Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Echelon (ECHELON.WAD)


Sverre Kvernmo has an authorship career that began with his Cabal series, split between solo releases and the Master Levels for Doom II, and seemed to end on the first edition of ETERNAL, authoring among other things the enormous, intricate MAP12, "Darkdome". He went full in to game development but never truly left the fold, peeking in every now and then. Sverre returned in 2013 with the visually striking Plasmaplant and at some point began his PAR project. PAR was to be a Doom II megaWAD whose casual 100% completion durations could be accomplished within the original par times as set by John Romero. The restriction must have lost its lustre, though, and what was once PAR evolved into Echelon.


Echelon is a 30-level Doom II megaWAD released in 2016 to be played in ZDoom. Why only 30, you ask? Well, I guess Sverre was more concerned with getting the base product together. He also posted a lot of cool WIP stuff on his personal blog, www.monstercute.com, including some sort of astral monsters I'd love to see in finished forms. If you check it out you might also see some neat NPC sprites that, again, I hope he sees fit to include in a future release. He did talk about adding secret levels in a "patch" so perhaps he'll yet hit that mystical 32-level mark. For now, though, the meat of Echelon is here for you!


The plot is actually descended from the original Doom II with the story milestones at MAP07, MAP11, and MAP21 having the same exact narrative. Kvernmo, however, has interstitial text between every level to flesh out the plot. Firstly, you're not actually Doomguy but a marine who shows up late to work when all Hell breaks loose the moment you step inside. The biggest detours occur in the early episode where you leave the ruins to check on your wife. Afterward you travel to a space port so you can fly to the moon where a switch holds, like, only the biggest of the escaping planetary fleet. It gets back to relative normalcy once you return to Earth but the snippets of the city feel more fleshed-out and Kvernmo tries to make sense of the terrifying randomness of Hell. Those well-versed in Sverre's previous works should find no surprise at the architects of anarchy... but that's for you to discover yourself.


Something you really ought to know - Echelon is a VERY fast play. A lot of this owes to its origin as the PAR project and doesn't deviate much excepting portions of E3 but we're talking about moving from levels featuring roughly 50 monsters to the low 100s. The largest level is MAP29, "The Elder", fielding more than 200 baddies over a much larger playing area. The switch-up may leave some players in the lurch since it's a pretty big speed bump but I think that most will enjoy the suitably epic build-up over a need for total thematic consistency. It's also a much more interesting experience than the three-Cyberdemons-at-once finale.


Kvernmo couldn't get his original plans for a new boss monster to work but he DID add three new ones. Two of these fuckers made their debut in his 2014 update of Plasmaplant, the mind and Midas fiends. They sort of look like Todd Mcfarlane Does "The Langoliers" and both add some color to the monster roster. Each of them floats around like a cacodemon and shoots projectiles. While they're pretty nasty to get hit by, the mind fiend's only releases some of its energy on impact and then bounces so you can't just dodge and forget. The Midas fiend's explode in a sort of blossom pattern, preventing you from simply sidestepping them. To top it off, I think that they're resistant to rocket damage. Bastards. To soften the blow, mind and Midas burst into splashes of health and armor bonuses respectively. ¡Viva Piñata!


The viper is Hell's newest ground troop. They're sort of hulking yet serpentine and shoot fire projectiles that don't hurt too bad on their own but can quickly add up, so they're pretty good at infighting. As an added confounding factor, they explode when they die! Like the floating skull things from Ancient Aliens, this could well work to your advantage if you happen to set off a chain reaction, taking out just about everything nearby. They're a pretty fun addition to the bestiary; I look forward to seeing more of them in the future. The fiends fill a nice niche; while they're essentially cacodemon upgrades, their attack patterns have something new for the player to worry about compared to the typical recolor augmented by increased HP, damage, speed, and successive attacks. I think that the mind fiend has a bit more to offer in terms of flexibility. Its single rebounding ball usually has you dodging in such a way as to keep eyes on both hazards whereas me trying to be clever with the Midas fiend usually involved eating the floor.


