Thursday, January 31, 2019

Kama Sutra (KSUTRA.WAD)

Plenty of people have offered their opinions on the Promethean works leading up to the high difficulty / slaughter genre but Hell Revealed is the big one. It ultimately served as a monograph that crystallized notions about the style, establishing a baseline for future experimentation. The first big wave of HR progeny was largely Scandinavian in nature and took several different routes. This resulted in 2001 / 2002's Alien Vendetta (organized by Anders Johnson); 2003's Hell Revealed II (largely characterized through Jonas Feragen's work); and Erik Alm's run from '01 to '03, culminating in Scythe. Adolf "Gusta" Vojta's Kama Sutra, a full Doom II megaWAD released in 2005 with some assistance from Jakub "Method" Razák, is a synthesis of all these influences.

As far as story goes KSUTRA doesn't have one. The .TXT has a spot for it but the primary author uses it to briefly recommend a playstyle. There isn't even any obvious theming going on but you can sort of draw parallels with Doom II in that the early game largely features techbases whereas the middle tends toward a sort of urban environments / under construction aesthetic. The final episode starts out in really obvious red rock Inferno but then takes a hard turn toward abstract Hell Revealed-type structures before wedding crimson canyons to a vast, decaying city. And then, uh, there's MAP30.

The elephant in the room... Kama Sutra owes its name to the seminal Indian text concerning erotic love. The NSFW titlepic itself probably comes from an illustrated version but I couldn't source it. You'll see that Gusta designated himself the woman with his partner in crime, Method, as the man. The authors insist it to be a cheeky bit of Czech humor and while I don't doubt it I also see a kernel of truth in the pairing. As Peter Gabriel sang: "Once a man like the sea I raged, once a woman like the earth I gave, but there is in fact more earth than sea." The lyric is an oblique reference to one of several myths recounting the origin of the prophet Tiresias's blindness but my point is that Vojta has a whopping 26 credits in this mapset with Razák at a distant 9.

The ratio is eerily similar to the Yonaten Donner / Haggay Niv split in the original Hell Revealed (25:8). Characterizing Jakub as the Niv of the relationship would be a huge injustice, though. He was Kama Sutra's main playtester and an anecdote in the .TXT portrays him as a highly skilled player who Adolf was eager to challenge. I wasn't privy to the development of KSUTRA - Hell, Doom was definitely the farthest thing from my mind at the time - but it's probably safe to say that he was partly responsible for the overall character of the mapset's combat. He certainly put in a ton of work in the speedrunning scene and covered a broad variety of WADs.

If I may return to the pernicious pachyderm, the other juvenalia that may offend players is the notorious MAP30. The main structure of the Icon of Sin encounter is the headless body of a woman laying on her back with her legs spread. The focal point is obviously on her birth canal and the player must poke his or her body inside in order to begin the fight, after which spawn cubes start to fly out. You end the battle by nosing back in and firing the rocket launcher to splash Romero's head. You don't have to actually play it since there is an alternate exit path for "KIDS" but everyone still gets to see a post-mortem shot during the cast call with the words "YOU GOT HER!" crassly emblazoned across the starlit sky.

The community didn't have much in the negative to say about it back when it was released in 2005 but the reviews on the /idgames frontend portray a divisive legacy. The original Kama Sutra was an exhaustive study of human sexuality and its associated social constructs insofar as they existed in India when and where it was originally written. Gusta's KSUTRA occupies a similar space because it is a celebration of the aspects of level design that were beloved to him. It is fitting, then, for him to adopt the position of the woman with Method the man as the two together gave life to this megaWAD and then offered it to the community.

The Icon of Sin setup has caught a lot of flak since its initial appearance in Doom II but plenty of projects have willingly embraced it to close out their mapsets. Vojta's rendition of MAP30 draws a comparison between two dopamine-seeking reward loops by conflating the climaxes of both. You're still firing rockets to finish the megaWAD except this time it's into the titanic body of a woman. Gusta jokingly claimed the role in the titlepic but in releasing Kama Sutra he has laid a portion of his psyche bare. "<|>" is an oversimplification of every player / author interaction within the Doom engine. The level designer is a passive agent in the relationship and you only interface with the fruits of his or her labor. Broadly speaking this is the maps themselves but within the context of MAP30 it's the spawned demons.

In playing through KSUTRA you better understand the elements of Doom that KSteam appreciate. As you proceed further, the set gets harder and they become more open in their love for the higher-difficulty mapsets - Hell Revealed, HR2, Alien Vendetta, and Scythe - that comprised so much of their play time. When you reach the end then there is nothing left for the authors to conceal. For all of its absurdity both carnal and comic, you have entered into an intimate relationship with the authors - Gusta in particular - and their loving reverence for not just Doom but the PWADs that inspired them.

