Friday, August 11, 2017

SlayeR (SLAYER.WAD)


Richard Wiles started mapping during the advent of source ports in 1998 but remained part of the vanilla vanguard.. His output remains highly lauded, with his highly-varied DICKIE series (well, technically DICKIE10) named one of Doomworld's top 10 WADs of 1998 and clinching repeating nods in 1999 for the brutal but acclaimed Crusades as well as his contributions to The Darkening E2 in 2000. SlayeR, a ten-map plus one secret mapset released in 2001, appeared to be his Doom swan song but Wiles would come back five years later to author the Monolith series. Dare he return some ten years later in 2017? Probably not, but stranger things have happened!


SlayeR doesn't have a written story, but Wiles has been long done with trying to wow us with his prosaic prowess. It's not completely abstract, though. The end of each level hooks into the beginning of the next, much like word-of-mouth darling Cleimos 2.0, and it all begins with a desperate bid for survival as you break free of your bonds in "Human Processing" right before you're turned into demon chow. From then on you're against the odds as you battle your way out of the heart of the occult complex, eventually emerging after climbing a stairway to "Heaven". Well, just about anything would be Heaven compared to battling for your life in occupied territory.


After reading several blurbs I thought I knew what I was getting into with this mapset. "Human Processing" was going to be the long and hard one and the rest were going to resemble something like Demonfear or Scythe's earlier levels in being short and full of disposable action. MAP01 is indeed the longest of these levels but its pacing is more in line with traditional gameplay as far as filler monsters and closet ambushes go. Atmosphere is king and difficulty is more a matter of attrition due to a dearth of health supplies. It's a fun map but does little to prepare you for the rest of the episode.


That's because the rest of the levels are pedal to the metal fragfests that layer monster after monster on top of the player in an attempt to exert pressure through sheer muscle. It's easy to get overwhelmed on UV and the differences in difficulty may lessen the sting but do little to change the tone of the encounters themselves. Most of the levels also have some clear gimmick in play, like the enemy territory weapons of "Get the Gun!!!" or the initial imp ambush of "Psycho-Mania". The last few levels ply player exposure, a breath of fresh air after being mobbed by grunting and sweaty skeletons and goat-men and imps and cacodemons over and over again.


None of these statements on difficulty are meant to imply that SlayeR sssssssucks. It's just a very abrupt and in-your-face mapset that points the way toward the supremely difficult scenarios of today, just on a smaller scale. There's only one Cyberdemon in the whole thing and nary an arachno-momma to be found but the margin for error in some of the locked-in panic fights is pretty thin and it's certainly heavier opposition than the classic PWAD soundtrack implies. Wiles made some choice selections there including one of my favorites, Mark Klem's "Slipper" with its curious Scooby Doo quotations. For me, the song choice engenders a relaxed atmosphere that works to soften the blow of Wiles's pile-on encounter design.


Slayer is wicked cool but challenging. If you tend to play on Doom's lower difficulties, I think that you'll encounter varying degrees of frustration. It's a great showcase of the ground that exists between "classic" notions of difficult gameplay and the deep end of the pool - all in a tight, clean package. It's nice to see Wiles constantly tweaking his encounter design, always with a different focus. I look forward to seeing what he came up with in 2006-2007.







SLAYER
by Richard Wiles

Human ProcessingMAP01
A snazzy-looking mixture of tech and brick base that's linear in its blue / red / yellow key progression but fun in how it presents your progression and the way the key annexes build off the main area. While it doesn't compare to the worst excesses of Crusades, it's still a fairly unforgiving level thanks to fairly meager health pickups, a propensity to layer hitscan monsters, and the occasional surprise closet staffed with revenants and Hell knights. This includes the finale, a bait and switch that starts out with highly awkward monster placement - the commandos on the battlements - and then suckerpunches you with... well, you'll just have to wait and sea. It's nothing you can't handle, though. I dig the nightmarish factory feel and appreciate the secret quest for the blue armor.

