Sunday, January 27, 2019

Mayhem 2013 (MAYHEM13.WAD)

The MAYhem series is sort of like a speedmapping session but the target for making maps is the very merry May. Sometimes the polishing phase wraps up a few months later. At other times it doesn't finish until, say, March of the following year. The first session - MAYHEM12 - wasn't really centered around a gimmick unless you counted its three suggested themes but it did have a much-maligned texture set. MAYhem 2013 elected to use the Community Chest 4 pack but actually ended up with one less level. Maybe that's because of the 2MONSTER gimmick. Released in 2014, the final product is an eleven-level mapset for Doom II that's meant for Boom-compatible ports.

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, each one of these levels uses only two enemy types from the Doom II bestiary. The most popular lad was the arch-vile who appears in four of these levels while the chaingunner comes in second, gracing only three map slots. The shotgun guy, imp, Baron of Hell, and arachnotron take third with two entries each. Single appearances include the lowly zombie, mancubus, pain elemental, cacodemon, demon, revenant, and Spiderdemon. If you don't count spectres who are basically demons, Hell knights who are just squishy Barons, and lost souls who serve as part of the meatball experience then the only monster who isn't on display is the Cyberdemon. You don't need a rocket-shooting skyscraper with goat legs to make difficult levels, though.

Mayhem 2013 is a pretty challenging mapset. It isn't necessarily about the arch-viles but they help to set your initial impression. The nervous energy hits a lull early on from MAP03 through to MAP06 ("Eternity's Hatred" being relatively forgiving). It hits a sheer brick wall at MAP07, though, at which point you'll probably want to dial the difficulty slider down unless you like throwing yourself into a meat grinder in order to figure out how to disassemble it. The nastiest stuff is way more accommodating on HMP. "Casing Lake" and "Demon Rush" aren't quite so bad - in fact, the latter one is both cute and masterfully inventive - and I'll even vouch for "Leviathan". Well, maybe not the super-congested portions. "Onyx" is bound to irritate all but a select group of people, though, and I spent a long time playing the opening bits of "Stone Spinneret" on UV with the distinct feeling that I wasn't making any headway toward figuring out the method of its madness.

It's odd to think that the creepy but effective "Unit 731" begins your journey. Its derelict display is the perfect place to make plain zombies feel threatening and it's a real shock when the level's ringers appear. "From the Sky" has more of those moments but mixed up with some interesting engineering like timed stepping stones emerging from a pool of toxic slow-down sludge. "Orange Night" is a fairly laid-back exercise in street cleaning and all combat in "Pool of the Spiders" can be bypassed in a dash to the exit, though unlike MAP08 this is probably not what the author intended. Joe-Ilya's "Shooting With Imps" is by far the most normal of all the levels in its gameplay if not aesthetics and it comes as a nice breather.

I guess I was expecting more traditional pacing but I imagine that any attempt to do so would fall flat after awhile given how crucial monster variety is in keeping the largely incidental action of a classically-oriented level. Gimmicks are probably the way to go and while few of these are as naked as "Hunted" I still see them leveraging some common themes, arch-vile pillar dancing the most of all. They come with some interesting visuals, though. I love the sector machinery involved in the elaborate, melting box in Obsidian's MAP05 and I appreciate amount of work that must have been involved in setting up MAP08's race track and creating machinery capable of diligently dispatching its demon horde.

If you came here looking for Community Chest 4 prettiness then I would suggest examining the dark Gothic "Eternity's Hatred" and the last three levels which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with works by dobu gabu maru or Ribbiks. "The Stone Spinneret" is probably the most extravagant picture painted by the PWAD but "Onyx" has an appealing if muted dark metal / deep red pairing while the preceding "Leviathan" takes the same scheme and flips the primary color for a slightly brighter battle in an aquatic tomb. "Orange Night" starts out looking like a CCHEST4 space base and then swerves toward the Doom equivalent of a movie studio lot with all of its inaccessible "buildings". The UAC megastructure looks pretty cool.

MAYhem 2013 is definitely worth checking out but you'll probably want to knock the difficulty slider down, particularly past MAP06. Some of the engineering involved is really cool and none of these levels takes long to finish provided that you aren't repeatedly dying. The series definitely hits its stride with 2014's MAYhem 2048 but the look back on its formative years has been an interesting tour. I'll see you next time, when I play the even-more-delayed MAYhem 1500!

by assorted authors

Unit 731MAP01
by "Magnusblitz"
Inspired no doubt by the notorious and horrific Japanese military unit of the same name. It's a creepy level complete with a gallery of hospital beds, prison cells, and dissection machinery and is staffed primarily by zombies so there's a strong sense of anticipation as far as when the next shoe will drop and what it is. The strength of force in the finale may come as a shock, then. I'm almost surprised that the zombies came across as threatening but when all your weapons consist of the pistol and melee they have way more time to chip your health away.

MAP02From the Sky
by "Scypek2"
You come out of the sky and you exit into the sky. Calling it a typically offbeat Scypek2 level can't do justice to how patently weird the whole thing is, nor how dense the map is with secrets. The gist of the larger chain delivers you to an excerpt of Scy's "Hell's Ravines", which appeared in MAYhem 2012. I'm a little disappointed that the combo is chaingunners and arch-viles but it's probably one of the best to drive people crazy, especially when used in encounters like the tech room floor drop. My favorite fight sports two chaingunners on pillars but as far as features go it's the stepping stones across the slow sludge pool that takes you there in the first place.

