Saturday, March 3, 2018

Mortiser 1: Lookout Base (SWMORT1.WAD)

by Sam "Metabolist" Woodman

It took awhile, including three wildly ambitious beginnings, but Sam eventually hit his stride with this MAP01 replacement in late 2000. The Mortiser series constitutes his largest, independent body of work and spans five levels from 2000 to 2003. The biggest thing tying these maps together is the Mortiser resource WAD, a collection of works from Nick Baker also serving as the basis of the theme for the apparently-still-in-progress Testament of Judgement. The Doomwiki informs me that ToJ eventually turned into Plutonia 2, but in September 2000 the difficulty design doc for PL2 explicitly labels it as such while the text file for MORTRES (timestamped on 10/31/2000... though the .WAD itself is stamped in THE FUTURE on 02/20/2018) continues to talk about ToJ as its own project-to-come. Maybe someone with access to the earliest dev materials can explicitly link the two.

While there is a sort of overarching story to the series, "Lookout Base" has no framing narrative and truth be told it's basically a demon-infested techbase romp. The resource pack and clean design reminds me of the modern aesthetic that's exemplified in works like Community Chest 4. I would be surprised if there was not some shared genealogy between the texture sets. The gray hallway with red and yellow tech panels goes further than anything else to remind me of this. The banded metal-ish siding featuring in the compound's outer wall and intercardinal sections, not so much. It looks really bland on a big, flat surface. The layered secret / staircase room to the southwest does a much better job of playing to its strengths.

I had my suspicions while reading an overview of the final, Woodman-led state of Plutonia 2, but Mortiser confirms it. Virgil the Doom Poet and Metabolist were most definitely soul brothers. Its gameplay bears an uncanny resemblance to Vick's early material with its emphasis on hallways crammed full of monsters and thing placement that betrays no concern for the player. The large inner yard, which dominates the playing area, is staffed by an army of monsters. Taking the teleporter in the outer wall drops you into a little fenced-in enclosure in its center and wakes up pretty much everything. By the time you get to the slow lift that takes you back down, all of the Hellspawn will have bunched up around the entrance. Either you park on the lowered platform and spray chaingun fire until most of the ruffians are dead - a boring task fraught with attrition - or you run back to the other end of the map to sort of draw them away before hastily returning to a relatively clearer landing.

There's a combat shotgun, but Woodman being an utter bastard hid the secret in the little blue key pen. He drops a hint in the text but the moment you warp in you're going to get Swiss-cheesed on top of the three imps in the holding area with you so there's no real incentive to stick around. Now, if you know how to get it, the secret is a huge boon as it allows you to effortlessly neuter the conspicuous ledge full of chaingun zombies glimpsed from that first long hallway. The yard is much easier to conquer without having to worry about commando snipers; in fact, it's practically a breeze.

Mortiser 1 is mostly a slaughter of Doom II's trash monsters with an emphasis on zombies. The few heavy hitters come as slight surprises but it's the setups that shock more than anything else. If you're not keen on diligently plowing your way through corridors full of the walking dead and imps, then I doubt whether Sam will make you a convert. It's otherwise a clean and quick play; I think I even had fun my second go around.


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