Doom Reviews for the Recreational User

By Walt Bilofsky

Last modified 4/28/99. Last reviews added 2/18/97. You are visitor number 


 
NOTICE:  This page is frozen - it won't be updated any more.  I just don't have the time to play WADs or keep the page up.  The WADs are pretty timeless, and the reviews should continue to be helpful, so please enjoy.

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One of the best things about DOOM is playing lots of great levels created by hordes of stupendously clever authors . But how to decide which one to try next? To help you resolve this serious matter, this page shares my personal reaction to some levels I've played.

Now, there are lots of really expert DOOM fanatics, and just so you understand, I am not one of them. I am a recreational DOOM user. I don't inhale. I don't exhale flame. I don't play deathmatches, and I DOOM despite the blood and gore, not because of it.

Everybody has different tastes. What I look for is playability and the cleverness of the WAD author. I'm not fussy about mismatched textures and like that. If this sounds reasonable, these reviews may save you some time and bring you some enjoyment. If not, don't blame me, don't flame me; there are lots of other people on the Web who know more about DOOM than I do. Here are just two of them:

If you haven't tried DOOM, you can download it from id Software. For tons more links, see the DOOM FTP/WWW Site List (or the latest version on the rec.games.computer.doom.announce newsgroup). And if you're a WAD author, be sure to read The Unoffical WAD Designer's Handbook.

Now the reviews. These are, of course, just my opinion. I always play on UV and I save a lot. Oh, reviews marked "New" mean it's a new review - the WAD may have been around for a while. Enjoy.
Rrd201 362K
7 levels 
DOOM II 
This is, above all, a thinking manís WAD.  It is not the kind you get through just by entering every door that opens and shooting everything that moves.  You will get stuck.  You will need to ponder.  You will also enjoy plenty of tough battles, and though there are some layouts that are perplexing as they unwind, that kind is particularly satisfying to master. 

The author warns that each level was meant to stand alone, so I wound up with too many resources by playing them in sequence.  Nevertheless, the game play was so good that it easily held my interest. 

As always, a few gripes.  The author is rather fond of arch-viles on the early levels.  A few of the puzzles seemed extra subtle, particularly the exit off Level 4.  That level was one of the places I got that "on-a-treadmill" feeling, which also occasionally resulted from a heavy hand with invisible transporters.  But usually it just meant it was time to stop running around and think.  The art and geometry are varied without overwhelming, and both are well-integrated with the fine game play and work smoothly to contribute to it.  In all aspects of this WAD, the authorís intelligence shines through. 

Osiris 2,069K
8 levels 
DOOM II 
Total Conversion 
This ambitious, near-total conversion with an Egyptian theme contains much to admire.  Quake fans will appreciate the well-executed spooky new monsters, particularly the Arch-Vile of the Nile.  The three new weapons are obviously products of an advanced civilization, and a delight to use.  Marvelous Egyptian art and new music carries the theme through, and at its best the WAD conveys all the thrill and apprehension of exploring a long-sealed pyramid. 

At first I was jarred by the juxtaposition of traditional Doom elements and characters with the new Egyptian motif.  (Or maybe I just enjoyed the new monsters so much that I wanted more of them and fewer soldiers.)  The game play was not notable: interesting layouts but a bit too much resources and straightforward battles.  And was it my imagination, or were the bad guys' reflexes and armor a bit weaker?  They sure seemed easy to take in close combat. 

By the last three levels, though, the WAD is really cooking.  These are fine large levels with plenty of geometric variety, and the Egyptian monsters and artwork finally come together in a coherent whole.  The run-and-shoot one-dimensionality of earlier levels is mostly overcome here by the unfolding of the layout and a more deft mixing of monsters.  Still, you can predictably count on a bad guy in most every passage, and more bad guys if you return to an area after opening up a new portion of the level. 

You wonít find a BFG-9000 or cyberdemon - so many frames were used to add atmosphere and detail that there wasnít room for them, and they arenít missed. 

The authors arrogate a little more control over the player than I appreciate.  On most levels, by the time you find out how many secrets you've missed, you're locked out of returning to most of the level to hunt for them - even using cheat codes, which they thoughtfully disabled.  So although there may have been some clever secrets, the only slightly interesting puzzle I can attest to in all the eight levels was the one that opened the final exit. 