I saw a lot of HR2 influence at the beginning because its first episode's jam-packed techbase style cameos in about six of KSUTRA's early levels. The root of the normal-sized but overcrowded layout shtick originates from Donner's "Core Infection" (Hell Revealed MAP05) but the aesthetic itself feels inspired by Chrozoron and the .TXT's comments say as much. Congestion figures heavily into the entirety of both mapsets but the composition of Kama Sutra's overall thing placement is more nuanced and features installed threats from a variety of locations, all of which must be considered when planning your next move. This appears to be one of Adolf's own gameplay predilections shining through, hinted at in the story blurb. In the author's own words: "You just have to go and find every good firing position to embrace well...:)".

This is a very tactically-focused mapset and I often found myself looking for a spot of cover where I could catch a breather and plan my next move. When it's safe, though, you're not going to be bothered. Apart from some of the hot starts it appears to be deliberately designed for methodical clearing with just enough wiggle room for highly skilled players to blow through at the speed of light. When the authors dump a ton of monsters into a room or hallway you're usually not in there with them. I often found myself thinking that the overall difficulty wasn't super-demanding (regardless of how many times I saved and reloaded) only to wonder just how much harder it would be if I was trying to clear each level quickly. The overall package still didn't feel horribly grindy, even when I was deliberately limited to using the double-barreled shotgun.

Scythe is not as obvious an influence. It is primarily recommended to new players because of its relatively short and fun first two episodes. The red rock Hell of the third is the sucker punch, though, and this same rude awakening appears not once but twice during the course of the megaWAD. The first time is at the beginning of "Execution" (MAP11) where the walls surrounding an electric chair melt away into one of the most memorable hot starts of the set. The other, "Diablo's Heart" (MAP21), is interesting in that it's basically Scythe's "Run From It" but with a different, more understandable punishment mechanic. The strongest element of Alm's DNA is difficult to discern for average players but demo recorders who are familiar with both megaWADs likely know how many tricks are baked into the mapsets to facilitate speedrunning. From a casual perusal of both sets of speed records it's obvious that KSUTRA is as slick as a greased Scotsman.

With regards to Alien Vendetta, the references that Gusta commits to - namely, "Beast Island" for "Klondike" (MAP05) as well as "Hillside Siege" / "Clandestine Complex" for "The Train is Approaching" (MAP18) - betrays a fondness for huge and sometimes interconnected adventure levels. This is also reflected in the design of the penultimate "I'm Just a Doom Addict" (MAP29), "Leeds Caste" (MAP16), "Natural" (MAP19), and "Traps" (MAP20). Kama Sutra's second episode is when it feels the closest to the reasons why Alien Vendetta is thought of so fondly. This includes "Dog Eat Dog" (MAP14) which is just as good at setting up a believable and aesthetically appealing location. Vojta's sense of stark beauty as reflected in huge-scale architecture and rugged wilderness can't match the heights of Malde's breathtaking sector work but that's part of what makes Kim so special.

Adolf is no less so; his creativity just happened to grab at a different conduit. His major authorial indulgence exemplifies what it means to be DoomCute. So many of his little details do absolutely nothing for the raw gameplay but exist nonetheless. The two greatest examples in my mind occur in "Time is Tickin' Out" (MAP08) and "Miss Sporty" (MAP15). The first features a segment where a courtyard gradually darkens and a clock tower changes time as you meet several major progression points. The second is a vast sports complex complete with flushable toilets, a tennis court, and a bowling alley. It feels more like a Jim Flynn theme map a la Eternal Doom. Plus the oodles of monsters, of course. You'll also see things like painstaking sector vehicles and, again, the electric chair of MAP11.

Did I mention that Gusta also shows off his love of Duke Nukem 3D? I got some pretty strong vibes from the "Death Row" beginning but the use of sector props such as cars, wheelbarrows, and artillery guns seems like an effort made to inject a bit of realism into vanilla. It can't otherwise compete with Build's interactive sprite props. There's also the use of eight different Duke3D tunes though they're not quite the same because - as DoomWiki helpfully states - they make use of an Apogee-specific MIDI format and it didn't perfectly translate when converted to MUS. "I'm Just a Doom Addict" threw me for a loop with "Taking the Death Toll". I played a metric ton of Duke3D when I was an adolescent and I would have never guessed that I was running through Vojta's decaying cityscape to the background tune of "Red Light District". It's been awhile, I guess.

The love isn't just specific to the Dook, though. Adolf also splashes some on Heretic to the tune of three music selections and using two of the shareware level layouts as the basis for new combat scenarios. "A Little Big Massacre" (MAP23) is the more palatable inclusion, a meaty retread of Raven Software's "The Guard Tower". The other is "Devastation" (MAP31), a super-dense slaughtermap in the grand tradition of Hell Revealed's "Resistance is Futile" that borrows the basic shape of Heretic's "The Citadel". A few textures were smuggled in, too, but it's not so much an influence on the megaWAD's style as it is a source of inspiration for a few of its levels.

