#140: City of the Damned: Apocalypse
Initial release: November 1, 2007
Platform: PC (Doom mod developed for ZDoom source port)
Developer: Daniel “Tormentor667” Gimmer
It’s funny what can be done with the old Doom engine. As far back as the early 2000s, ZDoom and its derivatives were redefining what it meant to play Doom. And for years it had no bigger cheerleader than Dan Gimmer, better known as Tormentor667. Gimmer has been involved with a large number of projects, most notably Knee Deep in ZDoom, a ZDoom-ified remake of Doom’s shareware episode, and controversial Blade of Agony, a game set in the Wolfenstein 3D universe that draws inspiration from the later games in the Wolfenstein franchise. But up until his exit from the Doom community over some… questionable choices in Blade of Agony, he also crafted several personal projects over the years, for example his Torment n’ Torture series of maps that, like the bigger projects he’s worked in, showcase and push the limits of the capabilities of the ZDoom family engine at different stages of its development.
In 2004 Gimmer ripped the textures from Monolith’s classic gory shooter Blood and released them for mappers to use; not long after, he began work on a map to showcase said textures, eventually resulting in the classic City of the Damned. However, while seeing these classic textures in a different context was a nice novelty, the map ultimately was a traditional Doom map in the style of, say, Doom II’s “Downtown” or “The Factory.” Traditional Doom monsters, traditional Doom gameplay.
But by 2007, ZDoom had greatly evolved in what could be done with it, and GZdoom had spawned as a hardware acceleration-capable fork that presented even more possibilities, especially on the visuals side. Armed with new features, Gimmer would revisit his old level and present something entirely new. Which leads us to City of the Damned: Apocalypse. Heavily utilizing textures from Blood (and a few other sources) and a bevy of custom monsters, most of them also drawn from Blood, Apocalypse offers a very different presentation from the 2004 original. “Traditional” has been thrown out the window.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Much of the actual gunplay comes off feeling like classic Doom. But the structure has been heavily altered, playing out like a classic survival horror, with a story told in letters and journals and other notes scattered around the single map. It begins with you landing… somewhere, it’s not exactly clear where you’re at (though probably in Europe.) Some of the dating on the notes suggests it’s November 1916, but the war in Europe is but a distant concern at most. More serious are the monsters and cultists roaming around. Nearly every non-cultist in the town (hardly a city, really — more like a quaint village) is dead or fled. As you explore it becomes clear that the “Darkmoon cult” — clearly those robed guys shooting at you — are responsible for the monsters showing up every night. They’re up to something, and it’s up to you to find out what. As you poke around, you come across “moon shelters.” They’re similar to bomb shelters or the like, small bunkers dug out of existing structures, each marked by a quarter-moon symbol. About a third of the way through, these moon shelters come into play as mandatory destination points for the player whenever an air raid siren goes off. Rush in, close the blast door, and wait. Fail to get to safety on time and suffer the consequences. This is simultaneously the most interesting part of the gameplay and the most frustrating. The siren seems to go off at fairly regular periods so you can generally predict how much time you’ll have, but it has a nasty habit of grinding gameplay to a halt. You’re often having to sit in a shelter for upwards of a minute as you wait out the siren and the hazard it heralds, and they’re not evenly placed, occasionally leaving you quite far from the nearest one. You never forget the first couple times, but after that it’s just tedious.
Other than that the gameplay is pretty traditional classic FPS — kill the bad guys, get the keys, occasionally read notes for hints as to where to go next. Aside from the city, there’s also a house and church just outside of town, connected by a fairly uninteresting forest path.
Another big problem, two big problems actually, both made worse at their collision, is the long period before you get a shotgun, and the Cerberus enemies. Your revolver is pitifully weak, and these dogs are incredibly fast moving, hard-hitting, and tough to kill. If you didn’t get the shotgun in the cemetery before you trigger the dogs, you’re basically stuck on a wild chase throughout the streets as they chase you and hit you with flame breath. It’s a huge pain in the ass and arguably a bigger show-stopper than the moon shelters. Fortunately, there are only a few of the dogs in the course of normal play, so once you’re after that initial hurdle things settle down, at least on “normal” mode —I didn’t try the harder difficulties.
In any case, while the Blood textures suffer from being such a large size that you feel 12 years old at times, in general Gimmer has made a semi-realistic (for Doom anyway) space with good use of lighting and level design and multiple places to explore. In a lot of ways this is true to Gimmer’s design ethos — while his mapping style has evolved over the years, he does prefer a generally freewheeling structure, peppered with custom enemies of varying threat levels to keep you on your toes. This is true of Apocalypse. He’s even added a bit of a sense of mystery; some areas are blocked off, leading one to wonder what could be beyond the barriers. Sometimes you can see the walls and floors and ceilings are covered in spider webbing, which suggests eight-legged horrors just out of sight.
All in all, while it has a few stumbles, this is a quality single map for owners of Doom II that will provide at least an hour’s worth of play. Doom mapping has moved on in the 12 years since this map came out, but it’s still a gorgeous, moody little work. It’s an early proof that the right talents applied the right way can have a transformative effect on a game that’s almost thirty years old. It’s a testament to the community that, 16 years on, they’re still going strong, surpassing even these early highs.
City of the Damned: Apocalypse can be downloaded for free at Gimmer’s site. And if you’re after something more traditional, there’s always the original City of the Damned. Both, however, will require a copy of Doom II: Hell on Earth, which you can get on gog.com or Steam — though either way, you’ll want the version of DOOM2.WAD that is in the /base folder, not the /rerelease subfolder. How do you tell the difference? When running the game in the source port of your choice, there is a stimpak behind the right-hand column in the first room — if the cross symbol on it is green, you’ve got the “enhanced” version intended for the official Unity engine port. You want the other one.
Lastly, you will need the appropriate source port. While both maps were designed for ZDoom, this source port is now defunct, development having been handed over to GZDoom, which plays both very nicely. You can get it or its for-crappy-hardware counterpart LZDoom here.