Friday, September 13, 2019

Gestalt666's Town of Heresy (666TOWN.WAD)

by John "Gestalt666" Bye

By mid-1997, John was pretty much done with Doom. He would still contribute a few maps to The Darkening E1 but he had gone over to the Quake side after seeing Black Star Coven's first team release, The Talosian Incident. When the time came to open a relief valve, then, he opted to design something for a different idtech game - Heretic. Thus became Gestalt666's Town of Heresy, an E1M1 replacement. It's Bye's final solo release and caps off a career characterized by atmosphere more than anything in its level design. He also had a wild, unpredictable streak with bits like the computerized domain of CyberDoom and "The Living Maze" from Cygnus IV. 666TOWN is - for the most part - unlike any of these things.

John is pretty up front about the level design in his .TXT. It's a hub with you fighting your way from the "town square", collecting keys and eventually battling the final boss. It barely resembles anything municipal, though, be it realistic or themed like Heretic's City of the Damned episode. The layout is as simple and perfunctory as its architecture, a network of square rooms and corridors. I started out with flashbacks of Garden of Delight / Hall of the Mountain King but while the geometry is simple on its face the combat is a completely different beast. At least, insofar as it compares to the sorts of atmospheric, exploratory environments that Bye had previously engineered.

The pacing of 666TOWN is more akin to a straightforward, high-density room clearing level. John has crammed quite a few monsters into these haunted halls and they often come at you in small packs, either when you open the door or trigger monster closets. Your weapon for much of the adventure is the ethereal crossbow. Its rate of fire and juicy impact noises feel something like those maps where you pump a stream of rockets into hordes of beefy mid-tier Doom II monsters. It's an interesting dynamic and made whole toward the end where Bye affords you the phoenix rod. You get the dragon claw at the end though it's a weird fight for it to be showcased.

The combat doesn't feel nuanced... for the most part. An early, deadly scenarios puts you in a tight room with two disciples. The crossbow isn't an ideal weapon for the situation but it will work. One of the spots is crazy smart, though. Bye "traps" a key by using a scrolling floor to push the player back. It seems more annoying than anything when you first run into it but grabbing the key opens up a ton of closets in the hallway you just came from, triggering a huge ambush. It's the sort of thing that you can easily choke into a fatal funnel at the doorway... except the dodged projectiles end up "bouncing" back, potentially striking you from behind! It's such a great spot and while I can't recall whether I've seen anything like it before I hope I will again.

666TOWN's final encounter is for bragging rights, really. The room setup is a tight arena with a maulotaur confined to the middle and a bunch of weredragons and a few other monsters in the surrounding square. The exit is already accessible on the opposite side, though, so you're not forced to stick it out and slay the horned one or any of its minions. If you decide to hang out in the killing field then you have to deal with the dragons taking up so much of the playing space. This makes it tough to maneuver while staying away from the maulotaur and not getting forced into his explosive tracers. It's not a bad setup if awkward, though once everything's done the dark servant is virtually helpless.

I was surprised to see how straightforward Town of Heresy is. You can barely even tell where he employed his typical squared-off lighting halos but he does appear to have adopted a more realistic pattern for the candelabra. TOWN666 won't go down as my favorite Heretic level of all time but it had a few interesting takes. It's mostly for folks who are just happy to be playing Corvus in the first place.


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