MAP02Get the Gun!!!
Abandoning the atmosphere and pacing of MAP01 for something that feels like a bite-sized version of Hell Revealed. It's a tough abstract level for a variety of reasons, one centered around the titular gimmick. The four big weapons are in occupied territory, with the first one (the combat shotgun) triggering a forceful ambush with a clown car of cacodemons arriving from the back area. Opening up the opposite doors reveals a deadly track loop with carefully staged projectile monsters and arch-viles designed to gum up your attempts at obtaining the precious rocket launcher and plasma gun. You may want to surgically clear out the route for your ascension to the BFG, which involves an incredibly awkward dance with a Cyberdemon and a squad of lost souls before confronting the new blood that's repopulated the starting area. Pretty powerful stuff.

GethsemaneMAP03
Dialing it down a bit - no Cyberdemon and a few less arch-viles - but the hordes are still hot and heavy with slightly more cramped confines. "Gethsemane" looks a little more like a traditional Doom level but you're still moving between death arenas, with cacodemons serving as a popular choice for area hogs. Wiles also gets a lot of mileage out of the starting area by repopulating the imp columns with Hell knights and also using them as platforms to reach the western / northern reaches. The Baron courtyard will be the most time-consuming to clear due to the sheer HP on deck, both initially and after the inevitable two-pronged ambush. Very fun.

MAP04Old Town
A small slice with the ruined look that starts out atmospheric with the empty, wrecked entryway but quickly gives way to a series of sawtooth drops that force you to carve out a safe space since there's no place to retreat to, starting out with the plasma gun yard quickly followed by a trip through hot lava where you'll have to handle the incumbent monsters before a horde of demons and cacodemons arrive from the south. The last fight is a locked-in teleport ambush with an arch-vile guarding the exit switch. I think it's pretty simply handled with enough plasma gun ammo; the key pillar provides essential cover. For me, the meat of this map is in that first jump into the lava pit.

ArenaMAP05
The power is yours in what might be the simplest of the levels so far. It's got a lot of things you've come to expect from SlayeR, like waves of cacodemons and annoying revenants on the battlements, but the monster density feels much lower than previous maps. The arena is actually pretty small and only one of the two side areas offers any real danger (fast-blinking arch-viles) but it's a fun excursion and the architecture, mainly the wood beams, looks pretty neat.

MAP06Psycho-Mania
Dickie goes ga-ga for "Ghost Town"; at least, there are some very strong echoes of Plutonia's MAP05 in this semi-subterranean outpost. The standout encounter, hands-down, is the opening shootout. It's just you, a chaingun with tons of bullets, a rocket launcher with a few boxes, and a cavalcade of imps entering from the tunnels leading up to the mancubus platform. There aren't so few that you can just pound them with the given rockets and the chaingun won't slay them fast enough so you'll have to mix and match to survive long enough to make the journey southwest. The other two branches are much simpler, with the northwest attempting to surprise you from behind while the southeast uses beefy monsters and deceptive maneuvering space to trip you up. The midtexture marble cube / bloodfall area is a nice vista.

Into the LightMAP07
Another echo of "Ghost Town", but that comes with an eight chaingunner salute on your return to the main courtyard. "Light" is a very punchy base level, but the freewheeling mancubus brawl does a poor job of setting you up for Wiles's unchecked aggression lurking behind the blue key door. It's an intense mosh pit fight where you're beset upon by imps, cacodemons, pain elementals, and other creatures of the deep. The good news is you'll have the rocket launcher and plasma gun, so carve out some breathing room and then unleash your explosive ordinance. The rest of the shenanigans hardly compare, except maybe the sheer dickishness of the three arch-viles guarding the red skull key.

MAP0810 Secrets
Dialing back a bit on the combat but embracing a secret-based gimmick, hence the title. Wiles still has plenty of intense fights, none more so than those based around the starting area. There are plenty of snipers including a revenant gallery built into the walls and pushing forward triggers an enormous imp ambush. Going even further confronts you with Hell knights in the hall, your only real cover versus another cadre of revenants now occupying the outer yard and eager for your blood. The rest of the action is a touch more intimate as you’ll finally have time to breathe and chase secrets in between making your way toward the dark basement viewed from the Hell knight corridor slats. Wiles supplies you with plenty of ammo including a fairly obvious BFG so a comfortable player will be able to set his or her own pace.

