OK. I was able to get out of my softlock predicament by restoring from the last save point. Apparently there’s a distinction to be made between save points and checkpoints. I found in the game menu where I could choose which to restore from, and got back outside of the thermal door that I was locked behind.
I explored Cataris a bit and found another path, which lead to a partial Energy Tank, and a dead end.
Not knowing what else to do, I did a little reading and cheated a little bit. It turns out, I was on the right track when I went to Dairon after all. I found a shootable block floor that got me past the initial point where I thought I couldn’t proceed.
The enemies here are really strong, deal a lot of damage, and are more aggressive. They also take more hits to kill. I find, though, that the melee counter move is a great equalizer. When they charge in to hit me, I learn, I can melee counter, then finish them off with a single shot from the beam cannon. It’s risky, since if I don’t time it right, I get hit and take damage, but if I’m successful it’s the fastest way to take out the flying enemies that like to swoop at me, and when I kill them, they drop a ton of life and missles.
There’s another type of enemy in Dairon, these little laser tank guys that traverse the ceilings and floors. They’re short, and hard to hit when they’re on the ground, since your regular straight-ahead shot will pass over it, you have to aim at them, which means you’re stationary, and a sitting duck for their precisely aimed laser shots. The shots are powerful, so the best way to take these enemies out is with missiles. It takes 2 or 3 hits to drop them, though, so mostly I try to move quickly and get past them before they can get a shot off.
There’s also some ripsaw traps that spring out of the ground and zoom at you. These can’t be destroyed permanently — they’re just shots that an automatic ripsaw generator spawns, so it seems like the best strategy again is to move quickly and get through without taking damage as much as possible.
I find a save point, but I’m paranoid about getting softlocked here, still, so I don’t use it. I continue exploring, and I get to an area where the power is out. The rooms are dark, dimly lit only by little glowing LED-like lights on the powered-down equipment that’s in the area. Dairon looks like some kind of industrial zone.
I come to a room where I can turn the power on, and do so. And after exploring further, I find what I came for: the wide beam power up. Acquiring it means that I’m no longer soft-locked if I go back to Cataris. I can open new doors and move blocks with this weapon. It also hits a little harder, and because of its triple-wide spread, I don’t have to be quite as precise with my aim now. I like it.
I want to head back to Cataris now to find out what else I can find now that I have this new ability. On my way out of Dairon, I encounter another EMMI, run from it, escape, and eventually I make my way back to the train that goes to Cataris.
Back in Cataris, I find that indeed, I’m no longer softlocked near the area of the train station. So I should have trusted the designers more, and not assumed that they had made it possible for me to get stuck in a place where I didn’t have the ability I needed to move forward or backward. I just didn’t have the confidence to think I was ready for Dairon’s harder enemies, when in fact the designers of the game were offering me a challenge, pushing me forward by preventing me from going backward.
It’s actually good level design. I take back what I said last entry. In large sprawling maps where you need to backtrack at times in order to reach areas you couldn’t previously, you do need to have some one-way funnels and chokepoints that will prevent you from going too far down the wrong path and getting hopelessly lost, looking for something to help you in an area where you won’t find it. Doing it by temporarily blocking off the route you came from creates a lot of anxiety at first when it happens, because it cuts you off from where you felt safer and familiar, and forces you in a direction where everything is unknown, but likely to be even more challenging. It’s fantastic, really.
Now that I’m back in Cataris, I’m trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next. The wide beam should have opened up a few new routes that I can explore, but the region is large and I didn’t mark the spots on the map were the wide beam is needed, so now I’m just trying to find my way back. Running through the EMMI’s patrol zone, it’s a bit dangerous. I try to run it quickly and avoid detection as best I can. But the path is a bit of a maze, and I end up taking wrong turns and going in circles at times, which lengthens my time stuck in Cataris. A few times I end up getting captured by the EMMI, but I also manage to break free of it a few times. It’s still a low percentage chance to survive, but I’m getting a little better with the timing of the countermove that you need to get away, and I’ve pulled it off several times now. But it’s pretty difficult.
I’m not 100% sure there isn’t something more to do in the EMMI zone, but right now I’m just trying to make my way back to near the beginning of the level, if I can get there now, and I’m not sure that I can yet, even with the wide beam power.