I'm running out of rocks. I should probably go to see if any landed in the
shallow parts of the water.
Also, I'll try to find that duck I saw earlier. He's gotta be around here
During the time I started up this review, I honestly found myself at a loss for words when I try to approach this mod. It’s a bit unorthodox considering what’s been shown previously in our spotlights, so as I type up my draft, my mind is racing on how to tackle this. It is a mix of survival horror and walking simulator. A really good one at that, and like many walking simulators, they are best played blind. It would behoove you to take a stab at this before reading on. When you get to the main part of the review, I’d like to emphasize that I can’t approach this with much objectivity, and I don’t think I should. I will be explaining why I personally am in so much love with this mod, and not necessarily what it changes. I hope that makes sense.
The mod remains unfinished and may not ever be finished, but it is in a playable state and can be finished. I reached out to Pyroscourge as I was drafting, he has given his blessing for me write this review, and stated he might return to this some day.
One of the major reasons I have difficulty talking about this mod is that it has a very minimal gameplay loop and is extremely organic. It goes against a lot of typical horror conventions that just bore me to no end as cliches, and I strongly feel it’s best experienced first hand. However, I do acknowledge that this might be in poor taste to the review, so I’ll offer some bullet points you can look forward to if you’re looking for the gist.
* The gameplay loop consists of exploration of the levels in order to progress. Nothing is linear and genuinely feels like you’ve stumbled into a place you shouldn’t. Exploration is always rewarded, and your reward is sometimes punishment.
* Tremendous atmosphere through ambience and map design that constantly leaves you ill at ease. This is constantly emphasized with the aesthetics of the map, which include extremely well thought out lighting and constant noises that can be heard.
* Organically placed pretty much everything. There are dozens of scripted events that are not mandatory to encounter in any sort of fashion, do not yank control away from the player or force the player to advance the map, and all enemies encountered are natural.
* Plenty of logs that can be found, allowing the player to discover and learn about the events that happened and give an insight on what drove people into insanity.
I know that these are vague and aren’t really cutting it, but I strongly stand by that this mod can’t be summed up objectively, it’s strengths lie in the crafted experience it provides to the player. In the same way I can go into detail on how a really good cup of coffee is made, you can’t know how good it is until you just try it.
We’re now approaching spoiler territory, I’ll buffer the post with images. Scroll at your own risk.
Something doesn't feel right. I shouldn't have read this. Please, just leave.
Please look at me when I am talking to you. Don't look back, never turn
around. Just keep moving. Regardless of what you do, it will just keep
smiling. It won't stop. It just keeps looking, waiting, even taunting.
I can feel it now. She's close. She won't come any closer. I'll wait here
until I bleed to death if I have to.
Is that what you want? You want to watch me die, to know I am suffering,
and all the while you just sit there with that stupid look on your face?
You want me to smile.
There's been something watching me from the lake for a while now. I can't
really tell what it is from my post. It could be a duck? Maybe? It looks
kind of red and grey, but it's too hard to tell in the dark. I'm not
supposed to leave my post unless it's absolutely mandatory, but it is
really damn tempting to see it.
I don't see a 'Do Not Feed the Ducks' sign, and I've got a lot of rations
that I don't want to eat...
Taking place two years after the events of Doom II, Sylvious is our main character. A random joe schmoe down on his luck and low on fuel, but he so happens to park at, unknownst to him, an abandoned UAC base: Silkwood Mountain Range Military, resembling many of the eerie Northern American forests older generations tell ghost stories about. Stumbling through the foot of the woods for what seemed to last for several minutes too long, eventually coming across the base’s entrance. Faintly lit by what little power was still remaining. They might be able to help with refueling a car.
The door opens when approached.
The switch is flicked, closing the door behind and opening the door into the base, revealing a poorly lit interior of cold steel and computers that lined the walls. Ominously lit in a loading bay off to the side is a canister of fuel, secured and shrugged off as something the UAC won’t miss. The forest greets once more, soon becomes wandering again for incountable minutes, something is wrong, something eerie. A slow realization dawns over. The car is missing, with no sign of any road to follow.
A log, with no owner listed. The message is only from a few hours ago.
6th April, 2033.
I swear I've been everywhere in this damn forest. I keep thinking that, but
then I find somewhere new every time I give up hope. This beacon is the
first piece of civilization I have seen for hours, and might be part of
the Military Base, but I'm not sure I want to be anywhere near there right
now. That could have been where this all started, for all I know.
The forest keeps taking me to the same places, regardless of which way I
go from here. I've tried to find a way up to this beacon, but the cliffs are
too steep to climb. I can see the mountain range from here, but regardless of
how close I get I just end up further away.
At first I thought that the forest was changing itself, moving around to stop
me, or to trap me, but I was wrong. After everything I saw in Battery,
it's probably just trying to help. If that's the case, then please, help me find
a way out of here. Please.
The only place left to go is back.
Approaching the sole entrance that can be found, a low, guttural, and hungry moan could be heard. Standing guard at the entrance is some bipedal figure, barreling down the path. Panic quickly ensues, unarmed and unathletic. The creature manages to sink it’s razor sharp claws into flesh before quickly vanishing. Confusion is what remains. Maybe it was a hallucination, but there’s no time to speculate, the only way through is back into the base.
