Fuzztail Looks At Unloved for Doom II

On 7th May 2010, over 6 years ago, Paul Schneider, also then known as BlueEagle, released Unloved, a 5-level map set for the GZDoom source port, to the Doomworld community. It aimed to be a difficult set of levels with a lower-than-average amount of health and ammo pickups placed; it also aimed to capture the theme, aesthetics, and atmosphere of Silent Hill, while retaining the classic Doom style of gameplay. This mod was well-received by the community, and it managed to win one of the 17th Annual Caco Awards at the end of 2010, noting the atmosphere, the carnage and the challenge presented. While Silent Hill was cited as the main inspiration for the map set, in his developer commentary, he also mentioned other sources of inspiration like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The 11th Hour, and The Blair Witch Project.

Overview

One of things that distinguishes Unloved from most other map sets is that it is designed around non-linear progression across multiple maps, most of which that can almost be freely entered into and exited from at the player’s leisure. Unloved comprises of 5 levels; Alone, the hub level that connects to all other levels. The Basement’s Basement, which contains an introductory section, The Halls Below, which is a large underground sprawling level with lots of ruined buildings. The Living Room, which is designed around the idea of an entire level being made of flesh, and having swallowed man-made structures, and finally, Lost Childhood, which is supposed to be an allegorical and twisted version of the memories of the player character’s childhood, and also contains the final area of the mod. An interesting note about The Living Room is that the working title for it prior to release is “mother,” according to this thread. Another deliberate and unusual design decision with this mod is that no keycard or skull items (used to unlock certain colour-coded doors) are usable in the level they are found in. Finding a keycard or a skull item in one level will always mean that a new area in another level will now be accessible, encouraging frequent hopping between levels.

Another special characteristic of this mod is that it is slightly more stingier than other Doom map sets when it comes to ammunition and health supplies, forcing the player to either play very risky and aggressively or very carefully to either out-damage the demon horde, or to avoid damage altogether. This may seem unfair, but every fight is deliberately designed to keep the player hanging on by a thread, and balanced for the ability to get through each encounter with just the shotguns. Overall, I think that the author did a good job of keeping that fine balance without making it too easy or too frustratingly unfair. The author also mentioned that he thinks that Revenant spam, a practice often seen in many custom Doom map sets, are a cheap and lazy way of increasing the difficulty, which lead him into the decision to avoid placing too many Revenants as a subversion of the practice.

One final thing that distinguishes this mod from most others of its time is that this mod uses monsters from Realm667, and they are used well. While this is typically the kiss of death for most mods since it is usually the calling card of asset-flipping low-effort mods, the author exercised a lot of self-control in their usage, and almost always placed them in a way that fits the atmosphere and theme of the locations. For this, the mod deserves a lot of praise.

Alone

This is the hub level of the mod. It is the house of the player character and it is modeled after the house from The 11th Hour. When the player starts the mod for the first time, they find themselves trapped in the bedroom with no obvious way out. Only a couple of switches are available which leads players to the first section of The Basement’s Basement. Once they have completed that, the bedroom doors open in this level, which gives players access to more of the house, and thus more levels to play through. This will be a pattern as the players go through more of the mod; as more sections are completed, more areas within this hub level become accessible while some other areas may become closed off for good. This fact is important for secret hunters as some levels, when all sections are complete, may become permanently closed off, locking them out of any missed secrets in that level.

After all 4 other level sections have been complete, a new section of the house opens up, which will lead players to an ending.

This is a pretty serviceable hub level, it does a good job of implementing progression as players play through more of the levels that connect to it, implementing it in a way that prevents players from easily breaking progression, or skipping through sections of the mod. However, it could be said that the author could do a better job of conveying changes to the hub level without needing to message the player via text prompts on the screen. I do like the nods to older games like The 11th Hour, Silent Hill 2, and, with the use of that texture from Blood: One Unit Whole that shows Mike Myers’ signature mask and machete.

The Basement’s Basement

While the map set is focused on non-linear progression across multiple levels, this level is always the first non-hub level that players will play through. While the theme of this level is very much inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the leather face textures, the mutilated corpses, the sawblades and chainsaw freaks all over the first section of the level, it also takes some cues from Silent Hill II where the very bottom of the hospital area is called The Basement’s Basement. There are also prison cells littered around the area to further cement the feeling of being trapped with a lot of demons and madmen ready to tear you to shreds. Completing the first section will open up a significant portion of Alone’s main house segment, and give players access to the first sections of The Halls Below and The Living Room.

The second section of this level, after obtaining the required key item for access, will take players to a very claustrophobic and dark basement, which seems to borrow a bit of the architectural styles seen in the first section of The Halls Below. Which is fitting, since this area appears to also have been inspired by The Blair Witch Project. This is probably one of the hardest areas of the mod due to the number of Archviles present, and the lack of maneuverable spaces available for each encounter. Because of this, the once trivial encounters with the chainsaw freaks suddenly become very dangerous and stressful.

