DOOM WAD Retrospective – The Portal

No, it has nothing to do with the 2007 game, probably because it predates it by ten years.

The Portal is a Wolfendoom WAD, ie a Wolfenstein themed mod for Doom (2). The author, Laz Rojas, made an entire series of these. I’ve played quite a few of them, and although I thought they were really awesome when I first played them, looking back, not so much. These WADs were made in the late nineties and the early 2000s. Most of them require a BOOM-compatible port (Legacy is recommended by the author- GZDoom remains my recommendation). Everything is done with DeHackEd patches and the gameplay remains largely the same- use switches and keys to advance, shooting everything in your way. No DECORATE or ACS here.

Premise-wise, Portal is a prequel to the Astrostein series (reviews coming soon). It’s set in the Wolfenstein universe, and you play as B.J. Blazkowicz (sp?). Not Chell. The Nazis have found a Stargate time portal under the sands of Egypt. You’re sent in to destroy it before they can accidentally the timeline. This is all explained in the readme, of course- as far as I know storytelling in DOOM mods was nonexistent at the time. Remember, no scripting.

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Without the above context, you’re some random guy (presumably Doomguy) who’s standing outside some kind of Nazi base in the middle of what looks like an Egyptian digsite. Right away, I get a positive visual impression of this mod. Some of the objects turn to face you since they have only one sprite- this predates GLDEFS. It looks good, even with the restrictions of near-Vanilla Doom. The digsite looks like a digsite. Considering how bad the original game and a lot of WADs were in this regard, instant bonus for that.

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This digsite basically has you facing a bunch of German soldiers and a few dogs. There’s actually a decent amount of cover, so I didn’t have trouble even with my unconventional (for DOOM) tactics. There are a couple of pits and one guy who shoots at you from above- mouselook is your friend. Within this first area I run into the first instance of my biggest complaint with this WAD- mandatory secrets. There’s an entrance to a sort of office(?) building behind some trees that you have to go into to open a gate to advance. Putting in an obvious door would have made it look and play better. I’ll admit the first time I tried playing, I died horribly from impossible-to-kill dogs. Turns out ZDLSharp can’t tell what a deh is and tries to load it as a WAD. Adding -deh “portal.deh” to the command line fixed that.

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We’re in. This a pretty good looking Egyptian tomb, though it basically consists of a long line of wide, twisting corridors. This is where the mod starts to fall apart a bit.

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Look at the dispersal pattern of the STG44 (which didn’t exist when the Germans were in North Africa, but oh well). It’s still a shotgun. It fires a bit faster, but the dispersion pattern is all wrong. Oh, and it still has bottomless magazines, but reloading is hard to do even with DECORATE. The pistol is the Doom pistol, same with the chaingun. It’s not a weapons mod, though I would prefer a KAR98K and MP40 I think the modder was going for a Wolfenstein feel. Weapons aside, I swore that chaingun turret made an Arachnotron sound when it died.

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But those are fairly minor issues. What we have is- again- a mandatory secret! The door doesn’t work at all. You have to go back and mindlessly hammer the walls (or just open it up in Doom Builder and check) for a secret passage into the next area. Seriously, not cool. In the process of finding this passage (I remembered its existence but not its location) I found two other secrets.

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There’s some treasure and a megasphere in here. Again, annoying issue. Like all the Wolfendoom mods (to my knowledge), The Portal uses the armour counter for treasure. Which works… until you pick up 200 armour from the megasphere. The eyes shoot fireballs at you, by the way, so watch out for that.

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I’m not sure what this is, to be honest.

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The last part of the level is an excruciating maze of switches and keys and backtracking and… well, it sucks. I don’t know about Wolfenstein, having only played a little of it, but Doom wasn’t this painful. Go here, flip switch, go back, get key, go forward… basically like that. It’s repetitive, gives no hints as to what you’re supposed to do, and it’s just plain boring. And convoluted enough to qualify as an actual test chamber. The environments are very well done, as always, but you can’t jump down from raised areas for some reason (impassable linedef I think).

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There’s the pre-3D Floors water, which was cool for the time but, well, it’s pretty lame now. Still, it looked okay- too bad it was part of the maze of pain. I’m just not sure how logical it was to have in this level- oh well. It was good considering what the modder had to work with at the time.

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The ending is better in terms of gameplay. You enter a big chamber full of soldiers with a pair of those creepy fireball-shooting eyes. Again, this map is surprisingly well designed in regards to cover considering that Doom is basically run and gun. There are some pillars to hide behind and pick off enemies from long range, which I of course did. This was a nice, big, very Egyptian-looking room. After that, it’s the portal chamber itself.

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Yeah, not much to it. The titular portal is on the other side of that fire. Some enemies appeared just as I exited the level. And then… nothing. It skips to the original Underhalls. I guess at this point you’re supposed to quit and load up Astrostein. I know it was technically impossible at the time, but I would have liked to have seen an ending cutscene or even a text screen to cap things off.

All in all, The Portal is a visually impressive mod hampered by awful gameplay. Of course, it has all the same issues of mods at the time- limited DeHackEd weapon modding, fake water, and no scripting. I think the concept is good, it looks good, and premise-wise it could work. But it’s atrocious to actually play, and that’s just too bad.

Overall Score: 4/10

The Good: Looks great. Clever use of limited resources, including DeHackEd and fake water.
The Bad: Switch and key hunts, MANDATORY SECRETS!
The Ugly: No portal gun, Chell, or GLaDOS.

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