If the first episode bares shades of HR2 and the second Alien Vendetta then the third is where the original Hell Revealed shows the strongest. A lot of this is Gusta's riff on Yonaten Donner's "Dead Progressive" style for "Cow Face" (MAP25) and developing his adaptation further with "Kill Bill" (MAP26) plus Jakub's not-quite-as-soul-crushing take on "Post Mortem" in "Hard Target" (MAP28). I also feel it in levels like "Cyber Machine" (MAP17) which claims to be inspired by HR2's "The Siege II" but to me feel much closer to the pacing of an actual Hell Revealed level. One of the purest of the bunch, I think. Not that I expected KSteam to tailor anything to any of these classically-regarded challenge sets.

Of course, I don't want this to sound like the Vojta show. Method is a competent author who feels mostly inspired by the two HRs whether it's making Chrozoron-style bases in "The Hidden Engine" (MAP02) and "Research Complex" (MAP06), the generally overcrowded "regular" layouts, or the aforementioned MAP28. "To Be or Not to Be" (MAP10) feels like the closest he ever comes to nailing Alien Vendetta's sense of adventure with its outpost in the sea aesthetic. "Fire Play" (MAP22) and "The Gift From GOTT" (MAP24) are both grindy and dangerous fortress maps. The former gets some extra juice courtesy of Gusta to give it a nice, scenic finish whereas the latter is all Razák and features some DoomCute of his own by way of those massive, distant ships. The secret "Anger Management" is my favorite of his for its tight layout, crazy combat, and in-your-face traps.

Kama Sutra didn't just emerge from the void. Gusta had a collection of levels for the original Doom that eventually made it to the archives as Hell Medley. Three of them ("Into the Underground", "Colosseum", and "King Arena") were actually adapted for release in KSUTRA. His compilation plays very differently (how could it not given the absence of the expanded roster) but you can see where the author was headed. It has hallways full of monsters ready for slaughter as well as large, open encounters with tons of roaming enemies. DoomCute proves to have always been in his blood, too. He wasn't a midtexture wizard back when he made it, though, so your props are limited to things like desktop computers and a replica of the famous Leeds Castle maze. Wait, what was MAP16's name again...?

My sojourn through the history of slaughter has been a slow burn toward taking The Plutonia Experiment and Hell Revealed and building the links between them and their inevitable progeny. I can see shades of it in encounters like the enormous sluice battle of "Traps", the huge scale of "Dog Eat Dog", and the invul-fed BFG zerg in "Hard Target"'s secret, but Kama Sutra's surface message insists that the safest place for the player is behind some cover. Even if you have to hurriedly fight your way toward it. To me, the "modern" action style emphasizes the mobility of the player and feels more derived from the choreographed move-or-die set pieces found in Deus Vult. The KSUTRA level that best exemplifies this gameplay model is "Cyber Machine". If I found it in something recent, though, I'd expect to see packs of arch-viles in the crusher coffins instead of Cyberdemons and they'd be used as area denial enemies while you fought off a teleporter invasion.

I initially drew a lot of similarities between this mapset and Hell Revealed II but these are more due to the circumstance of their design. Both sets are bound by their vanilla limitations and each pushes the aesthetic envelope harder than the original did. Examples of this phenomenon include midtexture bridges, which are a distinct element in HR2's overall style as well as KSUTRADoom authors have been using that particular cheat since at least 1996, though, because it elevates the appearance beyond the original executable's limitations. Yonaten and Haggay got to reap the benefits of their relatively simple architecture and detailing. As a result, their encounters feel dynamic due to the sense of the scale involved. When Kama Sutra goes big - as is the case with "Dog Eat Dog", "Traps", or even "Colosseum" - it really feels like the cooler parts of Hell Revealed in a way where its sequel did not because of the tendency toward banal, floodfilled encounter design.

KSUTRA is still bound by the VPO, though, and Gusta's tendency toward realistic spaces and DoomCute props means that - by default - it is difficult for him to fully deliver on the promise of HR's more dynamic combat scenarios. The Alien Vendetta crew had a certain knack in managing a sort of stark beauty in its biggest spaces but they weren't afraid of going simple when the scale required. You can see the latter in the massive "Valley of Echoes". Huy Pham embraced Boom and all of its benefits and while I haven't played Scythe 2 I see that Alm went limit-removing for the former. Embracing source ports was undoubtedly a catalyst for the slaughter scene renaissance. Today's vanilla authors have access to crazy tools to help fine-tune level geometry to skirt visplane overflows. This allows for newschool slaughter like Back to Saturn X E2's "Fireking Says No Cheating" but it isn't a magic bullet that allows you to render vile vistas worthy of heavy metal album covers.

KSteam didn't end here, though. They went on to rescue the highly-regarded Plutonia 2 from the disuse of Sam Woodman and even employed the efforts of one of their countrymen, Pavel Tvrznik. Kama Sutra's gameplay style obviously rubbed off on him with his magnum opus, Bloodstain. It feels like he adopted the grindiest aspects of KSUTRA's cover shooter gameplay and midtexture props while leaving its light-hearted tone for dark, gothic adventure. I'm excited to see where Adolf and Jakub take their craft between here and Plutonia 2 since it - alongside Scythe 2 - have been such a huge influence on the community.

