Sunday, October 27, 2019

The River of Fire (RIVERF.WAD)

by Pablo Dictter

Pablo made a good number of Doom / II levels that are no longer publicly available before he started uploading stuff to /idgames. The confusingly titled They Will Repent (House of Pain Part Two) was his archival debut. The quasi-E4 styled map pointed pretty strongly to the level design that he would be infamous for in Alien Vendetta. As it turns out, though, he also dabbled in making levels for Heretic. The River of Fire is the first of these irregular morsels to find their way to broader publication. It wasn't uploaded until 2001 but it was available elsewhere circa 2000. It was made for a now-defunct source port called wHeretic but as far as I can tell the engine did not have any special features, primarily existing to bring the game from DOS to Windows.

RIVERF actually has a little plot. The player character is a former warrior who took to priesthood. One day you wake up and start to feel some strange vibes. You head to your church as usual, though, only to find a magical gate right where you would stand at the altar. You gather together the implements of your former profession - ethereal crossbow, backpack, arrows - and step foot onto the portal. When you open your eyes you find yourself in Hell or at the very least a plane / location with some resemblance. The teleporter that took you there can't send you back; the only way out is to confront the evil.

This is a short and stringy Heretic level. It consists almost exclusively of rugged, earthen tunnels. Some of them are pooled with lava. The end of the line is an oxbow-shaped chasm and moreso than anything else earns the moniker of The River of Fire. The environmental hazard is front and center. You'll have to fight on cramped ledges and sprint across shallow platforms that sink into the molten rock. The player might also run afoul of the fireball-spewing geysers but I didn't worry about them too much. Because of the setting, a large portion of the monsters you fight are gargoyles. The little fireball-throwing bastards appear in large, clot-like packs. Your relative lack of mobility brings the gameplay to a halt when you run into them.

Another big thing that might color your experience isn't Pablo's fault. He has the entire starting area kitted out with plenty of ethereal arrows, more than you will probably need. Due to where they are placed, though - in between the chapel benches and the wall - the player can't pick them up in ZDoom. I assume that they could be snagged in wHeretic and successfully tested the starting area in Chocolate Heretic. If you are playing in ZDoom and don't want to suffer through ammo-pinching survival-style gunplay then do yourself a favor and cheat a few quivers your way. Playing without a glut of arrows isn't impossible but will rely on favorable drops from weredragons.

The other bit that players may not appreciate: the end of the chasm is an inescapable fire pit surrounded by a narrow, outer ledge. You ought to have a chaos device, which will return you to the chapel, but it can only bail you out once. At the very least it's a damage floor so it's not like you're just fumbling around in your impotence. Granted, the level's overall combat is less dangerous than its environmental hazards when you're playing normally. The most challenging fight is the finale but only if you decide to hang out and battle the Disciples, who are located in the shadowed periphery surrounding the final portal. Nothing is keeping you from just running into the exit.

The River of Fire isn't a bad level for Heretic but it has one misstep that may throw players off and an issue of antiquity regarding the starting ammo placement. It's a small, cinematic piece for a typically content-starved fanbase. If you were never a fan of Corvus then this isn't going to change your mind. Die-hards, however, may wish to take a gander.


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