Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Subway (C4SUBWAY.WAD)

by John "Gestalt666" Bye

When Bye released The Park in mid-'96 his Cygnus IV episode was just beginning. The author had despaired of the amount of effort that he had poured into Magnum Opus and was focusing on shorter levels. With the publishing of The Subway a few months afterward, though, his work was nearly complete; the original version would release later in September. This single map offering was a primer for the sort of level design that prospective players could expect from the entire adventure. It's a MAP09 replacement for Doom II and if you've already played CYGNUS20 then you can check out because, much like PARK, C4SUBWAY is functionally identical to the finished product. It has the same backing track, too, so you don't even get that novelty.

Bye's story blurb is brief but worth going over. A recently-established UAC colony went down and your squad was sent in after the initial rescue team met a similar fate. You and your fellows manage to locate the wreck of the former. It's located miles away from the nearest outpost but next to a recently constructed city of unknown origin. Whatever built the metropolis shoots the ship down and everyone is forced to bail, the crosswinds isolating the marines in separate portions of the urban landscape. The Subway is actually a late entry; the player has already moved through the industrial sector (MAP02-MAP09) and is on the precipice of emerging into a more "populous" area (MAP10).

PARK didn't feel too mechanically different from Bye's earlier work because so much of it still consisted of square rooms that may or may not have had some interesting architectural details. It remained a physically large level with a lot of ground to cover, not unlike Magnum Opus. (Not to downplay the relative scale of the level that is to immediately follow this one.) Here the relatively constrained ethos of Cygnus IV is made manifest as Subway feels more like a vignette than a "proper" level. This may be off-putting for someone looking for a substantial sojourn but it totally fits within the overall context of the episode, something like scenes from a space marine's harrowing escape.

The architecture of the level is dominated by several features. There's a large, twisty passage - something like a surface tunnel - where Bye squeezes in the lion's share of his lightcasting. You also have a long section of subway tunnel to walk down which is a nice way to nail the quasi-realism of the locale. John hints at the next location through a gated-off stop / access point, the second one serving as the exit. It wouldn't be "Spooky" without a square room that features rectilinear light halos, though, and the author hits his quota here with the yellow key chamber. You take what you can get, I suppose.

The combat is SSG-centric but you can get a shotgun and chaingun from dead zombies. Most of the monsters come in little squads waiting for you to pop around a corner but the opposition feels thin at a scant thirty-three enemies. Next to chaingunners, the only truly dangerous Hellspawn is a revenant. And you don't even need to fight it since it appears to be staffing the equivalent of a ticket booth! The shadows add a bit of uncertainty to a few of the ambushes so John has the ambience pulling double-duty, a nice touch. There's one relatively dickish crusher trap, too, but you have to be sleeping on your feet for it to really get you.

This selection includes sound replacements from the finished product. The new door effect isn't too terribly annoying but its subtle grinding feels more fit for moving platforms and ceilings. The crusher noise in contrast is the Heretic door sound. It's pretty obnoxious the one time where you hear it and while I could sort of buy it being an audible alarm it's too tied to Raven software in my brain. I'm half convinced that the author got the two swapped around at some point but this would be a big mistake to not realize. Bye's original soundtrack works pretty well for some moody skulking around in tunnels and it even gets a neat hi-hat heavy drum track to drive the action forward.

There is absolutely no reason to see SUBWAY if you've already played Cygnus IV. If you haven't then go ahead and play the entire episode instead. It feels weird divorced from the context of the whole and it isn't much of a showcase of his neater scenes but I could see Bye not wanting to show his hand.


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