By Praxis 0 Comments
Another week, another set of levels. Or in this case another subset of the same group of levels I’ve been playing for the past two. Let’s start that again. Hello and welcome to the third and final week of my in-depth look at Hell Revealed 2. Having now finished the damned thing I’m finally in a position to say something about the product as a whole. It is in fact… wait for it... a Doom WAD. Yup. Confirmed. You can all go home, now... Okay, I guess there’s slightly more to say about it than that. It’s a good WAD, I guess, I don’t know. In a lot of ways it’s the quintessential team-based megaWAD, which is to say that some levels in Hell Revealed 2 are legitimately pretty great, while others are legitimately not. Which wouldn’t make it all that different from even some of the more well-regarded megaWADs out there were it not for the fact that it also layers on top of this the expectation of living up to Yonatan Donner and Haggay Niv’s beloved opus, Hell Revealed. So you’re left with weird situations where maps are doubly disappointing for not being good Hell Revealed maps and also just not being good. Even the satisfactory maps don’t usually evoke the original save through imitation, so the comparison ends up being a giant albatross.
But I talked about that last week. Separated from expectation there is a lot to like about Hell Revealed 2, even if the first string of maps sets a qualitative benchmark that the rest of the WAD doesn’t consistently measure up to. It has certainly made me into a fan of a couple of its authors, specifically Jonas Feragen and Yashar Garibzadeh. Between them they’re responsible for most of the mapset’s high points, like MAP04 and MAP17, which is even more commendable in Feragen’s case given that he maintains such a high level of quality despite shouldering a larger share of the mapmaking burden than anyone else (he has credits on almost half the WAD’s maps). It’s easy to get a sense that the WAD is worse than it really is when good levels are followed up by not-so-good ones. That’s ultimately its greatest failing. Not that it isn’t a good Hell Revealed mapset (though that’s certainly true, also), but that it isn’t consistently good. It never gets into a groove and stays there for very long.
And the final stretch, Episode 3, as it were, is as guilty of this as the first two episodes, perhaps moreso. It sometimes seems that for every beautiful section there’s a nondescript one, for every fun moment a slog. And then there’s MAP25, the proverbial Jekyll and Hyde, which somehow struggles to be both a good and bad map at the same time. The overall quality is actually pretty high if you stand back and look at it objectively, but you know what they say about bad eggs. It’s easy to forget that MAP21 and MAP22 were both enjoyable when you’re waist-deep in MAP23. But rest assured, there are plenty of good moments. Enough that it’s worth chronicling, anyway.
MAP21: Conflux by Jonas Feragen
Feragen turns in a quaint little installation in concrete and steel with a few small nukage vats for good measure. The facility powers on as you approach it, making a good first impression that the level manages to sustain up until you hit the final switch. There are more monsters than you would expect from a map of this size, though apart from the yellow key ambush they never really invade your space. There are also a couple of strange cases where enemies are movement blocked for no discernable reason. These are pretty minor issues, though, and the visuals are more than enough to make up for any gameplay shortcomings.
MAP22: Sewer Slaughter by Yashar Garibzadeh
A very well-made sewer level with good details and lighting, as well as some nostalgic visual nods to Underhalls. You’ll find lots of mossy brick and cement in this dimly-lit substructure, as well as an abundance of water, naturally. On the gameplay front it has a bit of a dual personality. The first half is pretty breezy, giving off the impression that it will be a total pushover, only to give way to some painful ambushes toward the back half. There are some good fights to sink your teeth into once the level truly arrives, and enough ordinance and health to keep you from feeling too terribly put-upon.
MAP23: When the Heavens Fall by Martin Friberg
Some decent lighting here, but a lot of the level suffers from too much space and too little detail. The texture theme changes often, preventing the map from ever feeling truly cohesive, though industrial textures are the most prevalent. You’ll be facing off against quite a few heavies, though, strangely, the author pulls punches at key moments. The yellow key ambush gives the player an impregnable hiding place to defend, for instance, and the red key ambush involves assailants so high up that they aren’t all that threatening, or even necessary to contend with. With a little more spit and polish, this level could have been a lot better.
MAP24: The Inmost Dens III by Sam Woodman & Andy Olivera
The Inmost Dens is a perennial favorite among mappers looking to remake a classic id map, and while this might not be my favorite version of it, it’s not terrible either. The signature motif (tan rock, gray brick, corroded metal) remains intact, with slightly more gray brick than you may remember. Enemies are packed tight and there’s not much room to maneuver, so rushing forward is not advisable unless you’d like to be the cold cuts on a demon sandwich. Surviving the final battle requires a little clairvoyance, and the bridge section has posts that are easy to get tripped up on, but otherwise it’s a perfectly serviceable map.