Kama Sutra isn't just a regurgitation of the elements that inspired it. Gusta and Method have made it decidedly and, for the most part, deliciously their own. It's nice to see a difficult set allow players to somewhat pace themselves though it may not hold up to someone looking for the non-stop action setpieces that have more or less defined the Boom branch. The best part is: you get a great, classically-paced megaWAD if you turn the difficulty slider down. How neat is that? Thanks for KSUTRA, guys. I'd love to see part two.

by Adolf "Gusta" Vojta and Jakub "Method" Razák

Into the UndergroundMAP01
by Adolf Vojta and Jakub Razák
Originally E1M1 of Hell Medley. It's been considerably touched up, of course, with some great lightcasting and decaying detail. It's a hodgepodge outpost made out of both beige and red brick and features an interstitial marble segment. I especially like the city backdrop in the start area with the hazard cone. It's kind of a Tyson level since it basically begs you to fist the opening zombies and imps. You can race to a shotgun if that's more your thing, though. It's got a good opening threat level and the scattered secrets give it a bit more meat to explore.

MAP02The Hidden Engine
by Jakub Razák
A tricky, trappy tech complex. The opening zombie shootout sets the tone and while the author is kind enough to provide you health for each leg of your journey all of them will require careful dungeoneering to survive. Finding the blue armor first definitely helps, though. My favorite gimmick fight outfits you with the berserk and puts you on a little track where you have to slaughter imp road blocks while some chaingunners shoot from afar. The other stuff is mostly congestion 101.

Mr.Adolf Kill You!MAP03
by Adolf Vojta
A series of ambushes in a little underground base. I didn't realize how bad the first one was until I'd already committed and cleared the eastern corridor considering how many monsters were just piled up at the stairs. Imps come in droves and there's a TiC-style zombie slaughter toward the end of the northeastern leg which feels a little silly but no more so than the charming sailboat in the distance or desktop computer fronting the scene of a slaughter. The little yellow key annex is a potential killer if your brain locks up. There's a very DoomCute unofficial secret that reveals among other things a cool happy face cut into the wall.

MAP04Water Base
by Adolf Vojta
It's certainly a hydropost and it has a pretty decisive bit of tactical action the moment you encounter the courtyard. You could hang out and score the SSG - preferably after snagging the shotgun from the exit wing - or push on ahead where you'll be locked inside the hitscanner bunker. I get the feeling that Mr. Adolf enjoys some Tyson play. The southern side doesn't feel as desperately dangerous but you still have to carefully manage your cover between the arachnotron platform, various cacodemons, and attrition-lite zombie enclosure to the northwest. Pretty fun to pick apart. There's a super-secret containing a soul sphere and armor but I don't think that it's accessible until you have the blue key and even then it requires some parkour maneuvering.

by Adolf Vojta
The texture scheme is very simple but there's a certain basic beauty about the rocky, naturalistic settings. You start out in an underground cave with tons of cascading water and fun details like a railing built into the wall and step outside in the second half where you're treated to DoomCute details like a distant lighthouse and a pile of chopped wood (and a place where Adolf has laid his countryman to rest!). It's relaxed to me, at least when compared to some of the previous levels, but the pop-up revenants managed to give me a start. You're more in danger of running out of ammo against pain elementals, I think. The final area has a neat combat shotgun hoedown.

MAP06Research Complex
by Jakub Razák
Another overcrowded techbase. I get a kind of Hell Revealed II vibe from the way some of the monsters are packed in, the bendy eastern hallway in particular. It isn't too crazy, though, and the author even sees fit to give you a quasi-tricky invul that you can use to wade in and splatter a bunch of imps using either Berserk or hardcore rocket punching. You should be just fine if you're practiced in the art of combat shotgun skirmishing. The first Cyberdemon appears but I don't think that there's a fast way to kill him, only skip.

by Adolf Vojta and Jakub Razák
Originally E1M8 of Hell Medley. The inclusion of "Dead Simple" monsters make things much more tricky. At least, as far as it involves handling the mancubi in the amphitheater. Your reward is a couple of cacodemon slaughter encounters mixed with arachnotrons but neither fight is particularly dangerous since the door that separates the titular architecture and the rocket ship makes for a logical chokepoint. You're at your most vulnerable from the time you arrive until you kill the Cyberdemon on the red key platform. It's a pretty fun brawl! The last of the Cybies actually surprised me.

MAP08Time is Tickin' Out
by Adolf Vojta
Starts out as a harrowing, tactical techbase with HR2 flair before moving on to the main showpiece. After you systematically dismantle the east side - hopefully knowing where to filch the SSG - you move down a marble tunnel only to arrive at a square. I didn't notice the clock tower at first but I definitely saw the courtyard darken as I made my way through the revenant / imp clusterfucks. I'm not thrilled that Adolf repeats the same fight but it has a lot of manic energy and you can either sweep it from the upper balcony or use the cubbies for the safer but slower option. I do appreciate the different waves of monsters who repopulate the brick and marble hub. The titular gimmick is freakin' cool.

