Friday, January 31, 2020

Blind Alley E., "The Pit" (BNDALYE.WAD)

by Gene Bird

Gene was one of the major contributors to the original Community Chest and its sequel. All but one of his inclusions were previously released as part of his unfinished Blind Alley series, though. Bird had been producing it as a prospective megaWAD but releasing the polished portions in a piecemeal fashion, much like Bob Evans and his Odessa / LORDDOOM works. Every bit of BNDALY has an alpha-numeric designator that indicated its original spot in the card. This one, The Pit, has an E for what would have been MAP14. For convenience's sake, though, the 2002 release is a Doom II MAP01 replacement.

Blind Alley's story concerns the player's sub-urban campaign against the demons that have invaded his or her hometown. I like the image of Doomguy or whoever hearing the carnage and just stoically stepping outside with a shotgun. In spite of the setting, though, the parts of the product that I have seen aren't cosmopolitan. Most of the complex architecture comes from underground areas, hinting at a subterranean ruin below the town. It's a cool story to pick up on, a literal evil lurking beneath a civilized facade. You do see the occasional trappings of Doom realism, like the library and boardwalk of BNDALYP.

This level is broken up into two pieces. The first is a physically disconnected starting area with abstract geometry. There are three main tiers of play - the floor, the middle, and the west - and a staircase to the east that you need to ride a platform up to and which you have to use to jump back on to the central tier. The revenants on the stairs sort of make things interesting but this segment is really just a warm-up before you roll into the level proper. Bird is at full force in the side-rooms as they're simple chambers staffed by mixed monsters to add some unpredictable infighting while you smash them with the combat shotgun.

The main showpiece of this level is one of those multi-tier elevator setups. You enter in from a decent-looking sewer section, fall down to the ground floor, and then - hopefully - work your way back up to hit the blue switch. Falling down into fluids is a major theme. If you find the extensive secret section then you'll see the first instance of the candy-shaped catwalk rooms. You can step down several tiers to the north and south to do battle with low-lying monsters and even receive some goodies. The normal instances occur both in the same row, coming off as a bit repetitive (especially if you found the hidden BFG).

The two poles have my favorite setups. The north run takes you further into the picturesque aqueduct setting and through some mysterious machine rooms until you trigger a fairly large teleporter ambush. The demons get a chance to snipe at you through the portholes to the east and west where they're also safe from being a part of up-close infighting. It feels like a meaty fight if mostly due to the stuff coming into the canal room. Your return to the south is punctuated by a bit where you open up little teleporter closets. The resulting micro-invasions aren't confined to the hideaways, though, which could be disastrous depending on what you're expecting.

The Pit is entertaining in its simplicity. Bird regularly confronts you with rooms populated by monsters at medium-density and you're free to handle them as you like. Most of the ammo is for the super shotgun but everything else is available in one form or another. I prefer the layout of the north / south rooms because the columns slightly elevate the encounter design by giving monsters something to hide behind and maybe surprise you. I like the mixed monster hordes since they invariably go to seed as soon as they are exposed, adding some uncertainty to whatever's about to come around the corner. As far as favorite fights I again will have to defer to the teleport ambush sequences to the north and south.

BNDALYE doesn't have quite the visual verve as some of the previously-released portions of Blind Alley but I once again enjoyed its no frills 1995-like design. If the rest of the series follows through with the same ethos then it'll be enough.


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