Fuzztail Looks At | Unloved II Unfinished Beta for Doom II

On Dec 1st 2010, just under 7 months after the release of Unloved, Paul “BlueEagle” Schneider announced that he had been working on Unloved II, a direct sequel to the original Unloved mod for GZDoom. Judging from his announcement however, it looks like he had started work on it a while ago, and the screenshots he provided came from the second iteration of his project after the first one was scrapped due to quality issues. What was shown reveals a style and aesthetic goal very similar to that of the first Unloved mod, which is to say that Unloved II looked to be just as dark and creepy as its predecessor. This time, he drew from a wider pool of influence, including from dark ambient tracks by Nine Inch Nails, Atrium Carceri and Lustmord, as well as from his own negative life experiences, like having been manipulated and drained by an emotional vampire for an ex-girlfriend. He also talked about Unloved II being significantly less slaughter-heavy with its encounters while trying to keep the challenge up to the same level as its predecessor. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, like events in his life taking inspiration away from the project, starting work on Super Panda Adventures and his general dissatisfaction with working with old tech, the project was ultimately abandoned two-thirds of the way into development.

Overview

If you’ve played Unloved, then you would know what to expect from this mod. Non-linear progression across multiple maps with a dark ambient atmosphere, treacherous level design, key items that were meant to be used in levels other than where the player picked them up from, and hard battles designed around attrition of health, armour and ammunition. Except this time, the health and armour supply is a lot more generous, and the combat difficulty has been scaled back significantly to the point where it is possible to play through the content available without ever knowing that a Super Shotgun exists or that it is meant to be used for the more difficult battles. Even a particular section you encounter when you start to visit the levels a second time, that was clearly intended to bring your health and ammunition levels to a critically low amount, is beatable without the aid of the iconic boomstick. While one could say that the mod was supposed to get more difficult at that point, the fact that an earlier section of the mod is more or less equally difficult shows that saving the hard battles for the second visit was clearly not what the author had intended, and that the comparative lack of difficulty was a direct consequence of him deliberately straying away from slaughter-style encounters.

It could be that some players were unable to get through the harder fights in Unloved that, this time around, the author decided to scale back the difficulty, or it could be that making the fights easier for expedient run-throughs was how he planned to design the mod before cranking the challenge up during testing. Whatever it was, it really showed. You see traps, and they are far more visibly telegraphed and much less sadistic in that they more often refrain from instantly getting you killed. You see monster closet encounters, and you notice that they are much smaller this time, and you are almost always in control of those situations. You no longer feel like getting into an encounter and surviving is a matter of smart movement, provoking infighting and cunning, instead you feel like every fight is an invitation to scratch your itchy trigger finger. Instead of feeling like a survivor after each fight, you instead end up feeling like a badass and it ended up dragging the overall experience down because it really diminished the Silent Hill inspiration that this mod was supposed to draw from.

That is not to say that the mod is anywhere near what could be described as bad. The design, layout, aesthetics and atmosphere of the levels are some of the best I have seen in a mod for Doom, and the combat, while running counter to the intended gameplay aesthetics, is still very fun and satisfying to fight through. The Realm667 monster picks are also a lot more thematically consistent with the environment and atmosphere. It really makes me wonder what could have been had the author stayed the course and completed this mod. Still though, what he had created so far is fantastic and my personal desire to see this mod in its completed state is a testament to its quality.

Doctor’s House

“You wake up in a small prison cell. You try to open the door, but it’s locked. Just then, you hear footsteps coming closer and closer, slowly approaching the door to your cell. As the door opens, you see a human-like figure appear in front of you. Then a brilliant flash of light, and then nothing…

…when you come to, you find yourself injured and lost in what appears to be the basement of a house. It is not your house, but that of someone who was familiar to you at some point in time. You open the basement door and make your way up to the ground floor. On your way up, you find a note that is gibberish, and yet legible, as well as a ghastly apparition that you were sure would take your life if it had disapparated a moment later. Reaching the main atrium of the house, you find 4 rooms, each of them containing, or leading to portals to another more nightmarish dimension. Exploring further, you find 2 more disturbing notes, and that only one of the portals, resembling a broken mirror, are currently accessible. After a moment of hesitation, you step through and at that point, your nightmare begins…”

