Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Anomaly: Part II (ANOMALY2.WAD)

by Varun Abhirama Krishna

Varun is Karthik Abhiram Krishna's younger brother by about five years. The two made their /idgames debuts at around the same time in 2001, KAK with Ick (closely followed by Chaos Punch) and VAK with The Anomaly: Part II. They would eventually go on to tag-team a PWAD - 2004's Reanimated - but that is a story for another day. There's no way to infer exactly why but it's clear when comparing the two side-by-side that Varun was a more natural level designer than his older brother. I wager that you'll come to the same conclusion, whether or not Karthik's relative naivete is more interesting as an outsider perspective. ANOMALY2 is an E4M6 replacement for the Ultimate Doom and should play back in any source port.

Like his brother's early works, Varun did not bother to include a story. There's a bit implied by the title, though - presumably the author intended to invoke the carnage of the doomed Deimos base that you arrive at after conquering the "Phobos Anomaly". E4's orange sky confuses the issue but it's basically in keeping with the sort of thematic hodgepodge seen in The Shores of Hell as represented by "Command Center" or "The Halls of the Damned". For that matter, it also somewhat resembles E3's "Pandemonium" . E4M6 seems like an esoteric position but I was reminded by the .TXT that sector tag 666 opens a door upon the death of all Cyberdemons. Spoiler alert: ANOMALY2 has a Cybie.

This is a small but dense level that's divided into thematically discrete areas. The opening has the grimey sewer tile look; all of the offshoots transition to wood; and the next theme on both sides is stone and green marble. I didn't think about it while playing but it's interesting to see how consistent the progression of aesthetics is. Varun uses irregular room shapes to keep each location feeling interesting in spite of a general lack of height variation, the latter being confined to the marble areas and reserved for pillars and monster ledges. The vast majority of the detailing consists of inlaid torch sconces with hexagonal bases but you get a few more fun features like ankle pools, a blood fountain, and a long water basin.

The combat is dungeon crawler room-and-doorish stuff, the difference being that Varun keeps monsters tucked around the corners made by the irregular shapes. There are a healthy number of hitscanners involved which, when combined with a relative dearth of health, makes for some tense attrition-based combat. In keeping with the OG Doom theme there's a very early crusher trap that you might run into but the escape method isn't exactly signposted. ANOMALY2 has two major ambushes and they both involve cacodemon pairs. The first has them float up and fly in through a window while the other is a teleport attack and you get to hear the gasbags before they pop in.

The big dance is understandably the Cyberdemon fight. It occurs in a spacious, square marble arena. It looks pretty sharp and has a fun gimmick where you see big guns - particularly the BFG - on some pillars that serve as cover. Oh, and a Berserk pack for a handy health reset. There are switches around the outer edge that permanently lower the weapons to your reach but you won't know until you press them which one is triggered by each button. There's plenty of room, though; the worst-case scenario probably involves running afoul of one of the few lost souls while you're trying to dodge rockets.

Going back to the crusher trap: while the sconce solution is not itself a secret, it is emblematic of Varun's approach to secret triggers. Actually, it's much nicer since your options are limited. VAK's cryptic linedefs are as arbitrary as can be. Nothing has been flagged as far as I can tell. One of the secret actions come down to one of the three lines that make up the back of a torch sconce. The second is an arbitrary segment of wall that's NEXT to a torch. Like, drop a vertex about a foot from the sconce for the sole purpose of establishing a just so segment that you have to use. The secrets aren't at all necessary to survive - though one of them does house a soul sphere - and you're only missing out on a handful of monsters plus a DoomCute "FREE KAK" bonus room.

It's cool to see that Karthik's brother is a decent level designer out of the gate, though, and I'm stoked to see where Varun takes things from here and through to his own Cacoward entry - The Outer Darkness. If you're down for relatively simple and nominally E4 style Doom levels with a tight health balance then, well, you could do a lot worse than The Anomaly: Part II.



  1. Really love reading your prose, sometimes even look forward to it more than playing the levels themselves. Both evocative and informative. Cheers.