Mayhem Mansion by Logic Obscure Productions is the first FPS to be covered on Indie Overlook and I can’t think of any game which would serve as a more fitting way of welcoming in this genre to the site. Containing a collage of assets from other games mixed in with custom ones, this Doom II mod is surprisingly polished, utterly bizarre, and has more content than you can shake a gun at.
I love it when games have plenty of enemy variety and when it comes to monsters weirder is always better. The formidable foes of Mayhem Mansion disappoint in neither variety nor design and, while the credit for some of the designs goes to Exploding Lips, a much older and even more obscure FPS which Mayhem Mansion is inspired by, much of the wonderful strangeness comes from this game alone. TV’s sprout legs and shoot balls of static from their screens, innocent desk lamps will fire upon you with an endless barrage of eyeballs, lemons will sprout wings and fly through the air while discharging lightning, and, of course, giant disembodied lips will spit out bombs. There are over 30 different monsters in this game, only a few of which are variants on other enemies, and each of them has a unique method of attack. Without fail, several new enemy types are added in every level and older foes come back stronger and tougher than before. By the time you reach the final area, you’ll be dodging be dodging around teleporting slimes while desperately trying to take out a laughing umbrella monster before the humanoid helicopters arrive.
Enemies aren’t the only source of variety in Mayhem Mansion. The original version of this game came with a single rather lengthy level which was, not unexpectedly, a mansion loosely based on the layout of Exploding Lips. Since then, several new levels have been added, including a factory, an island, a second mansion, and more. Though this game is based on the Doom II engine, jumping and crouching are in and there is plenty of platforming-based exploration to be had. When I said this game was lengthy I wasn’t exaggerating either; these maps are enormous and a first run through is likely going to take roughly 20 hours even without going after every secret. There’s also no need to worry about the maps becoming monotonous as, even though each has a general theme, there is plenty of variety to be had within the maps themselves. For example, Level 4 is the island map of the game and, among other things, it has a jungle, mines, an indoor wooden village, a massive region filled with lava, and a volcano temple with a psychedelic interior more closely resembling the inside of a body than the rocks and lava which you would expect.
You’ll be running back and forth across these maps constantly as you find one nonsensical item or another to complete various takes (ex: placing a ‘severed thumbs up’ on a switch), but the game is usually remarkably adept at guiding you in the right direction without blatant forcing you down a specific path. To help in your almost Metroidvania-esque traversal of these maps, shortcuts and teleporters leading to the rooms which serve as hub areas are common and side areas are sometimes blocked off after you complete any necessary tasks inside them in order to prevent you from aimlessly wandering into large parts of the map which no longer serve any purpose. With the sheer amount of enemy and environmental variety and some neat gimmicks along the way, such as how Level 5 takes away jumping and adds in fall damage and how clothing acquired halfway through Level 3 allows you to walk across previously-deadly lava, Mayhem Mansion isn’t just massive, it’s also a game which manages to constantly come up with new ways to surprise and challenge you.
Guns aren’t the only weapons here and in fact they only account for a quarter of the weaponry available. There are eight weapons in total and each weapon has an alternate attack tied to the right mouse button. You start every stage with access to a fast close-range sword slash and an alternate attack in the form of tossing out an unlimited supply of weak magical boomerangs. You usually don’t want to get close enough to most enemies to be able to hit them with the sword in the first place, but the boomerangs are useful despite their low damage because they have virtually limitless range and can be tossed around fairly quickly, making them a very reliable way to save ammo in easy fights. Other than bombs, which are very limited and usually used more for breaking down certain walls than for actually attacking, the remaining weapons all make use of ammo, arrows, or magic. A musket and a rifle are the two guns of the game, the latter of which isn’t available in the earliest levels, and they complement each other nicely. The musket is slow, strong, only really works at close range, and has an alternate attack which deals even more damage at the cost of three ammo and a significant amount of knockback for the player while the rifle rapidly consumed ammo to shoot a steady stream of weak long-range pellets with an alternate ‘sniping’ mode which allows for improved aiming and even more speed. Meanwhile, the arbalest is another one of your main weapons and it has quite a bit of versatility as its normal attack is, with one very late exception, the only attack in the game which consumes arrows to accurately shoot at enemies with a medium firing rate (and arrows can be picked back up if they miss) and its alternate attack consumes magic instead of arrows to shoot out a trio of heavily-damaging, gravity-defying explosives.
