Thursday, August 29, 2019

Congestion Control (CCT.WAD)

by Karthik Abhiram Krishna

It was interesting to follow KA's authorial career because it was like watching him fuck off in the editor in real time. It wasn't hard to believe that Karthik would get his act together and increase his level of skill to the point where I could see his PWADs standing alongside Doomworld's Top 10 WADs of 2002. But it was starting to look like he was going to have to take a few massive steps if he was to make it there from Out of Phase. Congestion Control is the sweet memory which got him an entry in the Top 100. Like OPHASE, it's a MAP01 replacement for Doom II that features a dance mix MIDI. It's a technical leap forward, though, building off of the complexity initially seen in The Other Side of Phobos.

Abhiram wasn't too big on including in-depth stories alongside his releases but you get one with CCT. The scene-setting could just as easily have explained the techbases-in-the-void that the player fights through in Out of Phase. You're a network engineer who maintains the UAC's interplanetary computer grid. The base is evacuated for a significant experiment that results in all of your friends disappearing and the installation merging with a nightmarish reality. You're teleported inside the mostly-intact nukage processing center but recalling "All Your Base" imparts enough swagger for you to feel as though you can handle the demonic congestion on your own.

OPHASE is worth mentioning because Karthik's combat style is well within the claustrophobic brand of Out of Phase II. The playing spaces give you just enough maneuverability to waltz with Hell nobles and revenants. Flimsy monsters like zombies will barely register and Abhiram's obligatory arch-viles can be held at nearby chokepoints. One of the earliest bouts of congestion is becoming a trope of the author's. It isn't just KA's but this is the third time - first Chaos Punch, followed by OPHASE2 - where you're given a Berserk pack and then a mess of demons to slay. The Cyberdemon encounter also fits within the close-quarters paradigm though you're given about enough room for more skilled players to bob and weave while laying down plasma fire.

The cell devourer is a late acquisition, though. Most of the monsters will be fought with the super shotgun. It's a great weapon for upping the ante in these close-quarters brawls since the player can't stunlock monsters given the reload time, forcing you to be able to dodge in tight spaces. The punchy mid-tier fights can get pretty tense. When you're not dancing with the demons, though, it's the ideal skirmish weapon for corner-popping. The kinetics of the gameplay complement the claustrophobia. Karthik isn't too sadistic, of course. You aren't given the rocket launcher so there's no chance of painstakingly maneuvering yourself so as to avoid getting cooked via splash damage.

The core gunplay of Congestion Control is similar to its predecessors but it's both more approachable and aesthetically appealing. Height variation is a big plus and while it's still relatively two-tone (in keeping with The Other Side of Phobos) the author works in an actual, factual staircase. Zounds! The textural theme of the map is a mish-mash of realities that is somewhere between corrupted techbase a la Deimos and the decaying universe of JPCP, Toooooasty's work in particular. It's a long way from the gorgeous, frayed seams of "Hazmat Hazama" but the blood- and cherry-red transitional portholes have a bit of the same feeling. One alcove in particular practically makes the wicked cool Cyberdemon annex. It's also easy to blaze on by those recessed lights / imp ledges at the opening but they look fucking awesome if you stop to take a gander. The more recognizable custom assets come from The Plutonia Experiment but it doesn't really bask in it as a theme.

Abhiram worked in a relatively difficult-to-reach Easter Egg in OSP and has made it a tradition, here. The thrust on this particular occasion is less hilariously dated and more personalized as it functions as an art gallery that showcases the author's drawings. It's an interesting detail as Karthik's current and I believe longstanding career involves his artistry. These sketches, which use Doom as its subject, are a delightful glimpse into the author's personality and help to humanize his work in a way that is typical of PWADs. I love finding these little secret shrines and hope to see more of them in KA's subsequent offerings.

I dunno whether Congestion Control would make my personal top 10 list of 2002 but I'm glad to have played it. Given how Abhiram has continued to hone his craft I can only see things improving from here. Some players don't like being forced into close confines with monsters, even less when they're made vulnerable by the SSG reload time. If this doesn't bother you or you're intrigued by the decaying reality premise then I heartily suggest giving this one a shot.


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