|Abandon All Hope||
ABANDON.ZIP -- 695k
15 mar 1998
Author: James Parkman. This level begins with you outside a small Strogg base carved into a mountain, with both your pod as well as your wingman's pod (too bad he didn't make it...) driven into the ground nearby. The F1 is good and concise, and introduces the plot well; it's a good thing it's short, because you're immediately under attack. The pacing in this level has been very well done; combat situations have been done in the Romero style (pitched battle followed by tense exploration), and the monsters, when killed, drop equipment that's both needed and logical (shotgun guys drop shells, etc). Flow is semi-linear, with some exploration necessary to complete the level. The architecture is marvelous in this level as well, with playing areas varying widely in size, texturing and detailing complementing each other, all areas sticking to the theme, and (as a special, added bonus!) I didn't get any slowing. Anywhere. Secrets have been concealed, and the most fun one to discover is near the beginning -- you're faced with a floor hatch that doesn't seem to open, and there aren't any buttons nearby... but it's gotta open... and looking around a bit will reveal the secret. Some other things I liked: ladders that not only work like ladders should (with the top of the ladder ending below the floor level) but that are proportionately sized, consistent thematic detailing (the floor-level lighting fixtures, for instance), pop-up messages that are both humorous and that advance the plot (wait until you find the rest of your strike team), well-balanced ammo/health/weapon distribution and placement, and immersive use of ambient sounds. Get this one now, because it rocks.
Check out the author's home page as well.
|The Abandoned City||
ABCITY.ZIP -- 1,082k
16 Aug 1998
Author: "EraserX". This level begins (with a misspelled title) with a decent origin point and a terse F1; in fact, most of the F1s in this level are very brief. The architecture is good and is mostly pretty large; this city, though abandoned, seems to have quite a few construction facilities, along with a significant amount of damaged structures. Running speeds vary, though some areas are particularly choppy. The flow is linear and the pacing is good, if a bit on the heavy side in regards to weapons. Some exploring of side areas is possible, but the side areas aren't very extensive. Nitpick: it's possible to get permanently stuck. Some interesting specials and an eye toward thematic continuity, but the combat sequences and overall gameplay felt a bit uninspired.
|Age of Panic||
AGE.ZIP -- 3,280k
3 may 1998
Author: J.F. Gustaffson. This archive contains no less than six levels, contained in a .pak file. One of the levels in this unit has been reviewed previously, but contains enough changes to make it feel like a new level.
Age of Panic is the first level in the set, and features one of the best, if not the best, origin explanations I've seen. The terse F1 explains the situation, with an odd added historical element that I don't feel was really justified throughout the unit. The architecture in this first level is simply superb, with textures and lighting being used well to give a realistic and compelling underground feel. The flow is linear and the pacing is good, with monsters continuing to pop up and annoy you through most of the level. Specials have been used to accentuate the environment; the earthquake was used to heart-stopping effect in one area. Nitpicks: the level ran extremely slowly in a couple of places, and you can get permanently stuck in here.
Bring The Pain is your next stop. Continuity has been done excellently, from the structures and textures used to the overall environment... it's easy to believe that the two areas are truly connected. This is the level that's been reworked, and I didn't even notice it until I remembered both the armor secret (which was nice because finding it suits my style of play) and the method to lower the yellow lasers. The level is much "warmer" than the previous, due to excellent use of colored lighting for the most part. Nothing else has changed, however; the previous review, with the noted changes, still applies. Nitpicks: intermittent slowing; the parasite at the beginning is stuck in some kind of sound loop, which is annoying until you kill him; and monsters drop items, but not relevant ones.
Comp Center is where you end up next. Again, the transition is extremely smooth and convincing, with a good F1. This level features a very nice opening combat sequence (with a cool .wav clip), and the pacing throughout this level continues this balance and fun. Architecture in this level runs toward the large end of the scale, but as the structures themselves are relatively free of ornamentation (textures being used to good effect), the running speed is acceptable throughout. The trap in this level is interesting and challenging, and I especially liked being able to outsmart it (okay, the second time; not the first). The endgame here is a bit easy due to the architecture and monster placement, but this was a good, strong level that I enjoyed.
