level reviews

 "a" reviews

All of the levels reviewed on this page can be found here.

Ballistic BALLISTIC.ZIP -- 770k
15 apr 1998
Author: Fred Hite, Jr. This level begins with an error message and an invalid CD track (1). The architecture in this level comes in a fairly wide variety of sizes, with most play areas being spacious enough for easy maneuvering. Structures have been built well, and there are some interesting areas in this level with appropriate and thematic detailing. Running speeds throughout this level ran toward the erratic side, and an unpredictable erratic at that -- areas that looked like they should have run smoothly were choppy, and complex areas with lots of detail ran smoothly. The flow is semi-linear, with one main path having a number of side areas to explore, and the pacing is good; combat situations are, for the most part, challenging and interesting. Weapons and ammo are given in adequate amounts, and the monsters drop items occasionally when killed; unfortunately, most of the items dropped weren't logical with the monster's typical weaponry. Texture application was good, for the most part, but there are some questionable texture choices (door edges) and the elevator half-buttons looked downright odd. Two secrets in this level, and the one I found has both a nice visual clue as well as a gravy train of equipment inside. Some nice touches in this level in regards to rotating brushes; the double fan in the side storage room was very well done, along with the ceiling structure in the last room. Nitpicks: light fixtures blow up but they don't, black boxes don't explode when shot, deathmatch teleporters are used, misaligned textures were noted, and it's possible to get permanently stuck in this level. An adequate level, but the technical flaws on top of the erratic running speed distracted.
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The Production Complex BARIOSP1.ZIP -- 6,623k
15 jul 1998
Author: Andrea D'Intino aka BARIO. This huge archive includes six single-player levels (which i've played and will be reviewing) and one deathmatch level (which I did not play). The single-player levels come in a pak for ease of installation, as the author has included new graphics. Thankfully, the first level is named "bario", which makes it simple to start and run this set. The levels are designed to be played in a linear fashion (i.e. there is no direct return to a level once you've left it), though most of the levels have multiple entrances and exits.

The first level, "The Landing", is aptly named; you begin in the wreckage of your downed pod in an outdoor area. The architecture through this level is very much on the large end of the scale, with valleys to traverse and enormous outdoor structures. The flow is semi-linear, with side areas to explore, and the pacing is good if a bit light; true, you're only armed with a blaster (no other weapons are available here), but with the size of the play areas, I'd have expected a bit heavier monster population. One secret to get to, and I like the message you get when you find it. A very nicely laid-out introductory level and one that sets the scene well for what's to follow.

From The Landing, you proceed to "Chemistry II", which forms the "hub" of this set. This is the level you'll see the most (three times), so it, if any of the levels, appears to be the main crossroads. The transition between the levels has been done well, and the F1 is a bit on the thin side. The architecture in this level runs the range from small to large, and the areas blend smoothly into one another. The structuring is a bit on the square side, for the most part, but due to the variance in sizes and flow, it's not obtrusive and works well. Texturing has been done to enhance the depth of the structures and, while the author has used a fairly wide variety, they all seem to work together. Colored lighting has been applied, but many areas don't seem to blend, and some areas in particular are harsh and jarring. The author has used a seeming abundance of transparent textures, and, along with the water underneath and the rotating brushes (in one area) the running speeds throughout this level are very erratic and tend toward the slower end of the scale. Func_areaportals would have gone a long way towards alleviating this slowing, I do believe. The flow is linear, with some side areas to explore, and the pacing is good if a bit light for the weaponry you're carrying. There were definitely some "rush"-type monster placements; a little of the ol' "chop up the slavering hordes" combat situations were tucked in here, and I have to admit they were pretty fun. Also, I loved the sound file that plays when you first enter the level -- yes, it startled the hell out of me because the tactical situation would have been really nasty if it were real. good job on that one, Bario. :) Nitpicks: running speeds; barriers (doors and laser gates) that won't open don't tell you why or how to open them; and some .wav files overlapped rather badly, most notably when you get the shotgun.

