From the author of Blown Fuses makes another return, this time taking place inside of a hospital. Duke awakes to find himself alone at the campsite, only a note left behind by his teammate, who has been having trouble sleeping due to the smell of rotten flesh and strange noises. He has gone ahead to check out the courtyard to find out what is going on. And so will you.
Awakening at the camp site, you find a letter left on the crate which sets the scene to get you going. The story is told through these view-screens, revealing the strange events unfolding at the nearby hospital. It Lives is essentially horror themed and creates a creepy environment in which to explore, slowly getting darker the further you progress with weird howls, fleshy walls and paranormal activity. The true scares for me come from the silent Protector Drones. Despite the chosen theme, the level can be rather action packed in ways using all kinds of enemies in different scenarios. Most of the fights will take place in tight hallways and small rooms, while those against Battlelords can be found in wider locations. The only real worry is the small amount of health lying around and ammo can be on the spare side at times which only forces you to be careful. The safe code puzzle doesn’t help matters though, as you’re required to shoot the buttons. Gambini offers some variation in progression as you won’t simply be pushing buttons and finding key-cards. In order to reach other places you’ll need to climb, swim or time your jumps. The laundry room uses some neat ideas to ensure panic as you try to defend yourself from Octabrains while locating the switch to get out of there.
The layout is also interesting in one spot where you first see the yellow card slot, but will need to progress further on upon finding the key before using it. The new effects add to the experience too, such as the elevator ride which makes the map feel alive as scenes unfold around you. The darkness however is an issue in the map, more so for the puzzle and exploration side of gameplay. There are areas you need to locate a switch and I’ve had to increase the gamma just to see them. The shrinker and mirror puzzle was a little awkward due to the unreliable mirror and the area referencing Sanek was on the immature side, not only breaking the tone, but having me lost for several minutes trying to figure out what I was expected to do to move on. The general flow of the map however is fairly straight forward and linear in progression, as you will travel deeper into the hospital where all the mystery lies waiting. The messages left behind build up toward an interesting ending sequence, providing enough details to hint at the events that have taken place while leaving enough room for speculation.
Much like Blown Fuses, Gambini does it again with the level design by putting together fresh new spins with the excellent Duke3D tile-set to create a hospital location using a realistic mapping style. The biggest difference compared to the mentioned map this time round is that he sticks with the classic renderer and vanilla gameplay, yet still manages to include many new effects and gameplay elements. There is always something about his level design that becomes very inspirational for me, not only does it portray real world construction and objects well, but does it within the limitations of the engine and avoids over doing it. Especially when you consider a lot of spritework in Blown Fuses overlapped which isn’t as reliable in software mode. What helps to make the design appealing is the lack of clutter and rainbow colour scheme, ensuring a nice balance to get across detailed locations and clean construction. Strong lighting is everywhere and done well, also helping to achieve depth and hides the bare corners. There are many locations full of eye candy whether it is spritework or texturing, and the outdoors are not neglected either, even more so when you look into the distance to feel the openness of the level with city lights in the distance or a nearby church through the windows. It’s difficult to pick out favourite areas, though I did quite like the cafeteria, which is big and colourful enough to fit the style and has all the essentials one would expect of the place while light shines through the windows breaking up the darkness you’ve been roaming. As I progressed, I found myself wanting to see all the new effects the map is full of, used as part of the gameplay, some horror element or simply a visual touch such as a pipe spitting out gibs.
The level design is brilliant by putting new spins on spritework and texturing to piece together a hospital location in a realistic mapping style, filled with new effects and interesting gameplay variation set within a horror theme ensures plenty of enjoyment to be had here.