Friday, October 14, 2016

Absolute Dishonor (ABSOLDIS.WAD)

valkiriforce was one of 2011's biggest darlings. He churned out map after map of vanilla Doom II goodness but tapered off in 2012 toward an apparent last gasp in 2013, releasing what appeared to be a sort of rarities collection. 40oz made a huge splash in 2010 with UAC Ultra but took several sabbaticals from the community related to the development of Doom the Way id Did and the hotly anticipated UAC Ultra 2. You can only resist id's siren song for so long, though, and both authors are back in 2016. While each one had their own solo stuff they brought their heads together for Absolute Dishonor, an eight-map episode for vanilla Doom II.

ABSOLDIS doesn't actually have a story, though! At least, not some sort of framing narrative for its action. The .TXT offers all sorts of insights as to how the project started and what the authors were attempting to accomplish with each level. 40oz seems to have used it as an excuse to venture outside his comfort range as far as isolating the tropes that appear to dominate his mapping and then making levels in defiance of those predilections. VF's main experiment was in the time taken to produce each map, developing and detailing over the course of a month rather than a few days as was the case with the majority of his previous works.

I think that it worked out pretty well for both parties involved! I especially appreciate "Raiden's Key" and its laborious red key puzzle. The rest of 40oz's maps take him pretty far from the techbase trappings I know him for. The eastern scene in "The Ravine" is killer and Vail does Flaherty is just as cool, not to glaze over MAP07 and its imaginative finale. valk meanwhile kicks it off with one small starter map followed by three large, intricate adventures that show just how far he's come from his labyrinthine Community Chest 4 reject (MAP17 of PULSE). "Death Depot" will be a massive undertaking for most players. There are several directions to start in, all sorts of paths opening up as you explore, and teleporters to take you to other (probably populated) level segments.

The authors don't pull any punches, either. ABSOLDIS comes at you hard and fast with liberal usage of revenants and to a lesser extent chaingun guys. While arachnotrons and mancubuses make appearances, this is more of a mid-tier monster mapset, but like Plutonia it gets the most out of whatever it uses. I think the arch-vile placement is even more exacting, often taking on pairs in awkward scenarios without your typical "I win!" buttons like the two backing the red door ambush in "The Railway". The two that spawn in after flipping the switch past the blue key bars in "Lost Resort" make another awkward moment since your height advantage only translates to a stalemate, but you can approach it from a much better angle with a little bit of catting around.

To draw the Plutonia comparison even further, Absolute Dishonor uses song selections from the original Doom to establish its atmosphere. It works, too. Its sequel's soundtrack is like a bunch of old friends and while I don't mind them I keep D_RUNNIN in to them. The original's music on the other hand is a group of buddies that I don't see too often, at least as long as I'm not playing Doom episode replacements. On the side of things not so Plutonia, there's a lot of cool static lighting work to be seen, particularly from 40oz. The subtleties may be lost if you get caught up in all the action.

Absolute Dishonor is a great slice of Doom II from two experienced authors. Though it may not look like the most novel mapset, the non-vanilla textures blending in fairly well with the stock ones, the authors have provided plenty of fun and challenging gameplay to go around. Will there be more in the future? I certainly hope so. At the very least, it looks as though 40oz and valkiriforce have regained some of the passion they found wanting.

by Michael Jan "valkiriforce" Krizik
and Jon "40oz" Vail

Playground of DestructionMAP01
by Michael Jan "valkiriforce" Krizik
A rock-solid opener in a fort that's slightly recessed into the surrounding water. It's an odd touch but makes for a pretty unique setting. "Playground" is weighted toward shotgun guys and sneaky commando placement, like the two chaingunners in the penultimate room, but one fight is just begging for barrel usage and would otherwise involve quite a bit of pressure. VF has also stuffed a bunch of secrets into the level, no less than six, which will net you a combat shotgun, backpack, and rocket launcher, among other things. The tech section in a predominantly gothic mortar level is a nice fusion bit that sort of reminds me of Plutonia.

MAP02The Ravine
by Jon "40oz" Vail
A very cool outing from 40oz with a decidedly brick and grungy metal feel. The ravine itself is the level's major landmark and its obstacle but you've also got some cool side areas - like the outdoor yard to the east ending in battlements to the north - and there's a slightly more up-to-date UAC holdout in the western area, the scene of much fun times with revenants. I hope that you like skeletons and don't mind fighting them in close quarters! It's a real super-shotgun-skirmishing map and features some tricky monsters. Those commandos overlooking the start of the bridge area do a good job of sneaking up on you. I like the fight with the pillared skeletons that starts when you open up the way to the ravine. The imps across the way, well, they're a fun slaughter, but they lull you into a false sense of security for the sucker punch...