And I still haven't figured out the motivation for the occasional snatch of Egyptian reggae music.  But no matter - the authors of Osiris have dared much, and created a truly memorable WAD. 

Welhell 481K
3 levels 
DOOM II 
It's pointlessly difficult to get out of the first room (and the author offers a hint), but beyond that, the first level is the best of the three in this WAD.  This is one of those levels in which many places are initially confusing, tantalizing or frustrating, which transforms into a special satisfaction at the end, where all is familiar, the bad guys are toast, and you can roam safely and at will. 

I found the next two levels rather tedious, though.  Invisible floors have never appealed to me, and they are lavishly used in level 2, along with lots of invisible barriers that teleport you someplace useless.  There's a fine line between an author offering you a puzzle and playing with you like a cat plays with a mouse, and for me, this level was a long way over that line.  The author's hints suggest there's more subtlety to Level 3, but for me it was simply the obligatory final battle, perhaps too grand a finale for a three level WAD. 

Eternal 7,893K 
12 levels 
DOOM II 
Lovely, large levels, twelve of 'em, in this marvelous partial conversion. Now, don't judge the WAD by the first level. Although technically competent, it was linear, straightforward and unchallenging: super shotgun and shells in the first room. But the rest were great - large, lavishly decorated levels with plenty to appreciate. Level 2 had a nice spooky atmosphere, also clever puzzles. Level 4 was a marathon with some really spiffy sewers. Level 5 featured an awesome fluorescent blue hall, and 6 was a nifty creepy castle, just beautifully drawn. 7 was complex and intricate, and I got to savor punching out an Arch-vile! I thought Level 11 might have been the best, expansively nonlinear, lots of action, several large spaces are developed as you return to them, and the bad guys just keep popping up. 

If Eternal can be faulted, it would be for less than deft mixing of monsters on a few early levels, and lots of invisible trip wires in open areas. I'll forgive the use of the same cyberdemon trick in two levels. The few new sounds were, for once, in good taste. And the huge layouts, good play, snappy music and spectacular, realistic artwork make this WAD an absolute don't miss. 

(Note: Since I reviewed this WAD, it has been extended to 27 levels, and I was told the new ones are just as good. For the latest, check TeamTNT's Web page.) 

Mayhem 60K 
1 level 
DOOM 
Some of the puzzles in this level are very tough, and one or two right at the end are unfair. But the experienced player may well enjoy the challenge of getting that far. This WAD has tons of puzzles and secrets, but it's the author's first, and suffers from some flaws: undistinguished secret doors, one-time lifts, lots of places where you can get permanently trapped, and the inability to go back to an area once you've completed it, depriving the player of the freedom to roam that is one of the delights of DOOM. But from the start, with a fiendishly clever warren of dark corridors, the author shows a talent for packing a lot of interest into a small area. Later on, he proves it's not just a fluke by penning you up in one large, open square room, throwing a platoon of monsters at you, then doing the same thing - almost - three or four more times, and it all stays interesting. If you can make it through the last puzzles - or are mensch enough to give up, like I did - you'll be glad you tried. 
Sin City 1,782K 
9 levels 
DOOM II 
It seems like these levels may have been written by the same author at two different levels of experience. The first five were not to my taste at all. Too many weapons, ammo and monsters at the start, substitute sound effects which sound like they were taped in a zoo with a cheap cassette recorder, secret doors that were overly obvious, or sometimes completely undistinguished, lots of monsters with their backs turned (too easy), including a cyberdemon on level 2 (too easy), crude artwork, one-way doors, and the hallmark of DOOM bad taste: storm troopers from Wolfenstein. Finally, at the end of level 3, we get a challenge - if you can call being in a hall with ten cyberdemons and no invulnerability a challenge. I call it futile, on the grounds that the player should be able to try for 100% kills. 

The last four levels were large and played better, though 6 and 9 dragged a bit. Seven had better play, lots of hidden doors and a nice cyberdemon fight. Level 8 was by far the best - big, a fine play, and artistically and geometrically imaginative enough to be well worth the download. My advice: Grab it, but if you're dissatisfied with the start, skip to Level 6. 

