Thursday, January 26, 2017
by Fredrik Johansson
Vrack 2 gets all the accolades as the face that launched a thousand space base levels, but Fredrik Johansson started out with just plain Vrack back in the year 2000. If you don't know who Fredrik is, well, you may have seen him up at the top of Doomworld's Post Hell. He's also done some other really cool things for the community, like create the Omgifol tool used to create those lovely automap-type images and start up the Doom Wiki project. The original Vrack is his first publication, a MAP01 replacement for Doom II to be played in Boom-compatible ports. The story about as threadbare as can be ("somewhere on a base located somewhere in space") and references contemporary Doomworld forum member Mewse, so just take it for what it is: an excuse to go slaying demons on a big space base.
Vrack is easily divided up into three different areas. The beginning / central section is sort of a mixture of a cargo hold area plus an observation deck. The western segment is more nondescript, sort of a bowels of the base portion that also involves a walk along the outside to something like a loading dock with the opposite northern area fielding the base's waste management system and something that looks like a wicked-ass power core. The eastern leg is the finale and begins with a straightforward walk to the exit before the bars slam shut and you're forced to battle your way around a structure on the underside of the base and, if you're lucky, meet Hissy!
The vast majority of Vrack's gunplay is devoted to super shotgun slaying apart from the beginning, which duels between the shotgun and chaingun. The rocket launcher and plasma gun appear toward the end but will probably be used exclusively to take on the enormous horde of beasties that stands between you and the exit. Johansson uses the Doom bestiary pretty well with a lot of emphasis on zombies, only appropriate given the level's setting as a recently invaded UAC base. The wide hallways give you just about enough room to out-maneuver projectiles, though the combat shotgun means that you'll feel like you ought to get up close and personal in an attempt to conserve ammo.
I wouldn't bother, though, since you will be tripping over shotgun shells the entire level and rushing forward is usually a great way to expose yourself to even more hitscanners. I like Vrack's straightforward action, but there are a few encounters that rubbed me the wrong way. The observation balcony accessed by that 64-wide corridor right off the starting cargo area is a pain in the ass unless you provoke the monsters and then back up to let them file in to your fatal funnel. Running in is not recommended given how many there are and how many of them are either HP soaks or chaingunners. While I kind of enjoyed the nukage pillar fight with the caged revenants, it took a while for me to adjust to dodging and running around those platforms. I suppose I should thank Fredrik for being so kind as to tuck a megasphere away in there!
Vrack has some pretty cool detailing. I especially like all the lightcasting done in the central area and the simple combination of small-size grating over the tech guts walls is a great look for the hallways. It's not that crazy, though, especially compared to what I've read of its sequels. The most complex structure you're going to run into is that aforementioned power core-like thing that houses a teleporter right back to the beginning of the western starting area. It's a nice segment, though, because the monster-free area gives the level a moment to breathe and develop its atmosphere. The break comes welcome to the player as well, given the gauntlet Fredrik runs you through to get there.
While I'm looking forward to the follow-ups, Vrack is a pretty cool space fortress map and definitely worth a play if space-age madness is your thing. It's not often that you get to establish a genre of level design... for Doom, at least. Go ahead and check it out!
PLEASE DON'T HAX0R ME, FREDRIK