Intersection is a level you'll see twice. The first time through, I wondered if I was going in the right direction; I thought I managed to find a shortcut through the level due to the monster killed count (8 out of 26) and the vagueness of the F1. The opening runs extremely slowly; thank goodness there isn't a lot of combat, because it would have been ugly. As it was, a couple of well-placed grenades took out most of the opposition. Architecture runs toward the really tall end of the scale; in fact, this level is basically one big tall room. I liked the warning message in front of the lasers (which I never found a way to drop). When you come back through here (level after next), you're on the other side of the room and you have to press a button to open a door. This gives you an F1 update that reads "entrance is now accessible", but I couldn't figure out what the entrance was to... and the author never says. (I'm assuming it's the missile base.) Lots of big elevators and "tease" weapons in this level -- two rocket launchers, a grenade launcher, and the BFG.
The Lost World is the level you play between the two Intersections. This level is the largest of the set, and appears to be the "centerpiece" of the set. It's the most complex, with the most monsters and the least amount of visual and written clues. The F1 that begins the level introduces this vagueness with a terse and somewhat-unrevealing message. The combat in this level is the hardest in the unit, with big monsters popping up unexpectedly and in areas that leave little room for maneuvering. The dearth of health helps to keep the situation tense, though there is plenty of hardware and ammo for your use. The lighting and texturing (with some original textures) is grim, dark, and moody... it feels like the whole level is trying to figure out a way to kill you without you noticing. To this end, there are a number of traps and lethal situations to survive. The flow is linear, but is so confusing it seems semi-linear. By this, I mean there aren't a lot of visual clues to help you figure out where you're supposed to go next, and I spent quite a bit of time wandering back through areas I'd already cleared trying to find some place to go that I'd missed. As it turns out, there are death traps (and combination death traps, no less) along your required travel route, and they don't allow a lot of time to decide. Prepare to be killed by the architecture a couple of times in this level. Again, monsters drop unrelated items when killed, and there is some slowing in places, but nothing too bad.
...end is the last level in the set, and it certainly works that way. 13 total monsters, plenty of hardware, two main combat areas, and a final confrontation style arena that was a bit easier than it should have been due to having a great place to hide and shoot. Some slowing was noted; not surprising, because a large portion of the level is basically one long tunnel-like area.
Overall, this unit has serious potential, and I'm sure there are many people that will enjoy the hell out of it as is. For me, the flaws were confusing linearity, no "mini-goals" from level to level (there is only one major goal for all six levels), too much wandering around figuring out what to do and where to go next, and far too many death traps. An excellent effort, but not my cup of tea, as it were.
|Bring the Pain||
AGE1.ZIP -- 451k
27 mar 1998
Author: J. F. Gustafsson. You begin this level in the flooded basement of some kind of complex, and your goal is unknown, because the F1 indicates that there is a computer malfunction... so you won't be getting any updates. This level has been done using a lot of the weathered, rusty metal textures, and they have been applied consistently throughout. The architecture has been done extremely well, with most areas having plenty of detailing, adding to the immersiveness and the "you are there" feeling. The play areas are, on the whole, fairly small, but they run to the tall side which gives the impression of space. The flow is linear and the pacing is absolutely superb -- there aren't a whole lot of monsters in this level (33 total on Hard), but the way they're used and placed plays to their strengths without being totally annoying... it's as if they belong where they've been put. Also, the author has resisted the temptation to throw all the monsters possible into this level and, though there are a couple of tanks, they're tough without being impossible. Secrets have been done well, and I especially liked the red armor secret because getting to it tests your thinking skills. all in all, this level was quite a lot of fun, and the only thing I would have changed is to have made it longer, to prolong the enjoyment. Get this one now.
ANGRON1.ZIP -- 987k
3 may 1998
Author: Jonas N.P. Lindstrom. This archive is the first Quake2 release from this author; previous Quake work has been reviewed here. There are two levels in this archive and they are played in a linear fashion; you don't have to go back to the first one after you've left. Both levels are named the same ("Angron Installation").