Painful 309K 
4 levels 
DOOM II 
Recommended by a correspondent who said it was "different" and he personally enjoyed it. But tastes differ, and unfortunately I could not agree. It had one cute touch: shooting some hanging dolls. But beware of any WAD where you get the super shotgun, rocket launcher, and scads of ammo in the first room. Through this WAD, the same dull themes were repeated over and over. Needlessly long hallways. Regiments of troops to be mowed down with the chaingun, though it got so boring I started using the rockets which were in overgenerous supply. Obvious arrows on the floors and ceilings. Some fugitive storm troopers from Wolfenstein. And not much challenge. I regret to report, I found Painful painless - and pointless. 
Cleimos 2 (files1 and 2), 2,370K 
32 levels 
DOOM II 
Technically this is a partial conversion, but the altered intro screens and one new monster aren't what makes these levels stand out. What's special is the authors' artistic touch - the fabulous visual variety. Right from the start this WAD is beautifully laid out and decorated. Repeated design themes include tantalizing peepholes into areas you'll visit later, well-chosen near-symmetry, mazes (oh, are there mazes!) and often a central room connecting subareas of the level, sometimes with three keyed doors. A paucity of health and ammo in the first half provides a good challenge. 

Half a demerit for starting with full sized levels instead of getting off the ground gradually, although the beginning levels are relatively simple. Level 6 is nonlinear and varied, a particularly good play. Though Level 11 is somewhat flawed by many controls and trips being distant from the doors they open, you will pat yourself on the back if you can exit with three 100's. 

A few smaller levels, and then #15 - large, complex, again the nifty use of near-symmetry, and a key puzzle that's subtle but solvable. Mazes are the theme of the next two levels, and if it's slow slogging just getting through them, the assortment of artistic treatments is memorable. But the following levels had that on-a-treadmill feeling that comes from linearity and predictability. There's just not enough cleverness required to defeat the layouts, although the variety of appearances continues to impress. Level 22 breaks out with a delightfully moody graveyard and catacombs, followed by a fine slugfest in a nifty layout and two more nice levels. The solo player should consider Level 26 to be the last one; the last four are meant for deathmatch and the play is otherwise uninteresting. 

There were many things to like in Cleimos 2. My favorites were the treatments of the mazes, and the use of light and shadow in the dark levels to create a somber atmosphere. This WAD gets top marks for art and layout, close to it for playability.

Icarus 2,782K 
32 levels 
DOOM II 
This opus from Team TNT is highly competent in play, layouts and art. At the start, the small levels are not particularly challenging, except for the lack of resources. But artistically, the style is intriguingly novel, enough so to keep interest up through the first half dozen or so levels. After that things improve considerably - the play and layouts advance from fair to quite nice, and the art continues to entertain and not infrequently delight. 

I ran into a few obscure puzzles that needed to be solved to proceed, but didn't consider any of them unfair (at least not the ones I got). I encountered some system crashes on a few levels, and a number of toxic pools and other places where you can get stuck without an exit. Special kudos to level 24, again with a nice appearance and floor plan, enhanced by a few unkillable monsters. (These are produced by an arch-vile bug; here's a hint on dealing with them if you need it.) 

Most of the levels are not really large, but with 32 of them available it was relaxing to zip through two or three in one sitting, rather than spending several nights stuck in one big one. All in all, I found Icarus a nicely executed change of pace. 

Memento Mori 2881K 
32 levels 
DOOM II 
Memento Mori is a complete suite: 32 levels gathered by TiC from 21 top WAD authors and beautifully integrated. The intent seems to be to create a WAD to match up against the pros from Id, and they certainly achieve that goal. There's good pacing of monsters, you slowly accumulate the more powerful weapons, and if the levels don't push the boundaries of artistic expression, they are visually consistent while growing in difficulty and maintaining a high standard of quality. 

There isn't room here to comment on each level, but many of them deserve a few words. The first half of the levels are fairly standard DOOM. Level 4 features several races to the lift and some good old-fashioned slugfests. Some levels are quite complex and really test an experienced player - Levels 9 and 12, for instance, the latter containing a battle that is all but unsurvivable in UV. (The authors do warn that the WAD is playable in single player - the way I evaluate all WADs - but was designed for co-op play.) 