Techbase TerrorMAP09
Wiles seems less Hell-bent on putting the player under sheer pack pressure and more leveraging player exposure, most evident from the opening battle where an arch-vile forces you out onto the dance floor where you'll have to dance from fireball to fireball as you collect the combat shotgun and trim down the beasties on the ground. Another stellar example is the bridge that spans the eastern gap; making the trip will summon forth a horde of imps to your previous location and expose you to a mancubus via a porthole. Then, of course, there's the squads of Hell knights perched on the outer wall if you're feeling sassy enough to take the imps from the bridge itself. The connective tissue is dominated by Hell nobles and revenants, slowing down the pace and lengthening your exposure time. You'll definitely want to find the secret BFG so that you can nuke the Baron pack guarding the final switch... and handily smoke the pack of cretins hiding in the basement.

MAP10Staircase to Heaven
"Staircase" has a fairly self-evident gimmick, dumping the player into the level's lowest point from which you must rise by means of the titular structure. The resulting gameplay has a sort of Flaharty-on-steroids thing going on; I'm thinking of the various takes he did on Romero's "Circle of Death". There's the road, and then there are the monsters on the road, and then there are the commandos and Hell knights and occasional arch-vile ensconced in the level's periphery. The level's exposure by height philosophy (narrowing the area you can dodge fireballs in and still be in the fight) means that the only sizable ambushes you can expect are clouds of cacodemons, though there are a couple of arch-viles toward the end that wind up being essentially ineffectual since they aren't inclined to climb the stairs all the way up to greet you. Love the visuals.



WARP ZONE

[unnamed]MAP31
by Richard Wiles and Malcolm Sailor
This not-so-secret level is actually based on one of Malcolm Sailor's GothicDM 2 outtakes, included in MSSCRAPS.zip as MAP02 of MS3.WAD. The core of the level, a huge nod toward "Circle of Death", remains while the periphery has been highly modified and built upon. The final result reminds me of something like a highly concentrated "Circle" meets "The Living End". The opening is pretty benign... and then you teleport to the central platform, where you're under assault from projectiles on the outside and a bevy of hitscanners on the inside including a central platform fielding a pair of revenants and chaingunners. When you finally get the double doors open, you'll be tempted to use those hard-earned (and secret!) rockets. I highly suggest you lay down suppression fire with the plasma gun; you'll want all the rockets you can find for the final teleport wave, a foursome of arch-viles that has no problems hiding behind resurrected revenants and Barons.

SKY IS TURNING RED
RETURN TO POWER DRAWS NEAR

FALL INTO ME, THE SKY'S CRIMSON TEARS
ABOLISH THE RULES MADE IN STONE

4 comments:

  1. Glad you've come back KMX E XI , had a look back since you went dark in July. Good to see you back to writing up wads. Also do you still update your Tumblr, haven't seen any post up there.

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    1. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the Tumblr. Maintaining it as an auxiliary to this blog is part of the reason that Doom started to feel like a full-time job. The most fun I had with it was making the Doom GIFs and it was definitely the most rewarding from a community engagement standpoint. My dream was to have the Tumblr account run more or less in constant "syndication" with reblogs and occasionally injecting new content and I'd love to get it back to that point but I think I'd have to do some serious research into Tumblr bots to get it to the point where I didn't feel like it was seriously eating into my family time.

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  2. Putting Map01 first always came across to me as a bit puzzling. Because the other ten levels (including the bonus one) all seem to very much fit the same design and gameplay philosophy (almost a Plutonia-ish one) yet Map01 is kind of it's own thing, larger and more eerie. I could perhaps better see it turned into some sort of grand finale level, though even then it would be hard to not make it seem at least somewhat out of place. Not a knock on quality (which is good), it just sings a different tune than the others IMO.

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    1. Variety is the spice of life. It also helps to have a sort of longer, warm-up map rather than just dumping the player into the sort of micro-Hell Revealed death traps that comprise the rest of the set. It's almost a divide between classic and modern sensibilities of difficulty insofar as how ruthless and measured the other nine levels are.

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