Saturday, January 22, 2022

Pathways into Darkness - Circles

Its a really bad idea to fight a zombie with a knife
Pathways is shaping up into a dense game. No sooner do I enter the next level, They May Be Slow... than am I face-to-face with another headless. Its a pretty standard situation on this level to wander into a room with three exits, with two headless and one zombie coming in from those exits. I'm starting to see zombies appearing in areas I've previously cleared out, which is a lovely thought for ammo consumption.

The number of phantasms are grossly exaggerated
In the left side of the central passage is another dead German, Hans. He tells me about specters, things that are immune to bullets, grenades and knives. Which is unfortunate for me. He was also the one with the ammo, which he hid in a skull in a room of bones. I actually found that before talking to him, since it seemed suspicious and I searched it.

These guys are really hard to see if they're against the darkness
On the left path, however, there's a secret passageway, next to a spot that causes everything to disappear. This is just a path up, nothing of value here. On the next level is a ghostly enemy, no doubt the spector, called in-game as Phantom, who kills me because I am unable to defend myself. I assume that somewhere on the last level is a weapon or crystal that allows me to damage them.

Enemies march single file a lot in this game

Back to exploring the last level, I finally level up with the P4. What's the benefit? I do more damage, taking out the Zombies in 3 hits rather than 4, or 2 up-close. It may actually just improve accuracy, but its kind of cool since the only improvement Shadowcaster had was to health and mana. Normally I don't care for Deus Ex-style weapon experience, but maybe the usage thing here is making my opinion less sour.
Otherwise the level is mostly a smooth experience. The number of zombies doesn't matter since I have plenty of ammo, bolstered by the ammo Hans and another dead German left me. What's troublesome is that there are three paths up, including the secret one. Clearly, there's something here I've missed. I go back to the second dead German I found, who I didn't think had much of anything to tell me. I realize pretty quickly I should have asked him about people, because they went through a secret wall. A wall I actually went through while dropping items. This has a blue crystal that can freeze enemies. Does it work against the Phantoms?

This is still good visibility
Yes! However, that doesn't make phantoms easy, since they have a hitscan attack. And the freezing attack doesn't last long on them. At least it only takes 2 shots to take them out. What's worse is that the path back is blocked, undoubtedly why there are multiple exits here. I have to rest a couple of times, bringing the time to noon Sunday. At least the blue crystal is allowing me to make short work of most enemies. It makes the gun feel sort of pointless now, except in situations where there are way too many enemies. And its great for clearing out those dark hallways, enemies have had the first strike on me until now.

At any point, an enemy could approach anywhere

Curiously, this level only had one phantom, no doubt a subtle method of getting players to search for secrets. Or maybe it was just the other phantoms were in different sections, I left this map without much of the area explored, partially done because the path forward was just so long. The next floor, Evil Undead Phantoms Must Die, really lays on the number of enemies thickly. The starting area has you completely surrounded. Its a bit troublesome to get past. Then, the unthinkable happens, my blue crystal breaks and right when a phantom is approaching. Clearly, I can't abuse it as much as I have been, it must be carefully used. Oh, I hope I didn't use it too much earlier.

Just imagine an entire mapfull of this
The following level is very nerve-wracking. At first I assumed the levels were designed the same way Wolfenstein's were, that is to say, randomly. But no, there's a very clear progression going on here. The first couple of levels usually had plenty of room to maneuver outside of hallways. Here, the level design is devious. You have endless rows of pillars, except every other line is shifted by one. Which is tricky to deal with enemies at the speed I can sidestep. The game just has a pearl hanging out on the ground sometime in, as if to say, "You survived that, here you deserve this".
I am almost certain at this point that the game is spawning enemies in cleared out areas because of certain triggers, rather than randomly. Two zombies were guarding a ladder up, but I always and I mean always got attacked in the back by some headless. Even if I waited for a while, there they were. I also find here, another secret passage, this time leading to Lock & Load. Hmm, are all these secret passages just ways to speed through the area to get the golden ending, presuming there is one?
Haha, I win...barely

As this level is proving to be a bit much for my abilities at the moment, I take another ladder up. Hopefully at some point I'm going to find some way down. And its worse. The new colors are a nice touch, but the game is starting to expect me to dodge enemies in a long corridor. Its possible, but I feel like the game is trolling me. Not to mention the area out of the ladder is a corridor, and yet a zombie appears behind me. I even make it through these enemies, fight through a small room of shifting pillars, and finish it off by getting killed by a phantom a few squares away from a save point.

