REKKR is a total conversion mod for Doom developed by Revae, with music by Tom Jensen, sounds by TerminusEst13, and with contributions by a number of guest mappers. Compatible with all modern source ports and even with the original Doom executable, it's a tremendous piece of work. Available to download now.
Of all the many types of projects for Doom, the total conversion is the most comprehensive and ambitious. It requires the replacement of all of the game's assets: not only maps but also graphics, music, sounds, weapons, monsters and effects. In effect, a total conversion is not so much a mod for Doom as a new game that employs the Doom engine. Understandably, these projects are rare compared with those that add only maps because of the tremendous amount of work they require.
Announced in late 2016 and released this week, REKKR is a total conversion of striking quality and completeness. The game is set in an original world inspired by viking and celtic culture, and casts the player as a warrior (the meaning of the word "rekkr") who survives a shipwreck only to find that his homeland has been overwhelmed by otherworldly monsters. This opening is very much like that of the 2000 game Rune, but REKKR's world is a much less orthodox take on viking lore.
One of the most striking aspects of REKKR is its compability with "vanilla Doom": that is to say, it can be played in the original Doom executable despite the many technical and creative limits imposed by that format. It also means that the game can be played in any modern source port, from the very conservative Chocolate Doom, through PrBoom+, and right up to the more elaborate GZDoom. Revae and his guest mappers have done a remarkable job of working around and even taking advantage of vanilla Doom's limitations. The 35+ maps in the game employ a huge range of editing tricks, from a variety of faked 3D objects to the creative use of scrolling textures.
The possibilities of the Doom engine are immense, especially with modern source ports, but the immersiveness of REKKR's world in vanilla Doom is arguably second to none. The maps are not isolated challenges but unique locales within a cohesive environment. The player will explore a farm with a working windmill, a burning capital city, desolate villages, and even an extensive museum which contains a scale model of itself. Besides the text screens at the end of each episode, the levels themselves are the only means for REKKR to tell its story and they are tremendously effective in doing so.
The unique custom resources for the project are numerous and of a very high standard. In addition to a host of ordinary textures, there are many to fulfil specific purposes in certain maps which help REKKR resemble a commercial game circa around 1996. The maps employ a perfect mix of representation of "real" environments mixed with abstraction, which is the true strength of '90s FPS engines. At their best, these imaginitive maps recall the level design in Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior and Blood, the "holy trinity" of games using the Build engine from 1996-97. For example, while "Doom furniture" is a much-mocked trope of level design, it's used to excellent effect here.
As with other prestigious Doom projects of recent years, REKKR has a fully original soundtrack composed by Tom Jensen. He has written extensively about the influences behind the music, including traditional Scandinavian instruments and folk music. The score is often more subdued than that of many Doom creations, but its immersion in traditional music - while still being made in the comparatively limiting MIDI format - is fascinating. For their part, the original sound effects by TerminusEst13 can seem a little quiet (particularly for weapons) but are also of a very fine quality.
All of these custom resources would be of little significance were it not for gameplay, and in this area REKKR also frequently excels. The new weapons are a hybrid of magic and technology, and while they take some getting used to they eventually become a satisfying analogue to the usual Doom arsenal. The steelshot launcher (essentially a shotgun) has an excellent hand-crank reload mechanism which is beautifully animated, while there is also a staff which throws explosive runes. The maps can be confusing at times, especially in a few instances where lifts and locked doors aren't marked as such, and players should expect the occasional puzzle.
As the original Doom fast approaches its 25th anniversary on December 10th 2018, the community shows no signs of slowing the pace of innovative projects - even, as in REKKR's case, compatible with the original executable. Clearly a labour of love and a product of huge talents, REKKR would be worthy of a commercial release. We have the enduring Doom community to thank not only for its existence, but also its free availability. However many more excellent projects are released in Doom's 25th anniversary year, REKKR will definitely be among the best and most enduring of them and is essential for any fan of Doom and its derivatives.
I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.