Winter FPS Round-Up 2016

It’s that time of the year again for the winter solstice celebrations. Most of your plans for this season involve a large feast a few days after the solstice, an exchange of gifts and a general sense of merriment among friends and family. A small respite, of course, against the crop-killing seasonal cold weather outside your homes, which used to signify the rebirth of the sun as the days reached its shortest point for the year. Nowadays, with modern technology’s mastery of warm and cold, as well as societies having built infrastructure to keep the food supplies going throughout the year, such rituals to appease the gods seem quaint and unnecessary. However, Christmas, Yuletide, Saturnalia, Santo Tomas, whichever way you may call it, the tradition lives on, along with the general sense of peace and good tidings for humanity in general.

So what does that mean for our dear readers, most of whom among you are gamers? Well, that means that in our free time, we would be playing through a lot of winter-themed games, mods for games, and other miscellaneous content created for games, like maps and skins, be it with friends online and offline, or with family. Most of the time, the content we come across are familiar maps with a bit of snowfall added, or Christmas-themed variants of player characters, weapons or monsters created as skins. Sometimes, said content comes in the form of winter/Christmas-themed DLC for already popular games.

However, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Instead, we will be looking at the more larger-scale and original mods made for games that support them. We’re talking map packs that will keep us busy for hours on end. These are mods are created by fans for the community, for the community, with the spirit of the season and of celebration close to their hearts. So without further ado, here are some of our picks for this year!

Whitemare for Doom II

Val: Created by a group of mappers from the Russian Doom community, this mod is a collaborative effort with the goal to create a Christmas and winter-themed megawad for Doom II. A good portion of the maps were adapted from entries from an earlier speed-mapping contest and improved for the sake of quality and flow. The rest of them are created specifically for this mod. The basic plot of this mod is that the demons have invaded earth to disrupt the winter solstice celebrations, and you are tasked with sending them back to hell.

In this mod, you fight through 17 levels plus 2 secret levels through winter snowfields, snowed-in tech bases, Scandinavian rural houses, hellish snowed-in caves and snowy caves, culminating in a massive final fight in a snow field surrounding a giant fleshy demonic Christmas tree. Being that this is a mod comprising mostly of maps that were made in a very short amount of time, and then later tweaked, the qualities of each of the maps contained therein can vary quite a lot. You can finish a map that takes around 30 minutes to complete with over 300 monsters to kill, only to be placed in another map that has 13 low-level monsters and an average completion time of under a minute. The same could be said for the visuals and layout of the maps. Some of them can be very gorgeous and complex, with extra effort being made to make certain areas look authentic, while some could be very simplistic in its looks, making very spartan use of decorations and geometry. You can also find very complex layouts in which you could easily get lost in some maps, while in others, you would find little more than a series of wide open rooms that serve as arenas. All of this, put together, gives a feel that this mod is not the effort of any single author, but a conglomeration of several voices by several mappers within the community, and this undeniably gives a sense of variety to the mod that can only be seen in collaborative projects like this.

However, I do think that this mod is a little on the difficult side, with a lot of slaughter elements of combat added in. Expect to be beset with multiple active boss monsters and groups of Archviles. Expect to face down large hordes of revenants and barons with a limited amount of Rocket and Plasma ammo. Most importantly, expect to die a lot. This mod is definitely not for beginners, and if you find yourself unable to get past some of the mod’s more sticky challenges, it is highly recommended that you drop down the difficulty a couple of notches, or bring a couple of friends to help you frag the demons in co-op mode. After all, this is a mod made by, and for veterans of this game. Russian Doom veterans, no less.

> Download <

A Serious Christmas for Serious Sam 3

Val: Croteam has always been supportive of modding ever since they released their first Serious Sam game on 2001, with their release shipping with a map editing tool and a software development kit to create total conversions with. A decade later, Serious Sam 3 ships with an extended map editor that also allows for the creation of assets like monsters and the modification of weapons. Most festive offerings for Serious Sam games since then have been simple mods that add snowfall to the main and DLC campaigns, add festive decorations to weapons and monsters, and one-shot survival maps. So it is a pretty big surprise when a talented modder Noam 2000
(Full disclosure: He’s a friend of mine.) decided to create a meaty campaign spanning 3 levels and containing 2 hours of content. This mod tells a whimsical and humorous tale of how an evil snowman stole Christmas, and how it was up to Sam, playing as Santa, to take it back, fighting through legions Mental’s army in order to do so.

