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Easily the best time I had playing Classic Doom yet, Going Down both as a Doom Wad and as a one person creative endeavor is about as close to being ideal as it can get.
A remarkably cohesive piece of work, described as chaotic evil by the wad author Cyriak Harris himself, the wad carries a mischievous spirit , but at points he can turn it into malice.
The two main characteristics of this wad is the combat, Cyriak loves using a small compact area as his playground, where any action you take can and will cause enemies to ambush you or appear in an area you have to go back to, keeping the player consistently paranoid about doing anything in this map as any interaction could mean lurking death for the unwary. This feeling is enhanced by Cyriak's music which sounds like someone organizing a circus in my head where you should be really careful if you want to check behind the stages or you might not come back alive. As more and more enemies get released the game seems just gets more chaotic and increase my heart rate. And sometimes he just lets open the floodgates, hundreds of monsters at a time when he seems to get tired of playing with the player. There are 2 fights in this set that I would say straight made me break through my Doom skill ceiling and because of how fun the design is I enjoyed the failures as well.
The other characteristic is the weird humour mixed with his eye for detail, easily the best looking Vanilla Doom wad I have played, Cyriak creates believable environments with stock Doom 2 textures, the whole idea of this wad is funny in a way, Doom guy going down floor to floor clearing demons. One floor might be an office building where a Baron of Hell jumpscares you from behind the boss's chair or Doom guy might decide to take the emergency exit to the roof to call his mom. It's just this weirdness that makes the whole thing so charming.
There's endless creativity here, while similar no two levels are truly the same and while not every level hits the same peak, their sheer uniqueness ought to win you over. One level you might be crawling through the vents of a building to get around the monsters, another one where there might be a elaborate key hunt through an area. Dont worry none of these are boring, Cyriak always does more with his concepts than it seems he can on first glance.
Then there is the last third of the map, there are sections here that are genuinely jaw dropping not only for Doom but for any FPS campaign I have played, I wont spoil what happens but fair to say, if you made it that far things will only get better, more insane and definitely harder.
"Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell!"
Hellbound: Hellraiser II isn't a great film, but it does have some really good lines. I've always wondered what that legendary suffering would look and feel like - what kind of pain would make Satan himself go "Ohhhhh, damn!!!!!" ?
I'm not much of a fan of Nu-Doom's over-explanatory lore, but the idea that every single Doom WAD is a canonical entry in Doomguy's perpetual torment really works for me. According to Bethesda, Doomguy has spent all of his infinite eternities running around abstract renditions of Hell brewed in teenage bedrooms, murdering crude MSPaint renditions of Simpsons and South Park characters, quicksaving and quickloading himself back into existence over and over and over again in recreations of high school gymnasiums across the world, all with absolutely no hope of respite. His suffering must be legendary, even in Hell.
Of all the cruel punishments I've put Doomguy through over the past year, Sunlust has got to be one of the worst. I didn't even choose Ultra-Violence, but still Doomguy died again and again and again and again, in so many different ways. When I accidentally quicksaved myself into a corner with three Archviles and Doomguy only had 7HP and no armor, he died again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again while I tried in vain to find a way out.
Challenges in this wad often seem impossible. Three cyberdemons, forty revenants and five pain elementals? On the 'normal' difficulty'?! "It can't be done!" is the Sunlust battlecry on just about every level. But somehow, there always seems to be a way. Yeah, it usually requires Doomguy to die upwards of two dozen times, but there's always a way.
Zach Stephens and Daniel Jakobsson have essentially designed a puzzle game in the Doom engine - one that requires players to learn just about every facet of John Carmack's beautifully twisted engine. How the weapons work, and what they work best on. What the powerups do, and where and when they can be used most effectively. How the enemies think and move, and the orders in which they can be most capably defeated. The ways in which Doomguy himself moves, and how that movement can be exploited to keep him safe. By the end of the wad, I was doing legitimate math to work out the HP/ammo risks associated with certain decisions! It's beautiful, legendary suffering.
There are so many moments here that make you wonder just how much of the Doom engine's magic was actually by design, and whether Carmack knew it was capable of making something as grand as Sunlust. Was he pissed off when Sandy Petersen made rinkydink shit like The Cathedral or Tricks & Traps? Maybe we weren't ready for Sunlust back then... Exposing 1993 Doom players to something like Sunlust's Go Fuck Yourself would probably be like giving an Extreme Nacho flavour Dorito to a medieval peasant. They just couldn't handle it.