The first level has a good, informative F1 and a clear origin point, though the CD track specified is track 1. The architecture throughout both of these levels is simply marvelous, with textures being used excellently to enhance the rather simple brush structures. Also, the author has adhered to a strong visual theme -- that of a mostly-underground missile base -- and has carried this theme without flaw through both levels. The second level, in particular, has some of the best indoor/outdoor blending I've yet seen; the area in the bottom screenshot is just one example of this. Every area is detailed with textures and, occasionally, with brushes, and this type of architecture keeps the playing speed high everywhere without sacrificing detail. Secrets in both levels contain bonus items, and are clearly marked. There is a wide variety in play area sizes, but most run towards the smaller end of the scale... only one area (the hangar in the second level) could be called "large". (There is one good-sized area in the first level -- the reactor, where you get the power cubes -- but there are enough brush structures in it to keep it from feeling large; see the screen shot at the top left.) The flow is linear through both levels and the pacing is excellent. Monster groupings tend toward the odd end of the scale, but for the most part they work well. (The one exception was the room with grunts, a medic, a gladiator, and a couple of flyers.) The ammo and weaponry given is more than adequate for the job, but due to the many hallways in these levels, combat is a bit more interesting than it would first appear. Not having a lot of maneuvering room spices up any combat situation, and the author has taken this into account, as none of the combat situations are overwhelming due to architecture. ambients and wav clips have been used logically, appropriately, and frequently; in addition, the F1s are clear and informative, and you'll have no trouble associating areas with their names. Some of the detailing impressed me as well; I especially liked the red/green flashing lights on the computer tops and in the hangar. Completing your final goal is as straightforward as the rest of the goals, but be sure to stand clear when you do it; I used a grenade to good effect. The endgame is as excellent as the rest of the level, but it could have been more challenging if you didn't have the chaingun, rocket launcher, and railgun. Nitpicks: some HOM was noted; the health given is a bit on the heavy side, making combat situations a bit less tense; clip brushes were used in some areas to prevent the player from accessing certain areas (even though it would have meant death; if I want to be stupid, let me); it was possible to climb out a window and walk around in the sky (bottom screenshot); there is an unmarked instant-death trap in the first level; misspellings noted ("acess") in F1s; and the keyed doors were unmarked. Nevertheless, this is an excellent pair of levels, and is an archive I am both keeping for a long time as well as an archive that comes highly recommended.
ANIHILAT.ZIP -- 440k
15 apr 1998
Author: Ian "[SnAzBaZ]" Packer. This level starts with you in a small room of some kind with no clear origin point, a deathmatch teleporter, and a good F1. The architecture in this level has been done well; most areas are somewhat free of ornamentation, textures have been applied well and consistently, areas vary in size and orientation, and it runs smoothly throughout. The lighting has been done very well (with the overly-bright outdoor area being the lone exception), and lends a sense of place and mood to the structuring and game areas. The flow in this level is linear, with some backtracking necessary, and the pacing is excellent; combat sequences are tricky and interesting due to both the architectural settings as well as the weapons and ammo given. Indeed, the combat sequence you'll experience when you exit the teleporter is among the hardest I've played due to the monster selection and placement. The pop ups, along with subsequent F1s, give you a good sense of place as well. One secret in this level and it's a tricky one, so keep your eyes open -- I missed it the first time through. Some nitpicks: you can get permanently stuck in this level, the exit texture is backwards (mirrored), the computer destruction sequence is a bit difficult to decipher due to somewhat-vague clues, there are no ambient sounds anywhere in the level, and the spinning fan has no axle. Some good work, and a fun game.
ANTHRAX.ZIP -- 726k
17 jun 1998
Author: Stephen Seachord. This level begins with a decent origin and a somewhat odd F1... unless, of course, you're conversant with Monty Python's "Holy Grail" film. You start with a somewhat powerful set of ammo and weaponry nearby (a railgun, 80 cells, and two sets of red armor). The combat situations are pretty powerful to almost match the need, but a super shotgun or grenade launcher would have been just as effective. You'd have needed more ammo, though. The architecture through this level has been done well, with play areas being mostly on the large side and detailing, where present, being provided with textures. The feel of each area is solid; this level feels like a real place. Lighting has been done adequately, though it is a bit harsh in places (the red area by the water, for example), and it blends smoothly from place to place. The flow is linear and the pacing is very strong and fun; since you're given such powerful weapons (the BFG and 300 cells are present in the first secret), the temptation is to just open up and run through the level. The author has obviously foreseen this attitude and has placed the monsters in locations and groupings that are more difficult than they first appear to be. One thing I would have liked and that would be fewer powerups -- there are three quads in this level. All in all, a good, solid level, but the odd (to me, anyway) theme distracts.
