Thursday, May 9, 2019

Gwangi's Palace (GWANGI.WAD)

by Mike MacDee aka "Impie"

At this point Mike is best-known for creating a host of total conversion that explore other worlds including console games and his own fictional universe. He also made a few levels for Doom (and Heretic!), pre-dating his massive Strange Aeons by about a year. Three of these oldest maps were actually re-dressed and included as part of his fifth and final SA episode, appended in 2016. I believe that Gwangi's Palace is the oldest of the 2014 levels, at least in terms of when it was initially released. It is a MAP01 replacement for Doom II and is meant for play in a limit-removing source port.

Don't let MacDee fool you, though. Just because it's a Doom II map doesn't mean that he isn't co-opting another world. In this case it's The Valley of Gwangi, a movie I know primarily for its appearance during one of Whose Line Is It Anyway?'s "Newsflash" segments. The film was about cowboys and dinosaurs in Mexico. Its titular antagonist was an allosaurus named Gwangi who was brought from the forbidden valley King Kong style. The gypsies who kept watch over the wild land remained, though, and many years later you happen across one of them who was mortally wounded. He tells you that the foul presence of the beast lingers in the valley as a den of demons. You gird youself to cleanse the creature's lair.

Gwangi's Palace is a small and mostly outdoor level consisting of granite rock faces and some standing pools of water. There's a brick and mortar building to the east but neither it nor the final room make up the bulk of the gameplay. The geometry takes advantage of Doom's three-dimensional space by having you leap from ledges and in several cases across gaps. This makes the layout feel more vibrant but the platforming can result in tedious backtracking if you make a mistake. It's easy to hang up on the gnarled wood below the ledge you start on when you try to race into the tree of woe courtyard. Same deal with the rocket launcher trap, really. The door to Gwangi's lair seals behind you on every entry and if you take the pit teleporter outside then you'll have to run the gauntlet back to the red key switch to re-open it. I suppose that it beats eating an arch-vile blast.

I do like the finale. The infernal spirit has a mini-boss quality due to its presentation (cycling up and down, opposing timed switches opening the exit) and your limited ammo. It almost has an arcade sensibility because of the availability of the rocket launcher. If you avoid blowing your explosives on, say, any Hell knights that you've skipped then you can soften it up before delivering the killing blow with the super shotgun. You wouldn't know this up front but it's a quick play and Mike has thoughtfully provided a Berserk pack to allow you to make your own margin. Or you could just Chthon the switches and run past while archie is in his hole.

Excepting the tight ammo balance the action is fairly low-key. The monsters favor Doom II trash with a chaingunner sniper or two. The opening bit has most of the action since you're in the thick of it and the few cacodemons are more than capable of following you between areas. The author has a teleport ambush in waiting at the tree of woe which could make for fun infighting orchestration or a slow, tedious choke point grind. The trickiest spot is probably the final room. The arch-vile makes it awkward but the difficulty comes in your limited movement space, cover, and the incumbent imps and slow-to-rise lost souls.

As far as features go it has some cute stuff. I liked the little story with the red key getting pumped outside into the western pool. The stonehenge structure is pretty cool, too. I remember how painful the area was to deal with in Strange Aeons almost entirely due to the presence of three dimensional shamblers. (Not the ones from Quake.) This level was converted into "The House of Dagon" (E5M7). Everything up to the final room has the same architecture and layout but Impie appended an actual palace worth a second half of map in the place of his original shrine of evil. The setting's standing water and barren, rugged landscape was a natural fit for the risen city of R'lyeh.

This is a fun little level and it's nice to see how Mike handles classic Doom combat. It fits vaguely in the Episode Four theme because of the granite, which evokes its presence in (most notably) "Perfect Hatred" and "Against Thee Wickedly". The sky's all wrong, though, which may be a dealbreaker if you're a fan of Thy Flesh Consumed's aesthetic. I'd still reccommend it, especialy if you like short and sweet adventures.


1 comment:

  1. Man, it's been so long since I even looked at this map. This was the first Doom map I ever finished and released anywhere.