The HolocaustMAP09
by Adolf Vojta
This one is set in a small city section. It's a short but very punchy level. There are a couple of great set piece fights, the biggest in my mind being the crazy teleporter fakeout that gives you a brief moment to grab the BFG before you're overwhelmed. It's a fun frenzy and you have several places where you can retreat to and pound the monsters with rockets from a slightly safer position. The arch-vile / revenant tango in the storage room is understated but just as appreciated. You ought to know what to expect from the smaller indoor areas by now but you'll definitely want to search the apartment thoroughly before stepping outside.

MAP10To Be or Not to Be
by Jakub Razák
This is a grindy, meaty brick base in the middle of an ocean. While there are a ton of monsters you aren't in a lot of real danger unless you're facing down one of the level's many Cyberdemons. They're pretty imposing given the spaces in which they appear and are basically the stars. The ubiquitous monster blocking lines give you plenty of safe places for you to dart out and diligently chew through enemies using the combat shotgun. You can do the whole thing this way but things might be quicker if you find the plasma gun. The level looks nice and has some fake bridges and neat scenery including a separate tower, a little butte for you to step out onto, and some kind of hall complete with sector furniture.

by Adolf Vojta
What a start! You open suffering damage in an electric chair - perhaps an homage to Duke3D's "Death Row" - but the next switch opens up the walls and reveals bright red Hell. And a cadre of commandos. Is Doomguy dead? It's tough to get your bearings but it feels as though Adolf's intention is to send you scrambling away from the start area where you can get a much stronger weapon, clear out a hold point, and then proceed as normal. It's a very cool level with tons of infernal scenery. The cascading blood in red rock caves isn't as simply beautiful as the brown and blue aesthetic from "Klondike" but the rugged Hellscapes and careful lightcasting more than make up for it. Historians may note a goofy skull shrine reminiscent of Hell Medley's E1M3. The author alludes to the existence of an end-of-level Cyberdemon, which would figure as a foil for speedrunners, but he appears to be completely absent.

MAP12King Arena
by Adolf Vojta
Originally appeared as E3M1 of Medley. The basic shape and progression haven't changed but Gusta has added even more DoomCute eye candy, turning it into something of a construction site complete with midtexture wheelbarrow. It's a softball of a Tyson level considering that most of the monsters are imps. The inclusion of Doom II beasties hasn't hurt anything. To the contrary, in fact. The "contender" gauntlet in the western room throws a curveball at you but it's actually just another puzzle. Summon the champ in and let him take care of it! It's fun and punchy but my favorite aspect is the brilliant barrel puzzle required to snag the red key.

The Holocaust IIMAP13
by Adolf Vojta
A sequel, so soon? This is a slightly larger city level but you wouldn't know it at the beginning because you start out at a helicopter landing pad. The big gimmick of MAP09 appears in stereo but it feels like it's most advantageous to run inside the railway station. From there you can either grab the secret BFG or let the monsters bunch up on the west side and then run out to suppress them from the opposite end using the rocket launcher. Supposing you cleared out the Spiderdemon room first, of course. The subway shows off more of the Duke3D influence but you also get cool bits like elevators, one of which is a car that you can "jump" up off of. A delivery truck on a rooftop serves as the centerpiece of a deceptively simple slaughter scene. The toughest bits are probably the surprise arch-viles (the ones that sneak out behind you) and the helicopter guardians at the finale.

MAP14Dog Eat Dog
by Adolf Vojta
More of the urban development theme. While it starts off innocently enough this level is all about a couple of big fights. One of them is a big crowd of pain elementals and cacodemons backed by a Cyberdemon for horrifying randomness. The star is a three-pronged ambush with red gasbags from two directions and a restocking of the tiered commando staging area using mancubi and revenants. I feel like the intent is to draw both cacodemons into a funnel of homing missiles and flamethrower fire but it feels so much safer to just grind down the angry cloud from the eastern alcove and then clean up the rambunctious rows. Survival vs. speed strat, I suppose. The scale of the level is pretty impressive, especially with all the height variation. I love the freeway overpass; it has absolutely no bearing on the gameplay but as a piece of worldbuilding it looks phenomenal.

