Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Urotsuki 2: Cargo Cult (UR2CARGO.WAD)


Lainos's 2015 arc was the enigmatic Urotsuki trilogy, a series of post-apocalyptic levels that owed some amount of aesthetic inspiration to the infamous Urotsukidoji anime. The main drive was to experiment with a new style, a sort of horrific technological creep dominated by mysterious pyramids. Urotsuki 2: Cargo Cult begins his new phase in 2016, exploring the same themes but adding just enough additional information to cast deep shadows into his fascinating setting. Like the rest of the Urotsuki series, it's a MAP01 replacement for Doom II meant to be played with limit-removing ports - specifically, PrBoom-plus's -complevel 2.

The author has been stingy with the details of the overarching story as of yet. The original trilogy had the player trek through a shattered urban landscape, the seemingly sole survivor of a supernatural event that has left snarling beasts as the custodians of a grotesque, corrupted Earth. It included such imagery as a metropolitan road littered with stalled tanks leading to a skyscraper with a mysterious apparatus at its zenith. Cargo Cult may be a wry callback to the first trilogy's opening moments; recall that Inferno Road begins with you punching your way out of a crate. This time, you start on some sort of island fortress - the "Sacred Land" - that is littered with metallic cargo crates, many of which are stamped with the geometric logo of Clan [B0S]. You'll also see some unboxed appliances, like kitchen ranges, washing machines, and television sets.

The title graphic depicts the ordinary-looking silhouettes of cargo planes flying over the techno-organic landscape and a crate with a parachute. For some reason, I'm imagining a scenario where a paramilitary force - Clan [B0S] - is waging war on infected locations by dropping in supply crates to establish a holding point and, eventually, their battle-hardened veterans. Note that the graveyard-looking plot of wooden crosses is one of the few spots that the techno-creep cannot encroach (ten - the same number as the heads in the temple's bloodstained pit). You'll also find some kind of water purification device that converts the brown muck of the sea into something more palatable. Followers of Lainos's work will be intrigued by the debut of Object 15, which appears to be the Clan [B0S] military base itself and ties Urotsuki to at the very least the same universe as his ambitious "Object" levels, Most interesting to me, however, is the appearance of the radio-antenna shrine located within the "High-Rise Shrine" that featured so prominently in Lainos's Comatose.

I may have the wrong of it all, though. There's nothing that explicitly denotes which side of the conflict Clan [B0S] is on, though its dovetailing with Egyptian iconography - particularly the ankh - that suggests an association with Comatose's Plague Doctor faction, and the large [B0S] installation appears to be the scene of several experiments, including some kind of reel-to-reel supercomputer, a misting chamber that has red organic shit growing down the ceiling, and flesh vats housing bloody human remains undergoing the a similar misting process. Were these facilities co-opted for demonic purposes after the cataclysm? Was [B0S] meddling with powers that they did not fully understand? I'm guessing the latter, since Object 15's true purpose - beyond being an air base - seems to investigate the surrounding ruins, including the "Fated Village", "Ancient Cathedral", and what is now the "Cargo Temple". I mean, shit, there's no reason that [B0S] built the high-rise shrine themselves, since they could have easily just spraypainted their logo over the door.

So, yeah. There's a lot to think about if you've been following Lainos's work over the past few years. The gameplay uses a broad brush, with the monster placement feeling more like a texture in and of itself rather than something more deliberately staged. Each segment has a particular theme, like the shotgun guy Swiss cheese of the opening crateyard, the caco swarm in the large cathedral chamber, or the revenants and arachnotrons spaced out in the village. Sometimes, like the revenant alcoves in the shrine's foyer, the encounters turn into good, simple fun. At other times, like the slow mancubus grind in the eastern part of the "Sacred Land" and those shotgun guy alcoves in the archive, it's deadly dull. By far the trickiest thing, I think, are the mancubus pairs that guard the switches in the [B0S] monument room. Don't hesitate, and make sure you've got a loaded chaingun.

UR2CARGO fuses the strange nature of the UROTSUK trilogy with the sense of discovery that comes with his larger levels. The architecture is still a bit plain, especially when thinking of his more exhaustive works like Object 34 and 5till L1 Complex, but I'm happy with the new direction that Lainos has taken and hope that the rest of this new trilogy continues with the more developed locations, if not combat. If you've been at all interested in Lainos's works, then you've got to try out Cargo Cult.


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