Mechadon is known mostly for his contributions to community projects and multi-author megaWADs — projects in which he consistently steals the show. He’s also made more than his fair share of one-off maps, DM mapsets, co-op sets…
What we’ve never seen from him is a solo, singleplayer mapset. Until now, and it was well worth the wait.
Mechadon’s style cannot be mistaken: beautifully-crafted architecture, all the way from the tiny details of a light fixture up to the vaulted archways of a nightmarish cathedral big enough to fit every single denizen of Hell. His skill is unmatched at stringing the sections of a map together in fascinating, overlapping, interwoven paths; and his maps reshape themselves as you play, opening new passages and doors and staircases in ways I’ve rarely seen. But unlike a lot of other mappers who create these epic, hour-long slogs, Mechadon knows precisely how to signpost and place landmarks so that it’s a rare thing to get lost in his maps, at least for more than a minute or so.
Counterattack is perfect Mechadon, and takes you on a wonderful journey through a UAC base on Earth to a Hellish gate at the edge of the universe over the course of five massive maps. (Not including two secret maps, a tiny end map you won’t see in Eternity or ZDoom, and a placeholder at Map30.)
The first map messes with your expectations by giving you the rocket launcher right away, and a huge portion of the first map consists of blowing battalions of former humans to bits with rockets and ubiquitous explosive barrels. They’re delightful cannon-fodder, but pistol zombies are a much bigger threat than you might expect, just from their sheer numbers.
Oddly, Map01 is the map I got turned around in the most, though I think part of that was just getting comfortable with how progression and layouts work in Mechadon maps.
He explains in the readme that he set out to create maps that could be completed any number of different ways. In Map02, for instance, you need the red skull key to get to the exit — but you can retrieve the red skull using either the yellow keycard OR both the red and blue keycards. And if you have all three, you get grab a BFG to use in the last few arena battles.
The transition from UAC base to Hell-scape is a gradual one, and you might not even notice it as it’s happening. By the middle of the WAD, the themes are perfectly married, with spectacular melding of Hell’s green marble with green base textures like STARG1 and CEMENT9 in Map03. Hyper-detailed CEMENT-based architecture is one of my fetishes, and the map satisfies.
Fire and brimstone meets Doom II‘s city aesthetic in Map04 — one of the most beautiful maps I’ve ever played. It’s also the most challenging map here, and presents some of the most interesting scenarios. You’re deliberately under-supplied from the opening, which forces you count your bullets and bust out the chainsaw any time you can risk it. This time you’re not just key-hunting; you’re hunting for ammo and weapons too. Scavenging is great (stressful) fun, but it does make it easy to get in over your head. I had at least one death because I ran into a lock-you-in-the-room style trap against a swarm of demons and revenants with only the chainsaw and shotgun. Not overly discouraging, though, since these maps are such open-ended playgrounds, and starting them over just feels like a chance to attack them from another angle.
Counterattack isn’t without its flaws, of course. It’s a minor nitpick, but Mechadon’s use of shadows can be a bit aggressive. Almost everything casts a really harsh shadow, even some little ceiling detail twenty feet up that barely protrudes at all. It also gets very predictable when EVERY switch releases enemies, and a couple maps start to drag on by the end — especially 04.
…and then there’s this bug, but it’s so gosh darn cute I’d like to believe it was intentional:
From some perspectives, the final map could be considered a misstep: stunning visuals, but all that it does is throw arena fight after arena fight at you. Plus, these arenas are so large and with so much room to move around, Map05 is the only map I didn’t die in. Even the new boss monster is kind of underwhelming when it poses so little threat in the gargantuan final battleground.
That doesn’t take anything away from any of the other maps, each of which is its own, self-contained adventure full of not just gorgeous vistas, but new, charming little details to find every time you play them. Every playthrough unfolds differently as you discover new and unexpected routes.
Mechadon is quickly becoming one of my favorite mappers. By the way, is that a sequel hook I see in the ending text? I sure hope so.