Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sins of the Flesh (A_SOTF.PK3)

by "zrrion the insect"

When I committed myself to reviewing zrrion's back catalog in preparation to the curiously strong Mouldy Old Void, I did not know that he had another release languishing somewhere in a half-assed (but good-intentioned) community project. Thankfully, he was kind enough to pull this level back out for a solo publication and a gentle reminder to me that it was now out in the wild. Sins of the Flesh is a MAP01 replacement for Doom II to be played in GZDoom. Made sometime in 2014 but released to the archives in 2016, it's also sort of an aesthetic sequel to his previous The Blood of Virgins.

V_BLOOD followed the story of a warrior entering the crypt of a long-dead sorcerer to ensure that his bid for immortality, wrought from the blood of the innocent, failed. A_SOTF doesn't continue the plot, but both levels feature a lot of green marble, blood, and skin. The atmosphere's a bit different, too. Rather than a dank and dark mausoleum, Sins of the Flesh has more of a palatial feel, like some sort of stately classical mansion that has since succumbed to demonic taint. The look of the previously manicured, half-blasted bushes leads me to believe that any such intrusion must have been a recent event.

The atmosphere is still ominous, especially with the ambient dynamic lighting and sound of the lightning and thunder. I really like how the level sort of comes to life with every flash of lightning, leaving its normal state - at least, in the Doom and Software lighting models - as relatively normal dynamic lighting. Playing in Standard mode leaves everything with a sort of dull, overcast look that only pulses with the lightning strikes. If you look really hard, there are a few bits of sector-based lightcasting, but they're well tucked away. Completing the atmosphere is more slow, sludgy metal; I'd be surprised if it wasn't zrrion's favorite.

The Blood of Virgins used GZDoom for some eye candy, but Sins of the Flesh takes it to the next step with bits of 3D geometry that you can walk above and below. The most important thing I can tell you is, JUMP. There are a lot of handy things stashed around the level and many of them lack any clever, secret routes. It took me awhile to realize that there was no other recourse, but afterward I was goating around and visiting some out of the way powerups... and a few places that I'm not sure I was meant to, like the southwestern cliff / peninsula thing. I'm tickled that it's something you can really visit, though; it's rare that you have a place to go in Doom that's purely for the sake of going there.

As far as combat goes, A_SOTF tends toward a slow pace, using mostly the shotgun and then the chaingun with some rocket launcher action if you go looking for it, favoring incidental combat. The largely cramped confines and low-tier weapons lead to a lot of pressure on the player; the finale, which unleashes a tidal wave of imps with a Cyberdemon overlord in the main outdoor area, also opens access to the combat shotgun, which will be indispensable. Granted, grinding down big boy with the super shotgun isn't much of an improvement over using the shotgun on Hell knights and cacodemons, but it injects some much-needed flavor into the level's final act.

Sins of the Flesh would have been a shoe-in for my favourite zrrion level but for the release of Mouldy Old Void, which is to say that he did some crazy stuff in the latter that I really appreciate for it not having been done before. Sins is just a rock-solid GZDoom level that really works to justify its choice in engine, enough that I'd really love to see zrrion take on a slightly longer mapset with his now experienced level designer chops. If you've been slavering for Doom II levels that exploit GZDoom on a fundamental level, then you'd do well to give Sins of the Flesh a look.


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