Like in Unloved, you start off in a hub level, but unlike the last time, you are free to explore most of the house right off the bat. This level connects to 4 levels, Rusted Nails, a mysterious industrial prison complex of otherworldly origin, The Hospital, a hospital building inspired heavily by Silent Hill, and taking design cues from The Living Room from Unloved, The Prayer Halls, a church complex that is really an insane asylum in disguise and Faded City, a depressing cityscape that best encompasses this mod’s namesake. The only area closed off is a passageway at the front of the house that slowly opens up as you complete different areas of the connected levels. At the very start, the only level that is accessible is Rusted Nails, which you can access from the cellar room, through a broken mirror. The passage to the other levels are opened up using a gear to fix a mechanism that you can only acquire after beating the first section of Rusted Nails. After getting through the first sections of every level and collecting the keycards from 3 of those levels, a path in the front hall section in the house opens up, leading to a set of stairs locked behind a bunch of keycard pillars, and into a room very much reminiscent of the second section of The Basement’s Basement from Unloved before finally ending in a locked prison cell with a hole dug through the floor that can be fallen into. While this hub level is a lot simpler compared to the hub level from Unloved, it does a good job of setting the tone and atmosphere that would pervade the rest of the mod.

Rusted Nails

This is the first level that you are able to access from Doctor’s House when you start the mod. This level is a rusted dilapidated prison complex that is seemingly of an otherworldly origin, very industrial in appearance, and yet seemingly alien in origin. The aesthetics of this level is very much reminiscent of Quake from 1996. Namely, some of the more treacherous levels from the later parts of that game. This inspiration is further evidenced by the fact that the first ranged weapon you’re given is the Chaingun, which, if you squint hard enough, looks like the Super Nailgun weapon from Quake. This is an unorthodox decision, considering that levels or mods that do give the Chaingun to the player before the Shotgun are exceedingly rare. It does make me wonder why the floating wizard Scrags from Quake did not make its appearance in this level. The first section of this level also takes a few design cues from The Basement’s Basement, where the first few enemies you face are the Chainsaw Freaks, dropping a Chainsaw weapon when killed. There are also the first few rooms feeling fairly cramped and claustrophobic, as well as being fairly heavy on the monster closet traps, like the part where you run down a corridor that changes into a dilapidated version of it with more monsters to fight through. However, this section of the level is more than just monster closet and traps, there are plenty of interesting encounters where you are made to prioritize between taking down the Dark Imps or the Shadows first, as they are both fairly threatening in different ways. All while dealing with health sponges like the Cacodemon as they slowly encroach upon your personal space. There is even a section that invites you to use push tactics to advance down a wide and winding corridor to pick up bullet boxes strewn along its length in order to keep your ammo supply up as you mow down enemies before you. Once you’re done with the first section of this level, you are given access to a gear which which will allow you to activate the mechanisms in the Doctor’s House that will allow you access to the other 3 levels.

Being the only fully-realized level in this mod, this is also the only level that has a fully fleshed out and beatable second section. This section is accessible once you’ve collected the key cards from Faded City, The Hospital and the Prayer Halls and opening the keycard pillars blocking access to a set of stairs. This level starts off in a prison block with you in one cell and Mancubi in the other cells, after you’ve dropped into the hole in the jail cell you’ve found after going down the aforementioned stairs. After making short work of the Mancubi, you find yourself in what could be described as a meat grinder made out of Demons and Cacodemons. This fight, due to its cramped nature and how many Demons you are made to kill, seems to indicate that this fight is clearly meant to reduce your health and ammo levels to a critically low level, forcing you to play more carefully in the next few areas. I think this is a clever bit of gameplay because this feeling of having your resources exhausted really colours the experience of playing through the next few areas and makes the encounters in those areas that much more tense, a rare moment of the mod remembering its gameplay roots. As you fight through those next few areas, you slowly begin to recover your health and ammo supply, preparing you for a big fight that takes place at the end of this level. One of the things I liked about this final fight is that it reminds me of the larger scale fights that were a mainstay of Unloved. Unfortunately, the ending to that fight dropped the ball, as it is capped off by a Spider Mastermind that you can activate any time with the flip of a switch, and since there are pillars all over the room you fight her in, she ended up becoming a very trivial boss fight. This could have gone a lot better if you didn’t have control of when you want to fight the Spider Mastermind. This is an example of how too much control can potentially ruin the mood of a mod like this.

This is a pretty solidly realized level, with the combat being pretty nicely choreographed, delivering plenty of monster variation in each of the encounters, and making them very satisfying to fight through. The architecture is both the most abstract and surreal,  yet has the distinction of looking the least organic out of all them. The oppressive dark industrial texture is conveyed very well, and, in a couple of spots, it is supported by the gameplay when it remembers that this mod is supposed to be difficult and oppressive. Even then, this level manages to be the easiest level to play through, the amount of leeway and mistakes you’re afforded is to the point where if you managed to get to the second section of this level without a Super Shotgun, you can still beat the monster meat grinder with enough cunning and determination, despite not being supposed to. I really think that this level would greatly benefit from having more difficult battles, especially since this is the level that gives you the first taste of combat. Making the fights less survivable would greatly help set the tone for the rest of the mod, much like how the first section of The Basement’s Basement did so.

