Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Catacombs (AP_009.WAD)

by Alex Parsons

AP_009 is the ninth entry in the World's End series and is the last to feature in sequential order. Alex never released parts 010-012, instead skipping ahead to 012 and 013 (Installation A and B). We also know that Parsons considered his two Community Chest submissions, "Ground Floor" (MAP03) and "Mandrel" (MAP11), as 015 and 016, respectively. Like the rest, The Catacombs is a Doom II MAP01 replacement for limit-removing ports. It was released in 2002 but has a couple of interesting deviations. The most obvious is that it draws direct inspiration from American McGee's level of the same name. It's the first time for the author to reference any sort of influence. He also explicitly suggests that players use idmus to play something other than D_RUNNIN. Specifically, MAP22's "The David D. Taylor Blues".

The Catacombs is the latest in a long campaign waged in a demon-possessed no-man's land. Your adventure began at World's End, a location for which the series is named, where you visited The Underground to clear out a hive of imps. From there you emerged into The Outlands where you laid siege to the first major stronghold of evil, the Foul Ruin. With the borderlands cleansed you assaulted Sinistrad, a gateway to the heart of the infestation. After a grueling trek through the densely-populated Highlands you reached the next infernal bastion, the Mossvale Estate. Once the grounds themselves were purged you entered into the twisted manse and the Dungeon below. The reliquary turned out to contain a passage to an even deeper recess - The Catacombs. Will there be daylight at the end of this tunnel?

AP_009 is only nominally based on Doom II's MAP22. The opening area's irregular marble and bloodfall is a strong echo of AP_008. I will admit, though, that you end up riding an elevator up to a treacherous crossroads with a circular platform at its center. The early game is fairly exacting since you have to take on a close-quarters revenant. The homage portion a bit worse because the next progression step involves a gauntlet of wound-up brick passages that are riddled with hitscanners. You have to wade through the blood to get to it and even then the author has placed a couple of revenants on the platform you'll be riding the lift to. Attrition is a very real threat.

The following action fades to a dull roar for awhile. I like the eastern cave complex; the imp / shotgun guy nested monster closets can quickly spiral out of control. The barred passage sequence with the chaingunner cells feels more like a Sandy Petersen moment then American McGee. I could see it throwing less experienced dungeon crawlers for a loop. The other big surprise comes when you exit as you're thrown into an ambush in an outdoor area that's typical of Parsons's granite badlands style a la The Outlands / Foul Ruin / The Highlands / Mossvale Estate. Lots of height variation, one token chaingunner sniper, and a few stationed toughs. It's a fun shake-up as long as you don't roll up with a modicum of health.

More than anything I'm amazed by the number of texture themes that Alex decided to crams into a small area. You get the marble crypt of Dungeon; the green ZIMMER and wood of Sinistrad; the aforementioned rocky wilderness; and the central area has something of a Romero "Circle of Death" scheme. Even if it might only be a juxtaposition of a beige brick bunker and AP_005's ambiguous floralith stucco. It helps to keep the final design from feeling one-note but it fails to showcase just how much variation that the author was capable of squeezing out of a single architectural style. Of course, the past eight levels still stand as testament.

The Catacombs thankfully avoids being a mere retread of the original. Parsons may have adored McGee's level design but he clearly adhered to his own vagaries, just shrunk down to form the smaller portions of a traditionally-sized map. I'm sad, though, to know that this marks the end of the unbroken segment of the World's End campaign. There is a silver lining, at least, in the promise of Alex exploring the previously untouched techbase theme.


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