ARCTICBS.ZIP -- 1,998k
16 Aug 1998
Author: Lari Muuriaisniemi. This archive includes a pak file (which contains all the new textures used) along with the map bsp and an .rtz file (a "routes" file for bot play). The pak file should be installed in your \baseq2 directory (and renamed, if necessary, so as to not overwrite existing paks) with the rest of the files going into your \maps directory. At the start, the origin point is adequate and the introductory F1 is a bit delayed (though nicely done once you get it). One thing you'll notice right away and that's that this level is bright; the author has used fairly bright outdoor lighting and sheer white textures to give a good feel of an outdoor arctic area. This, of course, makes it somewhat hard to see until your eyes get adjusted. The architecture in this level has been done well, definitely giving a "base in the arctic" kind of impression, with artificial structures blending well into the outdoor areas. Play areas vary from small to pretty large, though no area is truly huge. The running speeds throughout this level run from smooth to horribly chunky, with some areas becoming nearly unplayable until the monsters are cleaned out. The flow is semi-linear, with some backtracking required, and the pacing is brutal; this author needs to learn a little more about weapon and monster balance. For instance, at the very beginning on hard, you have to dispatch two shotgun guards, two machine gun guards, four enforcers, and two gunners... with the blaster. And no cover. And no health. You open a door and, with ten grenades and your blaster, have to kill two more gunners and two more shotgun guards before you get the shotgun. The rest of the level isn't as bad as the introductory area, but there are some combat situations -- like taking on two tanks with the shotgun and no cover -- that are nearly as bad. This level also features ludicrously low amounts of health and ammo; get used to using your blaster against such monsters as parasites, medics, and berserks. The endgame is good, if a bit irritating; I don't mind having to maneuver through an earthquake to beat a timer, but I do mind having to try and stay on a tiny elevator platform at the same time. Nitpicks: it's impossible to get the first secret (the armor by the satellite dish) because there's no way past that entity; wind sounds in water (?); tunnels, with side ladders, that require finessing to simply navigate; a func_areaportal HOM (swinging doors near end) that never goes away; and it's possible to get permanently stuck. An ambitious effort, and one that exhibits most of the facets that make for good gameplay, but the shortcomings were just too short.
|Abort. Retry. Ignore. Fail.||
ARIF.ZIP -- 960k
3 may 1998
Author: Tomaz Zagar. This level opens with a terse F1 and an adequate origin point. The architecture throughout this level is clean and relatively decoration-free, with enough texture accenting being provided to give some depth. Play areas vary widely in size, though most areas are fairly large. Some slowing was noted, particularly at the beginning. The flow is linear and the pacing is strong, with large groups of monsters in most combat situations. Unfortunately, the player is placed in not a few disadvantageous situations, requiring brute force (more often than not) to survive... and, at the beginning especially, the player is simply not equipped with enough heavy firepower. Getting from one area to the next depends just as much upon luck as it does upon skill and cleverness. There is definitely enough ammo, though; you probably won't run out, except at the very beginning. No secrets and goals in the F1s, so this level is basically a Strogg hunt... and there was one item (the BFG) placed in such a way that it could have qualified for secret status. Security lasers are seen in a number of places, which is good; I managed to kill a half dozen monsters by running them into said lasers, however, which is bad. Some areas were well built and structured, making them stand out; the aquarium with the sunken and floating boxes, the damaged computer room, and the missile room (with working launch pads; how cool) were some of the outstanding ones. This author definitely has a predilection for the "explosive" special; when stuff in this level blows up, it really blows the hell up. The endgame was a bit abrupt and the exit was unmarked. Nitpicks: some monsters were stuck in the walls, and the English in the F1s and popups left a little to be desired (if the author is reading this, mail me if you make another level and I'll be more than happy to help you out). All in all, though, a good, strong first level; the author has demonstrated a good understanding of flow and design. Now all that's needed is some work on theme and pacing.
ARKANIAN.ZIP -- 1,678k
15 mar 1998
Author: Mike Daugherty. This archive contains three levels, with the introductory level being named "arkan0.bsp", making it easy enough to start the game. These levels definitely have a plot, and the first level (called "The Arrival") is one of the shortest introductory levels I've seen. Nevertheless, it does an admirable job of both explaining how you got where you are as well as giving you an excellent reason to get indoors as quickly as possible. Not much to see or do on the first level (the top screenshot shows you just about the entire level) but as a prequel it has been done well.