The dark halls are felt once more, and maybe it was another miserable accident, a door, once presumed as a wall, opens up to reveal a courtyard, and after following bread crumb after bread crumb of something sinister, the power switch is located under a foreboding red glow.
The machinery lurches into life in the same way a defibrillator lurches a heart into life. Computers clicking and beeping away, the low hum of motors and resonance whine filled the air. The environment is slowly taken in, fresh blood and dismemberment strewn about the room. The horror settles in, something happened, some thing happened, something bad. No gun, nothing to use for self defense. You need to get out.
"The military base. Its cold and unforgiving outskirts suit it perfectly, as it lies hidden underneath the Silkwood mountain ranges. Do not wander too far into its depths, mortal, as there are some things that are resting, and should not be disturbed."
"But, I can see you have already woken one of them up."
Exposition aside now, this is the point where proper agency is granted to the player. While the previous events described are linear under the guise of meandering about in a dark maze, the player is now meandering about with actual risk of getting lost while seeking for the objective. This is where the game properly begins, and I love it, I loved how this was paced. If you’re not thoroughly chilled at this point by the prologue, the first chapter surely will. The first chapter will be all I’ll talk about in this review, as it’s best you play this mod (for the umpteenth time) blind, which if you haven’t, I urge you once more to stop reading and go play. Then come back of course. (Side note: By chapter one I mean the first map after the forest, each map is clearly meant to be a different section)
One of the things I love about this mod is it’s level design, which is normally par for the course with highly detailed maps, but the design here speaks of something deliberate that would have real world functions, but something sinister and twisted lies under it’s skin. I could imagine this place being a working military base. There’s loading docks, computer rooms, berthing areas, showers, it feels like a UAC base hiding it’s dark secret of demon interference. The cherry on top? Events in the game are seemingly random, as far as I could tell at least. Once the player is into the main meat of the game, the events that you may run into aren’t guaranteed to happen every time. I have played this mod several times over, and each playthrough I run into a new event each time, a new scare, a new room, something I didn’t notice last time. Each one preying on the player’s sense of curiosity rather than hoping you catch it on the corner of your eye. And this curiosity is a mixed bag of satisfaction and punishment. Some areas will lead you to finding logs of the base’s previous occupants, giving a glimpse of the events that lead up to whatever catastrophe you have stumbled upon. Sometimes it’ll be something that will make you regret touching it. You’ll never know.
The next driving force to the mods uneasy atmosphere is chapter one’s singular enemy, The Avoid.
As its name suggests, the only way to deal with this enemy is to simply avoid. This is no joke, don’t ever engage with this enemy if possible. The only way you would know that is if you've been paying attention to the scattered logs through the base, but the mod at least tells you. The bestiary describes avoid as a demon that possesses far deadlier claws and greater blood lust that any demons known before and tracks you by smelling. The monster possesses no vision, however it might as well due to how fast it can react if you straddle too close to its range. In the unfortunate event that you do encounter one, you’re granted a grace period to avoid it’s “line of smell”, letting out a few moans as it inhales the air to smell you better. Once it’s established where you are, it’s speed will quite literally double and begin hunting you down. I swear the only times I have managed to escape this demon was out of Doom’s exploitable AI and pathfinding than it was out of being able to out maneuver it, and I’ll stand by that each case it has happened. Every other time I’ve tried to tango with this beast, it’s always resulted in failure. While I normally dislike horror games that give you no fighting chance with the BIG SPOOKY ENEMY OOOAAAHHHH, there’s a logical pattern to this one which grants you some sort of control. This is an aspect I appreciate of its over all design, it shifts the blame of any mistakes onto the player. This lack of scripting is such an incredible aspect I wish so many games would take inspiration from.
Whether or not they require food to survive,
or for how long they can go without, is far beyond me.
I can only pray that they die from starvation.
That’s as much as I feel I need to talk about. There’s a few more maps in the mod that act as the following chapters/hubs to explore, and not to imply they’re not worth talking about, they would just come off as redundant if I sing them more praise. They each have their own aspects that further enhance the mod to their full strengths and possess their own mysteries for the player to discover. My point is that there isn’t a single beat missed anywhere you look, or manage to get to. The maps are great. The atmosphere is drenched in... atmosphere. It’s a tremendous experience.
Some smaller points that I think are worth mentioning, and as mentioned at the start, this is a work in progress, so no promises on all of this if you choose to investigate:
* Majority replacement of text strings, such as:
-- "Lost?" (When trying to quit)
-- "Come now. Surely it isn't that scary?" (When trying to quit)
-- "Immortality is useless when your dreams are dead." (Using iddqd)
-- "You only need one bullet to save you from your mind." (Using idfa)
-- "Winter reaches even as far as here." (Using freeze in the console)
* Hidden content strewn about the wad and maps that I’m not sure how to access, or even if it’s accessible to begin with.
-- Hints of a boss fight with the Colonel as sprites suggest some sort of fight (use ‘pukename colonelstare’ in the console when you find him)
-- Sewer map that I’m not even sure is actually accessible.
-- Mine/Cave map that for sure isn’t accessible but still neat to look at
* Some weird mist/fog that disappears when you get too close to it. Not sure if these do anything.
* Plenty of smaller sprite edits of vanilla assets that adds a nice bit of detail
Enjoy the mod folks, and remember:
DO NOT FEED THE DUCKS