Miss SportyMAP15
by Adolf Vojta
This is a sports complex that includes a tennis court, locker room, running track, bowling alley / bar, bathroom and diving pool, and popup shooting gallery. It's fuckin' great as long as you're comfortable spending almost the entire time behind a combat shotgun. It only figures since the cramped layout does not facilitate rocket launcher use and jack-in-the-boxing with the SSG out of cover is essential to your survival. I'm not so fond of the cacodemon audience ambush since it only emphasizes how meaty so much of the map feels. Turning the Cyberdemon on the imp track stars is great, though. My favorite bit is the little shooting gallery that closes the regular portion of the level out. Awesome stuff - and you can even flush the toilets!

by Adolf Vojta
AV cheerfully informs us that this level is based on Heretic's "The Citadel". I'm not sure whether I would have recognized it but I do agree with the common thread between it and Hell Revealed's "Resistance is Futile". The toughest part is just getting started. All of the weapons are immediately available but you have to handle arch-vile sentinels, entrenched revenants, and tons of meat on the floor. Once you get part of the yard safe - I began with the western side - you can tactically clear the rest. Breaking into the second area feels just as tricky since there doesn't seem to be an intuitive starting point. I had to sort of punch through to the back half, purge one side's revenant track, and then stiffarm the other via rocket suppression fire. The third segment is by far the easiest. The level as a whole has a few great setpieces, some spectacle (the dual Cyberdemons ripe for Baron slaughter) and others super lethal (the revenant clown car blue key trap with Cyberdemons intercepting your retreat on either side). It may be harder than Adolf intended but it's a fair bit easier compared to, say, Alien Vendetta's "No Guts No Glory".

Anger ManagementMAP32
by Jakub Razák
The lovely "Adagio" features in a great wood and metal death arena. This level has a hearty Cyberdemon per square foot ratio and will be difficult to complete if you can't find the red key. It unlocks a little hideaway where you'll receive both the plasma gun (yawn) and BFG 9000 (YES!). The Cyberdemons are in entrenched positions so they feature as long-lived hazards rather than memorable encounters, particularly the one standing ineffectually in a blood pit. The awkward elevator / door system was clearly designed to increase the complexity of manipulations required to escape the polar annexes. My accolades to the ballsy southern wing trap, though. As long as you have the BFG you should be able to weather Jakub's storm. Few of the monsters dumped onto the ground floor are threatening. Pretty cool.

MAP16Leeds Castle
by Adolf Vojta
A ridiculously fun level. If "Miss Sporty" was all about the SSG then this one is (mostly) fun times with rocket launcher. After you get past the opening melee, of course, but it's a fairly bog-standard circle-strafe infight with a few hitscanners serving as spoilers. You get a plasma gun too but the RL is just so enticing. The castle grounds are cool and while the first courtyard is a bit heavy on cover-shooting your rockets are all you need. Once you punch through you get a great tour of the outer wall and plenty of room to blast away without too many surprises. You even get to pick which direction you want to start from! The only hairy moment is an enormous influx of pain elementals, probably my biggest surprise. Great stuff.

Cyber MachineMAP17
by Adolf Vojta
AV says that this level will be a test of patience and he's not lying. You're run through three different gauntlets in a sort of gothic brick and metal theme. The first one is my favorite for the sheer ingenuity as you have to use collapsing columns to leap between stable platforms while fending off cacodemon pairs. It's wisely placed at the beginning since an error would end it all. The second is the slow leg of your journey where you have to carefully maneuver yourself around a tight arena so that you don't get splashed by whatever Cyberdemon is currently "active" and the only available weapon is your combat shotgun. The gimmick is cool but it's drawn-out. The final ring is the most fun even if it's effectively circle-strafing with your rocket launcher... up until the four Cybs are unleashed. Gusta suggests inspiration from HR2's "The Siege II" and while I sort of feel it the big Cyber reveal leaves more of a "The Descent" vibe to me. Technically interesting but tedious.

MAP18The Train is Approaching
by Adolf Vojta
Taking a detour through an expansive base level built in some rugged wilderness. The title refers to a derailed passenger line whose back end is visible at the start with the front car poking out into the exit area. It feels like a sort of meta-commentary about trying to barrel straight through, not that it dissuaded speed runners from finishing in less than twenty seconds. The level is a treasure to explore as long as you can actually find your footing at the start. There are several directions for you to push in and plenty of surprises. The routes are just as dense as the monsters. You can really go wild with the rocket launcher and plasma gun... once you find them, of course. I think that the start is more lethal than any of the individual ambushes to follow but I liked the chaos in the northeastern fortress. It takes a little while to build a mental map of the various ways in which you can move around, especially given how many sawtooths there are.

by Adolf Vojta
This is another sort of rugged wilderness base but with less interesting grand scenery. Its dose of DoomCute comes in the form of something resembling an artillery gun which pegs the map as some kind of military installation... not that the rest of the level is committed to this angle. One of the two hottest things "Natural" has going on is the start, which cleaves the player's path in two by using a Cyberdemon in the starting area and forcing you to quickly choose a direction to flee in. The other is the plasma gun ambush due to the sheer amount of pressure caused by the arch-vile assault. Make sure you grabbed a couple of large cells from somewhere else! The enormous crowd of monsters in the exit landscape feels superfluous because they are so eager to tear each other apart with barely any work from you. I imagine, though, that they serve as a decent foil for speedrunners.

