29 mar 1997
author: Shamus Young. this is another house-type level. this one, however, has great proportions and architecture. the author has included a bit of furniture, but it doesn't totally clutter up the interior. the flow and overall pacing of this level is a bit limp (it seems to be a better deathmatch level than a true single-player level) and it's very non-linear, but it has been well crafted. i especially liked the message that's displayed when you get the quad damage. this level also doesn't have an exit -- if it does, i didn't find it. an interesting diversion.
MAELSTRM.ZIP -- 2,961k
25 sep 1997
author: Stephen Parker. this archive contains three and a half (i'll explain) levels in a .pak file, along with a start level. one potential source of confusion is that the start level is not called "maelstrm" but is called "mtstart" instead. the skill-setting level is well built, but i must confess i couldn't find any other selection other than hard. these maps have been done in the medieval theme and, on the whole, they are well built, fast running, and interesting. the structures are on the large side of the scale but, with a few notable exceptions, they run smoothly and quickly throughout. the flow in them is semi-linear, with keys required and plenty of space to run around and jump on stuff and swim around; plenty of variety that keeps with the theme and is challenging. the pacing has been done very well from level to level, with weapons being gradually obtained and enough ammo to forgive even the sloppy shooter.
Symetrical (sic) isn't particularly symmetrical, but is very large and is a good introduction to this author's style. i did find a few misaligned textures, however. great flow and pacing and running speed in this level. one really cool thing i liked about this level was the dark hallway with the zombies in cages. also of note is the modified E4M3 hallway trap, which makes it more challenging than the original. six secrets in this level, and i found three of them.
Mountain Entrance is, as you'd imagine, a mountain-style level. in fact, it's closer to a chasm with a pool and a pair of waterfalls (complete with associated .wav file), and due to this can be very slow-running. extremely vertical and somewhat bare of monsters, it's a great transition level. lots of jumping and climbing in this one. one secret in here, and it's pretty hard to find i only found it by accident, really. this is the first part of the "half" level i mentioned at the beginning. there is a set of bars that, when you land on them, says "later", or words to that effect. i didn't understand the reference at first. oh, and the exit is unmarked.
Mountain King is arguably the most challenging level in the set. this one has a great theme, and the structures and lighting are notably well done. it's a bit slow in places due to its size, however. seven secrets in here, and i found five of them this time. the monster mix has definitely progressed to the tough end of the scale, but the author has, by this time, given you most of the big weapons. bear in mind that this doesn't mean it's easy, though... the monster placement makes maximum use of their various abilities.
Mountain Entrance (redux) is the other part of the "half" level. the architecture has changed very slightly from the first incarnation, but the monster placement and selection is where this level shines. hope you don't suffer from acrophobia, because even though you won't die, it's still a looooong way down. a rocket jump is necessary to get out of this level.
after conquering the second Mountain Entrance, you're taken back to this pak's start level. this transition was a bit abrupt and somewhat disappointing, but maybe that's because i'm accustomed to a bang-up ending-style level. nevertheless, this is a great effort, and is a whole lot of fun to play.
22 dec 1996
author: Andy House. the author notes in the .txt file that this level is modeled after an office. it's a large, open, single-room expanse with inadequate lighting, too too many brushes (near-constant GreyFlash from every angle, position, and view), erratic architecture, seemingly-random monster placement, and far too much ammo. might be a fun place to work, but as a single-player level, i'd give it a pass. no logical progression, no theme as such, and the overpowered weapons placement make this a disappointing single player level.
MARS1.ZIP -- 1,090k
9 aug 1997
author: Jean-Marc Gruninger. this is a base level, and what a base level it is! the architecture is smooth, well-proportioned, and utterly believeable. the structures in the base, from the hydraulic pump to the piping throughout the bottom of the base to the gondola and winch to the control room and missile to the endgame shuttle, are absolutely incredible, not only for their construction but also for the speed these areas run. in not one instance did the game slow... and there is quite a bit of slime (VISed for transparency, no less) in various places throughout this level. the flow is clearly linear, and the pace is steady, with bursts of surprisingly-intense combat; with the amount of enforcers present, and their placing, it's pretty difficult to survive. the only flaw in this level, to my mind, was the presence of "non-base" monsters; the theme is so perfectly carried off that these monsters stand out all the more. (the scorpion from the Ritual pack would have fit in perfectly, though, since it's mechanical.) the specials have been integrated incredibly smoothly into this level as well; it's not until after you've completed the level that you realize some of the effects couldn't have been accomplished in regular Quake. to put it bluntly, this level could easily have appeared in Scourge of Armagon; yes, it's that good. if you've got the Ritual pack (or even if you don't; it still plays, but there are a bunch of error messages at the start, and it's not nearly as immersive that way), you must play this level. spectacular work.
