Third entry that concludes the Escape series. Before taking the portal to Natas, Snake watches a video recording Carmack left behind who goes on to explain everything leading up to this point, the UAC sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong as per usual. The portal to Natas has been set to arrive one hour before the invasion started, Snake must delve into the demon home world to defeat the Spider Mastermind and shut off the monster making machine.
EFN is the last entry to the Escape series containing two maps, MAP01 being the main course while leaving the latter as a shorter conclusive finale. Out of the three releases this has been the one I’ve wanted to talk about the most but of course felt obliged to at least cover everything up until this point, primarily because the whole journey leading up to this point matters including the cheesy story documents that came with each release. EFN is a much longer experience than prior maps taking me around an hour to finish my initial session. There’s more emphasis on puzzles based around navigation and observation as getting around isn’t quite as straight forward as before. Most answers remain relatively close to their source and discovering these is a core part of that process, it’s just a matter of figuring out a solution which I enjoyed digging around for. These won’t always be intuitive either, like hiding a switch beyond a slimefall while similar walls remained solid, but definitely rewards the inquisitive type of players to utilise various forms of interaction which often leads to secrets. Not all features presented are going to provide an obvious benefit right away, like questionable placements of Archvilves lurking behind gunfire operated doors coming across as a gotcha trap. Or perhaps key locked doors leading to empty rooms as if this part of the map was unfinished and forgotten about during the editing process. Yet these do serve a purpose with a little outside of the box thinking, more than meets the eye, which becomes all the more fascinating as I look deeper during a second playthrough.
Progression isn’t as smooth due to this nature to hide away obvious solutions to a problem but do help distinguish you as the unwanted guest in a demonic home world. As long as the expectations aren’t too obtuse like notorious adventure game logic, I’m usually fine with playing along with the mapper’s pace and Christenson thankfully doesn’t take it too far to be deemed frustrating. EFN also isn’t without other curious ideas that stood out to me, some that enhance the overall mood to build tension or having some unexpected chain of events because of monster-only teleport triggers. Eventually the level opens up with an eastern and western network of dark mazes to explore, bright lights spill through metalic fences which overlook a tall marble hallways, while in the distance an eerie ambient of echoing bells and foghorns can be heard. Untilising the clumsy enemy sound replacements again, I think the execution here has been done well considering the limitations. It effectively makes this section a creepier place where I’d be edging forward and keeping a watch out for Imps and Spectres jumping out from the shadows. Additional enemies are hidden inside inaccessible rooms so that these ambient noises can always be heard up until they’re crushed out of sight before the map is complete. Beyond here lies those marbled halls you’ve only got a few peeks at up until now which soon seem like bait for the curious explorer wanting to leave the darkness in favour of light. Cyberdemons patrol these zones and since your firepower might not be enough to take them down, escaping involves some devious switch combinations to lower a lift giving the brute enough time to catch you out.
I do love the concept for MAP01’s closure during the last few stretches of gameplay beyond the northern red key door, where upon you’ll be warped into a gauntlet ready to face off against a ton of Barons currently looking the other way. A four sided pillar sits at the middle, each face a switch to lower different parts of the arena. There’s not quite enough ammo to wipe these guys out so I opted instead to avoid taking damage, grab the key and just head on out hoping to be on my merry way. Christenson wouldn’t have that and had something sly in mind. Taking the teleporter out allows the Barons, in time, to follow you and begin a congestion of the starting area. The only escape route with the blue key in hand takes around 30 seconds to open up and yet there’s further traps set in motion that continue pressing down on your potential exit and enforcing more thought behind how to tackle these problems. Now if the mechanics behind this closure ended right there I’d be happy enough with the results as is, yet there’s still some brillaint additional depth given to this set piece that not only makes this showdown a breeze but still retains a satisfying ending despite how different it can unfold. Somehow I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that something was amiss with places I came across that didn’t seem to serve much purpose. I could chalk it up to being an older level with left over architechture due to a change of plans, but I’ve played enough classic games with many curious details hidden beneath the surface. What if there was more to this than I realise during my first run? Whenever I encounter an enemy in DOOM, my reaction is to gun them down sooner than later to avoid further hassle. This rings true in Natas since earlier parts of the level have been rigged up so that survivors can be warped ahead to dish out revenge. On a second playthrough and having checked out some suspicions via the map editor, I discover an elaborate combat puzzle that involves both Cyberdemons and a Spider Mastermind all hidden within plain sight that involves keeping them alive and I’d be surprised if these are found by accident. This ties a neat bow around some of the oddities across the level and significantly changes how the finale plays out, which then got be thinking about those hidden Archviles based around their placement and an idea clicked for me. I love concepts like this.
MAP02 serves as the true conclusion to the series by stopping the monster making machine which has gone into autopilot mode now that the Spider Mastermind has been defeated. It’s an Icon of Sin style battle that doesn’t involve pumping rockets through a giant skull. Enemy cubes are being shot toward three portals leading to Earth, Deimos and Phobos as their assault begins, a time limit is set to reach a shut down switch as your past self is being pressured. It’s a nice twist on the formula that can be beaten with haste and caps off one of my favourite experiences from this Escape series. While the initial levels didn’t serve much of an impression I’m glad to have stuck through to discover this one. The slower pace for observational puzzles to progress suited my tastes just fine and enjoyed the tense atmosphere. I was hoping to see if Christenson had further evolved their ideas and concepts in newer works, but sadly these were the only three releases created by them.