MAP25: The End is Nigh by Sam Woodman, Andy Olivera, & Pedro Blanco
An interesting level with a surprising new feature: custom textures! There are two distinct sections to the map: a linear progression of arena battles followed by a hub-based key hunt. The arena fights aren’t too bad what with the profusion of rocket and cell ammo you’ll have, not to mention the megaspheres. Things get trickier in the second half though with lots of traps, nasty close-quarters fighting, and less health and armor. The first part looks nice enough and uses the new textures to make a sort of gothic hellish theme, while the latter part introduce new corrugated steel and mossy rock textures that, honestly, are kind of ugly.
MAP26: Dis 2000 by Pedro Blanco
A remade and expanded version of the final level of Inferno. The signature four-pronged marble courtyard is now flooded with lava, making fighting and traversal a little more taxing this time. It’s a pretty straightforward map in terms of progression, with three zones attached to the lava yard, each housing a key. Architecture is predominantly green marble and feels faithful to E3M8 even in the areas that are entirely new. Battles are a mixture of death traps and more straightforward encounters, some of which are pretty clever. Sadly, despite quadrupling the stakes, the final mastermind showdown is still a joke, especially if you get some infighting going.
MAP27: Resistance Remains by Sam Woodman & Andy Olivera
Easily one of the hardest levels in Hell Revealed II. Woodman and Olivera take the scalpel to Resistance is Futile (MAP22 of Hell Revealed), making it considerably smaller while adding a number of additional side areas. Arch-viles are the main threat, as they come early, often, and frequently in groups, though there are plenty of other monsters looking to send you to an early grave. There’s very little unoccupied real estate, in fact, but with cell ammo everywhere, you can BFG anything that so much as looks at you funny. It certainly doesn’t dethrone the original, but it’s nice to get a stiff challenge. I mean, it’s Hell Revealed, after all.
MAP28: Beyond the Sea by Andy Olivera
Another tan rock/dark metal bastion, though this time with a watery central yard surrounded by cracked concrete walls. Architecture is pretty basic overall, and the lighting is rudimentary. In particular the extreme brightness of the outdoor areas is really off-putting. Progression is pure switch-hunt: hit a button, figure out what it did, rinse, repeat. There are a lot of monsters, but not much care taken in their placement or composition. You’ll often stumble upon closets full of one monster type that have unlocked in areas you’ve previously visited, and you’re forced to return to the center of the map periodically, where you will literally fight the same battle four times. Ugh.
MAP29: Hell’s Cauldron by Jonas Feragen
The final standard map of the set is suitably grand: a long, winding ascent to the apex of an infernal crag. There’s deadly lava to be wary of, but the most dangerous feature is long-range bombardment. Several times you’ll have to contend with up-close threats while additional foes attempt to assail you from outside your range. There’s rarely as much space or cover as you’d like, but always enough to survive. With no keys and precious few switches, it’s all about the steady drip-feed of tough battles. Architecture is pretty plain throughout, and the final fight in a yawning caldera is something of a letdown, honestly, but in this case it’s all about the journey.
MAP30: Source Control by Jonas Feragen
Using a rock and lava aesthetic similar to the previous map (with one peculiar piece of tech inserted), Feragen crafts a simple, claustrophobic send-off to the WAD. It begins with a brief and perfunctory series of arch-vile fights leading up to a teleport pad to the level proper. From there, you’ll need to quickly frag three additional arch-viles camping out on skull keys before dislodging a cyberdemon from a platform that, obviously, you need to reach. Like MAP30 of Hell Revealed, the deluge of spawning monsters is so intense that even constant BFG spam will eventually be a losing proposition. Ultimately not as good as Donner’s MAP30, but then again what is.
Looking back, my last sentiment regarding MAP30 could really be extrapolated to the mapset as a whole. “Not as good as Hell Revealed, but then again what is.” It’s not fair to measure any megaWAD against a landmark such as Hell Revealed, but it’s a comparison its authors invited, and one that’s thus impossible to avoid. Even at its worst, Hell Revealed 2 never feels insurmountable. There is no Post Mortem or Afterlife here, levels where success comes seemingly through a combination of divine providence and sheer force of will. The hardest maps in Hell Revealed 2 are really, really difficult. The worst maps in Hell Revealed are nightmares, and just barely beatable. But that’s the fun. Figuring out how to do it, and surprising yourself. There’s none of that here, which both saddens and relieves me. Beating this WAD on UV is not an accomplishment on the scale of beating the original, a feat that you can justifiably brag about. It is however, a decent enough set of levels, whose highs outweigh its lows, and one that’s certainly worth a look.