17 mar 1997
author: Noel Weer. good functional architecture with a strong emphasis on the blue metal and stone textures is found throughout this level. the pacing is good, and weapon and item placement are done well... but the monster placement and selection seemed a tad predictable to me. the lighting in this level tends toward the dark and gloomy (with mostly overhead lighting throwing some rather deep shadows), but you're never wandering around in total darkness. this level could probably have taken advantage of Quake's "3d-ness" a bit more, as most of it tends to be on a single horizontal plane. secrets aren't marked, and can be difficult to find; i found one of three, and that only by accident.
22 dec 1996
author: "Psycho". outstanding architecture (loved the ship), but the gameplay is odd, with monsters appearing seemingly at random. there is no flow in this level for the single player. some good fighting, but ultimately unsatisfying. this level could be adapted for single play with very few modifications, though. right now, it is a deathmatch level.
MARTIM6.ZIP -- 897k
27 apr 1997
authors: Tim van Hal and Marco van Schriek. this level is actually three mini-levels in one -- you're required to conquer three "missions" before the exit is revealed. the title for this level is over 22 characters, which means i didn't know how many secrets there were until i exited the level. great architecture -- functional and fast-running -- is seen throughout this level, with good proportions and variety. plenty of buttons to find and activate; i would have liked some messages to let me know just what it was that these buttons did, though. the door textures used were the of the "curved top" variety, which is fine, but there were no arches in the door frames, causing the flat brown texture to show, which looked bizarre; in addition, many of the buttons sported the same texture on all five sides, leaving a truncated indented button on the edges. i got a RAM warning when i was at the bottom of the "cage" in mission one. the water section (in mission two, i think) was far too long to be navigated without taking damage; a biosuit would have been much appreciated. this level is very linear, but enough exploration takes place between required actions so it doesn't really seem that way. monster selection and placement have been done well, and this level shows good flow and pacing. i found both secrets (there were two). overall, this is a good, playable level.
|Sir Mayard and the Mountain||
MAYARD.ZIP -- 1,905k
27 apr 1997
author: David Jewsbury. there are two levels in this archive -- MAYARD and MAYARD2. these levels come with a story, and the story is given to you (poetically, which is interesting) through the use of pop-up messages. this is a good use of them, to my mind; i only wish that they would have stayed popped-up long enough for me to read them, as some were pretty lengthy. both of these levels are extremely detailed, and sport some very large areas, so it's hardly surprising that there is a significant amount of GreyFlash in both. it's much more severe in the first one, however, because most of the action takes place in a very tall, open courtyard-like area; even at the very beginning, i was seeing a lot of entity flicker, and this flickering is present through both levels. the second level has you killing this enormous spider-like monster, which was pretty cool though non-intuitive; i died twice before i figured it out. also, the entity flicker in this level revealed far too many items that i felt should have remained hidden (the explodo-boxes, in particular). flow is good and pacing is excellent. the monster strengths are a bit on the heavy side, so stay on your toes. these levels are interesting and noteworthy for their attention to plot, theme, and detail, and are worth a look to see how a story is woven into a Quake level.
17 mar 1997
author: Mark Murray. this level starts you out in a symmetrical courtyard, and you've got to figure out how to get out. this level is non-linear, and contains a variety of different puzzles, most of which are fairly non-intuitive. you're placed into one untenable position after another, until you reach what i assume is approximately the middle of the level, where you're faced with four ogres, four death knights, and a shambler... while on an elevated ledge over lava, and no place to dodge... and you've got a double barrel and a grenade launcher. not surprisingly, i wasn't able to survive this part. the author claims that this level can be beat with wits as easily as weapons, but you'd need some serious wits to survive that situation. too bad i obviously don't have enough. theme is unclear; i wasn't able to determine just what this level was supposed to be. basically, this level, from what i was able to see before i died (again and again and again), is an exercise in frustration. no obvious technical flaws, though, and it did run smoothly through all the areas i was able to access.
