by Sarah "Esselfortium" Mancuso
The mere existence of this single level for Doom II, circa 2006, must gnaw away at Esselfortium's cold, black heart. Testing Facility is her earliest released work, a fairly large level for limit-removing ports that draws a lot of its aesthetic from Knee Deep in the Dead. It's actually a pretty cool MAP01, loaded with intricate secrets, some of which I think (related to the plasma rifle) are a one-time affair. Anyway, while it's for Doom II, it's largely in the style of the Phobos episode as far as textures go, though not exactly in architecture or anything. It also doesn't have a story, not that you really care about the .TXT files that come with Doom PWADs... or do you?
Basically, Testing Facility is a large techbase with enough roaming to give it a non-linear, exploratory feel while still basically having one true progression path. It's not so big that you'll get lost and Essel has worked plenty of recognizable locations and rooms so that you can build a fairly easy mental picture of where you're going and where you've been, which is great for those moments where you know you need to backtrack and have to puzzle out which area you'll be returning to. Something that adds to the mystery without being overbearing are the eight or so secret areas to discover, some of which are small and some of which are fairly large sections. Finding the automap will pretty much guarantee a full walkthrough, provided you're prescient enough to use a certain rising switch to access the nukage pumps...
For such a large base, the opposition feels fairly light. Most of the enemies you'll face are Doom trash with the occasional "advanced" Doom II monster thrown in to punctuate climactic moments in the map. It isn't terribly challenging, but that means that your attention isn't split when trying to make your way through the base. About the nastiest fight you can expect is an arch-vile toward the end given the relatively open area you have to fight him in. I was expecting some kind of clash in the large, exterior area to the north, but I was let down. I guess that's what you get for playing a level that draws a lot of inspiration from Knee Deep in the Dead - its large, outdoor areas are usually devoid of sizable opposition.
There's also detailing, lots of detailing. If I had to guess, there's probably some stuff here that Essel cringes when she thinks about, like that DoomCute sector computer and some of the wall detailing / panels. The lighting is spectacular, though, with gradients that bring to mind some of the best dynamic imitators of Doom's history with plenty of contrast yet leaving enough light to see what you're fighting. It's interesting when juxtaposed with her more recent work, especially comparing that northern outdoor area to the rest of the map's sector wizardry.
Being a boundless perfectionist, Esselfortium would probably prefer that her oldest works vanish into the ether of forgotten Doom levels. No such luck, sucker! If you don't mind mixing some Doom II into your Knee Deep in the Dead, then you could do a lot worse than to load up Testing Facility. Just try not to laugh too hard - you'll make the poor girl blush.