Saturday, October 5, 2019

Dark Fate (DFT.WAD)

by Karthik Abhiram Krishna

Karthik had released eight levels spanning 2000-2002 and all of them could be conceivably fall under the techbase theme. A few of them - namely Congestion Control and Out of Phase III - contained some reality-bending accoutrements of Hell, though, in a sort of freewheeling "Pandemonium" style. Dark Fate changes direction a bit and takes things all the way to the abyssal end of the spectrum. Released in 2003, it's a MAP01 replacement for Doom II that draws on the texture scheme of the original Inferno episode. It isn't limited to Ultimate's bestiary, though, a fact that will quickly become evident as you play.

Abhiram neglected to include the same level of narrative treatment given to his Congestion Control. The pitch: you find yourself in Hell and must fight your way through. The opening is kind of interesting since you begin in the same sort of pit that kicks off the original Doom's E3M1. Just what is this supposed to be, anyway? Were you strolling through the Stygian landscape only for the nightmarish topography to pull back into a pit to trap you? Or did you make the depression yourself when you plunged from Deimos and landed on a soft part of Hell's coursing, indecipherable biomass? Both aspects sound... pretty cool, actually.

Many of Karthik's levels are short and comparable to today's speedmaps. DFT is no exception, constructed within about 20 hours of 2003 development. All of the action takes place in and around the periphery of one big, wide-open courtyard. It sort of feels like it's in the middle of a "Keep" but I say this because it's a large box and pretty much every adjoining area is also a box. I appreciate the eastern annex since there's at least one interesting room shape but Abhiram does not use the setting to create any irregular level geometry. Other decent details include the recessed alcove built into one of the walls, the crusher apparatus, and the pair of key towers located within the yard.

The action starts out fairly heavy when you arrive but most of the weapon upgrades are available up front. A couple of surprises appear at major progression points. The meaty monster wave is the worse of the two since you ought to have the BFG before you trigger the Mastermind. Karthik has a couple arch-viles, too, but they're fairly hamstrung. The one in the exit room kind of has an area denial thing going on but his sphere of influence is very limited. Abhiram throws these meaty obstacles in your way as you try to acquire all three keys in no particular order. It's kind of a tiny sandbox. I really enjoyed the fence around the pad to the red key. I'm sure that I've seen the idea before but it reminds me of leaping ledge-hole moments in A Link to The Past.

Karthik does a pretty good job of developing the atmosphere. The lighting is ambient and looks great against the E3 sky. I didn't play Duke Nukem 3D's third episode enough to recognize the music track, "Gotham", and started out thinking that it was a subdued knockoff of "Stalker". It's an interesting choice since it subtly drives the action while evoking the mood of DUKE3D's alien-haunted cityscapes. This is sort of like a Hellish city level, too. The inset rooms kind of resemble Duke's cramped office spaces, the recessed alcove parallels a billboard, and - as far as Doom II city stuff goes - it has freestanding towers to walk around or off of.

Dark Fate isn't the coolest map on the block but it's a fast and furious play and has some level design aspects that I didn't initially recognize. It appears to borrow from more than what it claims - or knows - and has some decent three-dimensional stuff going on. I like seeing Abhiram explore a different them and look forward to see what he experiments with next.


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