Saturday, May 4, 2019


Serious_MOod's /idgames debut was Dark Side of Deimos in 2013. There was another, though. S_M's first episode release was actually a Knee Deep in the Dead replacement titled Opening. This little mapset was originally released in the Russian Doom Community - also in 2013 - and underwent extensive remodeling in 2017-2019. The remake saw a broader publication in 2019 as Outbreak of Evil. The author provided it to me for a potential before / after evaluation and I decided to review it in full because it exploits some niches that its remake abstains from and is a worthy production in its own right. Opening only replaces the eight regular levels. I don't think that it requires a specific source port but I would go with a limit-removing engine to be on the safe side.

There is no provided plot but the little homages and texture scheme peg this as either a retread of the Phobos massacre or a tangential event. I'm inclined to believe the former but I'm always a fan of more Doomed marines fighting the good fight. You don't even need to explain why they never meet since Hell's malign influence is more than capable of warping reality and I assume jamming radio signals. Finding another soldier could be a great story moment when played straight, twisted, or even subverted a la the ending of John Carpenter's The Thing. It's a bit much for non-ZDoom PWADs but I've seen the necessary proof of concept for player agency in story (e.g. Prime Directive).

Opening is short and fast. What's great is that it accomplishes this without feeling either insubstantial or overly difficult. The only exception is E1M5 which has a strong survivalist bent from pistol start and will likely end in berserk-fisting some cacodemons. It isn't big on traps or monster closets; Serious_MOod is generally content to let the initial placement stand for itself. Some of the best thrills result when enemies surprise you as they approach from the disparate corners of the installation. This is a major factor of the mounting surprise in E1M5 but it crops up in a few other places. I distinctly recall a specter sneaking up on me in the opening moments of E1M7.

It's also notable for its periods of inactivity. I used to prefer PWADs to maintain a constant low level of activity at the very least. Now I appreciate those moments where you can move through the unexplored portion of a level without being ambushed every five steps. Opening's later portions reflect the haunting atmosphere seen in Dark Side of Deimos. While it may not be as exciting for adrenaline junkies it's a nice way to detox from the hyper-vigilance typically required when playing user-created mapsets. Then, as your reflexes dull, the next surprise can enjoy a greater impact.

It's not a highly-polished mapset, mind you. It won't best the visual and architectural complexity of Romero's handiwork - particularly if you're a fan of the lion's mane - but it's serviceable. I appreciate the authenticity added in the way Serious_MOod has used angled walls to round off the corners and make interesting room shapes. The set also has some cute touches. The first one you'll see is the pair of zombies standing at the computer console. Other bits include a very simple but appreciated switch puzzle and another where your only clue is the word "FiRE" emblazoned on the floor. I also see that someone couldn't help but draw something resembling a cute face and horns on one of E1M4's rooms. You wouldn't see it unless you were cheating, though. (Ahem.)

Opening has some specific appeal. It's Knee Deep in the Dead themed and its levels are both short as well as not difficult by modern standards. The author could have crammed more monsters in to take advantage of the deserted portions of the map but this complaint is specifically addressed in the remake. If you're like me, though, and you can see enjoying a level without having to shoot something every step of the way, then you ought to check it out.

by "Serious_MOod"

A short, simple remake of "Hangar". The opening area has some mood lighting but the rest of the map looks like business as usual at the UAC. The elevators up to the green armor are a nice alternative take. The obligatory outdoor area is a decent stab at trying for something that isn't a pond but the player-blocking lines take away from it. Combat is very straightforward as befits 17 monsters but you can get the shotgun early and quickly dust some Hellspawn. The mixed monster pack waiting in the elevator room feels like a good sign of things to come.

A short shotgun blastathon through a compact, darkly-lit area. It actually feels sort of like a small portion of a "Nuclear Plant". There are no monster closet surprises, which is actually pretty cool. All of the ambushes come from the dark. The low lighting also lets the hitscanners get a few cheap shots in here and there. The demon assaults are the real standouts, though. Just a fun slice of action. It's cute how S_M sets up the bypass around the broken door.

There's an early homage to "Toxin Refinery" with the start area but the rest of the level is quite different. It's a slow starter, too, since you're stuck with the pistol until you kill one of the zombies in the northeast bay and may have to whip a lost soul or two to death. There is a very simple switch puzzle to open some security locks and the tough monsters in the unlocked annex are mostly harmless. The cacodemon debuts, though, which is a nice moment.

This one's an interesting level because Serious_MOod actually gives the encounters some room to breathe. It doesn't match the action-packed tone of the previous levels but it sort of points toward the spooky dead air found in Dark Side of Deimos. The welcoming party in the weird cargo bay / foyer is frontloaded. I was curiously thrilled when exploring the observation deck resulted in a nearby wall subtly lowering. It's a neat setup from pistol start, too, since you can dodge around the interloper to snag a shotgun and all the shells that you'll need. When combined with the meandering pathway to the toxic cistern it has more the pacing of a John Bye level.

The "Phobos Lab" ford of the toxic channel appears early on but the tables have turned. This is a tricky level done survival style. You see some scattered shells on the ground but the only shotguns are tucked away in the hands of a few sergeants in a monster closet. My first exit just ground down the mass of Hellspawn before the teleporter. However you split things up you'll still probably need to use the Berserk pack to punch three cacodemons to death. It's a nasty setup since running for the exit will only result in crowding what little maneuvering room you have. I don't remember Dark Side of Deimos being quite as punishing. I can see its style starting to congeal, though, in the dead legs coming off the main hub.

The front is action-packed and a secret Berserk pack might make this a treat for Tyson aficionados. There are a lot of demons begging to be punched out. A lot of them are in a slaughter-lite encounter that's meant to be ground down using the chaingun and a bunch of bullets. Fisticuffs work just as well, though. The tech room to the west is the closest that this set has felt to the original Knee Deep in the Dead. A large portion of the base is mysteriously empty. Again, Deimos's more atmospheric soundtrack would have built in a ton of atmosphere during the player's first experience. I appreciate some room to let everything breathe, though.

S_M isn't messing around. The shotgun and shells are readily available. You'll also find a chaingun. The pacing is similar to E1M6 in the stretches of non-combat. You might even be surprised while poking around the silent corners of the installation. A lot of the monsters are tied up in an uninspired midtexture baffle. Its very nature means that you'll probably catch a bunch of cheap shots from sergeants. If you can't figure out the "FiRE" puzzle, well, shoot! It's not that difficult.

A retread of "Phobos Anomaly" sans those tricksy specters and plus a lot more room to maneuver around in. The leadup to the infernal star is pretty good and I like the burning walls. It's just perfunctory and five Barons instead of two isn't any more difficult given the room you have to play with. Maybe if you really suck at dodging green fire.


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