The Secret Path

Author: John Graham Released: December 15th 1996

Introduction

You’ve been sent in to finish up where Fly Taggert last left off, to clean up any remaining demons that could still be running around the base freely. Apparently there is a secret underground community leading to the anomaly. Kill all remaining monsters in the tunnel, leave no survivors, take no prisoners. THEPATH is a single level taking the MAP07 slot.

Review

Beginning at the classic entrance to the original DOOM’s E1M1, taking the regular path immediately reveals that this won’t be a simple retread of old grounds as a barricade blocks the doorway. Back in the main room a floor arrow makes sure to point toward you new heading, including an extra big arrow for emphasis should you have taken the wrong direction, a humourous gesture. Through a doorway not usually during there during Hanger now leads to an entire underground sector where the level takes place. THEPATH is a linear affair despite revealing three branching paths from its central hub, tackled one by one into separate subsections where a keycard can be found at the end of each spoke. There aren’t many offshoots to detour away from the main path but this never felt as if things were too rigid because of the kinetic flow from place to place constantly pushing you forward with limited backtracking involved. Every time a key is snatched up there’s a teleporter nearby can be taken that sends you to another zone, where all three of these keys will be necessary later as a consistent reminder of an ongoing goal, before being plopped back into the central hub to continue the process along the next branch.

The Secret Path by John GrahamThe Secret Path by John Graham

Potential pace breakers could include a couple of door or lift related triggers, those that don’t seem as if they could be operable or require a switch to access, otherwise do in fact work by interacting with them. Because signposting and consistent progression methods didn’t have much of a standardised process behind them during older releases, I often find myself mashing at anything suspicious and around deadends which helped to avoid falling into problems. I can see these aspects tripping players up especially beyond the red key door once you reach a button that doesn’t signify its purpose and a nearby drop down barrier to continue along. Switches do in general activate something nearby to see the action taking place, but on two occasions these are far apart. An attempt was made in these situations to signal a connection using coloured tiles on the floor, suggesting a sender and receiver idea. It’s by no means the clearest execution but was nice to know some effort to communicate this was made instead of leaving players guessing its function, but one that could be missed without a thorough reading of the text file.

As much as I enjoyed the general pacing through areas, combat was for the most part too simple and flat baring a few exceptions as it constantly involves threats within direct line of sight waiting to be mowed down. There wasn’t enough for potential enemy interaction being stuck on a horizontal plane, causing frequent infighting during the bigger skirmishes, opponents whose purpose might have served better at differing elevations to interrupt what’s going on around them. On top of that you’ll have no end of supplies and powerups to make any bump seem insignificant. There were two unique scenarios I thought worked well enough however and it was a shame there wasn’t a few more distinct setups to spice things up; One of these involves a pitfall trap with you falling into a dark hole before raising back up now inbetween a pincer attack. Another scenario takes place fighting inside a near pitch black room with odd bright lights scattered around and luring enemies toward those to better see them. Most of these guys were tougher brutes so I’d be put on a spot deciding if its worth firing off rockets or find one too close for comfort. Sadly I could also just run up the stairs and move on without much concern, some monster teleport lines to send them up ahead could have been a curious addition to keep these guys an ongoing threat if ignored.

The Secret Path by John GrahamThe Secret Path by John Graham

I discovered some odd situations with consistent behaviour I could replicate during my run where enemies wouldn’t acknowledge my existence even within line of sight until firing a shot, or they had trouble initiating an attack inside certain sectors and tight paths or were stuck inside the geometry. Even certain groups of explosive barrels failed to affect things around them, I doubt this was intentional. I’m still grasping a deeper understanding regarding how the engine works, but if I’d have a guess it might be related to the nodebuilding process; as loading up the map in the editor and rebuilding the nodes using either ZenNode or ZokumBSP seems to fix the issues.

THEPATH can be rough around the edges and look a little unpolished from time to time, a missing texture here, misaligned textures there and the occasional geometry mishap that interrupts the gameplay. However there is a decent sense of place depicted here taking into consideration how these locales are connected together despite some wild jumps in texturing schemes. You’ll take the northern path through what appears to be a maintenance or computer area, head south into a water treatment plant with its fresh contents spilling into the various surrounding caverns you’ll have access to toward the end. Particular smaller details such as the barracks with flushable toilets and urinals or pipework leaking water were some nice highlights. Design looks its best in areas where extra attention is put toward lighting, using contrasting values or flickering effects, but otherwise remains too well lit even during situations that could benefit from darker shading that could help hide some of its imperfections within larger areas. Reading through the text file, Graham wasn’t too modest about his work but clearly had a lot of pride in what they created especially regarding special effects dotted around various areas; deep water sectors while wading through the toxic hallways; invisible self-referencing sectors to fake unique platforms and lifts; a water tank hiding a fake floor as if submerging to the bottom; and openable grated doors using middle textures you can see right through. These are effects that have crept up in other works throughout the years some even dating back as early as 1994 (see UAC_DEAD), their combined usage here finds suitable placements within the context they’re used in without feeling shoehorned in for the sake of having them. THEPATH has moments of brilliance across its visual design and technical knowledge, I’d almost forget the time this came out while playing and falls neatly into golden oldie territory for me.

The Secret Path by John GrahamThe Secret Path by John Graham

Perhaps one major tell tale sign of its release era were inclusions of several unnecessary sound replacements provided for almost everything that makes a noise. These were recorded and edited from various movie sources, as listed in the included text file, which have mixed results across the board albeit not without an awkward charm. Doors and lifts have good choices that provide sharp hisses and hydraulics to change the general ambient while interacting. I had to chuckle over our character’s wall grunting now being a curious “ooo” or exclaiming “oh shit!” after taking damage, surprisingly fitting when running out of radiation protection while trudging in toxic. Monsters on the other hand didn’t always feel right for me. Former humans uttering dialogue upon being alert, Imps make that distinct Alien scream upon death and the default pain state that many demons gasp is changed to a silly laugh. This might work well for humanoids but hilariously out of touch for everything else.

Conclusion

I have a soft spot for older levels that try to put in their best effort, so although THEPATH is an unpolished experience, the environment does work well at establishing a sense of place. While linear there’s a kinetic flow across three distinct sections that paces itself well from key to key, returning you back to a central hub for ease into the next leg of your journey. Combat was too flat and simple without allowing monsters to perform to particular roles and become fodder to infighting, with a surplus of supplies or strange enemy behaviours making the whole process easier. THEPATH was Graham’s single output for DOOM and is a decent romp with fun showcase of effects and showed potential should they have continued their mapping career.

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