Rat in a Maze


Fact Sheet

Authors David Priddy
Engine standard Doom engine
Date 1994/9/4
Levels 1

Review by Colin Phipps


The casual observer might look at the ratings above, and assume that I didn't like this level. They would be wrong though — this is actually an old favourite of mine, despite that fact that it is the author's first level (the only one of his levels I've played, in fact) and I've never completed it. Quoting from the text file:

I hope this level will consume alot of your time. You are the guinea pigs for my first attempt. Please let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Well it certainly consumed a lot of my time; I dread to imagine how much of the author's it took to make it. You see, Rat in a Maze is no ordinary maze. The level is built consists of a vast cavern, filled with walkways at 4 different height levels. At the higher levels you find yourself perched on walkways with a drop all around; at lower levels the higher walkways act as walls. The result is a truly vast maze, which takes hours to explore fully. It's a tightly packed level, and with passages at 5 different levels all over the place the automap is pretty useless.

Each level of the maze is decorated differently. Although this certainly doesn't give much of a sense of realism, and leads to a lot of texture clashes, I felt that this fitted the theme of the level — the maze is meant to be artificial after all, so realism is not wanted.

The gameplay is excellent in the early stages. You begin at one of the lower levels, with quite a few cacodemons and skulls on the loose which are able to float over the higher walkways, giving them quite an advantage. Ammo is short, and there are some nasty traps too, which combined with the menace from above gives the level a good oppressive feel.

The level isn't all long passages and overhead threats though; in the spaces between the passages are packed lots of little side-rooms. Just because you've got some protection against the cacodemons doesn't mean they are all straightforward though; there are lots of traps tucked into these rooms. There are lots of secrets to make up for that though (in fact, the level has over 50 secrets in total), some of them quite complex.

As the level goes on though, there are gradually fewer and fewer enemies to fight, leaving you to find switches to open up more side-rooms. Sounds simple, but when you hit a switch you have no idea what it has done, and you could spend half an hour searching all the passages in this level (searching the rooms too would make it even longer). So it is totally impractical to try searching for what each individual switch does — instead you just keep making circuits of the level, chancing on newly revealed rooms and hitting any new switches revealed. Hoping that you'll get to the exit sooner or later. There are still some traps, and more monsters released from time to time, but with plenty of health and ammo by this point, the level is now more lonely than threatening.

The trouble is, you don't get to the exit; you just gradually run out of stuff to do. After a few hours, depending on how patient you are, you give up and look in an editor to try and find what you are missing. Well, the answer is the exit is guarded by four doors. Each activated by a switch which is hidden away in a secret room, which is only opened by a switch in another secret room. Did I say secret, I meant unmarked secret. Just a few unmarked secrets in a vast maze — now you know why I didn't finish this level.

The title says Rat in a Maze, and that's what you are — one tiny marine thrown into a vast artificial stone maze nightmare. I've not seen any other level create such a sense of oppression, loneliness and above all futility as the early parts of this level. It's just such a dreadful shame that the author so completely misjudged the difficulty — without the impossibly secret and tedious exit, the player could have beaten this and come away with a real sense of achievement. As it is, the level just drags on until the player finally gives in to the futility of the whole exercise. Who knows, maybe the author did it deliberately so for once things wouldn't have a happy ending. Damn it, I play Doom levels to win!

Download 21ratmaz.zip

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