Sunday, February 26, 2017

Phoenix Rising (PHOENIX.WAD)

The year 2000 saw then-Gurkha Boy but future-Rex Claussen move away from the tried and true vanilla Doom II textures to experiment with assets belonging to other games in a minisode format. The first theme on the list was Hexen II, explored in the cheekily-titled A Hex On You. The next on the chopping block: Phoenix Rising, a five-map minisode for Doom II using resources from Hexen II's sister game, Quake II. Like HEX_ON_U, it's mean for a limit-removing source port that has several features including jumping. Anything in the ZDoom family ought to work. One important note: PHOENIX begins on MAP02 so make sure you set your clock ahead one level.

This one has a narrative, too! It's sort of a Doom side-story, beginning with the Deimos invasion and moving to Hell on Earth. I guess while the evacuation was going on the planet's military left soldiers in stasis facilities across the globe. After the passage of a year, the intent was to activate the sleepers in order to mount an effective resistance. Uh, okay. I'm sure that they would Red Dawn the shit out of the infinite hordes of Hell. Supposing this isn't some sort of alternate Doom history, the rebuilding and clearing process does not appear to have reached the Rockport Command Center, located in a nondescript area in the western half of Canada ("somewhere in the Canadian Rockies"). As such, you're woken up once the timer finishes. Why your three fellows fail to respond isn't elaborated on but the short of it is that you're on your own.

Phoenix Rising is presented as a sort of contiguous adventure spanning your emergence from stasis to your escape via shuttle. Portions of levels you've previously been through - and sections that you haven't yet explored - are woven into your progression to give it a hub-like feeling. In spite of this, it's still balanced for pistol starts, but MAP02 ("The Smell of Death") will be more challenging since the shotgun is locked behind some blue key bars. You'll have to make do with a chaingun pried from the hands of one of several zombie commandos until then. MAP03 is more forgiving since the first thing you do is grab a combat shotgun off the wall. MAP04 is a special case; I can't imagine any of its fights being fun when handled in a "traditional" manner.

The level design looks okay. It's mostly right angles with a few 45 degree edges to round things out, carrying an air of the functional over the fantastic. Rex's dedication to the Quake II textures gives it a distinct hook as far as Doom levels go and it's got a few other fun details like the power armor hangar seen in MAP06 ("Flight of the Phoenix"). They're nice examples of world-building. If only you could climb inside and decimate a horde of demons in a powerful exoskeleton! The outdoor sections also kind of pin down the alpine mountain base feel but in this it reminds me more of the landscapes in some of Kurt Kesler's maps than anything else.

The one thing bothering me about Claussen's level design here is the countless inexplicable copy and pasted desks, a symptom I first noticed in Military Research Complex. All of the space in the world in a futuristic army installation and the best we can get is the same metal desk with a wooden bumper on top. It reeks of a desperation that is conscious of the empty spaces resulting from Rex's spacious scale but which has absolutely no idea what to do about them. Maybe the goal was to slam something in there at roughly waist height in order to avoid it being a significant obstacle to the Doomguy unbound by the jump key. All this does is turn each space into an effectively empty room, though. Stuff like tall computer stacks may appear to be lazy Doom level design but they're pretty good at facilitating organic encounter pacing along with things like columns. The ubiquitous desk and chair combo makes me wonder if they just overstocked from Discount Office Warehouse and didn't know what to do with the extras.

All that aside, it's a decent little adventure. I really dig the Quake II resources and while the geometry may not make for the most exciting visuals it certainly works. If you enjoy the idea of clearing a demon infested techbase out from the inside, then this one's for you. All I hope is that the next one features less material cribbed from Claussen's earlier levels. I'll admit, though, that he's spot on about what stuff is worth stealing.

by Rex Claussen

Out of StasisMAP02
Starting out tense. You don't have anything to fight for a good bit as you navigate the storage area adjoined to Stasis but you'll eventually encounter opposition, even if you might not be able to initially fight back against the dynamic duo. Turning on the lights is a neat touch to reinforce the whole reactivating an abandoned base theme. The only weapon besides the secret chainsaw is a shotgun but there's plenty of ammo so it should really be the only armament you need.

MAP03The Smell of Death
The odor in question is the stench of sewage. For the second map it's pretty big and features an impressive network of tunnels surrounding rooms with cisterns and settling ponds. There's even a not-quite-secret annex locked behind both the red key and a shootable switch that I'm pretty sure you need mouselook for but can't guarantee. If you pistol start, it won't be too brutal since you can snag a chaingun from the commandos in the crate room, but you'll have to wait it out to the blue key before you can hold the regular shotgun. Tunnel clearing is pretty tense but my favorite fights involve the skeletons either in the northwestern pillar room or southwestern settling pond bit.

Daylight AgainMAP04
Rex kicks out the love by giving you a combat shotgun before you see a single monster. Looks like it's time for action! "Daylight" has a huge, outdoor section that divides the sewage treatment facility, the main warehouse you peeked into in MAP01, and some sort of factory-thing to the east. The outdoor area is rife with snipers but you can clear all the shotgun guys out in a single sweep starting west and moving east. The inside is more typical room clearing with the occasional slow trickle teleport ambush. It feels good to be taking on heavies using the SSG. The open sky is a welcome change in scenery.

MAP05Theater Ops.
This is a series of puzzle encounters first found in Rex's previous releases, beginning with the friendly Cyberdemon battle of Quo Vadis's MAP03. Second, a repurposed finale from A Hex On You's MAP03, providing you momentary cover against a Spiderdemon as you move to flip two switches so that you can telefrag the beast. The last is Rex's final 1999 release, Arena, fundamentally unchanged except the alcoves are a bit easier to see. It's all entirely doable from pistol start and I highly encourage you to handle it as such. Pretty fun gameplay! Well, not if you keep getting cooked by rocket splash damage in the first one...

Flight of the PhoenixMAP06
Rex ties the previous two levels together with the first for a relatively banal sendoff. I say so because a lot of the monsters - zombies and imps - will be wiped out in short order. The biggest threats are the shotgun guys in the relatively open area in the western yard or the eastern installation, curiously repopulated since your last venture. The level geometry consists of a lot of big open spaces that are underwhelming in architecture. I like the return to the stasis area and the weapons locker / plasma lab / armored division toe the line between DoomCute and just plain cool. Neither of the big boss monsters should provide much of a challenge given all the cell ammo you'll have in store; I'd be more worried about getting sniped by one of several spoiler arch-viles.



  1. Probably my favorite little detail from this mapset are the other dudes in stasis in the first map. Each one brings their own attire. I'd like to know the backstory of skinny rad-suit man.

    1. Maybe Rex could be persuaded to make a sequel where the rest of the operatives are activated in their own episodes. After all, he's remaking Temple of the Ancients.