Sunday, January 29, 2017

Vrack 2b (VRACK2B.WAD)

VRACK 2B
by Fredrik Johansson


The original Vrack was released back in 2000, inspired by Dystopia 3's MAP04 and LucasArts's Dark Forces. The name of the game was a base in space and a big one at that. Fredrik's orbital platform was a pretty novel setting, but it didn't quite catch the eye of the public as strongly as its sequel did, leading to its enshrinement as one of Doomworld's Top 10 WADs of 2001. There are actually two versions of the sequel on the archives, original and extra crispy (2b). All of the changes are under the hood, adding Deathmatch starts, a REJECT table, and cleaning up the artificiality of the void; the original remains for demo compatibility purposes. That said, this review was written on Vrack 2b, a MAP01 replacement for Doom II and designed for Boom.


V2, the Mighty Crux, offers a slightly stronger context for your space odyssey, explaining that these UAC paraplanetary platforms are part of the V. R. A. C. K. station network. Your mission is to clear them following a recent demonic invasion. You reached V. R. A. C. K. 2 after taking one of the evacuation shuttles from your previous objective, presumably V. R. A. C. K. 1. You must be under some sort of duress, though, because the mysterious Mewse is mentioned once again as your primary motivator. If he's capable of being a threat to you, and you're powerful enough to clean out a space station on your lonesome, then why not just send Mewse as the ringer?


The original Vrack was kind of big. The sequel is HUGE, and it's crammed full of an even denser contingent of monsters, as though they were mustering for an assault. It flirts with slaughter encounters but features a healthy mix of corridor shooting, small-scale traps, lock-in fights, and the dam bursting. A few of the heavier battles are kind of a pain to muscle through due to infinitely tall monsters; I'm mainly thinking of the western crate yard, which is staffed by a large contingent of mancubuses and arachnotrons. Getting down to ground level so that you can clear them out once you've dealt with the fliers seems like a roll of the dice. The revenant balcony is pretty sneaky, too, but you can snipe them out from the upper floor... once you know about them!


The great thing concerning the strangling monster density is that Johansson is quite happy to provide scads of rockets and, indeed, a rocket launcher, though you'll have to dig a little deeper into the level to get to it. Knowing where it is ahead of time should make some of the clearing, which will have to be done using the combat shotgun, much simpler. The hallways and occasionally cramped confines heighten the dangers typically associated with rocket fire but make for very punchy and fun gameplay. Judicious munition use will keep the pace flowing at a good clip. Of course, you'll eventually fall prey to the biggest of the invasions toward the end, and the secret but highly telegraphed BFG will come in quite handy when clearing out those hordes of cacodemons... but you don't have to. Vrack 2 follows its forebear in its "as many as you can" philosophy, and those two outdoor crowds of gasbags are just ripe to be reaped for percentage points.


There's also some pretty novel fights, more along the lines of the original Vrack's goofy revenant / pillar / nukage battle. In fact, that particular hoedown has been deconstructed and reconfigured into an arena-fight scenario featuring eight wall cubbies each fielding three revenants surrounding a toxic pit with a mesh wire maze guarding a key... and it's actually a red herring! There's a time critical component with some wiggle room depending on whether or not you snag a secret invul sphere; it'll definitely help you out, especially since you won't have to start out wasting your enviro suit time running circles in order to avoid eating a revenant rocket.


Vrack 2's outdoor areas look much cooler compared to the original's. The first and most obvious is the "courtyard" near the beginning, the site of a large crossfire that sets the level's tone and with a central platform only accessible via teleporter. I love the suspended "island"; the power-ups, plasma gun, and red key on separate pillars offer tantalizing rewards for persistent players, and it's the scene of what's probably the most restrictive lock-in fight. I just wish my rockets didn't tend to blow up on my feet once I start exploding cacodemons! I also like the conveyor belt prop, which runs through the level's northwestern area before ending at the blue skull key. It's a fun way to tie the indoor and outdoor areas together.


The original Vrack wasn't ugly by any means, but it tended toward straight hallways and simple outdoor sections that rang of vanilla Doom rather than Boom. V2 steps up the layout, looking both more complex and organic, while (largely) unobtrusive detailing has been crammed into just about every square inch. Areas like the big hold in between the east and west outdoor segments may be bumpy with smaller crates, but I don't think that I ever had a moment where moving around was difficult due to level geometry. The pressurized monster placement was almost always the real culprit. The lighting in parts of the original were more atmospheric, I think, but Vrack 2 is better served by Johansson's facilitation of action. After all, you don't want to be shooting rockets in the dark. That's what rainbows are for.


Vrack 2 is really cool. As I play these space base levels I wish there were more. At the very least, I know that I've got another one from Fredrik: Vrack 3. If plowing through scads of demons with the rocket launcher and mopping up bonus-stage style using the BFG isn't your thing, you should still be able to enjoy this on HMP or lower. For the rest, fire away!





3 comments:

  1. Huh. I never knew these maps had a storyline before now! Neat! Seems like wads sure were rife with community injokes in the early 00's.

    Speaking of Fredrik, burger.wad is an oddity that may be worth experiencing.

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    Replies
    1. i have not heard of burger.wad! looks like i might have to check it out.

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  2. The music in these Vrack wads is from Descent, a game I've played and this series does remind me of the early levels of that game more than the vast majority of DooM levels do.

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