This is probably the best level of the mod despite having a few visual glitches and a certain architectural design flaw. It does a good job of expressing the dichotomy of being an introductory level at the beginning and a dangerous claustrophobic experience near the end of the mod. The introductory section did a good job of keeping the player on their toes without forcing them to be overtly careful, slow and methodical in their gameplay. The cramped basement section did a great job of making otherwise trivial encounters feel difficult with the limited amount of movement options available, and yet without it tipping over into unfair territory. The atmosphere also helped to convey the feeling of claustrophobia, while very much evoking memories of classic horror movies. The attention to detail, not just for the visuals, but also for the placement of ammunition and health pickups, is very impressive.

The Living Room

This is one of the levels accessible once the players have completed the first section of The Basement’s Basement. This level is a giant living flesh construct that seemed to have swallowed a few buildings and structures and made them a part of itself. The most predominant feeling that is intended to be evoked for this level is one of disgust and unsettlement. The first leg of the opening section of this level features flesh walls that open up as you fight through it. After this, the level takes place inside a village area that had been swallowed by this flesh construct, and has a lot of assorted body horror imagery like eyeballs and teeth assimilated into its architecture. The final part of the first section of this level features a grave yard deep underground with corpses strewn about, a keycard is also placed in a very ominous position that suggests that a trap waiting to be sprung. Strangely enough, this cemetery area seems to be more in line with the aesthetics and design of The Halls Below, which seems to suggest a narrative inter-connection between the levels. Fitting for this level, is the introduction of Blood Fiend, Pink Demons that are stronger and spit blood. There are also Golems from Heretic that appear in this level, and with a bit of imagination, it could be said that these particular ones are made of flesh.

After acquiring the key item for the second section, players are able to access a giant atrium that appears to include a very-ruined mansion that has almost been completely consumed by flesh. Embedded in the walls all around the atrium, are demon cages filled with various projectile-shooting demons that occasionally pelt players with projectiles. There is a skull key in a bloodied bed that will trigger a massive fight that will challenge the ability of the players to cause infighting.

The final section of this level appears to be a cathedral that has been swallowed by flesh. As players enter through the door, they will find that a good portion of this cathedral have been shrouded by curtains of blood from both sides. An ominous-looking pulpit with a Megasphere power-up behind it greets the player. Pressing the switch will lower the blood curtains, revealing the rest of the cathedral, and a whole demagogue of detestable demons. According to the author, this area has some of the hardest fights in the mod, a theory that is supported with the introduction of a new boss-type enemy, based on the Heresiarch from Hexen, who casts deadly spells.

This is most likely the weakest map of the mod. While the first section is very effective in conveying a feeling of unsettling disgust, as well as a mix of man-made and organic structures. The subsequent sections are not much more substantial than giant slaughterfest arenas filled with monsters. It would have been a lot nicer if the later sections of this level were more elaborate and imaginative. Regardless, the combat in this level is competent, it just feels like the author ran out of ideas for new architecture after creating the first section.

The Halls Below

This is the other level that is accessible once players have completed the first section of The Basement’s Basement. It is the darkest and gloomiest level of the mod, with plenty of basement areas inspired by the last part of The Blair Witch Project. The first section features the deadly assassin Shadows, the Soul Harvester, stronger Imps that fire homing projectiles, Satyrs with a powerful melee attack that can rip apart an unwary player, and Bat Familiars that can swarm the player if caught unaware. The first section of this level mainly takes place in a series of abandoned office corridors with exits and windows bricked off to give off a feeling of isolation and being trapped in closed spaces, it also features a few inconveniently-closing doors to mess with the players.

During the next few sections of this level, once players have the key items to access them, players will begin to encounter more magical and Gothic-themed imageries, and monsters to go with them, much like what one would find in Lost Childhood. On top of that, more surreal and unsettling basement areas could be found like an upside-down room, a vent area in the middle of an abyss, and a long corridor filled with corpses, with monsters to match. In the case of the more magical and Gothic themes within this level, there is a castle area that is not quite outdoors, with a poison moat in front. Monsters in these new areas include the Vulgar, a poisonous variant of the Imp, the wizard family of monsters, and the Imp Warlords, a very strong and deadly variant of the Imps that can fire powerful spells, and can block any continuous attack with their shields.