Level 15 is a nice example of the genre of a large compound with multiple, varied buildings offering good play. It's unfortunately more linear than it seems, but some huge battles provide stiff tests. Level 17 breaks out of the mold with a beautifully executed creaky old mansion, complete with the usual secret panels, a graveyard, and challenges that require both craftiness and skill (including, unfortunately, one that can't be solved in single-player). Level 20 is a wide-open, topographically delightful level with enough puzzles and twists that you'll feel deep satisfaction when you're the last living creature there. Level 21 puts you inside a hugely complicated, intensely nonlinear nuclear plant with great variety of layout, combat and scenery - really a top notch offering, artistically, stylistically and in enjoyability of play. 

From there, though, things go downhill. Level 22 is one of those unmotivated levels where you feel like the author is running you through a laboratory maze. Typical is a set of four identical paths between two rooms - you have to run through all four in turn. Levels 23 and 24 sport interesting layouts, but boil down to endless tiring sets of megabattles, useful mainly as a clinic in how to fight with a BFG9000. And while I'm grumbling, the second secret level, number 32, was a stultifying example of why linearity makes for boring play. 

Fun for your brain returns on Level 27; it's real nonlinear with plenty of secrets and some resources you'd best not gobble up before finding out their intended use. 

Number 28 is a remarkable level. I found it exhausting in its complexity, annoying for all the times I pulled a switch and then had to go look for its effect, and really, by the time you've killed the dozenth cyberdemon or arch-vile, you do want to call it a day. Yet this level is so nicely paced, rich with secret doors and neat jumps, and the battles so well drawn, that it is completely compelling - darn it! 

Level 29, also huge and tough, had a better balance of monsters, good puzzles, and was artistically appealing, particularly the surrounding landscape. It did have a puzzle requiring cooperative play. On Level 30, unlike some final levels, the author did not take advantage of his last opportunity to be unreasonable, and I was glad of it. 

Memento Mori may not offer a constant stream of surprises for the jaded WAD-roamer, but it certainly achieves the goal of providing 30 generally high quality levels of enjoyable play. 

Dickwad2 580K 
10 levels 
DOOM II 
This WAD is playable enough to make it worth going through, but with a number of little irritations mixed in. After the first few, not particularly notable, levels, we get to a fine maze, which requires perhaps a tad too much running around. The enjoyable variety of level 7 is offset by an overload of secret doors, many not distinguished by texture or other clues. And the final level didn't end after all the baddies were killed. Other lapses in taste include use of a Wolfenstein trooper and some silly sound effects and graphics. Overall, though, not a bad play. 
Waterfront 228K 
1 level 
DOOM II 
This level presents some nice new ideas, and the author shows good artistic self-control, staying within DOOM's style but extending the boundaries. I liked the ship moored at the dock, and the incongruous but pleasant background music. There were plenty of bad guys to fight, but the author provides good cover and just the right amount of ammo. There are even some unshootable troopers, thanks to deliberate exploitation of a bug in DOOM, but the author provides a hint on how to do 'em in. Only two complaints: I didn't discover any secrets, and I wish there had been more levels in the WAD. 
Caslotr2 223K 
1 level 
DOOM II 
Another WAD by the author of Waterfront. Not as much of an artistic success, but well-executed and worth playing. A good mix of bad guys with the right amount of ammo and health. Spiral staircases and passages throughout the level lend a unifying touch, while variety is provided by a nice assortment of room geometries, and an order of play that is nonlinear outside the castle and linear inside. Nothing too startling or challenging about this one, but not dull either. 
Return01 519K 
9 levels 
DOOM 
A tour de force of engineering, this full episode contains nine complex levels. There are some faults: there's too much health and ammo available, some of the secret doors are not hinted at, and many puzzles were difficult. Until the last three levels, they lack artistic variety; with so many controls and lifts, they all seem designed by a brilliant mechanical engineer. But within the limits of that genre, the author achieves huge success. He uses height quite creatively, with lots of dropoffs from passages into cross passages, and multiple exits from some of the many lifts. Most of the levels are very nonlinear, giving the player the sense of freedom that is one of the real joys of DOOM. All this combines to give each level a rich complexity that makes the entire package immensely entertaining. 
SchoolDM 2,158K 

(Or try their Web page. This link updated 2/17/98 so will probably work.) 
 

