Having not seen Boom’s friction sectors used to any large extent in other releases, Eater29 designed a swamp themed level that takes full advantage them. Trudging around the mud slows movement down to a crawl while having no effect on monsters, leaving players no choice but to adapt and pay attention to their surroundings.
I find it curious whenever a level takes an underutilised gameplay mechanic, builds an entire concept around that and then succeeds at making it work. Reducing player mobility becomes a significant theme across MUDMAN in many forms, approaching the idea from different angles so that moving around easily becomes a boon that must be fought for. While friction sectors remain a large part with how this plays out, there are sections focusing around claustrophobic spaces and dense monster congestion to take it one step further, usually on top of the central inspiration. One difficult hurdle is adapting to muddy physics as not only does it reduce speed, accelerating from a full stop is very tight and puts you into a vulnerable position. Ducking behind cover right before a rocket lands can be intense, meanwhile giving that Pinky demon time to creep up for a bite or two. That’s where pockets of solid ground dotted around come in handy for building up a regular running speed, but I wasn’t very good at doing this consistently alongside the pressure of enemies in my face. I’d opt to instead prioritise targets, move to safer spots regardless of risks and hoping that next explosive allows me to breathe a little longer.
Friction really changes how to approach an encounter that would otherwise be a simple task if these were regular surfaces, adding this constant pressure point similar to damaging floors such as lava, except going for a more engaging method to consider moment to moment decisions that don’t simply amount to losing health per tic. Any act to move through mud becomes a massive risk but absolutely required to stay alive since planting down to defend one spot won’t always be a viable option. Archviles and Cyberdemons exist to cause misery, exceptional at exploiting your lack of movement capabilities and Eater29 doesn’t hold back how often they appear either. It’s a horrible combination with no easy way out during most set pieces, yet an exhilarating feeling if surviving by a razor’s edge. On the bright side, MUDMAN Cybies do have a reduced health pool and are surprisingly squishier even with an SSG, making them more manageable under pressure and this helps prevent an experience turning into a slog, especially as they show up in higher quantities. Archies otherwise remain unchanged but become an absolute nightmare being stuck in the mud with one of them. Now try throwing in a double team ambush during an early encounter while I’m still getting my feet wet, too many close calls for comfort, just managing to slip around pillars before their attack lands or somehow blasting them into a stun state out of sheer luck. From that point forward I was sweating for what has yet to come.
MUDMAN is a consistently green and brown looking adventure dedicated to outdoor and cavernous swamplands, its design can be a little monotone but makes up for that with vast scenery and old ruins to break repetition. All those distant views aren’t simply for show either, potentially revealing a future battleground or perhaps somewhere previously fought at only seen from another angle. The environment kneads together a layout to involve a majority of visible space as very little exists for visual fluff exclusively, this place feels connected that I wouldn’t be surprised if events were taking place beyond these boundaries without my presence, helping to hide how linear routes leading forward really are. Three skull keys are needed for switches that unlocks a final stretch of challenges, a green skull is already provided during the initial phase that introduces players to friction and combat, leaving only a red and blue skull to fetch. Two paths leading away from a central hub point to their location, each involving their own long series of gauntlets to tackle before claiming the prize. I took a right path during my initial run which might have been a good call in hindsight considering some more difficult set pieces had I taken the opposite direction.
In an effort to not run this mud gimmick dry, many of the later scenarios approach other ways to limit player mobility. Smaller, tighter locations that funnel enemies toward your position while dissuading rocket usage. Enemies will then block paths toward vital resources often in situations when demons are being constantly crammed in where explosives would be ideal. Congestion as a method didn’t always sit well for me and relied too heavily on this to increase difficulty, however there were still some amazing challenges along the way despite this. Had to deal with a massive swarm of Imps pouring into a condensed cave system, seemingly never ending as they all make a beeline to my position from multiple angles. It was a fun task keeping them at bay maintaining what little foothold I had available, trying to remain in control and stay ahead of their pace. The southern temple fight and a battle just before grabbing a blue skull key are also tough due to high enemy counts, but both thoughtful in their design. The former provides a short period to make a big impact before being flooded, while the latter is all about infighting and positioning or otherwise be overwhelmed in seconds. I couldn’t quite find any thrill during the finale however, perhaps because there was far too much going on at once that neither enemy type got an opportunity to show off their strengthes, except maybe those in flight. Combat grew stale as roles became blurred, simply behaviing like walls with health, so my full engagement wasn’t quite there. I’d been playing up to an hour by that point thinking an ending was close by, so a short break might have been in order. On the other hand I don’t enjoy this particular flavour of slaughter in general and preferred most of what came before this section, especially the penultimate BFG arena versus staggered Cybie spawns.
Played on HMP as recommended by the author, while also mentioning UV having more ammo starvation and less health to work with which was enough convincing to bump down my usual difficulty selection for the first run. Balance still had enough bite in them where a few attempts would be enough to get past tough sections. One particular fight otherwise felt like a massive difficulty spike out of nowhere comparatively to other set pieces I’ve conquered. There’s a cavern housing three sleeping Archviles on pedastals and a Hellknight swarm ready to pounce once the switch is activated. Archies had wide sight lines with very few blind spots and defending these only gave HKs enough time to get close and flank escape routes. There was no brute forcing this either, many additional AVs were ready to replace whoever is killed and there’s added risk accidentally knocking down a survivor to have free roam. I died more times here than the whole level combined trying to understand what exactly was expected from me, always put under pressure from losing ground and being forced into a red zone. Eater29 cheekily added mud around cave wall edges as another hazard to watch out for knowing players would keep close to them for cover. I managed to succeed eventually having to do careful manipulation of enemy positioning, baiting attacks all while thinning the herd. This encounter in essence taught me different ways to think about tackling similiar situations, so while I didn’t enjoy the process to reach this conclusion, I did find it to be an excellent combat puzzle if otherwise over tuned for HMP in its current form.
Moving fast is our most valuable weapon in DOOM, so reducing mobility via different means created an engaging twist that spices up combat scenarios. Congestion is relied on a bit too much for my tastes but only became a notable chore during the final stretches. MUDMAN otherwise offers excellent set pieces after set pieces that challenge different aspects of this concept, slogging through mud being the scariest whenever put up against Archviles and Cyberdemons.
An MBF21 compatible port, see list at DoomWiki