Once inside, you're taken to the main level (where most of the action takes place), called "The Ruins of Arkanian". This level is the largest of the three, and the architecture varies widely in size, with most areas running to the larger end of the scale (see the middle screenshot) and connecting areas being a bit smaller. The theme has been carried off well, however; you really do feel like you're in a place that actually exists. The flow is linear and the pacing is good, though there are some odd monster groupings, and the monsters have been placed well strategically. There is no F1 when you enter the level, but it pops up shortly thereafter, and it is specific and clear. Colored lighting has been used very well in this level, though the author has chosen to use a high proportion of yellowish lighting in most areas (due, no doubt, to the outdoor theme). Running speeds are acceptable throughout, with some notable exceptions (the last door to the water area, in particular). Many nitpicks in this one, though: unexplained teleporter use, non-explosive black crates, part of the elevator (past the courtyard with the hyperblaster) is visible over the outside wall, and some areaportal HOM was in evidence. The endgame was easier than it had any right to be, due to the presence of an abundance of cells as well as an easily-accessible quad, but nonetheless this one was fun and challenging.
The last level of the trio, "Final Trial", has been built in the "end boss" style; there are few monsters (six total, I believe), plenty of ammo and armor, and a showdown in a central area type of structure (see bottom screenshot). The earthquake at the end makes it difficult to exit, and I must admit that I'm not too fond of fighting my way successfully to the end to die anyway, but all in all a fun set of levels.
Check out the author's home page as well.
|Advanced Weapons Facility 1 - Infiltration||
AWF1.ZIP -- 818k
15 mar 1998
Author: James Parkman. This level starts off in a very small open courtyard with a shotgun and a box of shells close to hand. The architecture through most of this level tends toward the small and cramped, with many areas being extremely vertical; the storage area where you turn off the red security lasers is a case in point. Due to the limited maneuverability, combat is more than fairly difficult -- try dodging grenades in an access tunnel that doesn't allow for any sideways movement to see what I mean. The flow is linear, and the pacing is good if a bit on the powerful side; again, the limited maneuverability hampers your survival. Health is in pretty short supply, as is ammo, and I found myself facing many of the tougher monsters (a gladiator and a berserk) with nothing but the blaster and little room to move. Lighting has been done well, and, aside from the constriction of the play areas, the architecture and texturing have been done convincingly. The endgame was odd and unsatisfying, to my mind, and this level leads to "awf2", which doesn't exist, causing an abrupt transition to the console. An interesting exercise, but flow and pacing need work.
Check out the author's home page as well.
|The Azure Mine||
AZURE.ZIP -- 1,354k
28 mar 1998
Author: James Parkman. This archive contains two .bsps, AZURE.BSP and EOF.BSP, with AZURE being the first of the two. The introductory F1 is descriptive and concise, and combined with the introduction in the .txt file, gives a good plot foundation. As in this author's other two levels, Abandon All Hope and The Bloodshrine, the architecture, texture application, and lighting (both colored and otherwise) are simply superb, making it simple to become immersed in the game. Both outdoor and indoor areas alike have realistic and varied proportions as well as thematically excellent texturing. Play areas vary in size, but most run toward the smaller end of the scale. The detailing in this level is where it truly shines; from the flickering lights and the deft use of ambient sounds to the machinery that actually looks like it does something, this author's work gives a sense of "realism" that I've rarely experienced. One thing I especially liked was the clarity of the goals set for the player; it's hard to misinterpret what you're supposed to do here. The flow of these levels is linear, and the pacing is superb -- monsters drop relevant items when killed, their groupings make sense, and their placement makes them challenging without being overpowering. I never thought killing a gunner was hard until I tried to track him scrambling up and down a flight of stairs... The second level of the two is the Big Old End Game kind of level, and the pacing, flow, and monster selection certainly support this. Some pretty interesting structures and play areas are present in this level (see the bottom screenshot for the structures I refer to), and the running speed is truly smooth throughout. The endgame itself is somewhat predictable, but I have to admit it was a bit more challenging than I had expected. Secrets in these levels are truly secrets, and I found three of four. Well, I found four, but I was able to get to only three, and I didn't find the one in the last level at all. Some nitpicks: doors that didn't open (or that weren't doors, like the big cargo-door thing in the first level) didn't say why they wouldn't open when I ran into them, and the running speed at the very beginning was a bit slow. Other than those minor items, this is definitely a level you'll be keeping on your hard drive for a long time. Excellent work, and a great game.