A lonely, challenging experience. Of course most DOOM WADs don't have any other characters in them, very rarely deciding to sprinkle in marine corpses to signify someone was here, but Sunlust is such an oppressive experience that the lack of humanity of it all feels emotionally attuned to the level progression. Any notion of humanity left in Sunlust's world is actively malignant-- MAP29 for example, "Go Fuck Yourself", is uniquely human to the player in design, architecture, and title. The Archvile Carousel is too purposeless, too vexatious to be designed by any thing but a human. Yet, like with most challenge maps, it's made to be bested, but only by those willing to buy in and mortify themselves to gitting gud.
In fact, this idea of mortification, of purity through rigid self-discipline, is an idea that permeates not just in Sunlust but in the discourse of 'difficulty' in video games as a whole. For every new completion of Sunlust, there's a DOOMer out there who will remind you that you haven't really 'completed' Sunlust until you've done it with no savescumming, and there's a DOOMer above them that will remind you that only pistol start UV counts as completion, and so on and so on. Anyone who had the unfortunate luck to witness Souls "summoning discourse" can also attest to similar convos. It's eerily similar to where this mortification discourse actually comes from--Medieval Christianity. You aren't really free of sin until you've abstained from something important, until you've fasted, until you've lived ascetically, until you've self-flagellated, etc.
And while the merits and foibles of mortification are too big for this review, the takeaway shouldn't be to do away with the ideas of purity or self-discipline, but to take a more personal, existential approach to them. Play Sunlust, but don't feel the need to surrender to it's weight of difficulty or of being one of the GOAT WADs or anything else. noclip to admire the architecture, throw on godmode, try a UV run, make a save for the Cathedral fight to replay forever, do whatever--just make it challenging and purifying to you, and see where you land. ribbiks has said he views DOOM more as a canvas than a video game, and there's no reason you shouldn't too.
Mega Man X2
Mega Man X
I was tweaking when I had this at 3 stars. Unironically a kafkaesque comedy of errors, wholesomely committed to painting Doomguy as the "aw, shucks :(" down-on-his-luck Everyman who is able to sustain this weird, hostile world through determination and ingenuity. Encounter design is A-1, a return to the frantic, claustrophobic combat design of retro WAD culture over modern WAD's slaughter-tendencies--even Barons became threatening when you have no room to run. Thoroughly meticulous in environmental design too--there's a skeleton in the closet joke that I didn't even realize until I was watching a YT playthrough. So goofy, yet so earnest! One of my favorites that will probably become an annual revisit.
I can't believe it finally happened. I finally found a RGG Studio game that can stand toe-to-toe with Yakuza 0, I never thought I'd see the day.
Lost Judgment easily has the best combat in the series, I cannot tell you how much I loved using the snake style and just obliterating enemy after enemy standing in front of me. Plus, switching between styles has never felt so natural and cathartic before, they've basically mastered what combat should be like for this series going forward.
I also adored the story. It's another dumb, overly-complicated conspiracy story as every RGG game is, but just like with its predecessor, having the protagonist be a smart detective instead of a strong yakuza man who just punches everything helps make the story feel so much more believable and engaging. This is also the first time since Yakuza 2 where I've actually felt something for the main antagonist, to the point that I kind of wanted to be on his side instead. And the way everything unfolds is just so amazing, this is easily in my top three RGG plots.
What most surprised me though was the implementation of side content. I find side content in these gamed to be pretty overwhelming after a while, and I end up just ignoring everything at some point. But the choice to have the majority of side content intertwined into one big plot about "the professor" was genius, it made me feel like I was constantly pushing forward with a main goal, instead of just doing random activities. I hope every game made by RGG does something like this in the future.
I have pretty much nothing but positive things to say about Lost Judgment, though I do have one big criticism: the DLC. It sucks that several side missions, girlfriends, and a whole fighting style are locked behind a paywall. The game is till great without this content, but it's still extremely annoying.
Still though, despite that one big grip, I love Lost Judgment. I think it's so close to topping Yakuza 0 in terms of overall quality, but 0 still wins out just because of how consistently fun that game is. But now I'm very excited to see what else is in store for the Judgment series, if this game is any indication to go by, the next game may be the best one in RGG's entire catalogue.
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