level: evacuation protocol
author: guy (bucket/bkt) burkhart
email author: guy.bkt AT(NOSPAM) gmail DOT com click here to download the map
3D gamers edge gold award winner!
- slick production
- brutal challenge
- intense action sequences
- superior enemy placement
- realistic architecture
- great layout
- exceptional atmosphere
- some poor grammar
- noclip traps
so, where did this "guy" come from (oh, i'm quite funny, aren't i?)? last week i received an email from a long-time visitor to my humble little website, and he requested that i review his first DOOM 3 map release. mr. burkhart directed me to an 11MB zip file containing what amounted to 10 months of work on his part. i quickly promised guy that i would review his map and have it done by sunday (yesterday). i hope he will forgive me for being late, but i had no idea his DOOM3 experience would be so involved. it took me over two hours to play through this map (i play slowly, absorbing every detail - i'm sure it could be completed in about an hour) and i want to give it the full attention it deserves.
guy spent 10 months of his life designing 'evacuation protocol' for us, and thankfully his time was well spent. from the very beginning when the player is treated to a slick and well-paced intro sequence featuring excellent use of understated music and sound effects, and some cool/creepy camera work - all the way to the ending audio taunts, guy's work shows exceptional polish. this isn't just a level to romp through, blasting demons back to Hell, this is a fully-realized gameplay experience and it is extremely impressive to see this caliber of work coming from a 20-year old with only 2 previous (non-D3) maps under his belt. what can you expect to find in this level? let's dig in, shall we?
as with any level, the first thing a player notices is the architecture. when you begin in a square room with single-texture walls, your first though is something like "::sigh:: ... this is gonna suck". during the intro camera-panning you will quickly see that this level is loaded with details, and realistic ones at that. rooms are populated with the expected accessories, steam and fires create atmosphere, busted windows and scattered debris indicate that all Hell has broken loose, textures wallpaper each surface with features that you would expect to see. architecturally speaking, the challenge in designing a great-looking level is to find that line where the environments are realistic enough to be instantly believable and yet attractive enough to make the player stop and admire their surroundings - too realistic and the level comes across as bland, too attractive and the rooms look more like an art-gallery than a realistic environment. the player should never once think or even feel that they are in an unbelievable location. if you have played any Q4, you will see dozens of levels that push this design element to the limit, creating the most beautiful yet realistic FPS levels ever witnessed. guy's maps tend toward the more conservative side of this line: entirely realistic, detailed enough to avoid being bland. while his work doesn't warrant the posting of a dozen screenshots showing off his design aesthetics, it is professional, believable, solid, and atmospheric.
where 'evacuation protocol' truly shines is in the action department. guy provides all three skill levels, and for the purpose of this review i am evaluating the "normal" skill level. the action starts off slowly, and builds nicely through the level. from the very beginning where you are presented with the flashlight (in an extremely unique fashion) you will see that guy focuses on action set-pieces. he designs an environment in which a fight is supposed to take place, and once you enter that environment - it is a fight you will get. there is the occasional stray zombie, or a scare-tactic imp or maggot appearing out-of-nowhere, but the majority of the action takes place in these set-pieces. and they are awesome. the notes i took during my first play-through of the map are indicative of what you can expect: "brutal challenge, on normal skill!", "unrelenting brutal action", "sweet enemy placement", "awesome presentation". it takes an exceptional fight sequence to get me to pick up my pencil and jot down a note like that while playing, but i did so several times while playing this level. if you enjoy frantic gunplay while surrounded by hellspawn, this level delivers in spades. and not only are the fights challenging, fun, and anxiety-laden, but they are wonderfully presented. the dual-mancubus arena was without a doubt one of the coolest segments i have ever experienced in an amateur FPS level. expect to be pinned between pinkies, surrounded by spiders, and harassed by hellknights until you are begging for just a minute of peace to catch your breath. i cannot imagine a player skilled enough to get through this level unscathed. i was many times dropped down to below 25 health frantically whirling around blasting away and hoping i would live long enough to reach my next health-pack. i exited 'evacuation protocol' with no armor and 4 health points... and i counted myself lucky to do so!
now to momentarily turn my attention to those things i wasn't so pleased with in this level. the first thing i noticed was some poor grammar and sentence structure on the load-screen, and which was also present in some of the PDA emails. my second (and most important) complaint was the presence of a few "no-clip traps". these are areas in the level which the player can enter, but cannot exit without restarting, reloading, or using the "noclip" cheat. these are always bothersome and lead to the loss of many points, but they are all the more annoying when they are included in a level (such as this one) which encourages you to explore off the beaten path. it sends a mixed message when you sometimes reward the player with a secret goodie (such as the hidden rocket launcher in this map - an *exceptional* secret) when they try to crawl behind the scenes, and other times you get them trapped with no way out. this is poor design, and is never excusable. a final complaint, and more of a nit-pick than a real gripe, is that a few of the action sequences took place in very dark and difficult to navigate rooms. the spider-filled areas in particular. no points lost for this, but once or twice i thought "man, that was just some evil design".
that aside, 'evacuation protocol' is an exceptional offering that should not be missed by anyone who enjoys a high-quality FPS level. it is an extremely polished level that oozes with creepy atmosphere, provides tons of exceptional action, some cool secrets, solid use of audio, and more than a few great scares. its presentation is such that very early on you are completely immersed, on the edge of your seat, feeling anxious, and thinking that you had better be ready for anything - at any time.
congratulations, guy, this is an amazing effort!