Post by Bob Page on Jul 28, 2016 23:53:00 GMT -5
Author: Paul DeBruyne A.K.A. Skillsaw
Skillsaw(also known as Paul DeBruyne) has been releasing maps to the /idgames archive since 2007. While I have yet to play Aeternum, DeBruyne's first offering, I've played every major release of his after that, and all of them are fantastic. Skillsaw has a seemingly perfect grasp of Doom level design, and an almost uncanny ability to create scenarios that are fun and engaging, challenging but not too hard, and visually stunning without suffering from detail overkill. If this sounds like a lot of praise, I can assure you that it is well-deserved, and if you are still playing Doom here in the year 2016, you already know that Skillsaw's honors and awards are hard-earned. So it should come as no surprise that Ancient Aliens, Paul's latest creation, is nothing short of fantastic.
First, I'll address the facts. Ancient Aliens is a 32-level megawad for Doom 2. It runs on Boom-compatible ports(amazingly), and Skillsaw made all but 8 of the 32 maps. The wad is broken up into 3 episodes, and there are intermission screens throughout that advance the story.
Ok, that's enough facts. As with any high-profile release like this one, there's quite a lot that can be said, so in order to make this review less of a rambling gush of praise, I'm going to rate aspects of the wad according to categories. The first is graphics. Skillsaw did a lot of work on a new texture palette for Ancient Aliens, as well as a new PLAYPAL and COLORMAPS, and this megawad really pops because of it. If you walk into a room and someone is playing this wad, you only need to glance casually at the screen to instantly know that they're enjoying some Ancient Aliens. These graphics are highly original and give this was a totally unique look and overall vibe - very cool. If I absolutely had to give one nitpick, it would be that sometimes certain texturing choices Skillsaw makes can clash and create very minor eyesores, nothing egregious of course, but still at times I felt as though I was being subjected to neon color overload. I also
love the new arachnotron and mancubus sprites, and the few little touches like cacti, strobes and moving lights, and the super-cool warp effects did not go unnoticed either. The two new enemies are cool-looking as well, and they fit the theme and gameplay style of these levels quite well.
Next, I'll cover music and sound. The music in this wad is spectacular. All of it. Stewboy really outdid himself here. This is the kind of soundtrack you hum to yourself at work because you can't get it out of your head(in a good way). It's honestly some of the best midi music I've ever heard. And in a very cool move, Stewboy released the entire soundtrack on his bandcamp website. Just awesome! Skillsaw also added some new sound effects, some of which are from other
Doom-engine games, but they fit nicely.
Let's cover the level design and gameplay next. If you've played much of Skillsaw's previous mapsets, you will have some idea of what you are in for: slick, well-made levels that flow extremely well and feature well-balanced run-and-gun gameplay, interesting traps and monster usage, clever progression mechanics, and a challenging but fair difficulty curve, at least in continuous play, which is how I played this wad. As with Sunlust, the usage of Boom effects and level
design tricks is well above my pay grade as a mapper, and like Sunlust I could only gawk and marvel at certain visual and gameplay elements, because I really have no idea how Skillsaw made them. There are examples of levels that seem to defy the Doom engine peppered throughout Ancient Aliens, but if I had to pick one level that blew my mind more than the rest in this regard, it would be Map24, which interestingly was mostly made by Lupinx-Kassman. There are two new enemies, a stealth trooper type of guy with very low health but a nasty attack, and a floating evil icon thingy, also with low HP and a rather nasty damage potential. Skillsaw uses these two new monsters very well, and I think they really add to the wad as a whole, rather than feeling like they were shoehorned in as is the case in some other wads which feature new monsters. The 32 levels presented are all super-polished and very professional in appearance and gameplay, even the ones done by the other mappers. There really are no duds in this mapset.
In terms of story, like almost all Doom wads there really isn’t much of one to be found, but I salute Skillsaw for coming up with something I found rather original and entertaining to read in the intermission screens. The opening bit of the first level acts as a little plot sequence that underscores the rest of the wad, and everything comes full circle in the end in a pretty charming ending.
If I had to come up with one thing(besides the aforementioned color clashes) that I felt could have perhaps been improved upon, I’d have to say it would be the last non-story level of the wad, MAP29. Now here’s the thing, this map is great, but after playing it I will admit that I longed for a more momentous finale, like a final boss. MAP18 is the closest that Skillsaw comes to a “boss”, when he pits the player against an out of control demon spawner and basically encourages the player to get the fuck out of there ASAP. But I would have liked to have seen a big old boss level as the grand finish to this majestic mapset.
Overall, Ancient Aliens is a top-tier wad among top-tier wads, one of the best of the best. Ya gotta play it son!