And what an army it is! With a total body count of around 2800 on the hard difficulty, this mod does not disappoint when it comes to allowing you to emancipate monster appendages from each other. You are given your weapons pretty quickly and you are almost never wanting of ammo to unload onto the oncoming horde. The fight choreography is also pretty well done too, always throwing at least 3 different types of monsters at you, and usually across wide ranges of threat levels. There is a very solid structure of fights to be had, and they are dynamic enough to keep you on your toes. The environments, while simple at times for a Serious Engine 3.5 level, are pretty gorgeous and well-varied. You have the caves and the mountainside woods of the first level, the gingerbread, cookie, chocolate and candy cane caverns in the second level, and on the third level, you have the alpine forest leading to a fantasy Christmas town and a cliff-side showdown. The music also does a good job of setting the mood by picking music that uses popular Christmas carol motifs.

Overall, as far as festive mods go, this is about as Christmas-y as they go. If you have Serious Sam 3 (Which you should!) and solstice survival maps aren’t enough to satisfy that seasonal itch for you, you could do a lot worse than to check this one out. And if this mod doesn’t give you enough of that Yuletide feeling, you could always use the festive weapons mod in conjunction with this one to enhance the experience. Or you could simply use a Freezethrower replacement for the Laser Gun to turn your enemies into ice sculptures. Just beware that this mod is clearly designed with co-op in mind and so if you plan to take on this mod, take a friend along, or be ready for long and hard fights.

> Workshop Download <

Christmas Extravaganza Map Pack 2013 for Doom II

Val: While the competitive scene for Doom isn’t as large as that for co-op and survival, there is a pretty strong thread connecting the history of Doom deathmatching and the community surrounding it. It goes as far back as 1994, with DWANGO having been used as the very first online service for such activities. Nowadays, the scene is kept strong with the Friday Night Fragfest events hosted within the Zandronum community. For those who don’t already know, Zandronum is the current de-facto source port and community for multiplayer Doom. So it is not surprising that, over time, there have been mods made that are specifically designed to be map-packs for competitive modes like Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, and Capture the Flag, among a few others. This is one of them.

Interestingly enough, this mod started production in 2010 as a map pack for Skulltag. This project aimed to create a set of Christmas-themed Deathmatch levels that are iterated upon and have content added to it every Christmas season by a small and ever-changing group of mappers and coders. Since Skulltag has been defunct for a while, the project had been carried on over to Zandronum where development on this mod has since been continued. While the latest iteration of this mod is 2015, it never got past the release candidate stage, and thus we will be looking at the final version of the 2013 iteration instead.

With 13 levels to frag in, it isn’t exactly the largest of mods, especially considering the general size of Deathmatch maps. However, it makes up for it in droves with quality. The layout of the maps are very intuitive and easy to learn, while not being too simplistic. In fact, the layout of some of the levels can be fairly complex, giving you plenty of cause to explore and learn some of their tricks. The weapon placements make a lot of sense, giving you a basic weapon on spawn or nearby, and the more powerful weapons either out of the way, or at the epicentre of the action. This dichotomy works, because whether a more powerful weapon is away from the action or in the middle of it, it makes you work hard to get to them, playing very well into the risk and reward mechanics that make deathmatching so engaging. Speaking of the weapons, the basic weapons are unchanged, making the Shotgun, the Super Shotgun, and the Chaingun very familiar staples of combat, while the melee weapons and the more powerful weapons are enhanced with extra effects to make them even deadlier. New weapons from Skulltag and originals have also been introduced, but with a few twists. The best part about these weapons, however, is the fact that you can switch between them twice as fast as normal, greatly increasing the feel of combat fluency and making weapon switching mid-fight a viable strategy when used well.

