Monday, January 9, 2017

Blastem2 (BLASTEM2.WAD)

by Russell Pearson

If Russell is to be believed, he started making his initial crop of maps back in 1995. The goal: a TC called DoomTown3. In 2000, he published two select entries from the TC; the language in his releases leaves room to interpret DoomTown3 as something ambitious ("presented here as a straight forward Doom2 level") but I am more inclined to believe that TC was to Russell what megaWAD is to me. DoomTown3 was never completed as the author envisioned it, but we have its finished bits and pieces. Blastem2 was the first of Pearson's levels to ever see publication, a MAP01 replacement for Doom II.

Blastem2 was inspired by a contemporary PWAD, a certain Blastem by fellow Russel J. Lauzon. I haven't played it at the time of this writing, but if it's half as good as Pearson remembers, then I'd like to. I gather that the basic idea shared between the two is a fortress in the middle of a stomping ground, leading up to a Cyberdemon showdown. How they compare in the build-up, well, I'm not sure, but Blastem2 appears to have more in common with the puzzle maps of Doom's early days than it does some kind of slaughter, light-weight or otherwise.

Your primary objective is to find and eliminate the various Commander Keens scattered throughout the level. There are ten of them, and slaying them opens up the exit which has a huge store of ammo and health... plus the bomb switch. You are not obligated to stick it out and kill the remaining monsters, but if you can live with your Doom self for leaving the rest of the demons alive (notwithstanding the arachnotrons that bug out due to faulty teleporter closets), I don't really blame you. The action kicks off with a fair number of monsters already awake and trying to find the last marine, composed of imps, demons, cacodemons, and even Barons of Hell.

There's a lot of open space in the outer ring for maneuvering but all of the ammo and weapons are stored in the fortress which is anything but simple to navigate. There are a lot of sawtooth drops and the layout truly exploits the third dimension in how you have to explore it. You'll see a few familiar gimmicks such as temporary bridges and the elevator with several floors. They're food for thought that you might choke on while you're trying to keep away from the demons until you locate more powerful armaments like the combat shotgun as well as various ammo stores. Together they will allow you to comfortably oust the roaming beasties, provided you don't run afoul of the Barons stationed in the towers on the periphery of the level.

The progression gets a little more obtuse since it may not be immediately obvious what the total effects of some of the keys are. The blue key is the big one since it seems to just afford you a megasphere and the plasma gun, but you ought to take careful notice of the barriers surrounding them and remember if there were any more like them elsewhere in the level. I guess you could just stumble around desperately and hope that you run into the final two Keens. After all, a title like Blastem hardly intimates any need for guile on your part. If you haven't already figured it out, though, this level is anything but simple.

Blastem2 really feels like something from Doom's early days and I mean that in the best possible way. The architecture and texturing is squat but effective and the initial rush is a constant threat exacerbated by the weapons being spread out in a layout that must be untangled under duress. There's also an end graphic with the web address of Pearson's personal website, even though it was completely stripped between 2013 and 2014 "in preparation for the release of some new doom levels". Well, Russell, I'm waiting! I'll play what I got in the meantime and probably enjoy it if this is any indication.


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