Thursday, October 31, 2019

Project Slipgate (SLIPGATE.WAD)

Bryant and Kevin are the brothers Robinson. You might know them as Team Demise but I wasn't aware that they had a website until I started poking around for this review. They more commonly go by Gunrock and The Solution and they generally make levels for feature-rich source ports. (G)ZDoom, Vavoom, you know the type. Unraveling their development history has been a challenge because they are fond of going back and remastering their old works while eliminating the older versions. Where their debut, quake2doom, tried to bring the magic of Quake II to Doom, Project Slipgate worked with idtech2's flagship title. The most recent version replaces MAP01-MAP11, the same number but not slots as the original 2002 (2001?) release. It's built for ZDoom but the authors are fond enough of GZDoom's special effects that they recommend using it if you can.

The solution is actually a sort of pastiche of Q and Q2 so it seems as though the brothers Robinson were looking for a mulligan with the lackluster execution of Q2DOOM. You spend the first five levels of the set in a "Slipgate Complex"-themed base doing Quake II stuff like restoring power and destroying communications lasers. Along the way you find an eldritch portal, your only means of escape when the facility starts to self-destruct. You plunge through and find yourself in an even more hostile alien world, poised against the architects of the most recent invasion: The Necro Elders.

SLIPGATE is a considerably improved iteration of the same sort of level design seen in quake2doom. Much of the layouts consist of stringy hallway-room arrangements but Bryant and Kevin have done a lot of greebling to ensure that they are compelling corridors. At least, the first time you walk down them. Sometimes the architecture fuckin' pops; "Facility 6B" (MAP04) has one of the best geometry setpieces in the entire set with what could otherwise be a boring four-way nexus. The alien universe has examples of even cooler stuff but it also has its own share of headaches that I'll elaborate on in a little bit. All in all, though, it's a much more immersive experience.

The scripting helps! The slipgate levels have missions straight out of Quake II as well as a lot of the ambient noises and sound clips. No music, though; Team Robinson relies solely on the environment to provide the backdrop for your amazing journey. You'll see cool events like exploding walls where monsters emerge from circuitry. It even has (thankfully non-lethal) forcefields, water for you to swim in, and colored lighting. That last bit adds a lot to the atmosphere of both halves of the campaign and gives it a strong Doom 64 vibe as well. It's been a long time since I've played either Q or Q2 so I don't remember how vibrant their colors were so maybe my recent playthrough of D64 is just sticking out more strongly in my mind. I really started to feel it with the strobing running board lights in "Facility 6B" or the outdoor fog in the inner reaches of "Atermis" (MAP07) and "Dark Cathadral" (MAP08). It looks pretty sharp, though.

The pretense of missions disappears entirely once you reach the elder world. You don't actually get any story prompts beyond some indecipherable static. Quake Guy aka Ranger obtained forbidden knowledge through the runes of power, giving him a better understanding of the vast realities outside of our own dimension. The player character somehow discerned this eldritch knowledge, even knowing when the masters of the misbegotten universe are slain. It sort of works to the setting's advantage; the vast reaches of "Atermis" consisting of fortress, sewers, and underground aqueduct have a mood of the profoundly unknowable.

Combat is fairly standard corridor and room clearing... when playing with carryovers. You can get strong weapons quickly in the campaign and ammo for the good stuff is often available early on, before the applicable armaments appear. Pistol starts tell an entirely different story, though. You can play these levels from scratch and they are amusingly balanced for it in an admittedly masochistic fashion. Difficulty settings aren't implemented but I will grant that the double ammo from ITYTD would help a lot. Treat it as a challenge mode for survivalists who love to drag monsters kicking and screaming into infighting scenarios. I personally recommend that you play this episode as a Quake-themed blastathon, rolling your guns and ammo into the next outing. It isn't so bad if you know where to find all of your weapons ahead of time.

It's also worth mentioning that this mapset requires jumping and freelook! No crouching, though. There are a lot of shootable switches which will be challenging to hit otherwise. A few of them trigger secrets but most are not so much. Leaping is useful for acquiring ammo out of your reach, climbing out of water, crossing dangerous terrain, and simply finishing the final puzzle. There aren't a great many platforming segments to mess with the player so the last step of "The Necro Elders" (MAP11) appears to come out of nowhere. This might throw off folks who haven't been thinking about jumping outside of the mantling and climbing that otherwise dominates the set.

I am reasonably impressed with Project Slipgate. I wasn't expecting much given quake2doom but found myself pleasantly surprised. I should have figured since 1) Team Robinson released Southern Cross in between, which I'll get to later and 2) They also took a detailing pass back in 2007. The renovation was definitely worth it! If you love the aesthetic of Quake and don't mind missing its more complex spatial geometry then you should really give this a shot. I'm sure that plenty of folks have explored the Slipgate Complex theme in its natural engine but I'm just as happy to see it in Doom.

by Bryant and Kevin Robinson

Strike BaseMAP01
Stringy and corridor-heavy but the complex look is spot-on. The metal strut greebles really add to the hallways and the inlaid panels help to break up any visual monotony. The main chambers look pretty cool and, like quake2doom, there are a few outdoor areas to poke around. The naturalistic aesthetic is already a tier above the 2001 debut, even in its simplicity. Combat kicks it up a notch with a friendly revenant ambush but is otherwise mild room-clearing featuring the occasional Hell knight HP soak.

MAP02Power Complex
The generator units barely stand out but Team Robinson offers a nice change of pace with some dank, watery caves and a big, outdoor area. It's a tricky survivalist challenge because you'll have to rush past the mancubi and look for a couple of boxes of shells in deep water. Once you get that, though, it pretty much solves itself. The manufacturing area doesn't get any cool machinery beyond a conveyor belt. The best bits of scripting are a few holes blown into the walls. One of them is monster-induced but the other is a chance for you to acquire a plasma gun. It's also nice to see the authors indulge in colored sector lighting for a bit more flair. The combat comes hard and heavy with some beefy monsters right up front but super shotgun veterans have little to fear.