MDKT1.ZIP -- 50k
10 aug 1997
author: "JAR". this level has a base-theme starting area, but it quickly changes into a medieval theme. this level features interesting usages of raised structures and texturing; the doors in the base section in particular are of note. the level is extremely linear. the transitions between sections are odd -- teleport textures that don't teleport, but are more like curtains. the architecture and lighting are good, and it will be interesting to see what this author will do with a full, complete level. as it stands, though, this level is more of an experiment, i think.
22 feb 1997
author: Paul Roberts. a smaller level with some excellent detail and a centerpiece structure that is actually pretty cool. the first room is really brutal due to the number of monsters and the lack of places to adequately defend. the lighting and architecture were done well, though the structures could be a bit plain at times (with the one notable exception). i didn't care for the endgame situation, because i really hate lava, but with the powerups provided, it's not that hard. i would have liked to see a larger version of this level; it could have been very interesting.
|Hive, Part II (Metro)||
METRO.ZIP -- 867k
10 aug 1997
author: Chris Mayers. this level, as you might be able to guess from the title, has been done in a tube station (subway, for our American readers) theme. the architecture and texturing have been done extremely well -- some new textures have been added to further the theme, and they blend in perfectly. the immersiveness of this level is greatly enhanced by this. structures are well proportioned, the layout of the level makes sense, and as you roam around the fairly-large areas, you really get the feel of being in an abandoned station. the flow and pacing are superb; weapons are provided as you need them, in most cases, and there is plenty of (actually, more than enough) ammo to fill them up. even though some areas are very long (i.e. prone to slowdown), this level runs very smoothly through every section. the secrets are all marked, some obviously so, and i found them all. the combat is good as well; some combat situations are really easy, some are deceptively difficult, and the rest are brutal (but fun, since you've got plenty of ammo). there were warning signs and popup messages about the third rail; i never touched it, but i can just guess what would happen if you did. this level is remarkable, and is highly recommended.
|The Entrance & The Sanctum||
22 dec 1996
author: Marcus Dromowicz. this archive is composed of two .bsps -- MEXX1.BSP and MEXX2.BSP. they have been designed and built to work together, and work together they do. as before, i will review each level separately.
MEXX1 (The Entrance) is a water-based level. by this, i mean that over 80% of the total area of this level is underwater. the main area of this level is so huge i got the 'RAM' icon for the first time ever. good pacing, monster selection and placement, and fighting. the architecture is adequate, though such a small proportion of it was above sea level it's difficult to be fair in rating this category. what i saw was well-done. this level had GreyFlash difficulties from a number of angles, which detracted more from the game experience than it would have in a more poorly-crafted level. the secret was hidden, but not concealed, and it was rewarding to have found it. overall, a fun level.
MEXX2 (The Sanctum) is dark, gloomy, and oppressive. normally, i don't care for levels that rely on darkness to conceal any flaws, but this level has been designed for darkness, and it works well here. (for the record, i fullbrighted it, and it still looked good. not as interesting, but the dark isn't to hide any flaws, as i feared.) there is lighting, but it is dim and well-placed. there are few places where you cannot see completely, but i'd advise playing this one in a dark room with the headphones on to get the full effect. this author understands the benefits of darkness in concealing monsters' movement, and this level offers some of the most teeth-gritting combat i've had yet. there is plenty of room for combat, which starts the instant you step foot in the level. this level is short, fast, and brutal -- whatta ride. get this one as soon as you can.