Another thing to really get your goatman... The super shotgun, typically a mainstay of Doom II combat, is nowhere to be found within the first twenty levels of this mapset. In fact, you won't see it until MAP22 and even then it's in a secret. The monsters are not so numerous that this calculated omission causes the pace of combat to drag interminably and Kvernmo is more than willing to provide you the rocket launcher and plasma gun, often in ways where continuous players work at a more considerable advantage than usual. I understand, though, that SSG scarcity may be a dealbreaker for some folks. If so, I hope you still try to stick it out!


The gameplay is pretty tough on UV... from pistol start. This usually crops up in the beginning of the levels and is something you can quickly figure out given the generally short running times. "Neon", for instance, looks pretty quiet at first but any activity draws in a bunch of monsters from the various alleys. You've got to strategically detonate the barrels to give you the breathing room to duck into a nearby alcove and snag the shotgun. Other scenarios, like "Inner Palace", put enough nasty things on the outside that you have little choice but to run into the unknown where weapons no doubt lie. Ammo gets pretty tight on some of these. The run from MAP24 to MAP26 may be the hardest stretch to push through, honorable mention to MAP27 which is more awkward than pushy.


Echelon has a bunch of new textures along with other stuff you might recognize. In particular, the flames from Eternal Doom feel like an old friend. One of my favorite themes is the sort of dull dark green metal that's introduced in MAP06 ("Home") and which dominates the city episodes. It's something like space-age modularity applied to Terran architecture and it works in part due to the large number of varieties of panels, some ruined and others marked with graffiti. The doodles  comprise one of the more interesting details since Kvernmo had a drive on Doomworld to get people to mark up his basic metal wall. He picked his favorites and worked them into the urban settings of Echelon. You'll even see some composite murals. What's cool to me, gentle reader, is that one of my edits made it in. I'll give you a hint: the main feature isn't graffiti, it's a poster.


Along with the textures, Sverre has a healthy mix of cheats and actual 3D-geometry to spice things up. Only a few levels make heavy use of the latter, most notably MAP23 ("The Stone Web"), but it also crops up on a few other occasions, usually in a way where you think them to be faux over-under bridges... but they're not! They have monsters walking on top of them and everything. There's one particularly dastardly use, a pit trap, but I've said too much already. One of my favorite, goofier touches is the oft-neglected light amplification goggles, turned here into a friendly puppy trapped in a burning building. It's a true DoomCute moment that stands alongside computer consoles with floppies, shuttlecraft, and "Gone to Mom's".


Kvernmo didn't handcraft his soundtrack but he hand-picked it, pulling from a small stable of authors. Most players who've been keeping up on current events will recognize Jimmy's name but be surprised, perhaps, at nightmare-architect Ribbiks's burgeoning musical career, which is responsible for about half of the tracks used. When Echelon isn't rockin' it has a beautiful, contemplative sound and draws me in with an atmosphere of wonder that highlights the microcosms as you explore them. MFG38, incidentally the author of the similarly microscopic if not anywhere near as engaging Prayers For Armageddon, provides a few more tracks alongside one from Blueworrier, rounding things out by using a familiar cut courtesy of the venerable Klem institution.


Echelon may provide some challenges for casual consumption. It doesn't really fill out until MAP05 since the first two levels feature zero monsters to fight and the third only has two and players may be put off by either its exacting UV balance (i.e. challenge mode) or the very late introduction of the combat shotgun. I had a blast, though, and I hope to see more of these themes from Sverre in the future, especially the futuristic urban stuff. Or maybe someone'll just take the base parts and expound upon it. Either way, I had a lot of fun with it and hope that you do, too!





ECHELON
by Sverre Andre "soundblock" Kvernmo

OversleptMAP01
Getting things started. A very DoomCute slice of life with tiny cots, computer terminals, and a blue disk! The portal points the way to the beyond. A secret rewards armor for the coming journey...

