG frenzy, with the chamber quickly carpeting with monsters, including revenants on the megasphere platforms, arch-viles on point, and balrogs to finish, so be quick or be dead. It's... pretty crazy.

MAP26The Corrupted Mill
What a miserable start. The Halloween theme points the way - you're not supposed to stick around the opening - but the plunge into the sewers will involve, at some point, the Berserk fisting of some monsters. You can use infighting to bait some encounters like the revenant / Baron combo into compromising situations, but I don't think there's an easy way to the red key door, behind which lies the armory. After a Matroyshka Doll-style zombie firefight you're free to mop up topside, including a handy-dandy arch-vile telefrag teleporter, and bust into the second half, which borrows a lot from Plutonia's caged catwalks a la "Caged" and "The Twilight". While it's got commando and revenant snipers in the corners of the walkway network, I found it much more fun than the claustrophobic opening, though you'll still have to carefully extricate yourself from a couple of balrogs. The exit switch fight is some ho-hum BFG spam against Cyberdemons and cherry red floating Barons that should go down smooth; the revenant spam on raising the walkway to the exit is more dangerous, I think.

The opening has a slight "Industrial Zone" vibe, but then all Hell breaks loose. This is a massive cover-shooter level with a few early bits, like the plasma gun building, dragging the pace down. Once you've got it, though, you can start sniping back and carefully clearing around to the other side of the building, where you'll have an intense locked-in battle for the SSG. The eastern annex is an enormous, twisting braid full of nasty traps, particularly that bit on the horseshoe-shaped path that winds around the grand staircase to the red key. The drop into the Satanic tech tunnels is pretty neat, if no less grueling. It's all building up to the finale, an encounter you won't realize until it's too late. I mean, it's always safe to have the BFG out during a blind elevator, but this one's particularly nasty. Arch-viles teleport in quickly and horribly, resurrecting monsters faster than you can slay them, and while there are probably about three megaspheres and four soul spheres you can use to extend your lifespan, you can't afford to miss any BFG shots, since you will be quickly overwhelmed. I eventually managed to figure out a rough route between cell ammo and megaspheres that worked, but it's still an incredibly intense encounter.

MAP28Descent into Madness
A grueling flesh-and-blood level that turns into a wonderland of questionable geometry beyond the blue key door. The start is very rough, considering you're duelling with two arch-viles at the bottom of the north stairs, and then ride a platform down into a clusterfuck between two super-Barons. And the fun is just beginning! Claustrophobia and messy deaths abound, just like pulling teeth. It's a relief when you hit the rail shooter in the void that makes up the map's eastern portion. Well, kind of. You'll still have to take out four balrogs that pop up out of the exit chute, but Pavel displays his ingenuity yet again with the secret red key. If you can rock it, you'll be able to access some goodies - the BFG and a megasphere- that will set you up for the finale. It comes in three waves, the first composed of arch-viles and revenants, the second a pair of Cyberdemons, which is your difficulty sweet spot before confronting another squad of balrogs. Bleh.

Ov Fire and the VoidMAP29
Pavel's penultimate level has a sort of "Living End" vibe, but the setting - an enormous underground cavern - seems to hang in the void, lodged somewhere in Hell's taint. It is just as much of a cover shooter as the previous levels, with added danger due to the free-roaming afrits that dominate the central cavern. Breaking in is very tough; you'll have to earn every inch of ground you wrest from demonic control, and health feels like it's at a premium. There are some fantastic visuals, though; as usual, Pavel is a faux-3D saint with objects like a cage you lower and then jump on top of to ride like an elevator. As far as progression goes, I would suggest heading east and picking up that BFG, even if it's guarded by two afrits. You're locked in once you enter the west wing, at least until you reach the exit bridge, and its caretakers are painted on thick. You're literally locked in with the cage fight, but it's a pretty tame encounter what with all those rockets you've been saving up. Gorgeous setting; gory action.

MAP30The Deepest Abyss
A pretty tight boss shooter level with a "Hunted" opening. The arch-vile madness is all about taking care not to excite too many of the sorcerers since one friendly bump may expose you to more than you can handle and using what little cover you have wisely. The boss shooter is pure panic, but all the cell ammo will let you spam the BFG. You'll need to grab all three keys, each of which will jam a pillar into skull mountain. When all three are in place, its mouth is vulnerable. I would suggest grabbing the red and yellow keys, slaying the Cyberdemon, and then heading back for the blue key to draw all of the fliers (like the balrogs) toward the back, making for some relatively unmolested rocketeering. I liked it!


This post is part of a series on
Doomworld's 2016 Cacowards

The Top TenBest MultiplayerRunners Up
Tech Gone BadAeonDMWarphouse
Ancient Aliens32in24-16THT: Threnody
Nihility: Infinite TeethBest Gameplay ModBloodstain
MutinyDoom 4 DoomStrange Aeons
Absolutely KilledMordeth AwardEchelon
Elf Gets PissedDoom the Way id Did:Shadow of the Wool Ball
ComatoseThe Lost Episodes
Alpha Accident: Terra NovaLudicrium
Japanese Community ProjectMapper of the Year
Blades of Agony E1Lainos


  1. I was very curious about how you would perceive BloodStain. I think your comment is largely in line with how I feel about this WAD. The heavy emphasis on hitscans and cover shooting is something that gives this WAD its own feel. I liked playing it, and it is an impressive one-man project for sure. I have to admit though, I was somewhat annoyed by the abundance of hitscanners and viles at times, like: "Obvious Hitscanfest is obvious". Regardless, I am very impressed with this WAD.

    1. it's got some really cool aspects, but I think that projectile-induced pressure holds up better than cover shooter Doom at a higher difficulty level, plus it keeps you moving. if I were to replay Bloodstain, it would definitely be at HMP or lower.

  2. Sounds about right, but still, great article for such an impressive megawad!

  3. I started playing this two days ago, I think I was browsing the megawad tag, I'm at MAP22 right now and let me tell you, I'm having a ball. What a nice surprise this wad turned out to be. Thanks to mr Pavel, and thank you for keeping the always fun to read reports.

  4. Played this through the other week, was fantastic, I liked the gameplay sharply, it was all the right kind of challenge, it was pleasantly detailed and varied. Hoping to see more megawads, or at least episodes, from Pipicz!

  5. Damn this megawad kicked ass. Those last two maps were brutal, though.

  6. Just fought to map 11 and I have to say, so far it's pretty epic. Beautiful map design.
    I use a brutal doom variant, which messes up the monsters. I don't get the intended variants, but I'm occasionally getting evil marines, which are very tough (but the arsenal makes up for it). Not what the author intended, but it works I guess :) Fun!

  7. Probably one of the most fun megawads I’ve played in the last 15 years. Gameplay is very close quarters which I adore. Although some maps even for me are a bit too close and lacking of room… map 28 would be an example. While I don’t find UV that taxing tbh, those last 5 maps have a scythe 2 hike in difficulty. Sorta wished Pavel made an actual map rather than the hunted/icon of sin map for map 30… really dampens the ending imho…