The Hospital

This level is accessible once you’ve completed the first section of Rusted Nails and collecting the gear to activate the mechanism for the rest of the house. This level takes place in an abandoned hospital complex straight out of Silent Hill that had been been infested with demons and zombies, and it carries a thematic connection to The Living Room. There are wall sections that open up into large atriums seemingly carved out of fleshy intestines, almost as if the flesh that consumed the buildings in The Living Room from the first mod is the same flesh that consumed this hospital. Given that description, one could easily guess that this level, at least the first section of it, is focused towards ambushes, doors and walls opening unexpectedly into large rooms or atriums filled with demons to shoot. This is a welcome gimmick since it keeps you on your toes and punishes you for being careless. The usage of Revenants and Dark Imps reinforce this sense of danger and forces you to think about how you move to avoid taking damage. This is the sort of gameplay that I really enjoyed from Unloved, and I really wished that this sort of dangerous and punishing combat was used more often in this mod.

One of the more striking things about this map is that it is littered with doors and corridors that lead to nowhere, doors that look like they should open but don’t, and rooms that look like they could be reached, but with the connecting passageways missing. This shows that this level was in the middle of being worked on, with possible design avenues explored when this mod was published for beta testing. The second section, which is the lower levels of the hospital, is clearly incomplete with large sections of it being closed off. However, using the “noclip” cheat grants you access to those areas, and it looks like an underground sewer area was being built, possibly connecting to another hospital complex, or a different area of the same building.

Overall, this is the second best level of the lot, playing to the biological horror theme fairly well by making it look about as disgusting as The Living Room from its predecessor, while adding it’s own gritty touch to the mix. The monster choice and placement is very nicely done, putting them in positions where they are much more of a threat than they would be otherwise. This just goes to show, and serves as a demonstration of, why a satisfying challenge in a Doom level is more about clever placement and usage rather than stuffing a massive arena with hundreds of Barons and Cyberdemons and leaving the player with a BFG to sort them out. The only real downside to this level is that it is too short, even with the inclusion of the incomplete second section. I really would have wanted to see more of this hospital and what sort of twisted spatial trickery it would have had to offer.

The Prayer Halls

Dropping down through a hole in the prayer room, you end up in what looks like a church complex. You hear the ambient Gregorian music blaring in the background, filling your soul with a sense of unease. You then notice the medieval-style stone walls around you and the stained glass windows decorating them, and yet you notice something off about the nature of the architecture. The layout does not look like anything you’ve ever seen in a church before. However, you’re here now, and you have no way to go back. You have no choice but to explore the prayer halls and find another exit.”

This level is the second level that opens up after getting through the first section of Rusty Nails, and it is accessed by dropping down a hole found in a corrupted room in the Doctor’s House. This level is fairly interesting in that it took the medieval architectural elements seen in The Halls Below from Unloved and extended it, giving it a much more pervasively religious touch. It is also likely that the author also drew inspiration from Hexen (A dark medieval-fantasy game on the Doom engine) for this level, given the introduction of the Dark Friars and the Acolyte enemies in this level. This lends a general feeling of being dropped in the middle of an unholy sanctuary where dark religious practices can take place without moral scrutiny. The Dark Friars are a nice addition to the fights, by the way, due to how easily they can cause infighting with their projectiles, which could be more of a boon if the monster closet design of the encounters in this level had any teeth.

The more astute of gamers are going to notice the odd architecture and layout structure and how it does not actually match the layout of any known churches. Some may say that it could be because of the general otherworldly nature of the mod that it is supposed to look weird, but a more interesting context to frame this would be if the level is actually an insane asylum disguising itself as a dark chapel. This context is substantiated with the inclusion of narrow corridors connecting the two main areas available for the first section of the level. These corridors very much resemble that of a mental institute, giving a sharp contrast to the dark spiritual atmosphere of the rest of the levels.

To be perfectly honest, this level is the weakest that this mod has to offer, offering few things interesting, deadly or even varied to push the experience above competent or decent. Which is a shame, because the premise of an insane asylum disguising itself as a religious institute is really interesting. This premise could have lead to so many potential traps and symbolic imagery, both in terms of level design and gameplay, that seeing something this incomplete in terms of execution just feels like a huge squandering of a vast potential. On the other hand though, there really isn’t anything bad or egregious with this level. Despite the apparent redundancy of the encounters, the fights are choreographed well enough that they never really got boring. The aesthetics and atmosphere of the level is done well enough to keep me fooled about the level’s true nature until I stopped to really think about it’s design.

