I’m trying to keep a good balance on here between the kind of short, sweet WADs that can lure in new Doom players who aren’t sure if they want to get their feet wet yet, and the sort of massive epics that I live for. Chris Hansen’s High/Low 1 is firmly in the first category. This is the kind of WAD I probably should have started with: finely tuned and straight to the point — wonderful for testing the waters if you’ve ever been interested in Doom mods but haven’t taken that first step.
I’ve never worked in a place where PC gaming during lunch breaks were even an option, so part of me still thinks the so-called “lunch break game” is a myth. On the off chance they’re not a myth, though, High/Low 1 would definitely fit the criteria quite comfortably.
Short. Light weight. Gentle on the nerves. Fun.
The WAD is also (mercifully) one of those that I can play through during finals week — and play through again to get screenshots! — and not feel like I’m wasting several hours that I really ought to be giving to writing this final paper. It’s been a while since I played any of the High/Low series, but I was able to finish this one in ten minutes and sixteen seconds on my first attempt. If you’re extra cautious, let’s say it takes you about fifteen. A quick, pleasant jaunt — and I do mean pleasant; you’re not going to have too much trouble here, even on Ultra-Violence.
Thematically, High/Low 1 goes for the tried-and-true Doom Episode 1 deal, and while it’s nothing to write home about, I think it’s a lovely level. There’s some abrupt texture cutoff and odd pairings of wall textures to ceiling/floor textures in a few spots, but overall it’s quite varied and makes great use of the standard Episode resources. I couldn’t help being reminded, though, of all the discussion floating around after the recent Doom The Way id Did about what makes Episode 1 really Episode 1 — in particular, the idea that one of the defining features of the original levels is a surprisingly-low number of of 90-degree angles. High/Low 1 may take its cues from the original episode, but it’s still an extremely boxy level. Boxy doesn’t have to be bad, though; Chris Hansen proves that easily enough.
A great degree of height variation is a consistent motif throughout, which I think is where the name originally came from. You’ll be exchanging fire with a lot of dudes on ledges or in windows above you, or in pits below, and Hansen throws in a few flying cacodemons for extra vertical fun even if they aren’t strictly fitting in an E1 map. Generally, the firefights are intense but over fast, and you’re right on to the next. On that topic — flow, I mean — you’re led down a pretty linear path, sometimes winding over familiar territory as the level opens up new paths for you to explore. It’s quite straightforward and you’ll never get lost, but the map still feels free and open, which I’m always thankful for not just in Doom, but in any shooter.
In the end, if you offer High/Low 1 a sliver of your time, you’ll get a great return of fun on that investment. It’s not the kind of WAD you’ll see me gushing over the way I would for some of the bigger, more ambitious levelsets. Ultimately, it’s a really conventional, accessible level to whet your appetite for more Doom, or more High/Low specifically, but not something that’ll blow your mind. And if you’re interested, High/Low is a series that’s gotten progressively tougher and more complex with each offering, and we’re on the fourth one now! I seem to remember being especially fond of High/Low 2, so I’m looking forward to revisiting that one soon.
You’ll join me, won’t you?
High/Low 1 requires DOOM.WAD and was tested with ZDoom, and I personally played it with Eternity, but it should run in most source ports. If you’re not sure how to get it running, this may help. (For some reason, it won’t work in Vanilla Doom. )