level: T-lab complex
author: Samuel 'Kaiser' Villarreal
click here to download the map
3D gamers edge gold award winner!
- awesome architecture
- incredible layout
- great action
- extreme challenge
- superior gameplay flow
- great atmposphere
- frustrating at times
- unclear goals
- too much backtracking
- thin plot
- "clock" room??
wow. just wow. when i dropped this 17MB pak in my D3 directory i had no idea it was going to give me so many hours of incredible gameplay. and this coming from a guy who claims to be just learning 3D level design. there is so much to do, so much to admire, so many unique locations, so many enemies to vanquish, that you are sure to spend a great deal of time in the T-lab, and i assure you that it will be time well spent.
within minutes of entering the T-lab it is evident that this is a well polished creation. it shows in the details. each location you encounter looks real within the context of the D3 game universe. textures are placed with great care, always giving the appearance of something solid, tangible, and believable - there are no instances of unrealistic textures being slapped into place because it 'looks cool', as you will find in many amateur maps. ambient sounds are persistantly used to excellent sublte effect. they never overwhelm, nor disappear and leave you in sterile silence. this is a creation where everything atmpospheric: texture use, architecture, lighting, sound - all come together to create a real location that will immerse the player instantly, and make them feel that they truly are in the T-lab.
the pace starts off slowly, letting you explore your surroundings before you are forced into combat. the leisurely pacing sets the tone and sends a message: there is no hurry, you have a lot of work ahead of you. relax and enjoy it while you can, for soon enough it turns into a brutal nightmare of unrelenting battle with the minions of hell. as you slowly explore the opening rooms of T-lab, be sure to notice the cool new sound f/x added to the game. they inject a sense of newness and unfamiliarity to the level. they pull you out of the mindset of "i've been here before, i know what to expect", and place you in a less comfortable mental space. it is a message that samuel sends early and often in this map - you might think you know what is going to happen, but he has many surprises in store for you. i would love to describe and give well-deserved praise to many of the unique happenings in this level, but i do not wish to spoil the fun for those of you who have not played this map. suffice to say you will be surprised, there are still new tricks available in this great game, and samuel has put his own unique spin on things.
the journey through T-lab is memorable and filled with moments of awe. much as in the retail game, you begin in the relative clam of a futuristic UAC base, only to soon descend into a hellish landscape of twisted imaginings. the great magician Doug Henning used to say: "To create good magic, we must be able to get our audience to suspend their disbelief." what samuel really excels at here is making each location so real, so detailed, that that is exactly what happens. he deftly used the tools the D3 engine provides to craft his locales with a professional flair that rivals the master: tim willits. winding halls, curving stairs, complex processing centers, great arched cathedral-like halls: all this and plenty more is on display for your aesthetic enjoyment. on a few rare ocassions he pushes the envelope almost too far (lava ceilings), but his infractions are rare, minor, and entirely forgivable. i believe i have praised samuel's architectural prowess quite enough - what i need to discuss now is what he makes happen with these beautiful confines.
the action begins slowly and ramps up at a very even and enjoyable pace. the challenge increases throughout this huge level. you begin by fighting the weakest minions of hell, but soon enough you are struggling against it's most powerful foes. if you want a challenge, samuel delivers, in a big way. this map provided me with some of the fiercest battles i have ever faced. i played the level on skill 2, but i think i should have tried it on skill 1. at times the challenge was overwhelming in a way the retail game never was on skill 2 (veteran). my complaint is that it became frustrating many times during the final 10% - 25% of this map. i believe this could have been easily alleviated by simply letting the player have a bit more health and ammo. the fights were nasty enough, but when i am worring about my ammo supply as well, it gets nasty. and, what willits and co. have a great sense of is providing the player with a good cache of health and ammo after he goes through 'hell'. samuel didn't do that well enough. so, what happens to the player is, after fighting for his life (and dying and reloading a few times) he is rewarded with either nothing, or insufficient replentishment. also, since the T-lab is so active with plasma, it seemed odd that i never got the plasma gun. facing so many revenants, archviles and mancubi it would have come in very handy, and eliminated a great deal of frustration. as a disclaimer to these complaints, please note that i played on Veteran skill. i will go back and play this on standard Marine skill in the near future, which may well be a much more enjoyable experience. however, the veteran skill is simply to much of an increase in challenge over what the retail game provided at the same skill level.
i would like to address the rest of my complaints about T-labs at this time. first of all (and, admittedly acknowledged in the readme file) is what i dub "the hellevator". you will encounter an elevator in which you are attacked by flaming skulls. for some reason the framerates drop to an unplayable 1-2 fps during the ride. i ended up taking a lot of damage and being unable to do anything about it. what is curious to me, is why (since he was aware of the problem) samuel didn't just remove the skulls from that area. the lift seems to function perfectly when they aren't present. another problem i had was with the backtracking. in a level this big, it is unnecessary to make the player repeat the same areas so many times. it artifically extends the gameplay time (which is not needed in a map like this that is so much bigger than any of levels in the retail game), but kills your sense of advancement. missing from T-lab was a fleshed out plot. you only get the most basic "find key, kill all" plot here. a few PDA's and some back-story would go a long way towards improving the experience here. T-labs also has some unclear goals at times. for example, i encountered an area that needed a 'skull key'. it was counter-intutive to me that i should have to backtrack a long way to find said key. another example is the room where you get the access card, go down a tunnel to a door that needs an access card, but the door won't open, saying something about a toxic atmosphere. what puzzled me was that the level gives you no indication as to what you need to do to remedy this situation. so, i eventually got passed the door, but i'm still not sure what i did to earn that right. finally, there is a room with a big 'wheel of fortune' clock in it. you step on a switch and it spins and where it lands determines what happens. cool, i suppose, but all that ever happened to me was a constant spawning of enemies until my ammo was depleated. there is a BFG behind bars in the room that i never accessed. i suppose if the 'wheel' lands properly you get the BFG, but i gave up after many many tries.
those complaints kept me from giving this level a perfect 100 score, which it is so very close to deserving. however, despite its flaws (which are few and minor, except the elevator) this map is a superior creation that every fan of D3 SP action needs to download and play. i am keeping this one in my D3 base folder, and i will be revisiting it soon.