MAP02Richter Scale
A bad thing happens right when you show up to work. More DoomCute props like the card table but I also enjoy the computer console that opens up the rocket launcher secret. All the blood at the exit can't be good...

The Towering InfernoMAP03
A race to the bottom of a burning building. No pressure, though. This level offers your first real opposition, a couple of lost souls and the identified firestarter, a flame-shooting serpent thing that hisses like a cacodemon and screams as if it were a revenant when it dies. Pistol starting will dramatically extend its life time since it'll be your only real weapon. You don't have to take the barrel / platform track to reach the bottom since there's a channel with a rad suit that takes you right up to the ground floor. You still need the red key, though.

MAP04Apparently the Apocalypse
Yes; it's the end of the world and blood is everywhere. But you've got a puppy to save, darn it, and maybe some people if you can get back in quick enough. This map has a few lost souls, a pair of salamanders performing overwatch, and some other flaming skulls for you to slay using FIREBLU crushers. The Berserk pack will speed up dealing with the free-roamers. The damage-to-exit sector is a nice way to drive home the burning building transition.

They RiseMAP05
Everybody's dead, Dave. Some hidden arch-viles create a neat effect as the dearly departed return as hateful zombies. Just make sure that you wait until the crushers kill them before grabbing the tantalizing pistol ammo. The salamander and undead coming out of one of the walls is a neat effect. I like ending at the train terminal; it speaks of Things to Come. Facing imps and shotgun guys for the first time is a bit of a relief. All the work on the burning service tunnel is much appreciated.

MAP06Home
A short battle through some dingy green urban streets where a UAC marine might call a little flat "Home" with his wife. The zombies can be tricksy, particularly the ones in the cages, but don't get boxed in by the arachnotrons, either. The furnishings are sort of lacking but there is a ton of stuff on the walls. I particularly like the note on the coffee table. I also get a feeling that Doomguy favors the Jack Russell Terrier...

Outpost of HellMAP07
Reality warps, as indicated by the couch / TV ensemble. "Outpost" isn't too dangerous, just a bit of work against zombies and imps on the battlements, one of those salamanders on the ground floor, and a handful of cacodemons on the inside. It's nothing thrilling unless you let the gasbags get out of hand. The outer area looks pretty neat; dig those hanging skull lanterns.

MAP08Starport Departures
Starts out as a relatively straightforward starbase, even if it's loaded with zombies. At some point you'll realize that the only route to the red key must be a secret one. The solution is obvious on the automap. There are a bunch of monsters lined up behind the red key door but I learned an important fact - salamanders explode! The ship is really cool. The demons are more of a cinematic threat between the open area and the Berserk pack; I guess they sort of signify the invasion.

Lunar ArrivalsMAP09
Breaking away from the tiny monster counts for something more substantial though most of it's still zombies and imps. You're on the moon and the satellite station has been invaded, just not as badly. The opening shootout is a bit hectic but the nastiest of these fights is a lock-in encounter with I think three salamanders up close and personal. Don't get 'sploded! Sverre gives you some make-up goodies but you'll still have to survive. If the computer console in MAP01 didn't clue you in then make sure you check every laptop and more for various supplies and progression bits. The deep blue finale vs. imps and a pair of Hell knights is a nice sendoff.

MAP10Exodus
The cramped confines of the switch promenade may allow the Hell knights / Baron to get the jump on the careless player. There's plenty of time for you to fuck up, anyway, since you'll be doing most of the heavy lifting with the shotgun. There's a rocket launcher, though, which will soften one of them up. After that, it's a short crusher obstacle course to the switch to end it all.

Lunar EscapeMAP11
The cavernous dark blue interior offers a very different aesthetic for your exit, considering where you originally came in. There are a couple of surprises, the biggest of which are the dreaded Mind Fiends. Both do a pretty good job of sneaking up on you. You've got bigger problems from player exposure, though, particularly in the large area to the southwest, turning into a big imp crossfire plus the occasional commando.

