Friday, November 8, 2019

Blind Alley P., The Boardwalk (BNDALYP.WAD)

by Gene Bird

The original CCHEST - and, to a lesser extent, its sequel - gets a bad rap nowadays. Part of this is due to Gene's involvement, or rather looking back without its original context and holding the project to an unrealistic standard. Community Chest didn't have a lot of motivation beyond "Did you ever want to see a level of yours as part of a megaWAD?" Some folks made new ones. Others like Bird and Sphagne did not and opted to submit from their own, singles-heavy back catalogue. G.B.'s series was called Blind Alley and eight of its fifteen levels can be found in the first as well as CCHEST2. These maps began as part of a larger, more ambitious megaWAD and were released piecemeal as Gene finalized them. The Boardwalk originally occupied the MAP25 slot is MAP01 here mostly for ease of play, I imagine (the author suggests idmus25 or 22 for music). It ought to work in any port, including vanilla, though Bird recommends the use of something more advanced.

If the .TXT is to be believed then the general setting of Blind Alley is an urban environment. Specifically, demons have invaded and you fall into the role of the hometown hero who tries to clear them out. Bird's level design has some nods to the real world. Specifically, this one has a "library" complete with those dubious public computers. The previous Nukage had some kind of a backyard / park thing that transitioned into sewers. The rest of the map is not evocative of anything in particular but could be part of some sort of waterfront municipal center. The end product to me feels like a mix of '94-ish level design and Doom II's abstraction.

From having a second Gene outing under my belt, I see that the man loves his blood baths. The Boardwalk doesn't look like a particularly large or complicated level but it has just shy of three-hundred monsters, an impressive bodycount. The hordes are of course padded out with a healthy number of zombies and imps but it still takes some time to blast your way through using the shotgun and SSG. Those will end up being your primary weapons just due to the sheer number of shells that you'll find but Bird also offers up the chaingun, rocket launcher, and plasma gun as limited alternatives.

The action consists of standard room-clearing with a major swerve in the map's second half where you end up in the titular boardwalk. It's inspired by Chris Couleur's "Rainbow Bridge" from Eternal Doom. I can feel it, too! It's as fun and hectic as the level gets since there are multiple pens for snipers and other large monster closets for Gene to put you in the middle of a multi-front battle. The chaingunner snipers may be a tad bit annoying - especially considering how little health there is to be found in the map - but the most questionable element for me is the caged pain elemental. I guess if you're a fan of the waggle you can just watch the meatball from a safe distance.

Bird has some pretty cool classic architectural setpieces. As barren as the first few rooms may feel the northwestern altar room, boardwalk, and mysterious towers at the end make this a fun field trip. He also manages to add some intrigue to the rather plain donut room west of the exit by putting a few big guns in the center, a detail paid off when you find its corresponding teleporter later on. The library has a bit of DoomCute sector prop action going with the couple of personal computers. I somehow managed to miss what one of them did the first time I used it so keep that in mind if you can't figure out how to get up to the blue skull key.

All of the vocal criticism of Gene had me prepared for some godawful experiences but I continue to be pleasantly surprised by how classically entertaining his level design is. If you like mowing down tons of monsters with a couple of progression twists and appreciate the community's '95 era then you will probably enjoy The Boardwalk.


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