Faded City

The final level that can be accessed after completing the first section of Rusted Nails. While you can access this level right after activating the house mechanisms, waiting to access this level after completing the first section of Hospital or Prayer Halls is recommended as the keycards acquired from those levels will afford you access to the Super Shotgun. This level is a dark outdoors cityscape which looked like either it had been abandoned or that everyone else had experienced rapture and you’re the only one left behind. The atmosphere is extremely depressing and conveys a very deep feeling of loneliness and despair. This is one of the most depressing levels ever created for a game, and it is likely that this map has been inspired by his then recent break up with his ex-girlfriend.

This map is unique from the rest of the mod, or what had been seen from the Unloved series so far, for several reasons. The most obvious difference is that the map is very wide and open with almost the entirety of the level open for exploration right off the bat. It takes place in a real outdoor area and not in the middle of a formless void. And finally, a good portion of the monsters are spectral in nature, making them a lot more dangerous than normal. This results in an experience that is unique, free-roaming, and most importantly, dangerous. The fact that you rarely know where the enemies are or if you can never really tell if you’ve cleared out an area makes exploration a very risky and dangerous endeavour. The goal of the first section of this level is to gain access to the graveyard and collect the yellow keycard within. This is not as simple as it looks, because the mechanism to open the graveyard gates is scattered throughout the city and hidden inside buildings. Once you collect the keycards, the city gets filled with invisible enemies and you have to escape back into the Doctor’s House.

There is an entrance to the unfinished second section to this level behind a door that is supposed to open with all 6 skull keys and keycards collected. However, with the area largely unfinished, it has been closed off, leaving the noclip cheat as the means to access this area. This second section appears to predominantly take place inside one of the larger buildings in the city. The rooms appear to already have been plotted out, although it is currently mono-textured and devoid of any details.

I really like this level, it is dripping with a dark, unwelcoming and depressing atmosphere that encompasses what it is like to feel alone and unloved. The music choice really helped this feeling along with its sense of yearning and general tone of melancholy. The monster fights are persistent and dangerous, due to their invisible nature, giving the fights with them a sense of tension that is rarely seen anywhere else. There was a genuine sense of panic that was raised when the yellow keycard was picked up and the entire level got saturated with invisible monsters, forcing you to keep on your toes and be on the constant lookout for threats coming from all directions. The best part is that BlueEagle did not have to create massive monster closets with hundreds of Barons to achieve this. (I am looking at you, Sunder!) Even with a missing second section, this level feels like a complete well-realized level.

Overall Thoughts

Aesthetically, this mod is a lot darker, moodier and focused than its predecessor. There is a lot more texture and grit, which does a better job of conveying the feeling of abandonment this time around. I loved the industrial surreal look of Rusted Nails, I loved the organic grittiness of The Hospital, I loved the dark medieval atmosphere conveyed in The Prayer Halls juxtaposed with the gritty and yet clinical insane asylum corridors that connected them, and I loved the depressing grey and dark atmosphere of Faded City. Despite my complaints about how the combat is too forgiving and, in the case of the Prayer Halls, merely competent and not interesting enough, there was not one moment where I felt bored or disengaged with what was going on. To be perfectly honest, the biggest reason I am judging the gameplay so harshly is because of how much of a high bar its predecessor had set for this mod, and how comparatively tame the encounters are in this iteration. This mod certainly has its tense and risky moments, like the corridor that opens up into a large flesh room in The Hospital, or the monster meat grinder in the second section of Rusted Nails, or the entirety of Faded City itself. Moreover, there is one unorthodox gameplay element that is almost never used in Doom modding, which is giving the player the Chaingun before the Shotgun. On its own, I would say that this mod is a very solid effort.

It’s not often that an unfinished work could be recommended since unfinished works are usually a lot rougher and a lot less playable compared to those that have been completed, tested and polished, and yet I find myself recommending this mod with almost as much zeal as its predecessor. This is because even in its unfinished state, it shows that the author already has a solid grasp on what works for what he wants to do with his mod. Its production even inspired a couple of fans, already enamoured by Unloved, to create music for the project. Unfortunately, due to the recent incompetence with the development of ZDoom causing a careless malpractice of code such as the merging of the scripting and VM branch into the main module, this mod cannot be played with versions of GZDoom later than 1.8.x. As such, anyone interested in trying this mod out will have to use GZDoom 1.8.10 from the archives. It really is a shame that this mod would be fated to remain in this unfinished state, alone and unloved.

[Download Unloved II Beta 1 Here]

[Download GZDoom 1.8.10 Here]

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