MAP12Crash Landing
Back on Earth in a dingy factory sort of setting that I only just realized is supposed to be the ship. There's a fun bit with the red key, a not-very-secret that unlocks the plasma gun. While the vessel has a few hideaways the most flamboyant segment is the bridge, looking like some sort of observation room featuring a burning throne upon which sits a revenant. Getting started is a little rough but you should be able to find a chaingun or shotgun quickly enough.

ShortcutMAP13
Into the sewers, which are a real "Bloodflood" at the moment. Action starts out pretty light with a few imps in the lower reaches before the upper chamber and its fountains, where you'll combat a sizable wave of zombies and a few fatsos. Go one tier higher and, if you're slow, you're liable to get boxed in and torn apart by a group of Hell knights. The monsters in the fountains are a neat touch but it's also a great way to get your goose cooked since you can step on top of them while they're submerged. Excellent atmosphere.

MAP14The Lodge
A total clusterfuck in some very tight spaces. The main hall is packed with hitscanners and cacodemons / mind fiends that can freely jump between either side via the teleporters so good luck sorting it out. The northwest corner of the basement is another one of those nightmares, featuring floating mind fiends and vipers on the ledges. The action is pretty sketchy for a shotgun and chaingun start but you should be able to weather it with some care.

Factory FloorMAP15
A dingy green not-quite-factory on the edge of a giant, active slag pit. It's got a really dirty opening trap, dropping you into a scary lava pit with a pain elemental as a trade for the shotgun. You won't want to do this off the bat. There are a few zombies on the catwalk, a couple of revenant managers, and some cacodemons in the outdoor area that serve as the other relatively major encounter. Getting the yellow key is only slightly tricky. A neat excursion.

MAP16Haunted Hood
An infested portion of the residential district, kind of. All of the graffiti and wall textures add a lot of charm. It's a bit of a murderhole, though, since there's barely enough ammo to slay everything the straight way and you'll have to deal with an influx of imps, several arch-viles, and both types of fiends. You could save a lot of scratch by getting one of the big nasties to ice all the imps for you or just try and keep them at hand's breadth until you get the Berserk pack. I really like this setting.

NeonMAP17
Here comes the night train! "Neon" consists of a few cramped city alleyways joined together at a T-intersection and loaded with monsters. A couple of strategic barrel explosions should get you unfettered access to a shotgun and plenty of ammo if you duck into the right alcove. There aren't enough snipers to make things a cover shooter but the hitscanner window guys will be plenty annoying. The lion's share of the combat is in the branch to the north, leading to some sort of odd garden shrine and a few Barons. After plowing through a couple of mind fiends, that is. Fast and frantic, then settles down into fun. I dig all the shop signs.

MAP18Possessed Plaza
A large, outdoor area that starts out pretty dangerous with all the imp snipers, the arachnotron at the top of the stairs, and a couple of mind fiends. Once you thin everything out, though, it becomes a brief scavenger hunt. I like the environment and it's a fun initial clear but the action just sort of peters out. You can have everything killed and essentially explored before you grab the first key; it would be nice to see inside some of these "plaza" buildings. On the other hand, this level has my "graffiti" contribution! See if you can spot it.

Heart of DarknessMAP19
Kvernmo gives the gate of evil a place in a relatively classic location, complete with graffiti reminders scrawled on its outer walls. The alcoves are probably the toughest part to clear since the zombies do a pretty good job of sneaking up on you and there's a surprise arch-vile or two lying in wait, not to mention the one crammed full of vipers and mind fiends. The bank promenade is a nice build-up and the yard itself offers you plenty of room to run around and get real nasty, not that you can do any combat shotgun jousting. The Bruiser brothers are not nearly as scary as the big mouth floaty things lurking in the sides.

MAP20Mammon
Well, it's a pretty hot showdown. I like the sense of scale. Gather up the rocket launcher and then clear the initial wave of demons, most of which will be cacodemons and pain elementals. Two arch-viles up high are tough to hit from below so you're better taking the hidden-in-the-shadows elevator before handling them since that's what you'd do to unlock the exit, anyway. The rocket launcher remains prime but the shotgun will be your go-to for those close-quarters segments where the lost souls lurch from the lava pools on the upper tier.

