Saturday, June 29, 2019

Mossvale Estate (AP_007.WAD)

by Alex Parsons

The original Community Chest had a variety of reasons to be notable. One of them was the inclusion of levels by authors like Gene Bird and Sphagne which had been previously and individually released as parts of their own solo serials. Alex Parsons differed from the others in that his two such contributions - part of his World's End series - debuted in CCHEST and remain exclusive to it to this day. Mossvale Estate is the seventh part of his tour of duty. Like all the rest, it is a MAP01 replacement and is meant for play in a limit-removing port. I didn't see any necessity for robust Z collision a la AP_007 but your mileage may vary.

Alex's series isn't named after an event but the place where it begins, World's End. You enter The Underground and reach The Outlands, a rugged wilderness that borders your first stronghold of evil: the Foul Ruin. Once cleared you travel to Sinistrad, a gateway toward a more deeply-infested domain. After fighting your way through the treacherous Highlands you discover an even greater bastion of sin, the derelict Mossvale Estate. It apparently had an alternate title at one point - "The Rocks". The .TXT in the .ZIP file differs from the one on the archive. The pseudonym isn't mentioned in any of the other releases, though. I wonder if he changed it after he decided where he was going to go with AP_008? The included text interestingly specifies that you are battling your way toward "the evil heart of the alien infestation".

The devil's manse is an enormous level, probably closest in scope to Parson's Foul Ruin. It's huge, has a variety of areas to explore, and is full of beefy monsters. The surrounding wilderness consists of the same granite rock that made up AP_004's northern bit as well as the trichromatic Outlands and Highlands. Think tons of chunky, rugged terraces populated by imps and - gulp - chaingunners. Commando snipers are a common theme in the author's work but they don't seem quite as cutthroat here. They're the single biggest threat that you'll face at the beginning, though, during a time where you're desperately looking for a safe place to gather your bearings.

The map includes four major structures. The brown building is your first contact and contains the Estate's most claustrophobic fights. They aren't quite as oppressive as the explosive confines of Sinistrad but the series of locked-in fights vs. revenants and Barons make for a memorable sequence. It's topped off with a crazy spectre invasion, which is a great spectacle and also drives home the idea that Hell is viciously trying to defend its turf. This place gives way to marble ruins to the north. These further invite an AP_005 comparison by utilizing a green and blood color scheme and also opening up further portions through a collapsing wall.

The festive fortress has several mine / cavern sections that branch off it. The connective tissue isn't too dangerous - mostly imps with a few revenants - but it makes for an interesting aesthetic shift. Exploring them eventually leads you toward the most grueling portion of Mossvale Estate. It's the easternmost marble ruin and it's essentially a three-dimensional maze with a ground floor and upper platform segment. The latter is only accessible from an elevator found deep within the labyrinth. Toughs like skeletons and Hell nobles patrol the upper reaches while a veritable ring of imps throws fireballs at you from the outside when you're at the caged walls. It's a nasty place to get a foothold in and is presaged by the level's only two pain elementals. If you manage to break out, though, you'll find a ton of goodies and easily-splattered imps. You'll also get a shot at purging the thickest of the hordes. It's the kind of HP army that instills a feeling of power while you lay down rocket suppression fire. It kicks off with an invul sphere, too.

You don't have to go this way, though. I was surprised to find that a large portion of the level - maybe an entire half - is optional. Up until you the Baron-faced guillotine door slams shut behind you, anyway. You won't get the rocket launcher by skipping it and you won't become a proper Doom Slayer by leaving so many of the beasties on the table but the potential is there. The required way is south, past an interesting revenant colonnade setpiece and into a valley of demons that borders a wicked cool blood pool with a marble font and central tower. It has the look of a final showdown, especially since it's overseen by a few arch-viles. The actual end-of-level ambush is more annoyingly lethal, though, thanks to a heavy lean on Doom II trash consisting mostly of imps and chaingunners. Thank goodness for the secret invul sphere.

Speed demons may be interested to know that you can skip most of the futzing around in the final area if you execute a daring strafejump across the aforementioned demon canyon. This will put you right on the ledge from where you can grab the red key. I dunno how nasty it might be to get an opening lined up but it would be a pretty significant sequence break. It's a big blood tornado otherwise and I imagine an annoying UV-Max. Mossvale Estate is challenging to build a mental model of, especially the optional marble maze. You have quite a few options at the beginning but the major progression points are marked by sawtooths that keep you locked in with the baddies until you figure out Parsons's plot. If you get stuck in the northern ruin then you're going to have to fight your way out through the massive optional region.

The combat should feel familiar to World's End veterans. There are no zombimen, shotgun guys, arachnotrons, Cyberdemons, or Spider Masterminds. Foul Ruin and The Outlands were pretty big on cacodemons but you'll find very few of them here. They aren't featured in a complementary layout, either. AP_004 is fairly light on arch-viles considering its monster count but the few that you find are concentrated in the final section. This does a fairly good job of playing up its significance. Parsons is still big on throwing monotypical monster packs at you but these ambushes tend to feature a few more types of Hellspawn. Some of them are multi-front, too, and drop in from far enough away that they seem to organically approach the player.

The gunplay is pretty similar, too. You start out with the super shotgun and can rely on it through most of the adventure. The chaingun makes an early appearance, wrestled from the hands of a commando, but it's invaluable for sniping the snipers. And, early on, saving your shells as you gun down hordes of demons or spectres. You need to do the optional, northeastern leg in order to get the rocket launcher. It might make parts of the finale easier but the journey as they say is its own reward. There's a plasma gun pickup in the southern leg but you aren't exactly tripping over cells as you hunt around.

Mossvale Estate looks freakin' gorgeous. The variance in themes makes it easily stand out compared to the previous AP_006. The granite aesthetic is starting to wear a bit thin but Parsons is great at making his levels feel like massive adventures. The central building might have used a few DoomCute props but I guess I was expecting more of a concrete chateau. In terms of abstract Doom  structures the brown area nails the feeling of relative normalcy. It's contrasted by the surrounding perverted palace grounds whose ostentatious pools are now flowing with blood or, in the case of the labyrinth, putrid offal.

I hope that the rest of my digging through the Community Chest progenitors turns up hidden gems like the AP_ series. Parsons's outdoor geometry has a unique, organic style and he's great at portraying Doomguy and double-barreled shotgun vs. the embodiment of evil. Once again I find myself eagerly awaiting the next leg of his World Purification Tour.


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