"It might be that I just want an excuse to go on about Equinox, which is fantastic. I think that in another update I might go through it, level by level..." - this site, four years ago (no link because I hate all those really old updates)
Equinox came out of nowhere late in 2001 and made a great impression. It draws you in because there's this whole implied storyline even though there isn't a storyline... okay what I'm trying to say is there's no actual story in the text file or anything - indeed to compound this the author replaced all the intermission screen graphics except the map names(!) - but if you play it it's obvious, there's this whole progression to it and feeling of being on a mission. You want to carry on just to see what happens and where you end up.
It is made by the textures. It has a lot of new textures that almost make it feel like a completely new game. I mean, it's still Doom, the monsters and weapons are the same, but in a completely new setting. But if you look past that the map construction, with a couple of exceptions, isn't all that complicated.
Problems start when you look back though once you're done; it's not greatly replayable, the gameplay is extremely uneven, the maps range between very easy and almost impossible when done from pistol starts so you kind of have to play the whole thing or none at all. Also, it seems to have been designed by a mapper more used to source ports with proper thing height clipping - there's too many solid hanging bodies that block you, not to mention monsters at long ranges and height differences, probably only shootable using mouselook.
Definitely a wad that you should play once. Like I say not so great to replay but still good if not played too often (like every couple of years or so I guess)
In fact if you've not played it stop reading now because it's much better without spoilers. Plus, the rest of this post is embarrassingly nerdy, like overanalysing Star Wars or whatever. You know, nerdy, and also unproductive. Programming might be nerdy but at least you end up with something to show for it at the end other than a bunch of words nobody will read.
Go on, bugger off!
Okay so anyway. I always end up thinking about the plot, because even now I'm not really sure exactly what's going on. Perhaps that's why there isn't a plot, or even proper level name replacements. What I'm going to try to do is write a one line summary of each of the maps and see what happens.
But first, the title screen: you are looking up at a large silver sign proclaiming "Equinox: the international space association". The lights above it are harsh and bear down on you, making everything else black. Also the intermission screen shows the base is on some remote island surrounded by dark sea. The first eleven maps take place on this island, at night.
- Entryway. Starting just inside a fence above a cliff face you look towards the entrance sign from the title screen. Light floods out of it but everywhere else is dark. The inside was once a lavish entrance hall but is spoiled by all the mutilated effigies, not to mention zombies, imps etc.
- Teleporter central. This is kind of a hub. There's a map of the base facilities, and teleporters to three other parts of the island: genome labs, storage and the hanger (sic) but only one is currently active so you go in it.
- You're on the way to the genome labs but they've clearly been attacked and you end up having to go underneath, past an underground river and through some service tunnels.
- Genome labs. They are similarly lavish. Posh carpeting, brightly lit, hundreds of zombies, things being grown in vats... Then, some more service tunnels and a test area in which research subjects can be observed. The final horror is at the end, where you find an enormous cavern, in which an entire army of monsters is being grown in vats... Fortunately, there's a self-destruct switch...
- Back at teleporter central. See I said it was a hub. It's seen some action while you were away with cracks appearing in the walls and floor and blood everywhere but the second teleporter to storage is now active.
- The first part of this map is some kind of large empty storage bay or harbour or something by the sea. After that you teleport outside to a smaller island on which there is a central building full of crates. There's a freight lift...
- This is a very large map, partially outdoors, but also with runs through massive tunnels stuffed with random monsters. Lots of crates, too. Your goal is the armoury, another huge chamber stacked with crates? Why all these weapons? Never mind, there's another self-destruct...
- Back to teleporter central - presumably you always find some way to return after pressing the self-destruct switches - which looks more and more mashed up every time you see it. The third teleporter is active though, so on you go.
- The Hanger (sic) is a predictably enormous map. Two large monster fights in vast areas of space (this map inspired Sandbox) separated by a run around some side areas to find switches. You don't have to use your weapons much here, all the monsters kill each other. The spiderdemon hardly lasts any time at all. At the end, you find an enormous glowing flying saucer. It takes off as you run towards it...
- Oh no, I've been teleported on board an alien ship! This level is really odd, but I was glad to note, only had 51 monsters, until I realised they were all archviles. Having said that there's plenty of cover so if you come on board with lots of ammo it's not too bad - its just that "eek" factor of archviles again. At the end, you trip the ship's self destruct mechanism.
- Teleporter central has now been completely destroyed and you find your way out into the caves beneath it. The exit is a heavily guarded free-standing hole in space. Could this be the source of the invasion? Of course being the fearless Doom marine, you step through...
What could be on the other side of a shimmering portal underneath the base? Well, guess!
- Alien planet. Crawling with monsters, nowhere to hide. Very hostile. Have to run over thin ledge surrounded by demons. Fall off, you're toast. All kinds of horrors on the other side. Few more switches to find and a megasphere if you can use an archvile to bounce you to it. You exit via a strange castle which builds itself and populates itself with monsters.
- Alien base. For some reason, looks exactly like the Equinox base, only in that black wavy metal they like and covered in a strange language. Inside, monsters, blood etc. The real heart of the complex is an enormous black underground cave, with a central control tower. To get in, solve some puzzles, including a maze where the ceiling comes down on you and another tunnel run through a crowd of demons. Also, the red key has to be seen to be believed. If you get this far - I can't do this map at all, it's too hard - the top of the tower from which the invasion is being organised can be destroyed. As the room explodes around you, you die - your last thoughts are that earth is safe again...
So, that's it. Some of the maps are very easy. Apart from the last version with the caves, teleporter central is usually doable in two minutes. The first entrance map is easy although tedious as it forces you to use the pistol a lot. The hanger (sic) is pretty easy as the monsters all kill each other and even the archvile spaceship can be done with care. On the other hand the genome labs are a bitch, it's not that there's a lack of ammo but you can't take it all with you, so when you start running out at the end it's doubly frustrating. Not to mention the test lab where you basically go up a slow lift to right where a cyberdemon is waiting for you, and then you have to fight it while being partially invisible. The alien planet isn't as hard as I first thought if you don't try for 100% kills, indeed the castle at the end can be bypassed if you straferun. But the last map is nearly impossible.
So what about this plot I keep on about? Well basically you can fit the original Doom plot to it quite well, but it doesn't quite work and that's what bugs me.
Imagine the ISA is the UAC and they encounter the hostile alien race which decides to wipe out humanity, starting with the ISA headquarters. They mount an invasion through a portal they open under the base. Contact is lost and you are sent in to investigate and whatever.
There's too much evidence of collusion for one thing. Why are Equinox's genetic labs being used to breed monsters (map 4)? Why have an enourmous stockpile of weapons, too (map 7)? Why indeed does the alien base resemble a copy of the Equinox base (map 13)? Furthermore, if the aliens can open a portal to the base why do they need to fly there in a spaceship, and take off hurriedly when they see what has happened to their army in the hangar (map 9)? And how the hell do you get back down from the spaceship after you destroy it at the end of map 10?
The nearest thing I can come up with is that the only actual aliens are archviles, and they're trying to enslave Earth using an army of creatures force-bred in vats. Equinox, a remote ISA station is used as a base of operations; the ship is there because they had to fly there first to set up a two-way portal to their home planet. This still doesn't explain the self-building castle at the end of map 12 or map 13's replica base, though. Whichever way I try to think about it, I find contradictions.
So like I said to begin with, that's probably why there's no supplied storyline at all! I'd do better sticking to the technical stuff, and leaving the imagination and creativity to other people.
It's just Doom, shoot the monsters...