Next, we enter "The Warehouse", and what a warehouse it is. Odd continuity from the previous level, and the F1, though wordy, is specific in the tasks (three) you're to perform. The architecture in here accentuates the theme extremely well, with excellent-looking (and working) cranes, and catwalks, and boxes, and ladders, and pallets... all the detritus of a real warehouse are in here, and put together nicely. The running speeds are, as in the previous, pretty slow, but the areas weren't that heavily detailed, which surprised me. Lots of exploring to do in this level, and (my favorite) plenty of stuff to jump on and over and climb around and in. This level is one of the biggest in the set -- at least, it feels that way -- and it reminded me very strongly of the Mexx levels in Quake1 in many places. Lighting has been done well, with the level having a gloomy, abandoned feel, and the texturing supports the architecture in most places. I did find some inverted and misaligned textures, though. The flow is linear, with side-area exploring, and your tasks take you in a loop that, once finished, brings you back to the start with no backtracking required. This is a nice touch, especially in such a large level; backtracking through a level this size would have been boring. Nitpicks: monster population sort of light; more inaccessible areas that don't explain why; and intermittent slowing.

From The Warehouse to "The Cave". A good transition and thin F1 begin this level. This is a short, linear level with good thematic architecture, the fastest running speeds in the group, no secrets, and no alternate paths. The architecture is that of some kind of lava factory, with catwalks and plenty of lava to fall into (with no escape) if you're not careful. There are some support struts below the main walkway, but if you drop down onto them, you'll find no way off; since there are no secrets, you'll have no reason to go exploring other than curiosity (like I did). No tasks required, which makes me wonder what it's doing here in the first place; you run through here once, with no return, and the only thing you need out of this is the data CD, which is placed right in front of the exit. From here, you proceed through Chemistry II, and then to the next level.

"Cool Station" is the next map, and you get there with a good transition and F1. This level is among the largest in the pak, and is also the plainest, with architecture being huge and cumbersome. Detailing is large as well, with huge support beams and catwalks and gates comprising the bulk of it. The flow is linear, and the pacing is good, if a bit easy -- since the play areas are so huge, it's easy enough to dodge monster fire. There is some backtracking required, however, and the level is mostly empty by that point. In addition, the backtracking seems sort of purposeless; when you complete a goal, a door opens way back where you started, yet you have no visual or textual clue what the door might be or where, making for quite a bit of wandering. Some texture misalignment and HOM was noted as well. The endlevel combat sequence was pretty fun, but, again, the size of the combat area made it a lot easier than it should have been. From here, you'll go back to Chemistry II for a quick run-through.

"The Revenge" is the endgame level, and this is clear from the architecture, pacing, and flow. It's a straight run-through, with most of the heavier monsters present, and you'll get kitted out with enough ammo and weaponry and armor to take on two or three Makrons. The architecture in this level is odd, yet it hangs together well, giving this map an unearthly, eerie sort of feel. The endgame is predictable and, again, far too easy; with an invulnerability and quad, and armed with the hyperblaster, it took 21 seconds to beat Makron.

An ambitious attempt, and a good, solid set of levels. No TLKA, though, due to the erratic running speeds, technical flaws, and the overall size of the thing... it seems like this could have been done with maps that were half the size and still been effective. Good play, but it lacks that... something.

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Ben's Lair BENSLAIR.ZIP -- 455k
4 apr 1998
author: Chris Bretz. One room, no monsters, no F1. Looks like a test level.
<no rating>