22 dec 1996
author: Marcus Dromowicz. i had to use 'changelevel' to go from MEXX2 to this one, as they don't follow sequentially. more gloom in this one, but now i'm seeing some BrushGlut here and there, most noticeably at the very beginning. this level is much more densely populated than the previous level (111 monsters on Hard), and it shows. the secrets are marked, but very subtly. ammo is very balanced in regards to both quantity and type, so if you've got a preference for one weapon or another, you WILL run out of ammo for it eventually. you'd do well to practice rotating your weapons based on the situation. i'm guilty of being hooked to one weapon (the double barrel), and at one point i had 79 grenades and nothing else. the author relies on cheap teleport tricks and traps far too heavily for my taste, though there were a few Doom-type traps (the door opening behind the player). the endlevel is a great running battle in a large dark (surprised?) room. the quad damage is strategically placed, and helps out a lot here. if this level were a bit brighter and faster-running in places, it would deserve a higher rating. in any case, some good fighting and great flow with so-so pacing. excellent thematic detail throughout.
22 dec 1996
author: Marcus Dromowicz. oddly, this archive is smaller than MEXX3. it might be due to the variety of textures in this level -- there are far fewer different textures in this level than in the previous. again, i had to 'changelevel' to go from MEXX3 to MEXX4; if i knew how to compile these levels, i would do it myself. another dimly-lit level from this author, but now i find i'm getting used to it. it starts quietly enough, but believe me, that doesn't last long. the central multi-level open stairway in the courtyard just outside the first 'door' has some of the most furious and extended combat i've played. this level is worth the download for just that room alone. the author could have marked the keyed doors a bit better; as it was, i had to run into them to know which key i needed. this is a HUGE, epic level with more monsters and more areas than i've yet seen in a quake level... it took me nearly a half hour to play through this one (most levels average around 10-15 minutes). but it was time well spent. a great variety of monsters (142 of 'em on Hard! good lord!) and some of the best overall gameplay i've experienced. it's a bit gloomy, though, and slightly bland both architecturally and texturally. it's very plain, but nothing in the architecture is unnecessary; a very functionally realistic level. i only found two of the four secrets. there was a button by the exit, but i don't know if i hit it already or if it just didn't work, because nothing happened when i shot it. four consecutive levels from the same author, and i'm not tired of him yet -- matter of fact, i'm starting to really enjoy his style. can't wait for the next one.
|The Terror of Tzeentch||
22 feb 1997
author: Marcus Dromowicz. ahh, the long-lost MEXX5 has been found at last! this is another dimly-lit and frighteningly-atmospheric level. the entire level is difficult, but not impossible, to conquer, and the combat in here is among the best i've played. the architecture is uniformly excellent both in playability and design, and the flow and pacing are challenging and consistent. there are plenty of hidden items and secrets, but i only found one secret out of the four. lots of action, for those that like it (like me); Marcus' levels have some of the highest monster counts in add-on levels, and this one's no exception. if you liked MEXX2 and MEXX4, you'll love this one.
2 jan 1997
author: Marcus Dromowicz. this level is another done in the military-base style, and that's just fine with me. the architecture in this level is done extremely well, and is more 'open' and playable than the average military base level due to it's size. the monsters appear at a fairly-regular yet unpredictable rate, and in some quantity; this author's levels consistently have a much higher monster count than the average which is a good thing, to my mind, for a single-player level... as long as it doesn't get out of control. the lighting in this level is much brighter than what i've come to expect from this author, but it is done so well you'd swear that he'd been making this type of level from the beginning. some nitpicks: the key doors aren't marked as such and a couple of badly-needed weapons are hidden behind unmarked or very subtly marked secrets. the endgame is the only place where this level slowed down from BrushGlut, which is rather remarkable when you consider the amount and overall size of the larger areas. the remainder of the secrets are hidden very well, but i managed to find three of the four. the outdoor pool area was a lot of fun to play in. combat is intense and extremely challenging from start to finish, even though the monster mix is restricted to the military-base theme. there are only grunts, enforcers, dogs, and fish in this one, but even this limited selection, placed wisely (which they were) combined with the architectural and lighting effects made this level one hell of a ride. this is another author to keep your eye on, folks, because i continue to be impressed anew with each successive release i play. great job, Marcus.