Center of the UnknownMAP21
Hell is more accommodating than you'd think, standing in the center of an infernal archive. Well, excepting the beginning, which - much like "Neon" - requires some deft maneuvering in order for you to get a good start considering all of the imps and other things crowding the opening scenes. The whole exercise is taking you the long way around a Spiderdemon so that you eventually finish it off and grab the key it guards. All the while you're ducking fire in the main hallways by moving quickly past windows and using the interstitial walls for cover. I completely forgot picking up a rocket launcher, which is the clutch weapon for a small cave jaunt involving an arch-vile as well as the Hell knight crowd that follows. Lots of revenants; stay safe, Doom marine.

MAP22Sinuous
Kvernmo ups the action with a twisted layout. Also, sweet Christmas, the super shotgun! Arch-viles are the main beginning threat since there are several stomping around the central structure and one at the end of the eastern side. Some can get at you through the windows but you can get back at them. That's good, because stepping toward the central room starts one of the several slow repeating lifts. The plasma gun in the middle will help you out but you'll still probably want some ammo for dealing with the nasty surprise lurking behind one of the key doors. The other secret offers a nice chance to infer something on the player's part based on the level's teleporter pads. Fun stuff.

The Stone WebMAP23
A very cool setting, if ultimately quite simple. It's a big, bloody gulch with a network of thin, stone spires jutting out from the side and criss-crossing to create walkways between two tiers on the opposing edges. The green stone gives the level a sort of sickly feel highlighted from those mossy looking hanging skulls in the interior areas. There's a network of caves to the north and south with overlapping tiers of action to hammer home that three-dimensional feel. Only one of them, the big chamber to the northeast, is dangerous to investigate, but you're more likely to catch Hell navigating all the lava pools in the bloody river while dodging sniper and viper fire at the level's opening. To finish, Sverre unleashes the first Cyberdemon, sure to back your ass up. Wicked neat.

MAP24Fumes of Alchemy
This time Sverre goes for a more traditional tech installation, even if it's got some blood channels. It's a bastard of a level thanks to a relatively open layout and tons of buff monsters that will keep you careening from every sucker punch, including several hordes of imps. I was completely unprepared for the storm of Midas fiends guarding the exit. Based on the experience, I believe them to be resistant to rocket damage. The plasma gun / blue key area isn't much better since it's got mancubuses harrying you on the top side and vipers on the bottom. There's a lot of goodies in the troublesome-looking arachnotron room so hit that one first if you're up to it.

BastilleMAP25
Another rough and bloody level. It begins in the center and spirals outward, reaching peak madness in the southwest area where a bunch of heavies rise up on pillars before opening up the bay doors to unleash a troublesome pair of arch-viles. Even making it there involves fighting through a series of ambushes with fairly limited weaponry. The cells won't do you any good since there is no plasma gun to bail you out. This makes the Satanic sorcerers very tricky, particularly if you blew all your rockets on the big guys on the platforms before them. It does a pretty good job of looking - and feeling - like a stifling, nightmarish prison.

MAP26Inner Palace
Another death level in some sort of iron fortress. The main confounders are a pack of Midas fiends on the outside to drive you in and oodles of hitscanners, revenants, and a trio of arch-viles in a layout that makes it pretty easy for monsters to sneak up on you, even more so when you're busy eyeballing the window for those Midas plasma balls. Sverre gives you plenty of ammo, though, and the weapons are easily available if at the other end of the base, so it shouldn't be too bad.

Fire and BrimstoneMAP27
Boss fight! Well, you asked for it. It's a standard looking crater of lava lovingly bordered with Eternal fire, which looks pretty sweet. The Cyberdemon is stationed in the center and has four arch-vile allies that will harry you as you make your way around the ring. Imps wait in the burning alcoves, which usually have rockets but sometimes contain other goodies. The fast marine can just run right on by but comprehensive combatants will have to be careful while picking off arch-viles and then dealing with ol' Cybie. This can either be awkward but fast or slow and steady if you just shoot your rockets while he's doing his little turn on the catwalk.