Shooting With ImpsMAP03
by Ilya "joe-ilya" Lazarev
Shotgun guys and imps come as a nice change from the zombie / arch-vile dynamic found in the first two levels. It's a hot mess of textures so it's not a shock coming after "From the Sky". Bits like the Keen hanging in the glassed-off furnace and the cables disappearing into the ceiling are odd indulgences. The most difficult moments come from shotgun guys in monster closets. You can disarm one of them ahead of time if you locate its relatively obvious secret. I will admit that I found the false exit chain to be cute.

MAP04Orange Night
by Zoltán "Katamori" Schmidt
A short but meaty slaughter of imps and mancubi in tech city streets. It's pretty easy but I got stuck at the beginning because I didn't realize that the switch in the air was meant to be triggered via gun. Thankfully it only needs a hitscan to pass under it. The level's over quickly as many of the monsters are tied up in a rocket-fueled slaughter and the streets give you plenty of room to dodge fireballs. The toughest bits will be shooting the imps on the roof of the UAC building (as long as you aren't using freelook) and hitting the mancubuses hiding in the fenced-off underways.

Eternity's HatredMAP05
by "Obsidian"
The author hates you! Well, actually, he doesn't because its encounters in this Gothic ruin are on the whole more forgiving than the previous two arch-vile centric levels. While you will have to soldier through a handful of pain elementals they're also pretty easy to strongarm. About the trickiest fight you have is probably the eccentric cover / switch arena in the void. When the finale comes it's almost underwhelming. My favorite bit is without a doubt the collapsing wall around the first teleporter landing pad. It's an insanely cool setpiece.

MAP06Pool of the Spiders
by Walter "daimon" Confalonieri
I was expecting something different given the title. It's actually all cacodemons and Barons which isn't so bad provided you don't mind spending the start in a zen-super shotgun rhythm. The level starts out in a sort of dark brick and metal fortress before going all Hell caves and canyons on you. The portion that begins by dropping you into a blood trench actually sets you up with a BFG but I completely missed it because I didn't bother going inside the ruined circle. The worst part is that the Barons tend to get stuck up at the top of the big showdown arena which makes them a pain in the ass to clear. 

Casing LakeMAP07
by Christopher "ArmouredBlood" Sheperd
This rather abstract ruin is the home of approximately 800 shotgun guys and their arachnotron tenders. It looks pretty sedate at first but before too long a storm will unleash and matriculate through the dozens of overgrown pillars. I tried to stick it out in the main playing area but it never panned out. I had far more success running to the circuitous end of the outer rim, clearing the monsters inside, and then carefully stonewalling the influx of sergeants. It's not quite that simple but it beats running among the columns at fever pitch!

MAP08The Demon Rush
by Kieran "Melon" Millar
A wicked cool concept where you run from a veritable tidal wave of demons with a few commandos who serve as spoilers. There are a few neat obstacles in the way, my favorite being a 4 by 3 grid of cells who change configuration as you bully your way through. This occasionally allows some of the pinkies in. The most maddening bit might be the catwalk maze with the commando container switches which is right before the home stretch. The crusher apparatus and opening of the layout that funnels all of the monsters to their deaths is the cherry on the top.

by Darryl "dobu gabu maru" Steffen
A horrifying descent into dangerous blue depths. This is a very difficult level and the main dynamic is between killing the arch-viles as quickly as you can while keeping cover from their attacks and staying abreast of the inexorable Barons. If the opening firefight is too intense then you really aren't prepared for the claustrophobic combat that follows. The finale is the opening battle but on steroids. Rather than a handful of large pillars there are a bunch of little columns for cover to also trip you up as you try to move around. They all slowly disappear, though, so you'll want to handle those archies as soon as humanly possible.

by Zachary "Ribbiks" Stephens
Someone's idea of a player's worst nightmare. The use of "The Pervert" predates Sunlust's MAP20 but where it felt menacing there I feel more like it elevates the amount of camp inherent in a level composed of hordes of chaingunners and revenants. It's intensely difficult and death comes swiftly. The mosh pit immediately after the awkward entrance encounter is tough but it has nothing on the enormous column of revenants unleashed after clearing out the hall of chaingunners. It took me awhile to figure out a successful strategy mostly because I had to accept that you will eventually have to cut through the horde in order to access the rest of the cell ammo. Saving rockets from the commando jamboree to assist in laying down some early suppression fire probably helps. Only for hardmode masochists.

The Stone SpinneretMAP11
by Darryl "dobu gabu maru" Steffen
A profoundly grueling exercise in just how dangerous arachnotrons actually are. This plays quite different on lower difficulties; you appear to completely skip the final area on HNTR / ITYTD and the monsters featured on the initial approach to the castle are completely absent on UV. The clear of the great hall is a clusterfuck due to the amount of space the crawlers take up, the number of plasma guns pointed at you at any given moment, and the cycling bars that control two of the access points to the east and west sides. The last element is actually a blessing in disguise. On UV, all of the health you see around the reflecting pool is all that you'll get. Simply getting your bearings is an incredible challenge. The impressive boss arena is much more straightforward, even if the early game is just diligently clearing arachnotrons while keeping a pillar between you and the Spiderdemon.


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