Grendel’s Keep by distrans
distrans' newest map, Grendel's Keep, takes us back to the warped realm of Travail, one of the modern masterpieces of episode-length Q1SP. The dark runic/base style is a little similar to Travail's start map, so the connection of this map to the original Travail as a prequel is believable. Nevertheless, the style is unique; it is not industrial (jjspq3, Glassman's old rorshach screenshots, etc) so much as a mostly seamless blend of Quake 2 base and Quake 1 Runic. Perhaps the best analogy is Zerstörer, but that still doesn't capture the gothic/runic details (id-style sky beams casting crisscrossing shadows, buttresses capped with spikes, gargoyles) which exist alongside machinery, computer screens, and of course, crates. The machinery becomes more prominent as the level progresses, and the ending mixes in a whole lot of flesh and blood for, definitely the coolest part of the map.
Build quality and lighting are, as we would expect from distrans, basically impeccable. The map is gloomy, with lots of curving corners and a very smooth look overall. However, the layout is not as impressive as other recent Q1SP maps; this might be personal taste but it doesn't seem as logically interconnected as it might be (I got lost once, but most players won't need to worry about this). The gameplay mixes all kinds of enemies, culminating in the vores/shamblers ending, so if you play on this on hard, you will get a challenge as advertised. There are a few confrontations in particular that killed me more than once.
The coolest feature of the map for me, was the atmosphere and the hints of some mysterious power behind the place (in classic Quake fashion, explained only vaguely). The machinery, and especially the flesh sections, contributed to this sense very well. This does seem to be a bit of a step backward in terms of distrans' other maps, but it is still a well-made map with a groundbreaking theme.