The Boat in God's Fly BOAT60.ZIP -- 580k
15 mar 1998
Author: Jeff Ashley, Jr. This level begins with a rather terse and basic F1, and doesn't really introduce a plot or theme. The architecture throughout this level is somewhat odd and doesn't follow any particular theme... it's as if the author was experimenting with different types of structures without regard to playability. Some of these structures are interesting, but out of context they make little sense. The pacing and flow were erratic at best, with monsters seemingly selected and placed at random with no consideration for their surroundings. Colored lighting has been used, but again, it seemed more like a "how does this work" demonstration rather than a concerted effort to apply a certain theme or sense of place. All in all, a level that amply demonstrates the author's aptitude with the basics of level design, but as a game, this one falls short. With a theme (and attention to it) this author's next work is something I'll be looking forward to.
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Borax II BORAX2.ZIP -- 868k
18 jun 1998
Author: Dennis Katsonis. This level begins with a good origin (and a slight physics problem; did the plane drop straight down?) and a strong F1 once you enter the first tunnel. The architecture in this level runs toward the large end of the scale in outdoor areas, with indoor areas varying widely in size from small to medium sized. The structuring is convincing, if a bit on the blocky side, and it's set up in such a way as to prevent the player from running long distances in any one direction... the hallways and corridors twist and turn a bit, and, owing to a low number of doors, the flow in this map is linear without really seeming to be. The freedom of movement the player has is surprising. There are tasks that you'll have to complete, and there are limiting items (like laser grids and locked doors), but they're not laid out in any (seemingly) specific order, which led to a little confusion on my part. Areas are marked clearly, however, so the clues and tips you'll get will make sense. This level, overall, is on the large side, so you'll have a lot of running around to do; one problem i noticed is that, due to the freedom of movement you have, it's very easy to get rid of a large portion of the level population before having to do anything... and this means that completing the tasks involves a lot of back-and-forth through a largely-empty level. The monster placement is good, though some of the combinations are odd, and you'll have enough weapons and ammo to do the job. Health is in abundance, but it's placed somewhat arbitrarily; you'll clear four areas with no health in sight, then turn the corner and see six +25s in somewhat close proximity. Nitpicks: some areas ran a bit choppy; it's possible to get permanently stuck in three places in this level, one of which is by blowing a hole in the ceiling by the secret armor before opening the door whose only switch is in the control room, half a level away; some texture truncations were noted; some odd lighting combos were noted (in particular, one wall-mounted light had three red sides and one yellow side). I really thought the secrets were neat, though, especially the Dennis Katsonis (no picture) one. :) A good, strong, interesting first effort from this author, though the theme lacks a bit of focus, as if the author were attempting to put everything in one level. A tighter focus (and maybe a smaller level) would be interesting, I think. I'll be looking forward to this author's next work.
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The Bloodshrine BSHRINE.ZIP -- 1,156k
15 mar 1998
bloodshrine Author: James Parkman (the third level in one update from one author; gotta be some kind of record, I'm thinking...) This level comes packaged with a number of other files (texture and sound), but the author has included the directory structure (and installation instructions in the .txt file) for easier setup. The level starts out with a minimal F1, but it's enough to get you started, and subsequent F1s lay out the plot quite nicely. The author has included some Quake textures in the level (used as highlights and for emphasis) and the ones that have been used work very well in this context -- they actually look and feel like they belong. The architecture in this level is, on the whole, immersive and thematically wonderful -- areas flow logically into one another, texturing is appropriate and adheres to the theme, and play areas are varied in size and approach, making for some interesting and fun combat situations. The flow is linear and the pacing is excellent; you've always got adequate weaponry for the job (though sometimes it doesn't seem like it) and the ammo provided is enough if you don't mind switching weapons every now and then. Enough health is provided, too, and it's more than enough if you play the level more than once. The lighting has been done with a deft touch, blending naturally from one area to the next, and the colors used were appropriate for the areas they illuminated. Secrets were fun to find and valuable, but not necessary. Some of the detailing in this level was wonderful (the screen shot shows the most distinctive structure), but on the down side some of these details caused an extraordinary hit on playing speeds -- when the generator pictured did its animation, I lost roughly 75% of my frame rate (from 20 down to 5). Also, the particles that are used take away from normal animations; firing the railgun had no visual component when the generator was active, and there were no particles in both explosions and the "blood spray" when I shot a monster. Some architectural quirks were present, such as the 4-part door (by the water) that required jumping to get through; closed doors and raised forcefields didn't generate information messages (as to what was needed to open/lower them) when touched; and I noticed some areaportal HOM by the door that led to the first secret. Finally, the endgame was a bit odd in that it didn't matter where you were in the level when the changelevel occurred... there wasn't a specific area you had to get to in order to exit. Nevertheless, this level was a lot of fun, and if you've got a higher-end machine than I do, you should be able to enjoy it at full speed.

Check out the author's home page as well.

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this level kicks ass

"c" reviews