Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sinistrad (AP_005.WAD)

by Alex Parsons

AP will not go down in Doom history as one of its greatest authors but he was a solid contributor during the source port boom. Part of his legacy involves Doomworld's Community Chest series, the first of which he helped to round out. He was in like-minded company; Gene Bird and Sphagne were two other contributors who also released most of their levels as single map releases. Alex was building his World's End series, named after the first level in the set. Two of its entries are exclusive to CCHEST but this one - Sinistrad - is not. AP_005 is of course the fifth part of the sequence and, like the rest, is a MAP01 replacement for Doom II for play in a limit-removing port.

If his installments have an overarching goal then they never let on to one beside ridding the world of more demons. The missions are all named after the locations that they take place in, beginning with World's End which is not an event but a marking found at the edge of a map in the back of a genre fantasy book. You then enter a cave into The Underground where you slay a den of imps and emerge at The Outlands. The broken landscape leads to the Foul Ruin, a bastion of evil and your first significant challenge. After ridding it of Hell's taint you move on to Sinistrad. Parson's description leaves something to be desired but it looks as though it's an outpost on the edge of a more heavily-infested region. A scary thought, considering what lies in wait.

AP_005 shucks the naturalistic architecture that dominated the previous levels and embraces something both orthogonal and irregular. The theme is grass, beige tile, green ZIMMER, and wooden supports. There's a little keep to the southwest but it's only a sideshow. A few blood pools figure into the level, too, and on opposite ends of the layout. I'm not sure whether the walls are supposed to be some sort of dull emerald stone or a vast network of construction-ready hedges. The marble tops and bottoms suggest the latter but my initial impression was a of Hellish garden with meticulously kept overgrowth.

I prefer this reading because the overall gameplay style resembles one of the Pandora's Boxes from mouldy's Going Down. The layout starts out horribly cramped and never really lets up. Portions of the level open at regular intervals and while they give you slightly more maneuvering room the revealed alcoves usually contain Barons of Hell, revenants, or arch-viles. It's a very difficult level; the rocket launcher is easy to acquire but hard to hold when the walls crumble and unleash a sizable force. It's only establishing the finesse that you need to use it since there are so many obstacles for you to blow yourself up on. The claustrophobic confines drive the monsters and thus the blast zone even closer.

Just about every progression point is a multi-pronged ordeal but two of them really stick out in my mind. Grabbing the red key triggers a teleporter invasion that brings Doom II's fairly varied land-bound bestiary in droves to what I believe are four different landing zones. It's actually really fun since the zombies, imps, and even demons make for fun popcorn monsters. With all the bodies on the floor, though, you probably suspect what happens next. Opening the exit spawns four arch-viles more or less at random. It's the final fuck you to the player especially since the destination of each one is so inconsistent. You can blitz to the exit portal if you move quickly and there could be as many as two archies posted to guard it. In my experience it was more likely to see one or zero. Standing around and guffawing at Alex's audacity will only lead to the horde piling up once the viles reach your killing floor.

Sinistrad was a very tight and intense experience. I'm cautiously looking forward to The Highlands, the next step in World's End. I'm not sure whether I'm ready for the difficulty to increase any more but I'm enjoying this scenic tour of Parson's imagination. If you like concentrated, hard, and action-heavy levels then you might do well to give AP_005 a shot.


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