Friday, October 20, 2017

Phobos - Relive the Nightmare (RELIVE.WAD)


Slugfest. Doom City. Torment. All released by Shamus Young, in 1995, with original music from the author, and pulling double-duty as both single / co-op and deathmatch maps and mapsets. Phobos - Relive the Nightmare, the last of his Doom II works, differs in that it was published in 1996 but otherwise continues the same trends as the author's previous uploads in making aesthetically appealing levels with more complex layouts and relatively small bodycounts. The end result is a nine-level mapset drawing inspiration from Doom's shareware release yet thankfully remaining cast with Shamus's particular idioms.


Actually, Young's inspiration also comes from the names of the levels themselves but not their physical contents. RELIVE has a theme to tie all the maps together and basing it on Knee Deep in the Dead gives the author more variety than the relatively banal concrete contrasted against occasional patches of blue water comprising Torment. Young has also rearranged the order of the levels between "Hangar" and "Phobos Anomaly", creating a different exploration narrative that draws you through the less sensitive areas of the lunar outpost before breaching the last paramilitary bastion and confronting the source of the evil.


Shamus's own observations circa 1996 pegged him as a proponent of the superiority of Doom's shareware selections. This decision was primarily a function of aesthetics; to quote the author, "they LOOKED better than any of the other levels." Young believed in the Doom engine's ability to accurately emulate the appearance of architecture designed by humans over its capacity to approximate the locales to be witnessed in Hell. Fair enough; the lack of sloped floors and inability to do room-over-room would never realize the absolute promise of any level purporting to represent the nefarious nadir and its nightmarish, potentially impossible topography.


Given such sentiments, you might be misled into thinking that RELIVE went the way of Roger Ritenour and tired to turn this episode away from the vague functionality of Romero's rendition and toward the Doomworld hobgoblin of realism. After all, Young made a bunch of new textures for Doom City to have stuff like a 7-Eleven, bank, and grocery store. However, outside of the landing pad kicking the whole set off (and maybe a countertop somewhere) it's just as full of ambiguously applicable architecture. Looking back through these maps I lean more toward "Maybe, I guess" than "Yeah, totally!".


Which is just as true of the original Knee Deep in the Dead. Doom certainly excels at creating places that players feel could actually exist as far as the plausibility of their geometry but this doesn't make the fabricated worlds any less abstract since they rely just as much on an appeal to the player's imagination. Otherwise, they would fall flat. I think that the Inferno episode (and, to a lesser extent, The Shores of Hell) does a better job of looking like what it's supposed to be, whatever the shortcomings of the original Doom engine are. However, I would scarce deny that nothing hammers these limitations home harder than the opening intestinal yard of "Hell Keep", crazy organic elevator notwithstanding.


RELIVE definitely inherits the crowd-pleasing visuals of Phobos if not their architecture but the combat is a clear departure. MAP01 may fool you since it's limited to the same monsters you'd fight in E1M1 but you will see revenants, pain elementals, and others as early as MAP02 and Young never really puts his foot on the brake. The relatively small area occupied by his maps leaves a feeling of thick monster density and the layouts are still geared to facilitate deathmatch play so it's not uncommon for the wild things to find their way to you if they are left unattended. Important notes for prospective players: there are very few monster closets and the only instance of a teleport "trap" is in the finale so if you dig simplified Doom II action then I suspect that this one will be right up your alley.


The biggest surprise for me came early on in Young's rendition of "Computer Station". You'll be digging into a congested cluster of technological stacks early on and the dark lighting combined with the surprising leap in monster progression makes for suspenseful exploration. Plus, using key doors to make shortcuts facilitating easier backtracking. I like "Phobos Lab" for successfully doing blue and silver (and computer gray) with a fun layout. "Military Base" also does a great job in the latter aspect, maybe my favorite "open" map of the set making for action-fueled exploration that stands as a nice contrast to MAP02's dungeon-delving sensibilities.


RELIVE also works as Young's last musical release. It reuses a lot of its own melodic motifs which could leave the whole thing sounding same-y or for those overlooking its simplicity bestow a certain Wagnerian flair. I recall a minor Youtube celebrity expressing his fondness for the soundtrack to La Mulana because it sounded to him like the same song remixed to produce all of the other tunes, an observation he then extended Japanese video game soundtracks. Me, well, I really like the track for "Command Control" (MAP03). I'll gladly crowbar it into an action-packed tech-themed level if I ever make one.