by Adolf Vojta
The scale is big in this partially ruined mountain stronghold. It has two killer aspects. The first, which I'm sure has generated no end of ire, is a series of dastardly barrel traps. Each one stands a very good chance of slaying you dead. The big show is an enormous slaughter in a sluice that pits you between two fronts. A bunch of high-HP monsters including tons of arch-viles teleport to an upper tier and probably aren't going to go away any time soon. The only way out is through a tunnel jam-packed with imps and pain elementals. The entrance is a lowering and raising door, though, so you have to beat back both hordes until the timing feels right and you can rush in to relative safety. There's actually an invul available to help you out here but I didn't know about it until after I'd already finished; it ought to make things MUCH easier. Once you get it cleared out then the rest of the fights should easily fall into place, provided that you have no trouble dispatching the various Cyberdemons. The scenery is great and the dangerously elevated layout brings the "rugged landscape dwarfing increasingly isolated man-made structures" theme to a nice head. The blue key crane is pretty cool as far as sector machinery goes.

Diablo's HeartMAP21
by Adolf Vojta
It's on to red rock Hell. This level feels like a take on Scythe's "Run From It" except it's more understandable since you're not under an invisible time limit. The method of your demise is obvious in each case; the most frustrating part will be getting blinded by fire at the great bank of arch-viles. When you finally run through the entire obstacle course Adolf presses a shotgun into your hand and it's time to fight. Clearing the bridge can be a little tedious since you have to keep ducking behind cover but it's not bad. The end of level ambush feels like a retread of one of the Cyberdemon encounters from "Anger Management" except you can just blaze right past it. Don't blink or you'll miss the longboat at the beginning.

MAP22Fire Play
by Adolf Vojta and Jakub Razák
A fortress in Hell. The pace is plodding and the action is a tad bit claustrophobic but it isn't stuffed any differently than the meatier early levels. I like the opening imp sandwich and, later on, pumping rockets into the pathways filled with revenants and Hell nobles. The two Cyberdemons in the center of the keep are just huge time sinks, though. It feels a little plain compared to some of the stuff that's gone before but the bridges leading to the underwhelming Spiderdemon finale make for a nice scene.

A Little Big MassacreMAP23
by Adolf Vojta
Like the first of the two secret levels, this one is also based on a Heretic level. It's a re-skin of "The Guard Tower" with the eponymous area removed, a little extra annex for the yellow key, and a big makeover for the western section to facilitate a finale fight. The main goal is finding where in the open layout the blue and yellow keys are located. Most of the map is packed full of heavy monsters including revenant-clogged straights. The thickest bits are sealed in by monster-blocking lines, though, and the free spaces are peppered with imps, Hell nobles, and cacodemons who are allowed to roam but aren't so immediately threatening. Outside of the initial push, anyway. Once you get your footing you can tactically clear the map at your own pace. You can really abuse the rocket launcher and BFG and I like the roaming potential of the less dangerous monsters. You have to be wary or you'll end up eating splash from your own missile. This is a pretty fun way to chew through nearly 400 monsters.

MAP24The Gift From GOTT
by Jakub Razák
This is a sort of plain fortress castle with some neat dock scenery at the outer edges. I had a very bad experience during my playthrough because I didn't know that there was a rocket launcher in one of the nukage alcoves until I'd already finished nearly the entire level. I somehow also managed to miss the combat shotgun / backpack until I reached the switch that raises the lift up to the blue key platform. Knowing the secrets is mandatory. You won't find the RL, SSG, or BFG otherwise. Checking both of the slime holes will max out your rockets which makes for a significantly easier experience. The main courtyard is still a dangerous clear, though. The monster placement is thick on the floor to begin with and the arch-viles on the front  / revenants in the back placement is dangerous but doable. Especially if you sling rockets at the blue key dais from the relative safety of the entryway. The Cyberdemons are probably the most consistent threats. The weird death exit setup doesn't seem to work right in ZDoom but if you time a rocket then you can provide the motive force to push the voodoo doll to victory.

Cow FaceMAP25
by Adolf Vojta
Because that's what the exit area looks like on the automap. At least, it did to the author. It's a sort of squat fortress / bunker thing, more abstract than anything. He was trying to target HR's "Dead Progressive". Some of the ideas are there but it drew comparisons to "Mostly Harmful" because of how freakin' cramped - and packed - it is. The level isn't excessively difficult since there are a couple of safe spots where you can hang out of the watchful eyes of the arch-viles. You can use the ledges of chaingunners to thin the pack of imps waiting at the beginning as long as you're quiet. Clinching the rocket launcher from one of the throne rooms decisively turns the tide in your favor. At that point you can enjoy the spectacle of turning the Cyberdemons on mixed packs of Hell nobles and revenants or the skeleton parade waiting back at the beginning. There aren't a lot of indulgences in here, making this look closer to the actual Hell Revealed aesthetic. At a much smaller scale, of course.