Hey, just like me!
Past that group is a set of rooms that loop back in on themselves, with one of the doors being closed. As I enter the first room, the door closes behind me. I get it. It goes smoothly, my skill in the P4 increases to expert, and then, tragedy strikes...the blue crystal shatters. I've been making my saves over one. I had two saves, one at the beginning and one I've been using as a regular save. I was planning on making my next special save before going down, but it seems like that was a poor choice on my part. Back to the start.

I guess the draw distance is intentional rather than a technical limitation
After making my way back, only using the crystal on the phantoms, I deal with the biggest collection of enemies the game has thrown at me so far. Only a pair of alien pipes are my reward, no doubt the instrument Muller was using. Don't quite understand the logic myself, but there doesn't need to be one. With the secret shortcut, I get back to the entrance pretty quickly.
Meet my new best friend
With the alien sound of TOOT TOOT TOOT, the doors open. What's inside? Ghouls. What are ghouls? They're fast, and they deal a ton of damage. They're not as hard to fight as the phantoms, but that's just because I don't need to use a slowly reloading crystal. While the ghouls are defeatable in melee, they don't enter their pain state enough to make this a sure thing. They're very annoying to fight because getting up close is quite difficult, and they usually come in groups with the skeletons, who can't be stun-locked. There are two paths down, but one has another new enemy that seems to be too much for me as of yet.
Yes, there are many of this guy in this section

I can quickly go through two floors on this path, because the one area available to me is seemingly locked off for now. I should note that the two paths don't lead to the same level, they're different ones, clearly I'm supposed to escape through one. This area has four groups of two ghouls and another German soldier. He doesn't tell me much, just that there were 18 Germans in the expedition and that I can use the knife to take out the ghouls. One thing I'm finding annoying is that lone stragglers tend to be just as dangerous as groups I'm prepared for, simply because I rarely expect them. Its been happening ever since I got the blue crystal again.

Its always a fun time waiting for these guys to approach

The next level I can actually explore is Welcome, Tasty Primate, which is clearly designed in some way to tick the player off. Two paths, ones which probably turn in on each other, which are traversed in a long hallway with short side corridors alternating blocks. It does, but not in an obvious way. There's a central area, as expected, but it isn't symmetrical. Made me think there was a secret at first, but no. The exit is on the left side...which leads back up. There's no treasure here. This doesn't mean there's no way down from here, because I saw a door I couldn't open, but it does mean the game is getting trickier.

Up-close goodness
Wrong Way, that is, the level I couldn't go through before, is essentially a series of corridors twisting around a central area. Many, many doors are visible, but none of them seem to be open. What's the path forward? Down again! To the same kind of path I just went down. It seems a flaw in this game is that every level has one trick, and its not going to deviate from that trick too much. Wrong Way has its circles (or squares) and Welcome, Tasty Primate has an alternating series of corridors.

That seems kind of low-grade for an elder god
There's another German down here, this time it seems his mind has been corrupted by the thing. Not sure if I'm supposed to know about the elder god/alien in universe or not, since that could be on a need to know basis. The first sign that something is happening beyond endless creatures. I even find the door back in, except I can't open it yet.

Even his attack seems unthreatening

But in a path I didn't take, and naturally closed off from the other path, contains a silver key. Guarded by a nightmare. That's what they're called. Its the least intimidating thing so far, which may make it very intimidating to fight. Like all enemies, it shoots a projectile, except this projectile causes the screen to fade into greyscale briefly. This is shaping up to be the first game to have proper hit effects, compared to the usual flashing of the screen one color.

Are we sure it isn't just water?
So what's in those rooms? Nightmares, but it is clever, since you're practically guaranteed to get hit by the first one you meet. Especially if you try to fight them in melee, they seem to explode and deal damage in that case. This nets me an orange crystal and a blue potion. The former is a red stunning magic, meaning no more worries about shades, period, and the latter heals me, useful if I can't or shouldn't rest. Not that the latter is much of a problem. Its still Sunday, albeit late Sunday. Assuming this game is around 30 levels long, and I'm gone through about 8 levels.
The difficulty's in a weird position, because I'm dying fairly frequently, but not advancing the time too much. Part of this is because I've replayed the opening section a couple of times, but even in the underground section it doesn't seem like my failures result in me wasting time. Another part is that this is the last Wolf-clone I had yet to play, so I've had some experience in this. For a Mac-exclusive gamer, this might be much harder. Outside of a few oddities, this is the first actual FPS for the system to my knowledge.

This Session: 2 hours 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 hour 50 minutes

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