The Eye is a WAD I probably wouldn’t have heard of if it wasn’t for this year’s Cacowards. The WAD contains only a single level, when I generally gravitate toward bigger, longer projects. It’s the second creation by mouldy, a relative unknown in the community, and I haven’t really been in the loop at all this year. Instead of slipping under my radar, though, The Eye was brought to my attention just in time to be a charming little Christmas present.
Okay, so “charming” and “little” aren’t the best descriptors for this level. “Big,” “grand,” and “epic” are closer to the mark. You might more commonly see those words referencing the climactic chunk of maps in a megaWAD, but mouldy pulls off that scope and scale in what is a fairly short, straightforward one-off.
You’ll realize almost immediately that you’re not in for a cakewalk. If the early bit, up to the first arch-vile or so gives you any trouble, I’d suggest lowering the difficulty level, because things only get worse from there. I always default to Ultra-Violence without thinking, and I honestly couldn’t make it through the map on that setting without saves. Even on Hey, Not Too Rough, which I switched to in order to grab screenshots, the thing was still a challenge, so I wouldn’t blame you for cranking the difficulty down a notch or two from your usual setting.
I wish more mappers operated like this, designing their levels to be hard or even downright cruel on UV. It might break Doomers out of their habit of playing only on UV, and it would make the time spent balancing lower difficulties less of a waste. But that’s a discussion for another time.
The reason I urge you to lower the difficulty is because I don’t want the frustration of death after death to distract you from the brilliance of The Eye. Not to make you think this is some high-concept WAD or that it aims for the stars; it isn’t and it doesn’t. What it does do is achieve exactly what it’s attempting, weaving carefully choreographed battles together in an environment that’s massive and daunting but still packed with lovingly crafted little details.
Take this staircase. It’s real easy to run by, taking note only of the green marble and fleshy tentacle motif that’s ever-present in Hell-themed levels, but if you take a second, you’ll notice the stone worn away as if it’s actually melting in the presence of the hellish growth. Call me shallow, but clever usage of textures this way always wins me over. And, unless I’m mistaken, The Eye uses only the standard Doom II resources, which makes what mouldy achieves in terms of detail even more impressive.
My favorite visual, though, is definitely this room. The entire space is split down the middle by a molten chasm, the broken edges of the floor glowing red-hot. If that wasn’t awesome enough, the sides of the chasm are uneven, as if the quake that split this area also sank the entire right side of the room about a foot deeper into the ground.
All the damage to the environment makes it feel real in a way that it wouldn’t under normal circumstance, in all its untouched videogame-y perfection. I think it’s that we get to see the exposed sides of the broken floor tiles, along with the very perceptible shift in height as we cross the divide, both of which convey a physicality to the space that the flat plane of an unbroken floor can’t possibly do. Anyway, I could gush over this area until the end of time, so let’s move on.
Conceptually, The Eye is simple. You’re faced right off the bat with a locked door that leads into the gigantic central chamber but requires all three keys in order to open. So right from the get-go, you have your objective: you want to find out what’s in the heart of the map, so you’ve got to scour the place for the keys. To drive the point home, from almost every area that follows, you’ve got a good view of that central chamber, so you’re constantly reminded of the ultimate objective. It sounds simple, but this is one of the most effective ways I’ve seen of keeping the player focused on a task, and hoo boy does it work.
I won’t spoil what’s waiting for you in there, but rest assured it’s quite satisfying and absurdly hard (seriously, I couldn’t survive the last battle on UV, even abusing saves). Speaking of absurdly hard, I should probably address some things that the map doesn’t do well, since it’s way easier to cover that list than the seventeen pages of things it does fantastically.
1. I have some objections to mouldy’s use of arch-viles, especially in the final series of battles. My encounters with them generally seemed to come down mostly to luck rather than skill. I’m also no Doomgod, so maybe other players will find these fights merely hard as heck and not unfair like I did.
2. For all the beautiful detailing, there’s a fair amount of texturing that feels off. Sometimes one side of an object will appear to be one material and another side a totally different material. For instance, in the second room, the stairs are textured with rusted metal on the sides and green marble on the top. This is mostly just a pet-peeve of mine, and you probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t said anything. So… forget I said that.
3. There’s an elevator at one point that, if you happen to retreat too far without killing the nearby enemies, can become so surrounded by monsters that it’s impossible (like, literally) to reach the top again without being torn to pieces by enemies that you can neither see nor shoot. This happened to me and the only solutions were to cheat through it or restart the level.
With the negatives out of the way, let me go out on a description of this fleshy maze area, which was one of the best parts of the WAD for me. This whole place is made up of tunnels that wind around and overlap one another. It’s dark and dangerous and feels completely alien. The wonderful part of this section is how lost you feel for a minute or two, wandering around the murky chambers, but even better is how teleport traps are used here. I’m not exactly sure how mouldy did it, and I haven’t opened up the map in an editor to find out, but revenants teleport in at seemingly random intervals, so not only are you lost and confused, but you never know when a deadly baddie is going to pop in to make things even worse. Seriously keeps you on your toes.
For that matter, everything in The Eye will keep you on your toes. Whether you’re interested in a challenge or in a beautifully designed level, there’s something here for you. Check it out at your earliest convenience.