4 levels 
Total conversion 
DOOM 

One of the charms of DOOM for me is that despite all the gore, it doesn't take itself too seriously. Monsters that look like grinning balloons and the Michelin Tire Man which gurgle comically as they expire keep the player aware that it's not blood, just virtual ketchup. So I found something unsettling about this technically stunning but a little too realistic full conversion for DOOM, especially the two levels that accurately represent schools and require the player to gun down teachers attacking with canes and redheaded girls with rayguns. Putting the "game noir" aspect aside, or if you're on the authors' side of the generation gap and think this is good clean fun, their technique is totally outstanding. New monsters and one new weapon add to the enjoyment, as do the transformations of other DOOM objects, music, and sounds, particularly the ones in Finnish. Health objects cleverly (though a bit depressingly) become alcoholic, and the exploding barrels are now ... no, I won't ruin it for you. The accurate portrayal of two school buildings makes those levels somewhat tedious to play, and one wishes the authors had tried to overcome that with clever puzzles, clearly motivated controls, or mixes of monsters. But the secret level is novel and totally outstanding, and even though there are tons of ammo around, it's still an absorbing play. Some technical comments: Read the instructions carefully - it looks like you need to run DeHackEd but actually that's optional. And one level was too large to save on my machine. In summary, the game is technically and artistically brilliant, with a high level of polish, and if you don't find the premise too violent or juvenile, you'll love it. For the rest of us, I hope the authors will post the secret level as a standalone - and use their considerable talents to write some WADs with more challenging play and more general appeal. 

Note: Their Web site now also contains an updated version, School Doom II, with more levels.

