Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Chemical Base (CHEMICAL.WAD)

by Pablo Dictter

Pablo was another prolific figure during the source port boom beginning in 1999 but mostly from 2000 and on. He rubbed elbows with the likes of his soul brother Tobias Münch as well as the Abhiram brothers (Karthik and Varun) and even found his way into the Alien Vendetta lineup. Dictter made a lot of levels but something like half of them - all early works - didn't find their way to /idgames. It's no wonder then that his first-archived material shows a lot of craft in, if not making interesting layouts or room shapes, adding a lot of visual panache. The Chemical Base is a MAP01 replacement for Doom II and was released somewhere on the borderline between 2000 and 2001. The WAD itself has an older timestamp while the .TXT leans toward the latter.

Unlike Pablo's previous level this one doesn't have anything resembling a framing narrative. It's presented as huge, hard, and fun. Your mileage may vary. The gist is that you ride an elevator down into something like a sewer, fight your way through the bowels, and then exit after you take another up. The layout is stringy and linear. It has only one major fork, requiring you to locate the red key in a room and then return there after using it to open up some bars across the way. It has a few cool architectural bits, though. Dictter has dual hallways leading to the first big pipe, a great way of making things feel ever so slightly complex. Your path is also one long circuit that eventually takes you to a switch seen very early on. As far as interconnectivity goes it's a good callback.

The look is dingy green tile and brown metal with the occasional splash of emerald nukage. The wall textures are more emblematic of sewers to me than a Chemical Base - especially when you're darting over poisonous trenches - but the author sells the utility via the occasional open vat. The architecture is simple rectangular room / corridor stuff but Pablo does a great job of greebling to make the boring shapes look interesting. The level itself is over before the visuals really have a chance to wear out their welcome. The lighting is very moody, mostly dull with some rough gradients. The corner light sources make for a neat motif but I would have liked a few flickers or strobes to breathe some life into static scenes.

Between this and They Will Repent (House of Pain Part Two) I get the feeling that Dictter is a fan of weird, edge-case platforming. In PD-TWR you saw this with the key platform near the finish. Here, you have to do some clever climbing to reach the shotgun grab. Later on you'll perform a similar feat in order to make your way across a large gap. It won't hurt if you mess up and fall on the floor but if you land in the vat of nukage thadt you skirt the edge of then you aren't going to be getting out. The platforming / climbing bits add an interesting bit of verticality to a level which has an otherwise tight band of height variation.

The combat isn't as bad as Pablo makes it out to be and is more slow than anything. You start out with the pistol, move on to the shotgun, and then later pick up the SSG. The biggest breaking point in my mind is the pain elemental. Mr. Meatball is fought very early on when you aren't swimming in shells. The ammo balance quickly turns around, though, as you'll enter an area with a couple of boxes not too long after. Average players may be more wary of the handful of arch-viles that you encounter during the second half. You have quite a bit of room to move in, though, and enough cover that you should only be in trouble if you are too gutsy or just freeze up.

The Chemical Base is a pretty decent mini-adventure for folks who like slow-paced sewer crawls. It won't win you over if you're looking for something with a bit more freedom to explore or classical interconnectivity but it makes for a decent romp.


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