The real show-stopper of this mod, though, is the introduction of anomalies. In certain maps, or when certain conditions are met, events happen and NPCs spawn in to join in the fight. These NPCs could be anything from Santa with a Rocket Launcher and a can of whoop-ass, to very angry reindeer desperate to sink their teeth into your genitals.  They add an element of slowing you and your opponents down with an extra source of threat that could not only take you out of commission if you’re not careful, but also finish off your quarry, denying you points. Them being there is interesting enough, the real fun begins when a player finally manages to take one of them down, as they grant the player who killed them a power-up that gives them a massive edge against their opponents. However, taking them down is excessively difficult, requiring players to pump a massive amount of damage into them in order to kill them and get the power-up that they grant upon death, making it a matter of exercising last-hit tactics.

So all in all, this mod would definitely keep you and your friends pre-occupied for a few hours if you’re looking for Deathmatch/competitive experience. If you couldn’t get your friends together for a few hours for a frag-fest, or if you don’t have any friends, there is always the Single-Player competitive campaign with bots to keep you busy as well. Just be warned that the bots in this mode are quite brutal and merciless, and if your skills aren’t already tempered in the furnace of combat, you definitely will want to dial the difficulty down to the lowest setting for the sake of keeping your frustration levels low. Forget Overwatch! This mod has what you need to scratch that competitive itch, and it ain’t gonna cost you anything!

> Download from Thread <

H2H-Xmas for Doom II

Rayn: Next we have a 30-level Christmas-themed megawad called H2H-Xmas. This mod was created on the foundation of the H2HMud competition, which challenged players to play through and beat the maps created by a handful of mappers from the Head to Head Network. Later on, 17 extra maps as well as a Christmas theme were added, creating one of the first community-created megawads.

The levels inside all have a very similar style, with lots of snow-covered floors and various Christmas decor placed about. Enemies are often grouped together into rather tight spaces, which normally wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for the over-reliance on Revenants. This means that after one figures out the best strategies to defeat the revenant enemy, fighting large crowds of them one after the other becomes a little tedious.

Overall, the difficulty doesn’t really escalate well from level to level. The worst of it being the mod’s final level, where the strongest enemies are a couple of Hell Knights, and the level ends with a simple, unguarded button press.

But despite its flaws, I did enjoy the mod, mostly due to my strong bias toward Christmas themed games, especially those of the First Person Shooter genre. And as a Christmas mod, it’s very nice—especially the midi themes of classic Christmas songs. In fact, the songs are easily the highlight of the mod.

> Download <

Hell on Xmas Eve for Doom II

Rayn: And finally, we have Hell On Xmas Eve, which in contrast has much less of a Christmas theme with it. Sure, the enemies all wear little Santa hats, and the cacodemons are replaced by giant tree ornaments, but otherwise it doesn’t have much to do with the holiday, save for the music. A few new enemies were added to the game with the mod, but they don’t really fit very well with the Doom baddies, as the CGI modeling gives them an entirely different look.

While the levels escalate well in tension, the design itself is lacking, with parts of the map having enemy encounters that require a high skill for very little reward. One such example is a backpack toward the end of the mod that, upon taking it, reveals two archviles.

Overall, it’s an okay map set, though I really can’t recommend it as a Christmas themed map. It just doesn’t do enough with holiday setting to warrant checking out for the occasion, especially since the premise is lifted wholesale from the very infamous third-party expansion for Duke Nukem 3D; Nuclear Winter.

> Download from Thread <

There you have it, 5 hand-picked mods for Doom II on Zandronum and GZDoom, and Serious Sam 3 for you to play this solstice season to get into the spirit of celebration and goodwill to all of mankind. Whether you like to play solo, or co-op with friends and family, or to get together and frag each other, there is something for everyone to enjoy, not only as a gamer, but as people bonding together, strengthening friendships and sharing each other’s affections. I hope everyone reading this have a happy holiday celebration with lots of friends, families and partners to share your gifts, love and cheers with, and with good health and blessings to all of you. Merry Christmas!





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