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Ken's Labyrinth (DOS)

Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Maw (884)
Written on  :  Sep 27, 2007
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.25 Stars3.25 Stars3.25 Stars3.25 Stars3.25 Stars

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The first Wolfenstein 3D clone!

The Good

It’s always cool seeing how geniuses got their start, whether it’s Francis Ford Coppola’s early film reels or Picasso’s first scribbles on canvas. Ken’s Labyrinth is the first game by the guy who would go on to write the famous Build engine, and despite being a shameless rip-off it isn’t bad at all.

The story goes that Ken Silverman was watching his brother Alan play Wolfenstein 3D and thought "I could write a better game than that!" He created the engine from scratch, jointly did the artwork, recorded all the sounds and sequenced the music, and his parents wrote to several software companies to see if they would take it on board. It published by the company owned by Ken's brother, and later by Epic, when Ken was still in high school

Despite what you may think Ken's Labyrinth isn't the crappiest game in the world, and is quite playable and enjoyable in a retro-car sort of way. It's basically the same as Wolfenstein 3D (which is to say, a first-person shooter set in a maze), except you're a disgruntled homeowner who is out to rescue his dog Sparky from the aliens who are holding him captive.

"Cute" is the operational word in Ken's labyrinth, as instead of Nazis you must fight bees, spiders, mummies, witches, and -- at the end of the game -- computer hackers. You have three weapons, bubble-gum, bouncy sunflower things, and target-seeking rockets. Health and weapon pickups can be found on the ground or purchased at vending machines scattered throughout the game (you also collect money for this purpose).

As one of the first FPS games Ken's Labyrinth contains some innovative aspects, like see-through walls (chain links, etc), and the ability raise and lower your viewpoint. Arguably the most ground-breaking part of the game was the high levels of interactivity found in the game. You can interact with certain wall textures, such as vending machine textures and lockers that can be opened to find goodies. Ken's Labyrinth is also the first FPS to feature destructible environments.

The enemy AI is exceptionally advanced. Enemies will chase you along very complex mazes without getting trapped and can avoid hazards like pitfalls and fan-blades on their own. In the second episode, after you have rescued your dog, he will follow you around wherever you, and bark angrily if you try to shoot him. It's quite clever.

The game's calling card is its long and complex mazes. Not even Wolfenstein 3D was as maze-happy as this. Even though I detest mazes, Ken's Labyrinth is actually kind of interesting and does the "zillions of hallways and rooms" thing better than most. You have a compass; so exploring mazes is no longer an issue of wandering around aimlessly until you find the way out. The game spices things up with a few action-oriented levels every now and then, and not to mention some cracking boss fights (in the ultimate example of self-insertion, the final boss is Ken Silverman himself).

Although the game itself gets old pretty quickly it was well supported by its creator, and received what Wolfenstein 3D sorely lacks: an OpenGL update.

The Bad

Ken's Labyrinth often gets pilloried for its amateurish design, and at times the game does feel more like a homework project thrown together by a teenager than an actual game. The game's strong points are entirely technological, and since Wolfenstein 3D was out for several months it is merely reinventing the wheel for the most part.

Ken's homemade art is crappy (there's almost no animation, enemies slide instead of walk), there's about five sound effects total, the music sucks, the whole game has a thrown-together-in-a-bedroom quality that places it below other shareware games at the time. And if you're expecting anything remotely creative insofar as gameplay is concerned, you'd have better chances with one of id Software's own games! Ken's Labyrinth is a Wolfenstein 3D clone from start to finish, and while this might have been the creator's intention it hardly empowers the inferior Ken's Labyrinth now that both games have become obsolete.

The Bottom Line

A game mostly played for historical and nostalgia value, Ken's Labyrinth is far from being a classic but it is nevertheless solid. Ken writing and publishing a game at his age is really cool, especially since there were no ready-made libraries or anything back in 1993 and id Software wouldn't release the game's source for years. Check this game out, it's a clone you might be willing to tolerate.