Another great-looking forked string of corridors and rooms. The height variation in the individual chambers really helps to up the aesthetic considering how linear the interconnection is. The mood lighting in the warehouse crane room adds some much-needed ambiance. The best sequence is toward the end, though, with the lava-traversing catwalk leading to the tech-palatial exterior. It's a bit easier to start because Team Robinson has given you the shotgun and some shells up front. Most of the gunplay will be using the regular shotty and chaingun, though, vs. a variety of beefy and bony foes.

MAP04Facility 6B
I really love aspects of this level. The four-way crossroads in the center makes up a great architectural setpiece in terms of interconnectivity and atmosphere. It's leaps and bounds above the rest of the action which is again a room-and-corridor affair. It wouldn't be terrible but for the fact that there is a mind-numbing amount of backtracking to be done at the very end. And with no subsequent spawns to freshen the return trips, either. You start by returning to the now-forgotten forcefield at the beginning and then moving to the opposite end with the laser apparatus. Your final journey is back again behind the blue forcefield where the purple one has been surreptitiously deactivated. I did enjoy the apparently optional outdoor mancubus yard, though.

This just works. Scratch players will have a more horror-oriented experience similar to the alien vessel from Equinox. The plasma gun isn't quite enough to kill the first terror reliably and you'll have to dig a bit before you acquire a comfortable kit. Thank goodness for the stashed cell ammo. This corner of the base has an appreciably spooky vibe. Team Robinson could have milked it a bit more, I think, but it already has a close-quarters Cyberdemon brawl. And a mad dash to the exit through an exploding, previously locked avenue. A pretty good miniboss level.

MAP06A Dark Reality
Continuing the horror vibe, this time by dropping the player in a Hellish wasteland with a dark, blue sky. Ammo is incredibly scarce and there's nary a shotgun to be found. Most of the level is a canyon crawl that features a molten river, dealing with imp and revenant snipers and a sort of arachnotron miniboss. You're probably better off ignoring some of the outdoor monsters barring a challenge. The Gothic outpost at the very end points the way toward cool things in the future. If you took the time to kill all of the previous monsters, though, then it could be quite brutal.

SLIPGATE suddenly explodes. This uses Quake textures but feels like a spooky Doom 64 level. It's great and has a complete tonal shift once you bust into the sewer section. The colors are completely different from the Gothic outdoor fog and you get a meandering, deep aqueduct that you must explore for a red key. It's super cool and actually has some interconnections in the tiered staircases and peeking outdoors. The opening is brutal from pistol start, though, since it's a mad race to the super shotgun and many shells are found in a secret. No real standout fights but I enjoyed invul-punching revenants in the graveyard.

MAP08Dark Cathadral
This is a pretty cool cathedral-style level. There's a meeting place for the congregation, vast outdoor graveyards, and the crypts below. The approach isn't quite as interesting since it's a brown morass of wasteland but it makes the temple facade stand out that much more. Pistol start players have their work cut out for them. There are a bunch of shells but the regular shotguns must be pried from sergeants who are located deep in enemy territory. Only the rocket launcher makes a placed appearance. If you know how to open up the path to the one outdoors and make a beeline then you can stand your ground and start clearing. You'll still have to use a few specific strategies to save ammo in certain spots. Make sure you top your resources off before facing the Cyberdemon. If you're not going in survival style then it's a fairly standard corridor shooter. Excepting the stealth monsters outside, of course.

Stir of EchoesMAP09
A Gothic string of corridors and chambers. The lava accents sort of stands out. Team Robinson tries to throw a few more puzzles at you. The one with the five jump pads was a little tricky to trigger. The atmosphere is spot on but the corridors are narrow enough that starting from scratch is a grind marked by painstaking infighting. It's a long ways before you see any surplus ammo; the shotgun and shells at the start feels like a token effort toward balancing. The pace flips 180° once you reach the plasma gun, though. I think that this level does a decent job of bringing some of Quake's inscrutable machinery to Doom. The teleporter seen off the elevator - an element also used earlier in the PWAD - feels like a classic moment.

MAP10Blood Chalice
On the one hand this is about as cool as it gets for dark dungeon style stuff. The citadel is pretty interconnected and has more of the weird sector machinery, e.g. descending obelisks and crusher chambers. The gunplay is uncomfortably tight, though, and relies on the player knowing about stuff like the plasma gun closet reveal. Or just getting plain lucky with a few rocket launcher shots in the crazy pain elemental brawl. I think that there's a sneaky route to blaze to the super shotgun but it makes this work difficult to check out on its own. The blue key might throw some folks off but not if you've been used to scrounging for ammo like I have. The watery sections are probably the coolest. The arch-vile atrium is a neat setpiece but the catwalks are quintessentially Quake.

The Necro EldersMAP11
This is one long, gorgeous buildup to a fairly humdrum finale. Team Robinson builds the Chthon look quite well and even milks one last goofy Quake bit with the rocket launcher underhang. The boss is a Spiderdemon and the side-galleries where you would take better cover are staffed with Barons. It actually works okay but you're given the BFG so it's pretty easy to blow out one side quickly and then rocket the other. The last unintuitive bit involves opening up the exit. Do you enjoy jumping places? Like a cat? If so then you might figure this one out.



  1. Thick bright fog against a clear dark sky. A classic combination that ruined the visuals of more than one wad.

  2. Always enjoyed this one and like going back to it on occasion.

    1. I think that I'd probably have a better time replaying it since I wouldn't bother testing pistol start feasability and could better focus on the atmosphere.