Notes: Similar to the caco's themselves, the reviews will be posted in three pages (first page 3 + second page 3 + third page 4). Each page will be a separate post however, and they will not all come out simultaneously. Links are to Doomworld's /idgames database and screenshots from various editions of /newstuff Chronicles.
Reanimated - Karthik and Varun
Both Karthik and Varun have produced good stuff. Karthik is most known for his Congestion Control maps, while Varun produced Short 'n Quick, two levels that live up to their name. Having been friends in the community, it was only sensible that a collaborative pack would come from them eventually. This effort came to fruition in Reanimated.
The two levels produced as a result of this effort are fantastic. Both have a brown/brick/base theme that is supplemented well by the orange sky. Without ever using too much detail, every area has been polished to look good and fit in well. Reanimated plays as good as it looks. The two medium-sized levels offer up a fair yet casual challenge, and easily keep one interested even though the only new feature is some Linkin Park music. The authors definitely had a success in working together and this is definitely not a mini-pack worth overlooking.
Simply Phobos - Paul Corfiatis + E2M9 bonus by Kristian Aro
Paul should need no introduction. He's been an author that has become very well-known over the years - pumping out Twilight Zone, Death Tormention, and leading 2002 A Doom Odyssey. His latest incarnation, Simply Phobos, is quite aptly named. It is (primarily) an full nine-map episode with all the hallmarks of Doom I's first episode in mind.
Be it the texturing, design, or just modestly challenging gameplay, Simply Phobos goes for and succeeds at producing that classic E1 feeling while incorporating some clear elements of Paul's style at the same time. Unlike Phobos Revisited, another prominent E1-based wad released around the same time, Simply Phobos borrows few homages from the original levels and instead simply goes to emulate the style. There isn't much to say about this that can't be said about other E1 replacements, other than that it's just as good and has been accompanied by a new soundtrack to boot.
Except, remember that "primarily" in the starting paragraph? That is because the package also includes a bonus level, E2M9, by the just-as-talented Kristian Aro. Kristian decided to go for the E3/E4 vibes in this level and created what is, arguably, actually better as an individual map than any level from the main epsiode. As you would expect, it is tougher, much more sinister/hellish, and contains the full crop of Doom I monsters unlike E1's select variety. It also, by all likelihoods, will take longer to finish than any of the wad's main levels. This level would have clearly been considered for a cacoward on its own right had it been released individually, though it would have most likely just missed the cut owing to Kristian's own awesome independent map this year..
Hollow Minds - Kristian Aro
Well you knew what was going to come next, didn't you?
Released just two months after Paul brought us Simply Phobos and exposed us to Kristian's awesome work there, Hollow Minds is a truly first class Doom II level. Let me start with a disclaimer - don't expect to get through this quickly. Hollow Minds is one behemoth, and it'll easily take the average player an amount of time to complete that is more resemblant of a short episode.
Let me make another disclaimer, namely that while the monster count of 422 initially on UV is quite moderate for a map of this size, don't go into this one expecting it to be any pushover! Hollow Minds starts out with relatively standard difficulty, but it keeps getting harder and harder from there right down to the finale. Surely, however, the seasoned Doom player can take such heat. And if they do, this map is quite the sight to behold. Made with mostly brown and brick textures, but throwing in the variety just where it is needed, this level's every room oozes with architectural near-perfection that doesn't simply rely on the tactics of excessive detailing to make it work. Add in the fact that the level is just slightly on the dark side, and a slow, soft music track, and the atmosphere in Hollow Minds is dynamite to be absorbed.
As already mentioned, this is one long, and eventually very difficult, map. The faint-hearted surely should not be playing this on the higher skill levels, and fortunately difficulty settings are implemented. But this difficulty, thankfully, doesn't come as the frustrating variety. Rather, it's a challenge you will adjust and adapt to as you explore further and further into the masterpiece of a level Kristian has given us to explore. The progression is smooth and it only adds to every other merit this map has to stand on. There is really nothing about this level that feels as if it wasn't planned well and executed accordingly, making Hollow Minds an easy candidate to be amount 2004's most exquisite single map releases.