MAP26Kill Bill
by Adolf Vojta
Sort of like the previous level but on steroids. It's a bisymmetric brick and mortar wonderland jam-packed with monsters. The opening shot is quite a pickle since you have to push past demons and revenants post-haste. Once you're done hosing down the initial population you can get your bearings and figure out how you want to handle the seemingly endless chaingunner towers and skeleton closets. It seems like a more clear-cut BFG and rocket slaughter once you get past the blue key doors and move on to the northern battlements. It's a little tiresome clearing each leg of the level twice since the hordes are exactly the same (compare to "Leeds Castle") but I appreciate the one time super thick ambush in the center of the first keep. The architecture is pretty cool but the standout feature is easily the levitating Baphomet cubes.

Stairway to HeavenMAP27
by Adolf Vojta
A series of minimaps in the void that get progressively more difficult. You start out with the pistol, pick up the Berserk for the first "real" stretch, and then move up through the slots until you finish with a (largely optional) BFG slaughter. I really dig the walkways in the void aesthetic of the fist segment; the shotgun area feels the most substantial; and the scary brick man with rocket launchers for arms who features in the plasma gun bit is a nice return to DoomCute. It's been otherwise absent from the third episode. The toughest of these segments to me is the rocket launcher fight. There's nowhere to run except into the long arms of a revenant horde and good luck if you didn't take the second or two to wipe out a bleacher full of chaingunners.

MAP28Hard Target
by Jakub Razák
In the grand tradition of "Post Mortem". It's a huge, underground cavern sectioned off into four very similar areas. Most of the 1,700+ monsters are confined to large cages that are part of the architecture. These include Hell nobles, arch-viles, revenants, and mancubi. The main exceptions are a number of cacodemon invasions, a couple of which come with pain elementals as well. It's daunting just trying to figure out where to start but the goal involves tackling a handful of side-areas which ultimately lead to switches. Together they raise a bridge from the starting bunker to the exit area. There are a ton of rad suits should you decide to engage in the thankless task of clearing the entire floor. You'll also want the BFG, particularly for the enormous aerial mobs. In a level whose combat occurs in such broad strokes there isn't really anything approaching a standout encounter but I enjoyed the crazy invul-fed BFG zerg in the secret slaughterzone.

I'm Just a Doom AddictMAP29
by Adolf Vojta
An enormous, broken cityscape that eventually transitions to a red rock Hell sojourn. This is a tough level but you almost always have a safe spot to fall back to (excepting the opening arch-vile SSG jousting). I find the secret interesting as it's basically a fast-forward button that lets you skip the key hunt and move straight to the final area. You'd miss out on all the fun stuff, though, like a wrecked car; a forge; some kind of aeronautics museum; and a small amphitheater. The combat isn't any different than the sort of tactical / sweet spot shooting you've seen in the previous outings. In fact, it may be a good bit less densely populated. While it's not too difficult there are plenty of places for you to get creamed if you start acting too cocky. The big pain elemental / cacodemon ambush is a good one for it and the arch-viles in the post-BFG trench feel like one of the more arbitrary threats. Not to forget the numerous Cyberdemons, of course. If there's a standout fight then I would have to give it to the final crossfire since AV waits until the last possible moment to slide in some Wolfenstein SS troopers and it sort of works with the Cybie in the center. A great adventure.

by Adolf Vojta
You have your choice of two different encounters. There is a "kids" version but I doubt whether the author was serious about trying to avoid minors viewing his handiwork since the infamous landscape also appears in the BOSSBACK for the cast call. Anyway, it's very short but requires you to dodge rockets from eight Cyberdemons while the central pillar slowly lowers, exposing the exit teleporter. The main structure of the adult version is the body of a giant naked woman lying on her back. The playing area is confined around the lower half by invisible lines drawn from her waist. You get to fight the same Cyberdemons as well as a potent rate of spawn cubes emitted from the woman's nether regions. You're drowning in cell ammo and have plenty of megaspheres, though, so clearing the most dangerous monsters isn't too tough. Just don't get telefragged!



  1. Brilliant review for a brilliant wad. You're hitting the right notes BEFORE even playing Scythe 2 or Plutonia 2, the foundation pieces of modern mapping. I envy you, because you have such good times ahead of you, oh great virginal sage!

    1. The exciting part is that I'm quickly building up toward Alm's sizable backlog, building up to and around Scythe. The only thing that I've wrestled with is whether to just give CCHEST2 a miss and head straight on to Scythe 2.

  2. Always been a huge fan of Gusta's work. A megawad I return to very often.

    1. It's great stuff. I'm psyched to see how his talent developed into PL2.

  3. Thursday, January 31, 2019. The day this review was posted. The worst day of my life (so far, going on 29 years).

    It was the day I woke up, and soon learmed that my mother had passed away.

    And she played this wad back in 2005 (though on easy). But it was one of just five wads she ever played. And the first to see a review on this blog.

    Regardless - a very cool wad with plenty of gems.