Overall, this level comes close to matching the quality of The Basement’s Basement, the architecture and aesthetics of this level beats everything else presented in this mod by a country mile. It is dripping with atmosphere and it has plenty of fun traps that boldly mess with the expectations of the players. There is also a very interesting section where players have to exploit narrow pillars as cover in order to carefully fight through a winding corridor full of Revenants, and then use those same pillars to make their way back through a swarm of bats, and a pair of Mancubi that spawned in. It should be mentioned that the early introduction of Satyrs in this level is quite puzzling, as it didn’t quite fit the atmosphere of the rest of the level. They would have been better introduced elsewhere, like in Lost Childhood, or in the medieval castle section of this level. The balancing in this level is probably the weakest of all the levels as there are plenty of spots where unfamiliar players could easily get stuck in a death loop, encouraging the liberal abuse of the quick save and quick load functions to get through those especially difficult fights, a technique also known as save-scumming.

Lost Childhood

This level can be accessed via a 1-way entrance once players have completed the first section of either The Living Room or The Halls Below. The music in this level is pretty different, as it is a musical box style melody composed by Aphex Twin and is evocative of a nursery. This level features a lot of architecture that is whimsical, imaginative, and yet twisted and dark. There are also a lot of drops and descending elevators that are allegories of diving deeper and deeper into depths of one’s subconscious, and into one’s maybe-traumatic memories of being a child. Another common theme for this level are the passageways that open up under the doors instead of the doors themselves opening, which implies the exploration into the unknown and/or the forbidden. While most of it takes place in a sort of wizard school, as one would assume given the introduction of wizard type monsters as enemies, other locales are used, like hallways of giant human-sized Golem action figures that come to life at the flip of a switch, bathhouses, and baby cribs. Imageries like demonic clowns, wizard murals and forbidden books hidden behind walls can also be found.

The second section of this level takes place at the tail end of the mod, and can only be accessed when players have collected all 6 key items, as well as fought through the unholy cathedral from The Living Room. This area is supposed to represent the deepest depths of the player character’s psyche, and it contains architecture features from the other 3 non-hub levels, as well as demon encounters reminiscent from those in those other levels. A twisted version of the player character’s house can also be found in this area. New enemies, like the Scrags from Quake, and, oddly enough, Suicide Bombers from Serious Sam make their appearance in this section. When players complete the twisted house, they are taken down to the very deepest levels of their psyche. The music goes silent, and they are lead into a padded cell, which eventually drops players slowly into the arena of the final boss of the mod, Thamus.

Thematically, this level appears to play it the most loosely, with architecture types varying between bathhouses, wizard schools, libraries, graveyards, twisted houses and padded cells, with a lot of surrealism added for flavor. However, it is done in a way that somehow fits together pretty well, and makes for a pretty effective dive deep into what is supposed to be the player character’s psyche. The fights, for the most part, are well-balanced, toeing the fine line between challenge and feasibility. Plus, the sudden appearance of a swarm of Suicide Bombers is quite effective in invoking a sense of panic. However, the one big problem with this level is that the final boss, Thamus, is too easy. This is a consequence of balancing during playtesting. Originally, players weren’t given ammunition for their most powerful weapon for this fight, forcing players to rely on the rocket launcher to fight the final boss. They complained that this was too difficult, and so, the author decided to add extra ammunition for the most powerful weapon to help even the odds. This worked too well, as the useage of the most powerful weapon makes this fight extremely trivial.

Overall Thoughts

There a few minor snags here and there, what with a certain level design issue in the final section of The Basement’s Basement, the minor balance issues in the creepy surreal office section of The Halls Below, or the lack of interesting architecture design behind locked doors in The Living Room, and the trivial fight with the final boss Thamus. However, the good in this mod very much far outweighs the negatives, and for an amateur effort, this is of exceptional quality. The fights are varied, interesting and challenging. The aesthetics are top-notch for what the Doom engine, even extended, could offer. It could be said that the low resolution of the assets really do help in that regard despite the fact that GZDoom is capable of supporting much-higher resolution sprites and textures. The music used is also quite fitting, matching the aesthetics near-perfectly, and giving players exactly the kind of feeling that the author intended for each level.

This mod is also quite unique, as hub-style non-linear progression mods made for Doom are quite rare. Much less one that takes such a radical departure from the sci-fi aesthetics that most Doom mods offer.

It is highly recommended that Doom fans, as well as horror and classic gaming aficionados play through this mod, especially those who are into the dark aesthetics reminiscent of classic survival horror games. The non-linearity of the progression through this mod means that there is plenty of replay value, as the play order of the levels and the sections within can significantly affect the health, armor, ammunition, and weaponry available to the player for each section.

This mod is also compatible with most weapon mods, including The Stranger, Weapons of Saturn, (Albeit with a few animation bugs with the Chainsaw Freaks.) Beautiful Doom, and, as many would be pleased to hear, Brutal Doom. However, running this mod with Brutal Doom will affect some battles where enemies scripted to revive from corpses automatically will not revive at all.

[Download Unloved from the idgames archive]

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