Your case for Phobos - Relive the Nightmare: short, action packed levels with a lack of canned surprises that look pretty good. Also, while we see plenty of Episode One rehashes, it's not often for them to be rendered in Doom II. If you're going to play one thing of Shamus's, make it Doom City. Don't stop there, though, because RELIVE kicks ass.






PHOBOS
RELIVE THE NIGHTMARE
by Shamus Young

HangarMAP01
The author starts out with a simple base consisting of a helipad and a winding, coiled corridor to lead you inside and outside to the exit. The road to Hell is paved in zombies of the weakest variety with a couple of shotgun guy snipers standing on computer panels and a few caged imps and one free-range. There's virtually no threat as you pistol whip your way to success and, apart from a few panels and supplementary columns, little eye-candy.

MAP02Computer Station
Okay, this is really cool. Young's design appears to predict the creepy claustrophobic computer banks of Doom 3. It's not a horror-oriented map but there is a real lurking threat in the maze-like area that dominates the northern half of the level, made tough to navigate by automap via use of grating. Maybe it's the first encountered revenant. I'm not as threatened as the toughs in the well-lit areas, as thick as the pain elementals / mancubuses / Hell knights may be. The yellow key also lets you shortcut past the digital jungle rather than backtracking through it, a nice touch. Fun stuff.

Command ControlMAP03
A gray STARTAN base with a couple of outdoor sections. The half-lit aesthetic allows for some really neat highlights like illuminated blue walls and the pseudo-psychedelic eastern hallway with its grids of lightbars. It's got a pretty beefy glut of monsters including a pack of arachnotrons near the exit and a few surprise pain elementals but most of the opposition consists of Doom II trash. I like the staircase that joins the north area to the south.

MAP04Central Processing
Young starts to delve into nukage, which has been thus far lacking from the mapset. It's actually highly dangerous slime of the 20% variety and serves as the centerpiece of several early sections including a peripheral catwalk revenants on columns and the area leading up to it fielding a gallery of zombies on the opposite side. The green goo is probably the most dangerous aspect of this level up until you get through the yellow key door where you'll find a mass of mancubuses. My biggest challenge, besides for some reason not falling into the nukage in the central room, was trying not to waste all of the shotgun shells laying around.

Toxin RefineryMAP05
This time, nukage is a major feature of the level, making the scattered supplies tucked into the corners of the canals dominating nearly half of the level tantalizing traps. Shamus has also deployed a bunch of barrels that can just as easily to be your disadvantage given the relatively cramped confines. I think the only real combat threats are the sole revenant and mancubus, the latter of which can do a great job of sneaking up on you.

MAP06Nuclear Plant
It doesn't really look like a nuclear plant but Young has something I could vaguely misconstrue to be a reactor core plus a ton of tech so it's got that advanced installation look going for it. The main gimmick sections off three tiers of the map with a pair of lifts right off the starting area and can be the source of several headaches based on the constrained playing areas coupled with beefy monsters including cacodemons and hard-knocking revenants. The large outdoor staircase to the north is a cool area of dubious purpose and I enjoy the hanging computer panel aesthetic of the "control" room, for lack of a better term.

Phobos LabMAP07
It's got a solid blue and silver tech look to give a sterile lab-like feel and a real blood tornado of a layout where half of the monsters - all shotgun guys and commandos - die in the first twenty or so seconds since they're crammed into the northern room. They're too thick to just park at the end of the fatal funnel, though, and it's easy for a demon to sneak up on you when you're so absorbed in the action. My standout moment is the revenant ambush, a rare case where the author actually releases monsters on two fronts, one of which may come as a surprise.

MAP08Military Base
This is a really cool layout as far as techbase levels go. The fact that it's an outpost isolated from the main complex by a moat of toxic waste crossed by bridges lends a real sense of place like it's the final military checkpoint before the anomalous experiment. The opening has a bit of hitscanner Hell but it's not nearly as bad as the previous level. I'd be more concerned about the revenants just dying to meet you. The central-eastern room looks great and dials up the feel of interconnectivity. Like the rest of these maps, it's pretty heavy on the combat shotgun action. I'll also take care to mention that it has a very simple sequence break available via the ledge "secret".

Phobos AnomalyMAP09
Well, it's sort of anomalous in that it's floating in the dull gray sky, and also because it tries to set up a massive teleporter wave that's painfully easy to skip. You'll have to wait out the exit bars either way. If you decide to engage the evil, the main thing to watch out for is the arch-vile since he tends to appear in the middle of the demon rush and may be tricky to eliminate depending on your strategy.

NIGHTMARES AND
THEMESCRAPES

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