|A Bishop's Bane (Domina Domino)||
22 feb 1997
author: Marcus Dromowicz. a bang-up beginning (with fiends IN YOUR FACE) will have you feeling like you'll be on the run for the entire level. the pacing in this level is actually well done. the architecture leans towards the "sprawling"; despite this, it runs smoothly throughout. the monster mix is plentiful and brutal, but you're given more than enough weaponry and ammo. in regards to size, feel, and texturing, this level is strongly reminiscent of E1M5. one thing i liked about this level is the edge it gives to those that are both observant as well as tactical thinkers. the endgame buildup is noticeable enough that you know when you're getting close, but isn't so ridiculous that you can't survive. secrets are marked well, and, in some cases, very subtly... though i managed to stumble my way into five of the six. i especially liked the zombie basement; getting there was sort of annoying, as i thought i had been permanently trapped. a rock-solid level and one that would probably be good for a 12-16 player deathmatch -- this is a pretty huge level. highly recommended.
Prelude to Apocalypse and
MEXX8.ZIP -- 1,316k
27 apr 1997
author: Marcus Dromowicz. this archive comes as a .pak, and contains two new levels, some new .wav files, and a bit of QuakeC. Marcus has continued the "Bishop" plot line (last seen in A Bishop's Bane) in this level, and it works well. like his previous works, these levels are extremely well-done architecturally; even though they're large in overall size and play areas, they run very smoothly and are not as plain as you'd think they would be. ornamentation is present, to be sure, but it's done with textures instead of brushes, for the most part, which contributes to the smooth running speed. the object of the first level is to get the silver key, which leads to the transition to Modrigor's Demise. flow and pacing are superb; both levels have a clear linearity, with enough in-between action and movement to keep you exploring. monster placement is excellent, as usual, and even though there don't seem to be that many monsters (due to the huge overall size), there are in fact 181 (between the two levels) on Hard. yow. plenty of combat, but there's more than enough ammo and weaponry to get the job done. health is a little on the light side, but since i exited the level with 100% health, i'm of the mind that it was placed carefully rather than stingily. some brutal situations as well -- two that immediately spring to mind are the spikeshooter/shambler combo early on, as well as the "rot in hell" section (when you play this level, you'll know exactly what i'm talking about). most bars are lifted using remote buttons, and the author has not included many messages. you'll definitely know what button lifts which bars, though, because the author has used the cut scene cameras to show you what's going on. this is an excellent use of this code, and one i'd certainly like to see more of. very cool. secrets are hidden, but well-marked, and i found five of the six. (i have to admit i rocket-jumped to the shelf in the blue hallway to get that ammo. heh.) after exiting the first level, you proceed to find Mordrigor (one of the Bishop's men) and put him out of his misery. the second part is smaller than the first in overall area, but the play areas carry the same proportions, so it looks and feels like part of the first level. the combat gets intense -- both the quantity and strength of the monsters increases markedly here. good thing you've kept your weapons and ammo from the previous level. once you find Mordrigor, all you have to do is kill him... and this is a lot more challenging than it would first appear. i'm not giving away any secrets, either, so you'll just have to figure it out for yourself. everything fits together in this level flawlessly, and i was most impressed at how seamless it all flowed as i played. immersive, fun, technically superb, and just plain incredible. a must-download.
|Penumbra of Domination||
MEXX9.ZIP -- 4,894k
17 sep 1997
note: version 1.08 of Quake (Dissolution of Eternity) is required to run these levels.
author: Marcus Dromowicz. this enormous .pak file (nearly 11mb unzipped) contains five levels and a significant amount of QuakeC. all of the levels demonstrate the author's proficiency with large, playable areas, and each has plenty of running and shooting room. this works both ways, though, and the monster placements are both tough and plentiful knights and scrag often attack in packs (which heightens their effectiveness), ogres are nearly always above you (and in some cases are far above you), and fiends have nice smooth hallways to pursue you... which makes nearly every fight a challenge. architecture through each and every level is believeable and immersive, with texturing and lighting only adding to the depth and "realism". the flow is semi-linear for the most part; you can wander around for quite some time before you need a key. there are plenty of task-oriented goals as well. the only downside to these large areas is slowdown; almost all of the levels have slowing to one degree or another, with one Tower of Twilight being the most demanding on the processor. as in the rest of the MEXX* levels, there are plenty of monsters in every level, with 110 being the average. there is also more than enough ammo to help you dispatch this plethora, but be careful; you can't be dependent on just one gun. the QuakeC incorporated into these levels has been done smoothly and professionally, with none of it being arbitrary. it all fits into the theme, and it fits in well. some of the code surprised me when i first encountered it, to tell you the truth, but it has been uniformly well done. there is a "super secret" in one of the levels, and (amazingly, i know) i managed to find it. plenty of stuff to climb on and jump around in, and these levels definitely reward the explorer.
