IN A DOOM MOD FAR, FAR AWAY...
Sunday, March 26, 2017
The Darkest Hour (DARKHOUR.WAD)
Hexen II... Quake II... Half-Life... Quake III... Dark Forces. 2000-2001 was a pretty busy period for Rex Claussen and saw him play with a lot of different themes, adopting resources from different games as he embraced the ZDoom engine as more than just another limit-removing port. First designing for jumping with Military Research Complex, he later incorporated scripting with Paranoia and hub systems with Temple of the Ancients, finally including actual monster modifications in this, The Darkest Hour (DeHackEd, I know, but work with me!). DARKHOUR, a Star Wars-themed 2001 release, was Rex's only release of that year and consists of seven maps, one of them a secret that requires you to use the force... of a rocket. At your feet.
This one does a little more than just borrow the resources of Dark Forces, though. It's clearly set up around the time of the original Star Wars movie, but One distinct parallel in the plots is that you're a mercenary, here named Wrok Onmo, who ends up working for the rebel alliance. Where Kyle Katarn was after the Death Star plans, though, Wrok is concerned with the Imperial Cybernetics Facility. first because Quatto the Hutt wanted them... for some reason... and once that deal goes south you go to the next available deal, the rebel alliance. The pitch in the .TXT is far more exciting than reality, since the "disagreement" with Quatto and your rebel spy in Mos Denra are all wonderful things that happen off camera. It's probably for the best, though, since such events would probably end up as stilted as the beginning-of-level briefings between Vader and his subordinate that detail your current status. That's not a dig on Rex, though, as I feel that cutscenes in the Doom games are usually if not inevitably lacking.
Rex says that The Darkest Hour uses a hub system but can be played from pistol starts as is your want. I'm not entirely sure how this would be achieved in the finale, since it requires an excursion to MAP06 in order to enter the computer network / robotics factory portion on the opposite side, but I want to throw it out there. Personally, I wouldn't recommend it; every level beginning appears to be some kind of survivalist nightmare from the moment you climb out of the crate in the Imperial Moon Base and the secret level is even worse; I wouldn't go there unless I was toting a BFG, personally. It doesn't help that the relative realism of Rex's level design is amplified by perfunctory monster placement, but challenge mode is there.
Like Paranoia and Half-Life, DARKHOUR replaces pretty much every sprite with Star Wars resources. I think that the new actors fit much better into their Doom II counterparts, though, compared to how the Half-Life replacements came out. Sure, it's hard to tell the shotgun guy and imp equivalent from each other (subtly different Stormtroopers), but it's mostly an issue in wide-open area levels like Mos Denra. The lowly zombiman and the mighty revenant don't show up in any form while the chaingunner and arch-vile have been turned into mini-bosses. The commando becomes the tougher, faster Mandalorian, making for a tense fight in the docking bay where you battle him. Satan's sorcerer becomes the rogue jedi, a fast-moving melee attacker who is more shocking than lethal.
The weapons haven't been touched as far as behavior goes which led to some consternation from folks who were expecting actual beams of plasma from the Star Wars guns they know and love, not the hitscanner bullet puffs from the pistol, shotgun, super shotgun, and chaingun. I'm pretty sure that Rex couldn't do any better in ZDoom circa 2001, though. If you're looking for Star Wars plasma bolts then I heartily suggest LilWhiteMouse's Chibi Rebellion which should offer plasma fire from a variety of pseudo-futuristic weapons. I'm not put off by the bullets nearly as much as being able to hit a Stormtrooper with a rocket and seeing them gib into a red mess, a bit of a departure from the usually sanitized Star Wars. Then again, Wrok Onmo is a walking blood tornado that lays waste to every location he visits, cackling with impish glee whenever he picks up a weapon.
2001 brought one huge change to the ZDoom engine: slopes! The Darkest Hour stands alongside KZDoom7 and Sin City as the vanguard of advanced source port features, making up ramps and other neat bits of machinery like long, sloped elevators that I'm sure Rex wished he could have included in Paranoia but also allowing for structures like domed roofs which would previously have been some sort of midtexture or sprite cheat. Which isn't to say that DARKHOUR eschews cheats; there's still stacked midtextures to simulate thicker, irregular door frames and room-over-room tricks (a descendant of 3D bridges, perhaps?) that allow you to do things like investigate the basement of Mos Denra buildings and then go outside and step on top of the roofs that house them.
One element of Rex's level design that continues to define his authorial career is his unabashed self-plagiarism. I'm sick of the same spiral staircase, seen in sequential series in MAP03 and once again in MAP07; I'm tired of the pointless pistons, purportedly purveying the production of power. MAP06, "Aqueducts", fares even worse as it features the same hallways, the same elbows, the same intersections, and the same storm drain grates symmetrically staffed by one stalwart Jawa each. That's not to mention the largest room from COMPLEX's waste processing facility, brought here and then rotated. MAP02, the Imperial Space Station, appears as the nadir of this phenomena, repeating the same general room arrangement four times as you travel the circumference of the level. You're not beholden to murdering the entire contingent of soldiers, but it seems to be a clear consequence of the lack of any clear objectives or intel (i.e. go here to release locks, go to here to leave for Tatooine).
I understand that this Doom realism comes from the fact that these are the sort of things that an actual sewer system or space station loading dock might actually look like but they lack the embellishments that make such places interesting to explore. These could be in variety of encounters or engrossing combat (hah!) or the imperfections that render a more robust character and which the poorly-defined Doom design school of Russian Realism appears so proficient at. Perhaps the authoritarian, sterilized aesthetic of the Galactic Empire is not conducive to adding freckles as such; even so, I would prefer clean and abstract architecture to clean and functional symmetry.
That said, The Darkest Hour is still worth a play, especially if you're a Star Wars fan. I imagine that Dark Forces fans might be a little disappointed; maybe with The Force Awakens we'll see a renewed interest in making galactic game mods for Doom-derived engines. Until then, I guess I have Rex's Dawn: A Prelude to look forward to.
THE DARKEST HOUR
by Rex Claussen
A LONG, LONG TIME AGO
IN A DOOM MOD FAR, FAR AWAY...
IN A DOOM MOD FAR, FAR AWAY...