Sunday, January 29, 2017

Vrack 2b (VRACK2B.WAD)

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 Vrack 2 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 space; 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.

Vrack 2 offers a slightly stronger context for your space odyssey, explaining that these UAC space bases are part of the V. R. A. C. K. space station network, your mission being 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 some sort of motivator. If he's capable of being a threat to you, and you're capable of cleaning out a space station on your lonesome, then why not just send Mewse as the ringer?

The original Vrack was kind of big. Vrack 2 is HUGE, and it's filled out with 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 fights 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 with 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. That revenant balcony is pretty sneaky, too, but you can snipe them out from the upper floor... once you know about them!

The great thing about the strangling monster density is that Johansson is quite happy to provide you with 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 with 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 rocket 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... not that you need 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 with eight wall cubbies each fielding three revenants surrounding a toxic pit with a mesh wire maze surrounding 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 so that you don't eat 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 that 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 that runs through the level's northwestern area before ending at the blue skull key, 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 more of vanilla Doom than Boom. Vrack 2 steps up the layout, looking more complex and far more 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 areas 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 Vrack 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. The more I play these space base levels, the more I wish we had. At the very least, I know that I've got one more from Fredrik: Vrack 3. If plowing through scads of demons with the rocket launcher and mopping up bonus-stage style with the BFG isn't your thing, you should still be able to enjoy Vrack 2 on HMP or lower. For the rest, fire away!


  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.

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