Oh, Episode 3…
You poor dear. They shower Episode 1 with nostalgic reverence. They love the clashing themes and weirdness of E2. They praise E4’s difficulty; its polished, masterful design. But what about you? What about the colorful, the clever, the outlandish, the otherworldly E3? They just don’t understand you, Episode 3.
But I do — and so does Bedlam.
Bedlam is one of the best E3 replacements I’ve played. Spearheaded by Memfis, the episode is the work of seven different mappers — Memfis, Antroid, C30N9, NoneeLlama, purist, Dragonsbrethren, and Sokoro. You might expect that many hands to result in a some clashing design philosophies, but far from it. Bedlam is actually one of the most consistent community projects I’ve encountered recently, though I can’t say whether that’s because of Memfis’ leadership or because everyone involved had the same vision from the start.
Whatever the case may be, what we got out of it is a fantastic Hell episode that feels a whole lot like the original Inferno. It uses all stock Doom resources and sticks to classic themes of marble temples, molten caverns, redrock fortresses — all the stuff you know and love. Maps are even laid out in a way that’s reminiscent of E3 — criss-crossing and interconnected. Specifically, it feels like the… circularness of E3M3 or E3M5, or the openness of M7. There’s almost always two or three ways to attack a level, and you’ll find loops everywhere that will lead from one area unexpectedly back where you came from. Keys can be gathered in different orders, and as you go the maps become more open and non-linear. Despite a semi-lack of direction, though, they’re almost never confusing. (I did get lost briefly in the massive M8, but not long or badly enough to get frustrated.)
It helps that everything has a unique look, and that the levels are stuffed with interesting landmarks to navigate by. These are all beautiful maps, though I do have to admit that Memfis’ maps are slightly ahead of the rest in that department. His maps are covered in charming little nooks and neat details. Every area is lovingly crafted, unique, and dripping with personality, even if it’s just an alcove with a couple armor bonuses in it. All the mappers involved, though, know how to create stunning, unorthodox architecture that will make you stop and stare for a second.
Gameplay’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s polished and clearly playtested. Levels are winding and teleports will throw you all over the place. It’ll also surprise you, not just in terms of the traps, but also the not-traps. I’m so happy to see keys that don’t always set a dozen monsters on you as soon as you grab them. If there’s one point I’ll nitpick, it’s the somewhat inconsistent use of damaging floors: it’s never clear whether blood will hurt you or not.
The lowest point is probably the music selection. It’s all pretty slow and low-key, when the WAD may have benefited from a couple fast, energetic tracks thrown into the mix. The only time it ever got on my nerves, though, was in M7, where the midi just seemed too repetitive for such a lengthy level. Even so, it can’t pull down an otherwise phenomenal mapset. Because that’s what Bedlam is: Inferno-inspired mapping at its very best.
Bedlam requires DOOM.WAD and can be played in vanilla Doom or on any source port under the sun. If you’re not sure how to get it running, this may help. And for more awesome WADs, be sure to check these out!