Favillesco Alpha Episode: Apostasy on Amalthea was my personal WAD-of-the-Year in 2014. I came for the promise of a WAD made entirely out of Doom alpha textures, and I ended up staying for Nicolas Monti’s one-of-a-kind mapping technique and bizarre stylistic sensibilities. This year he returned with an unexpected sequel, Favillesco Alpha Episode 2: Desecration on Thebe, and I had to know if lightning could strike twice.
How does it measure up to Amalthea? For starters, Thebe ekes out a victory over its predecessor in the Length of Title category — one character longer!
But seriously, as soon as you spawn at the start of the first map, you know you’re in good hands. The colorful alpha textures are on display from minute one, Monti’s awkwardly tiled walls make their triumphant return, and the relentlessly cheery beat of the first level’s midi almost seems to say “Welcome back! We know you missed us.”
I did, Favillesco. I missed you a whole lot.
You feel at home from the word go. Thebe puts a slightly more ambitious, confident foot forward with its larger, grander M1, but otherwise it’s almost a carbon copy of Amalthea‘s intro map. The adventure begins with a pistol-heavy gauntlet — winding concrete walkways above outdoor nukage pools, all of it filled with zombiemen and imps.
“Vaw Complex,” Thebe‘s opener, sets the stage for what’s to come. Even from the first map, you’re introduced to Monti’s meandering, interconnected map layouts. It’s the little touches: the easily-missed green armor hallway tucked into an alcove right at the start, or the pathways that fold over themselves and lead you back to where you started, or the ubiquitous windows in every area — giving you a view of areas you’re soon to visit or locations you just came from.
The maps are even less orthogonal than last time, if you can believe it. (There are hardly any right angles to be found!) And even though they’re often more complex than in Amalthea, they seem easier to navigate. I can’t say whether that’s just me getting used to Monti’s obtuseness or if the maps are genuinely better-designed, but I never once got completely lost like I did in Amalthea‘s M5.
As far as gameplay goes, Monti is still the crown prince of roamers — what modern game devs would probably pretentiously call “emergent gameplay.” There are so many ambushes and enemies somehow sneaking up behind you without the use of monster closets or teleport traps. Without the creator’s intent, even. The complexity of the maps and the sheer number of monsters placed throughout means that there’s always some jerk you missed along the way who’s now bumbling around the level trying to catch up with you.
The surprisingly upbeat backing track of “Vaw” is also the perfect introduction to the Alpha Episode mood. Amalthea‘s soundtrack was weird, but if it’s possible, Thebe‘s is weirder. I even had a good laugh over the two midified Enigma songs, as an old fan myself — though they’re no joke. “Mea Culpa” works surprisingly great in midi form — and the fact that no one (to my knowledge) has used “Sadeness” in a Doom map before is a crime. It kills it as the theme of the moody, penultimate map, “Ghost Station.”
Thebe is essentially the grown-up version of Amalthea, with all the good stuff cranked up a notch, but also a lot of the bad stuff.
The hitscan enemies in Amalthea who were placed in high windows or other places where it was difficult to shoot them — they’re back! And there’s even more this time. You’ll be cursing the very existence of windows by the end of the WAD, since Monti loves to put hallways full of hitscanners behind those windows, and no matter how sure you are that you killed everyone in there, there’s always a shotgunner waiting just out of sight to peg you with buckshot as soon as you turn around. You’ll lose chips of health to unseen hitscan attackers way too often.
If you played through Amalthea, you’ll probably also recall a preposterously unfair trap late in the WAD involving several barons and no room whatsoever to move around in. Traps like that are far more common in the sequel, starting as early as the second map, with a trap that drops you into the maws of seven or so spectres who immediately surround and devour you.
There are several similar traps spread across many of the levels, usually with demons or barons in extremely close quarters. Surviving essentially requires that you’ve already died to the trap once because you need to know exactly what you’re up against to get out alive. If you don’t immediately have a sense of the space you’re in and where the enemies are? You’re probably going to get cornered and torn apart. Don’t have your most powerful weapon selected when the trap is sprung — you’re almost certainly done for. Get unlucky with the RNG? Yeah, you’re dead.
When it’s not being unfair, though, Thebe is still one of the hardest WADs I’ve ever played… in a good way. Aside from the handful of lame traps (which could easily mean death even from full health), Monti’s levels are designed like endurance runs. It’s an oldschool approach, where no single encounter generally means death if you screw it up. Rather, it’s all about handling each enemy — each room — while taking as little damage as possible. A lot of modern WADs are designed around surviving super-challenging traps and arena fights, with mostly filler combat (and often full heals) between them. What Amalthea and Thebe do is the opposite, asking you to survive the long haul, short on health and on your toes at all times. I honestly find Monti’s maps more tense than even the most deadly trap in something like a Scythe or a Valiant — because it’s tension that lasts for the whole map.
The unfortunate thing for Thebe is that we’ve been here, we’ve done this, and we’re keenly aware of it. The biggest letdown for me was the final map, which uses the exact same gimmick as Amalthea‘s finale. It was the crowning moment of that WAD, possibly my favorite level in the set, and one of the most atmospheric buildups I’ve ever experienced in Doom. Thebe‘s “Renaceré y seré Cenizas” feels like Monti working from the same script, but the whole thing loses its impact on this second watching. Even so, I will admit that the unearthly monument standing at the map’s horrifying centerpiece is pretty dang effective. Chills were had.
The shame is that Monti tried a little too hard to recapture exactly what made Amalthea so perfect. Thebe is phenomenal on its own merits and nothing can change that, but it is a tad disappointing that it’s so similar to its predecessor. I think Monti could easily have mixed things up a bit more, not to mention that he should really have known better when making such obvious mistakes with the WAD’s frequently unfair traps and frustrating hitscanner use.
But I just can’t bring myself to stop swooning over this WAD. The few missteps aside, Monti seems to have grown as an artist; he’s more in control of his craft, and it seems like he’s having a ton of fun in the process. Really, how could you design levels this wacky and not be having a great time?
So can lightning strike twice? The short answer is yes — but it’s maybe not quite so thrilling the second time.
Favillesco Alpha Episode 2: Desecration on Thebe requires DOOM.WAD and should run on any limit-removing source port. If you’re not sure how to get it running, this may help. And for more awesome WADs, be sure to check these out!