Death DepotMAP03
by Michael Jan "valkiriforce" Krizik
An enormous, exhausting tech and mortar base. You'll need all three keys before you can exit but the layout is labyrinthine to the core with plenty of not-so-secret passages linking up each of the sections. There are also a bunch of teleporters seeded throughout the map, most of them taking you to completely different areas, often in hostile territory. Make sure you have your best scrapping weapon ready (chaingun or plasma gun). The author cites "High-Tech Hell", which is an apt comparison, but it also sort of reminds me of the highly interconnected levels of Rick Lipsey, just weighted more toward connective tissue-style areas. The combat is highly incidental and very trap-laden apart from a few staged fights like the outdoor yellow key area, accessed via a teleporter I had skipped due to distrust since a previous one had dumped me in a nasty crossfire. The fully stocked and staffed spaceship is a cute, extended outtro, especially after winding down with the mostly harmless demons that patrol the great outdoors.

MAP04Raiden's Key
by Jon "40oz" Vail
Switching gears for something completely different in this waterlogged outpost... The monster setup - a tight forty-four - sort of suggests Malcolm Sailor, but there's plenty of ammo to go around. No; the meat of this level begins once you cross the red teleport-pad-looking-thing, raising the FIREBLU bars around the red key. 40oz has used a variety of meaty monsters to harass you at major points as you puzzle out how to remove the bars from around the red key and keep them there. I eventually realized that a monster had already pointed me in the right direction. It's a fun segment to noodle and a level as short as this may entice some players to stick it out for the "Eureka!" moment. The rest, not so scary, though it would be a pity to work so hard only to be cut down by some lowly commandos on your way out. Fun stuff; more puzzles plz

The RailwayMAP05
by Michale Jan "valkiriforce" Krizik
Another massive Valk level but this one is less a maze of smaller and larger rooms and more facilities and caverns surrounding a railway and also a complete murderhole. One ridiculous fight in particular tripped me up, a massive brawl around the blue key that's got a pair of arch-viles in the back. You'll also find the main path re-seeded at several points, luring you into burning all those rockets that you'd wish you'd kept for when you open up the red key door. But arch-viles are harsh to deal with and you can tease the two in the big fight out. Kind of. The railway is a neat setting and I really like the visit to the secret train car, which is being shelled by a friendly Cyberdemon, though he's more a turret than anything else. The little blood-pool room is sort of a shitty move since you're very likely to suffer some damage floor attrition while passing through... or retreating. A hardcore adventure.

MAP06The Heathens
by Jon "40oz" Vail
40oz tackles an age-old favorite, the Orin Flaherty style as descended from Romero's "Circle of Death". It's a cool level with a nasty opener that has you run quite a gauntlet culminating in an unholy combat shotgun ambush before you feel safe tackling those commando snipers overlooking the opening horseshoe ledge. Most of the action revolves around the level's western leg, itself an arc where you tour the outer ledge while under fire from several bastions and fight your way through heavily entrenched revenants. When you finally do the "Chasm" hop down to the end of the opposite side, there's a big fight with a few pain elementals and other things, then an underground cavern that sports a clown car revenant chamber... which is why Jon just gave you the rocket launcher. It's all downhill from there, though the megasphere trap is kind of cute, and the horde of enemies guarding the exit exert some very real pressure. I really dig all of the lighting cheats.

The TowerMAP07
by Jon "40oz" Vail
Another cool mortar level from 40oz. It aims for something like the feel of a tower but it's hard to get a sense of space beyond the opening. It starts you out at its foot in a lake of blood and its western portion involves a not-quite-precarious stair climb up its side. The author did pretty good at making a level with some huge vertical differences but they're mostly scenic, save for the descending platform bit that leads to the exit. The combat is very cool and pretty thorny in spots. The red key fight pits you against two arch-viles in a spot where you're desperately trying to keep them away from the pack of demons and Barons that you just slew. I like the finale. While raising the pillar and activating each of the teleporters / monster spawners got a bit long with every repetition, it's a cool encounter setup, and having the lights go out for each platform is a neat touch.

MAP08Lost Resort
by Michael Jan "valkiriforce" Krizik
Krizik closes things out with another large Doom II map but the monsters are more spread out. Excepting the three Cyberdemons, though. They're kind of in the same general area but not on top of each other. It's got a slight resort vibe, with an elevator in the main lobby, but the Doom II textures kind of undermine the feeling. The tennis court and swimming pool are still DoomCute. There are a lot of high-HP monsters lurking around and quite a few secrets to be had including a cavern system that houses a handy BFG. The western complex is more typical of a brick Doom fortress. The monster closets aren't too bad but some of the fights can't help but be awkward, like the Cyberdemons to the north and the south or the ambush that follows flipping the blue key switch. The rocket launcher room to the southwest is pretty dastardly, too.


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