Slaughter maps aren’t really my cup of tea. I like more of a slow burn — a steady build to an epic climax. I like an even distribution of enemy types and a WAD that gives you reason to use the whole array of weapons at your disposal.
Slaughter maps, by their nature, tend to be the opposite of that. They consistently throw dozens, if not hundreds, of enemies at you — battles that necessitate the use of Doom‘s high-end weapons almost exclusively. Anything weaker than the super shotgun collects dust. It’s also hard to ramp up the tension and the stakes when the player starts off by wiping out roomfuls of monsters with the rocket launcher. I mean, where do you go from there?
In Deus Vult, Huy Pham doesn’t really escape those issues I tend to have with slaughter maps, but he also doesn’t put all of his eggs in one basket. The way the map keeps things interesting is by generally changing up the nature and flow of the encounters rather than the size of the opposition force. Sure, you’re always up against wall-to-wall enemies, and you’re almost always using the rocket launcher (or in later areas, the BFG), but the encounters rarely feel similar. It’s a map with a boatload of variety and a crazy amount of creativity on display.
While we’re at it — I generally refer to Deus Vult as a map, but it’s actually five. Map05 is the full Deus Vult experience, while 01 through 04 are that map split into four convenient, more manageable chunks. Going in, then, you just have to decide which way you want to play through the WAD. I opted for the split maps only because I liked the music to switch up every so often rather than listening to the same midi for two hours. But I admit it’s pretty rad to see the whole thing in one piece, with no “loading screens” between major sections. The complete Deus Vult is one impressive, awe-inspiring construction.
It starts innocently enough, though. Innocent for Doom, anyway: punching some demons to death.
Deus Vult pulls its punches (har har) like this for a total of two rooms. The demons get you in the mood for some action, and then a few surprisingly dangerous spectres and hell knights in the dark beat you around the noggin and let you know this is going to be anything but a cakewalk. Your first massive imp horde pops up right after that and there’s no easing up in the insanity after that point. Every battle from there on is a fight for your life, and believe me — you’ll spend most of that time hanging on by a thread.
More likely not hanging on at all, actually. I played on the second-easiest difficulty and still bought it more times than I can count. The first time was at a battle that outright requires the invulnerability sphere. If you’re one of those folks who “saves it until I need it,” you may want to unlearn that habit for this WAD. It doesn’t really pan out when you trigger a trap that fills a room with monsters to the point that you can’t even move. Like I said — it’s tough, and it’s tough in enough different ways that you’ll always be on edge.
Rather than go on and on about all the cool places this journey will take you, or all the trials along the way — rather than mention the colossal cathedral or the river of fire or the Eye of Sauron (really, that’s a thing) — I’m just going to bring up this one place. About a quarter of the way into Deus Vult (or at the beginning of the second map if you’re playing it that way) you’ll find yourself dropped into the bowels of Hell, and the focus of the entire second map is the sprawling, molten cavern you find there, filled to the brim with baddies. You’ll be taking fire from all directions, from above and behind and even below at times, and if you’re anything like me, your first instinct will be to panic.
The cavern set-piece is one of my favorite battles, not just in Deus Vult, but in Doom WADs. I love it because it’s total unadulterated madness — but if you let the madness get to you, you’re very likely to run face-first into a gruesome death. It’s a warzone, and it requires a level head to survive it. You’ll need to find alcoves to hide, you’ll need to pop out for pot-shots, and you’ll need to scavenge for supplies in the dark side tunnels. It feels almost like guerrilla warfare against the forces of hell: one man against an army… which is kind of the whole impression that Deus Vult leaves you with.
If you’ve ever been disappointed by the original Doom‘s portrayal of hell — as generally cramped and dark and with relatively little resistance — Deus Vult will scratch a certain itch for you. Throw any sense of realism out the window (but how much did Doom have in the first place?); it’s you against thousands and thousands of demons in what’s basically a frontal assault on hell itself. Even if I’m not a huge fan of slaughter maps, I can’t say that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. And it is fun. I lived it, so I know what I’m talking about.
Deus Vult requires DOOM2.WAD and runs in limit-removing source ports like PrBoom and Eternity. If you’re not sure how to get it running, this may help. And for more awesome WADs, be sure to check these out!