Subway21 152K 
1 level 
DOOM 
A marvelous, classic WAD, based on a segment of the Washington, D.C. subway system. Imaginative, especially the music, puzzles, and artistic touches like graffiti and pictures. A WAD that sticks in the memory long after it's been played. 
Elements 527K 
5 levels 
DOOM 
Five nice levels by the author of Subway. Quite playable, good balance of ammo and health, all done with artistic consistency. 
UAC_Dead 148K 
1 level 
DOOM 
This level is another old standard. I thought this one was not too bad, but mostly just a long series of stir up the baddies, let them kill each other off, finish off the survivors and go on to the next one. No good puzzles. Very linear. Some good effects. 
Serenity 396K 
8 levels 
DOOM 
This WAD is the first in the trilogy that continues with Eternity and Infinity. Implementation was seamless. Play was rather dull - lots of run and blast, run and blast. Very irritating tendency to close doors behind the player permanently, so you have to start the level over to retry things. The play wasn't hard enough in UV (which the authors know), so this made up for it somewhat. 
Infinity 456K 
8 levels 
DOOM 
The third set of WADS in the Serenity, Eternity, Infinity trilogy. Again a great implementation, and by now there's a little aesthetic interest too. Even one or two hidden doors that give the player a (tiny) tingle of satisfaction. And some imaginative contrivances - trap doors, lifts, neat room geometry, etc. Still, it's mostly run and blast, with lots of mixed monster rooms so you can mostly let them run and blast each other. I found too much linearity throughout this whole series. And rarely if ever does one have to stop and think. 
MRRWads1 760K 
6 levels 
DOOM I & II 
I liked this package of two Doom and four Doom II WADs. Playability is most important to me, and in this collection it was excellent. 
Eyestorm: Lots of variety, lots of secrets. Too bad it finishes with one of those "message" endings so you can't find out how many secrets you missed. Still, one of the best WADs I've seen. 
Ying1: Another excellent play, though not as extensive as Eyestorm. Lots of monsters to slug through, yet the neat room layouts give an extra dimension to the fighting and keep it from being just another run-and-shoot WAD. Also good use of varied textures and shapes, all integrated with good taste. 
Hall1: Again excellent play, although the behavior of the monsters in the last room was a bit puzzling. Lots of false walls, and puzzles hard enough that I felt good after getting through them. Good restraint in availability of health and especially ammo. Again good imagination in room geometry. One or two places that didn't ever make sense to me (but then there was one secret I never got either ...) 
Bigopen: A few mismatched textures, but my real criterion is playability. And on this one it wasn't excellent - it was perfect. I got through it on UV with only a few stop and thinks, but felt really proud of myself when it was over. 
Hall2: Another eminently playable level. Clever use of the beginning room as the play develops. 
MRDM2301 47K 
1 level 
DOOM 
This level is quite playable, with interesting geometries and a challenging balance between resources and monsters on UV. 
01Fava 381K 
9 levels 
DOOM 
The first time I tried this WAD, I made it through three levels of similar geometry, meaningless combat and dull secrets before giving up completely. Behind every door lurk the same four basic monsters in the same combinations. The endlessly self-congratulatory text file accompanying the wad didn't add to my pleasure. A later try found level 6 to be large and interesting, but still no challenge on UV. It's on the Best Doom Levels web page, but I can't figure out why. 
Aloha999 342K 
8 levels 
DOOM 
Another "Best Doom Level" that makes no sense to me. Any WAD in which you find armor and a chainsaw in the second room can't be too tough. The author's delight in building in little nooks from which monsters blindside the unwary player got pretty boring after the ninth or tenth time. If you like killing wave upon wave of imps, and chainsawing herds of demons, this is your idea of fun levels. It wasn't mine - I quit after the second level, mildly disgusted at stumbling across too much ammo and weapons far in advance of needing or earning them. 
666Epis 218K 
5 levels 
DOOM 
A nicely engineered set of five levels, and quite challenging on UV. Playable, polished, good balance of ammo and monsters. Some nice bits of engineering. And yet ... there was something just a wee bit tedious about the episodes. I didn't find myself excited about finding out what was around the next corner. Maybe it was the difficulty, or maybe there just wasn't enough cleverness underneath it all. I dunno. Bottom line: Recommended, but maybe not as enthusiastically as it probably deserves. 
SudTiC 566K 
9 levels 
DOOM 
A rollicking good play by TiC - nothing too extraordinary, but quite nicely executed and never tedious. A few nits to pick - lack of variety in monsters and style of architecture, and a nasty tendency to plant secret doors without varying the texture or alignment. Still, they managed to keep it interesting, and it's always a pleasure to see a multi-level package that can sustain itself. 
Galaxia 324K 
1 level 
DOOM 
This large level shows both the talent and the inexperience of this first-time Czech author, and the talent wins out by a wide margin. New music, sounds and graphics are well-integrated. There are at least five distinctive types of areas (warehouse, railroad, sewers, etc.), strikingly defined by both geometry and art. This builds a story line within the episode to a degree I have not seen before in a DOOM level. On the down side, there are secret doors not distinguished by texture or otherwise, a total absence of puzzles, spider demons that are not killable or meant to be killed, and, as far as I could see, areas that, once left, could not be reached again. But a few new and clever ideas, decent playability, and above all the artistic coherence, make this one of the best levels I've seen. 
Starwars 1351K 
4 levels 
Total conversion 
DOOM 
The conversion is impressive, with completely new graphics, monsters, weapons and sound. Play is poor at first, with a certain monotony to the room layout that is not varied by the run-and-shoot action. The levels are made up of similar or symmetric areas. But after the first level, a degree of ingenuity appears in the small variations in geometry and operation, and that keeps the game interesting throughout. But only barely: there are no puzzles worth thinking about, not all secret doors vary in texture, and the monsters, though faithful to the Star Wars theme, do not have the personality or cleverness of the original Doom cast of characters. (But that's inherent in the premise. Lucas had the same problem in Dark Forces, their Doom conversion.) One nasty problem: one or two of the levels are large enough to preclude saving. Still, a tour-de-force of Wadsmanship, and worth a look. 
ObTiC11 1863K 
17 levels 
Partial conversion 
DOOM II 
Eminently playable, often clever, not repetitive, with some new weapons and monsters. However, some levels were a little small, and there were occasional places that could not be reached (or at least not by me). Despite which, absolutely top notch. 
Certdeth 136K 
1 level 
DOOM II 
This large, difficult level lacks great variety in textures, and is pretty much straight slug-it-out in play, but the authors rise above all that with good geometry and deft mixing of monsters to create a level that holds the player's interest (as long as he survives). Well worth playing. 
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