The last of the core weapons of the game isn’t exactly a weapon at all, but rather a set of magic scrolls which grants access to three different spells which can be cycled between by right clicking. These spells are definitely fancier than a fireball and consist of shooting out an anvil which explodes into a blast of ice when it hits something, tossing forth a banana which summons a swarm of exploding monkeys, and, perhaps the most useful of all, a spell which fires a flowerpot in a straight line which in turn creates a downpour of bombs for several seconds after it hits something. The anvil and banana spells can hurt you if you’re too close, especially the banana as I’ve had a few deaths caused by the banana colliding with a nearby wall and immediately creating a swarm of monkeys right next to me, so I prefer to generally use the flowerpot spell unless I’m up against a particularly mobile enemy. However, each spell also has a use outside of combat, such as the ice anvil’s ability to freeze quicksand, and all three spells have situations in which they can shine. Other than these spells and the previously-mentioned weapons, you also can gain access to a staff which mainly serves to set down lightning traps on the ground to stun weaker enemies and a second set of very strong spells which consume multiple types of ammo to cast, but both of these items are only found in the later parts of the later levels and the second one is especially rare. Lastly, several consumable items also exist, such as a health potion and a totem which stays in place and sends out waves of fire in a circle around it. Overall, Mayhem Mansion may not have as many weapons as some other FPS’s, but the weapons it does have are all useful and balanced around each other.
I’ve already written about the impressive amount of enemy variety, but I have yet to discuss just how much polish there is in the actual design. If you want to avoid taking unnecessary damage, you definitely will want to play this game with headphones on. Nearly every enemy in the game makes a unique sound even when it hasn’t noticed you, allowing you to identify what you’ll be up against and what general direction it’s located in even before you step through a door. In fact, the larger, black-and-white versions of the television monsters are more threatening than the standard versions almost entirely because they don’t give off the telltale sound of static. Many enemies are also weak against specific types of damage and you can learn each enemy’s weakness easily enough because an enemy will always drop ammo upon death for whatever type of weapon it is weak against. The weapon weakness system and the unique enemy noises are handy, but Mayhem Mansion expects you to take full advantage of them; being able to identify an enemy and its location from sound alone in order to swap to the most effective weapon to use against it before turning around a corner and immediately opening fire is often the only thing standing between you and several dozen points of damage. With just these two systems, the gameplay gains a surprising amount of depth as you learn to prioritize enemy types, rapidly swap between weapons mid-fight, and use sound to dodge out of the way of attacks of enemies even if they spawn behind you.
Mayhem Mansion is a retro FPS through and through and not only due to the lack of cover-based shooting and regenerating health, but also because each enemy has a unique, visible, and avoidable form of attack instead of virtually instantaneous and invisible bullets. There are far too many enemies to discuss all of their attacks here, but there is enough creativity here that I definitely want to go over some of my favorites. Small slimes attack in groups and will slosh their way towards you, but they have a particularly nasty trick up their nonexistence sleeves; slimes will periodically vanish for a second or two and then reappear much closer to you in an attempt to spike upwards and rapidly stab you. Trolls are slow, have no ranged attack, and die after only three arrow shots, but they are also big enough to get in the way during combat, they take a good number of hits from anything other than arrows, and they split into several smaller, faster trolls after you kill them. Obake are hopping umbrella monsters with maniacal laughter and the ability to create orbs of lightning in a large area around them which split into several highly-damaging orbs after a few seconds; these yokai-inspired enemies even can revive weaker enemies near them so I always make it my top priority to rush in and take them out whenever I hear one laughing. ‘Shady hands’ are floating black phantoms which have the ability to pass through walls, but their main danger comes from the fact that damaging or killing them causes them to ‘bleed’ sludge which sticks to the ground for a few seconds and rapidly drains your health if you touch it, making it difficult to deal with them without getting cornered if there is a large group of them. Between sounds, weapon weaknesses, types of attacks, and movement capabilities there are plenty of differences between the enemies here and it’s always fun to see how groups of enemies combine their strengths and to figure out how best to handle each situation.
The only criticism I have for the enemy design is in the fact that several of the end-of-level bosses have far, far too much health with the Level 5 boss being particularly awful as it is capable of soaking up hundreds of bullets and dozens of both arrows and magic attacks before it finally goes down. Bosses gain one or two new attacks as they get lower on health, but this isn’t enough to balance out the fact that these fights just drag on for far too long and the main source of tension often comes from worrying about if you’ll run out of ammo and be forced to rely on the boomerang as a last resort even if you’ve gone into the fight with a full or nearly full supply. On the plus side, the developer has stated that they’ll probably adjust boss health in the upcoming 0.5 patch, but this is still definitely an issue with the current version.
A final point to note is the shop system created for this game. Coins are scattered around everywhere, enemies often drop them (and always drop them if you kill them with the boomerang), and there are plenty of chests sitting around just waiting for you to whack them with your sword so they can spew forth money. Shops are scattered around each level, but they all sell health, armor, and ammo refills as well as a variety of consumable items, though just which consumables are sold varies between shops. Later stages also spice things up more with the addition of a handful of rare silver coins and one item in each shop which can be purchased for the price of a single silver coin. Silver coin items are not necessary for completing a level, but they can include weapons and extremely rare and strong consumables. With this shop system in place, a greater degree of flexibility is added to your reward for finding secrets and you never need to worry about completely running out of ammo for long, though it certainly helps to save up for consumables if you can.
Mayhem Mansion is a game which proves that it is possible to offer an experience which is novel and strange while still containing polished, exciting gameplay. It may be a Doom II mod inspired by Exploding Lips, but there is nothing else out there quite like it.