Nicolas Monti is an artist. Maybe the Picasso of Doom mapping.
I’ve made a point of playing all his recent releases as they come. That includes my 2014 WAD Of The Year, Apostasy on Amalthea; one of my favorite WADs of 2015, Desecration on Thebe; and his most recent and expansive work, 2016’s Mano Laikas: A road to Gamzatti. Rounding out that roster is Erkattäññe, in my opinion Monti’s weakest WAD and yet the only one to win him a Cacoward.
Erkattäññe didn’t work for me in large part because it was a Doom II WAD. Doom II‘s textures just don’t jive with Monti’s aesthetic, and if anything I’d say the additional enemies available gave our dear mapper a bit too much freedom. With Mano Laikas, we’re back to mostly Ultimate Doom texturing, and it also seems that Monti has worked out the kinks and got a handle on using the Doom II bestiary to the fullest. Mostly.
There is definitely a point where you realize that almost every major encounter will involve a minimum of one arch-vile. Probably more like three or four. And that certainly begins to feel like a crutch; as if Monti isn’t entirely sure how to structure a challenging fight without abusing ‘viles — only, he does; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The other unfortunate feature of a number of fights throughout Mano Laikas is traps that are downright unfair, a trend that I keep going into the next Monti release hoping he’s learned to avoid.
Nightmarish ambushes make up the bulk of the WAD’s difficulty, meaning that one of the things I praised Monti’s earlier work for — long-haul-survival rather than individual-ambush-survival — isn’t quite so strong here. And sadly, I like Monti maps most when the whole thing feels like one extended gauntlet rather than a series of panicked melees.
The at-times frustrating and uninspired combat scenarios are balanced out by a unique take on how you deal with those scenarios. Mano Laikas almost immediately starts dropping rocket launchers on you, and the rocket ammo doesn’t stop. Rocket-heavy combat is nothing new, but an entire 30-map WAD that basically makes the RL its primary weapon — that’s something I haven’t played before.
Shifting weapon dominance away from the shotgun and super shotgun ups the stakes. Yes, enemies go down way faster (and you don’t have that familiar damage rhythm, burst-wait-burst, of the SSG), but you’ve got to be way more aware of where enemies are in relation to you or you’ll easily mix your own splattered body parts in with theirs.
These are pistol-start maps to the core. Almost every one of them eventually drops all but the BFG on you, and it’s when and where those weapons appear that forms a good chunk of that map’s difficulty. Bringing over an SSG or plasma gun from a previous map can cut the challenge in half and futz with the pacing in bigger ways than you might expect.
At its worst, Mano Laikas can be a little bland and unintuitive (ahem, maps 12 and 16), or unfair with the arch-viles and almost-instantaneous death traps. But contrast that with Monti’s delightfully all-his-own design style. You could turn the difficulty way down and just enjoy exploring and looking at these maps.
I have such a hard time describing to anyone who hasn’t played his maps what exactly it is that Monti does. These are ugly maps… defined by shitty texturing and wide, empty spaces. But they’re also beautiful and atmospheric, in that minimalist way only Nicolas Monti can achieve. Forget Picasso. I think Nicolas Monti is a wizard.
His creativity is boundless. His passion for Doom mapping tangible. His maps so alien and interconnected and joyful, each with its own look and vibe. And his music choices? — at various times so lighthearted, or quirky, or alien, or outside the realm of anything I would even have considered appropriate in Doom… I just don’t know what to say about Nicolas Monti that I haven’t already said, except that we will never see his like again.
Mano Laikas: A road to Gamzatti requires DOOM2.WAD and should run 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!