Monastery of Time Monks is the first level in this .pak, and it is a skill setting level done in the medieval style. this is the fastest-running level in the bunch. the modified code makes its first appearance here, with upward-swinging doors. there is a secret in this level leading to Nightmare difficulty, which isn't all that difficult to find if you keep your eyes open. an interesting prelude.
Cadaver Carnival runs very slowly and choppily through most of the first outdoor area. the architecture and structuring is fairly large overall. good combat sequences in many areas are challenging and fun. great use of themed structures and texturing throughout. three secrets, of which i found two. the endgame in this level is a bit abrupt, but since this level is one of multiple levels, it makes sense.
Tower of Twilight is one of the largest indoor levels i've seen. the opening outdoor courtyard and much of the first cavernous room run extremely erratically, making combat difficult. plenty of stuff to climb on and jump around, and this level definitely rewards the explorer; check out the ring of shadows secret for a prime example of this. combat is on the fast and furious side, with event-specific brushes caging you in for some serious bloodletting. the QuakeC in this level (specifically in the "worship room", which is too cool for words) is excellently blended into the whole. one of the more exciting rooms includes merely five ogres, placed well enough to make this one of the toughest combat areas in the level. the ammo load is very close to actual usage, so don't be sloppy with the shotgun. one of the secrets the quad damage one was impressive in its execution, and, as secrets should be, is extremely beneficial if you get it at the right time. good flow and pacing through this level, though there is some backtracking through empty areas, and since the level is so large, this can become tedious at times. four secrets in this level, and i found three. the endgame in this level includes a cut-scene preview, and is a lot harder than you'd think it would be.
Last Line of Defense starts in an outdoor area and progresses into a "pre-castle" style structure. again, as with the previous levels, clever and smooth use of QuakeC transforms what would be a simple run-and-gun into an immersive experience, and, as with the previous levels, there is a significant amount of slowing through many areas. the endgame, prefaced with another cut-scene, is a lot easier than it would appear, though it is still a challenge.
Domino's Castle is, as you'd expect, a castle. it comes with a really cool intro cut-scene, complete with voiceover, and this makes the immersive factor complete; you know the Bishop's got his eye on you now. it's one of the smoother running levels, and, to my mind, is the finest one in this .pak. architecture and structuring is immersive and believeable, and the textures have been applied with an eye towards maintaining the theme. the level is semi-linear, with keys being required for access. this level is also the hardest one in the .pak, with more tough monsters in your face than ever before; this is partly due to this level being a bit more restrictive than the prior ones. the corridor traps, on the way to the silver key, are guaranteed to make you tense; the puzzles themselves are easy enough to solve, but... well, you'll see what i mean. when you first see the silver key, stop right there and save; you can thank me later. the QuakeC introduced in this level really shines, with numerous examples of both beneficial and harmful items. (for beneficial: when you're in the square room with the raised walkway and the big red circle-thing on the wall, run around the walkway and make the scrag come out. then shoot the circle... but try and get almost out of the room first. very cool.) the endgame is pretty much sheer excitement; i won't spoil it for you, but let's just say it's a hell of a lot harder to beat than anything you've played up to this point, and the best part of the challenge is the author doesn't rely on hordes of monsters for it. elegantly and magnificently done. three secrets (i found them all) give you items you'll really want, but not need.
all in all, this is a most excellent download, and you'll spend far more time playing it than you will downloading it; the average time i spent in any given level was about 20 minutes. the story in the .txt file is required reading in this one, i think, and i strongly recommend you read it before you start playing. it will add a whole new depth to the levels themselves, and, on top of that, will provide you with some valuable clues to what's going on and why. end-of-level story passages advance the plot even further, giving you not only a reason to be there, but a taste of what's coming up next. a brilliant piece of work, and a must-download. if only the levels had run smoothly, this would have been my second "Gold".
more "m" reviews