MAP28The High Places of Baal
A big ol' step pyramid and some lovely scenery ruined by a Spiderdemon in the back and a smattering of chaingunners on the pyramid. Player exposure is the real danger in spite of whatever ambushes Kvernmo levels at you. The rocket launcher and combat shotgun are guarded in foxholes so check out anything suspicious on the ground. You'll need to figure out some rudimentary teleport / platforming puzzles in order to get all three keys but the associated encounters aren't nearly as rough as all the hitscanner hate at the opening.

The ElderMAP29
A massive outing. The Elder palace has a large outer area featuring a blood harbor and a colossal cacodemon assault if you venture out to seek sustenance in the medikits. It's a nice health reservoir, though. The interior is cracked and broken and filled with all sorts of projectile Hell. A systemic assault is best but won't be fully accomplished until you make it into the inner sanctum. To do that you'll need the red key, found in the fleshy underhalls. They're not too bad until you hit the dual arch-vile ambush near the end but you can back into your hole and take your time. The inner sanctum has two Cyberdemons and an arch-vile thumping around as well as tons of shotgun guy alcoves and two major ambushes. The yellow key / arch-vile / demon ambush in particular almost got me. You can also take a tour of the ramparts to snatch up tons of rockets and deal with the stragglers who were giving you the finger from on high. Quite an adventure!

MAP30A Chance in Hell
A showdown with three Cyberdemons. If you take your time and don't try to hot-ass around then you should be able to put them down with the provided plasma gun and combat shotgun. The shadow makes things slightly tricky but there's nothing exotic about their attack patterns. Not the crazy showdown I was hoping for but a finale nonetheless.

I'M CLIMBING UP THE CORPORATE LADDER,
WATCH OUT - IT'S DOG EAT DOG!

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
MiasmaMockaward
Alpha Accident: Terra NovaLudicrium
Japanese Community ProjectMapper of the Year
Blades of Agony E1Lainos

13 comments:

  1. Loved this set. Between this and rf1024 it was a good year for "bite-size" megawads. My favorite levels here were "Stone Web" and "The Elder" (the latter being just amazing.) My fave bit of the entire WAD was that goregous yellow sky, particularly when you freelook up and see the tower spires rising hiiiigh above the clouds. So very, very cool. The new baddies were a great addition, too, though I wish Sverre'd made some modifications to the flamethrower's sounds to distinguish them from their OG counterparts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yeah, some new sfx would have made the monsters pop that much more. i guess it's still a wip, so who knows!

      Delete
  2. Fantastic wad, 2016 has just become a great year of huge mega wad creations with artistic depth and very outlandish level design, from the Japanese Comm. mega wad, to Ancient Aliens. My second year of getting into to the Doom community has just left me astonished.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. if the past holds any clue, the future can only be brighter

      Delete
  3. Well, I found this wad to be a massive disappointment in comparison to the author's previous contributions. I honestly felt like I was completely wasting my time for the first 10 levels (what a joke). Thankfully it does change and become decent later on and the new monsters were pretty well balanced even though they looked a bit odd.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i'm sorry that you felt like your time was wasted. for me, it was hardly any time at all.

      Delete
  4. map21 review:
    deft maneuvering in order for you to The whole exercise
    A typo?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. good catch. that dangling thought is now complete.

      Delete
  5. Every time I try to use this with a weapon mod, it crashes when I open the door on the first level.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i can't speak as to weapon mod capability! worked fine for me runnin no mods.

      Delete
  6. Lovely adventure! The dirty-green cityscapes may be my favorite as well, though the posh castles and palaces of the third episode aren't far behind. The hellspawn must throw some pretty exquisite high-brow cocktail parties when they aren't busy grilling humans.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A lot of this had questionable appeal to me, but Map29 is a gem that would work well as a solo release in fact, IMO.

    ReplyDelete