CALDERA is a single level demonstration WAD exclusive to the author’s own PsyDoom port that brings over the PlayStation version of DOOM to PC. It was built to showcase various modding features from a backported and extended PSX DOOM engine, a hellish themed level blending together open and tight quarter environments utilising new textures pulled from OTEX and an extensive use of coloured sector lighting.
I never got around to playing DOOM until gifted a copy for the original PlayStation and that game terrified me to the core. Having already played through DUKE3D and QUAKE on the PC thinking I’d be prepared for what’s to come, there was something about it quite unlike most stuff I’d played up until that point, a suffocating atmosphere I wouldn’t come across again until playing SILENT HILL for the first time. From the creepy noises as monsters roam and heavy industrial doors slam shut, to an excellent yet demoralizing ambient soundtrack composed by Aubrey Hodges, playing through PSX DOOM felt dark and ominous where I’d prefer to sit in a safe corner. Even after getting hold of the PC version some years later, the act of playing it still scared me despite having a lighter tone comparatively that I’d opt to explore levels with monsters turned off. Horror is at the core of DOOM that resonated and stuck with me for many years, I didn’t put too much emphasis toward its action side until a later time.
Centred around a canyon hell scape brimming with lava, CALDERA takes those very aspects that captures a PSX DOOM experience to create an immense and haunting level soaking with atmosphere. What stands out here is its striking coloured lighting that becomes a visual identity across the board, taking full advantage of the dual colour system to blend warm and cold hues, softening the lighting in many places which gives them an eerie tranquillity at odds with the environment. Colour choice is typically restricted to muted tones like sickly greens when a situation doesn’t feel quite right, lighter blues around calmer areas or an outdoor crimson for that searing heat. Harsher contrasts are otherwise utilised to draw an immediate attention to certain routes or provoking thoughts of danger in the case of bleeding reds. Interior lighting tends to remain just dim enough to suit the mood, not detracting from combat except to push players toward more favourable positions. En route to the plasma gun is a deep blue, low lit hallway that doesn’t feel immediately hostile but does house a tough Cyberdemon encounter due to the limited space and being locked inside until he’s been dealt with. Instead there’s only cold malice here with pockets of red to raise flags, meanwhile the brightest points here ironically become dead ends. These points of colour in turn made areas remain distinctive which helped a lot for navigation considering the level’s more open layout and how often I’d make return trips to seek out leftover health supplies.
This journey involves a few choice routes, but primarily focuses around ascending the surrounding cliff edges and dipping through inhabited caverns and old dungeons that reach the higher elevations. Trekking outdoors is a riskier venture as demons on distant perches send over constant barrages, forcing haste while moving through these areas which too are packed with their own heavy skirmishes in an effort to stop that motion. Caves take an opposite stance, tighter and darker spaces but usually the safer option for securing additional supplies to make the climb a little easier. There’s a few detours available too, like an early route down the river of lava exists to skip ahead a few beats or optional paths to seek out firearms not found elsewhere. One of these includes a stacked staircase leading both upstairs one end and downstairs the other, a seamless and convincing illusion of floors above floors. Another point of interest includes a switch silently teleporting the player to an almost identical section that had me fooled for a moment with a nasty enemy composition waiting there. PSX DOOM never included an Archvile for technical reasons which CALDERA brings back in full force, first introducing them during an easy close quarter encounter to showcase their presence and then utilised during many subsequent battles. Grabbing the super shotgun gave me trouble because of the Mancubi behaving like walls as an Archie duo closes the gap.
Right upon hitting the precipice a lone switch awaits opening up some remaining stretch of goals, but also where more features are demonstrated one after the other; separate camera view points to see what a switch has triggered; an exploding wall as it collapses revealing a new path almost right out of DUKE3D; and jump pads to reach great heights, amongst others. These jump pads in particular stood out, not only offering an alternative method of traversal from one point to another but their main source of fun is thinking outside the box by using them to find secret caches. They did take some getting used to especially since I don’t normally play DOOM with its classic behaviour of infinite height enemies, which typically means their visual position doesn’t represent it’s actual collision box stretching from floor to ceiling. As such I’d make an attempt to leap across the chasm forgetting this and bumping into the empty space above one of the Mancubi beneath me, which only meant having to clean up house before continuing to pursue that path any further. From here on there’s still a blue skull key outstanding which brings with it larger waves to contend against going forward. Combat leans closer to that of more contemporary wads that have higher enemy counts, adding an action heavy conclusion for this experience going for a compact density. Whenever the Cybie ever got too close for comfort, I’d just hop into one teleporter leading to the opposite end, a useful tactic that allowed me to manipulate enemy positions relative to him. It’s only too bad I found the BFG once all is said and done.
Oozing atmospheric visuals and striking coloured lighting setups, CALDERA is not only gorgeous and distinct but also harnesses the darker ambiance that PSX DOOM excelled at, complete with its own custom ambient music to boot. Acting as a showcase for the features of PsyDoom, it succeeds just as well as a standalone level having the journey encompass most of the visible space climbing one cliff edge and finding access to the opposite side to finish up loose ends. It’s a haunting road to begin with and action driven as its closure.
PsyDoom: A backport of PSX Doom to PC