Thursday, February 9, 2017
Fear Island (FEAR_ISL.WAD)
by Rex Claussen
Back when Rex Claussen started mapping, he was making what he hoped were limit-removing PWADs and testing them in ZDoom, inspired by his admiration and correspondence with Ian Wilson of Herian fame. Fear Island is his second release both in 1999 and in his entire career, a single level replacement for Doom II in the MAP22 slot that works fine in ZDoom and might work in other source ports. Unlike his first publication, Quo Vadis (aka PUGILIST), there isn't an enormous story document; Claussen's presentation is short and to the point, much like the level itself.
Fear Island is a solitary square-shaped island in the endless oceans of lava that make up so much of its tainted topography. The island itself is walled off with a ground covered in whatever passes for greenery in the inferno; in the center, a three-tiered step pyramid. Claussen's big twist on the format has you start in the central, highest tier and then work your way down and around until you reach the ground floor where you find the switch that opens up the exit, back up at the top. The pressure is on at the beginning as there's a small group of Hell knights for a welcoming committee and you won't find a stronger armament besides the Berserk pack on the next floor down, admittedly indispensable for taking out those packs of demons. Flipping the switches that lower the ammo / weapon pedestals also lowers the walls that keep them from chasing you.
The challenges of Fear Island are subject to its bilateral symmetry, running north to south. The weapon pickups aren't mirrored but the monsters are, removing some of the thrill beyond those progression switch surprises teleporting in first pairs of revenants and second area-of-denial arch-viles with Baron roamers. If you're anything like me, you'll be chomping at the bit to figure out where the rocket launcher and combat shotgun are, the former great for knocking out the corner viles and the latter just great all-around. The biggest challenge is the final wave, since players caught unawares will be subject to some commando needling before having to contend with an arch-vile who is now king of the hill and may have resurrected some Hell knights depending on where they were slain.
The step pyramid itself has a simple elegance; I really dig the use of the marble columns. Altogether it's not an outstanding map but the action is okay if repetitive by nature, certainly more approachable than the oft-inscrutable Quo Vadis. Working your way down from the top is kind of novel, but it's not one of my first recommendations unless you're suffering from some kind of step pyramid fixation.
WHERE YOUR FEAR BECOME REALITY