The Horde of Zendar by sock

Never has a Quake map succeeded so well at portraying its environment as part of a larger world, not just in terms of there always seeming to be "unattainable vistas" (as Tolkien put it) from any one point of view, not only due to much (apparently) inaccessible scenery and a very suitable skybox, but also because seriously (yes, for once), the story and concept really contribute to the map. The idea of a city blocked-in and going to hell with violence and insanity in a medieval fantasy world is great, like the besieged city of Dejagore in The Black Company series - and of course, in classic Quake fashion, even darker things lurk in this city, such as the undead, demons, and monsters. The environment concept is realized in extremely tight design, with a consistent and appropriate level of detail, which consistently makes the level seem more than the sum of its parts. Texturing is great as you would expect, with an expanded id medieval set used very well, so that the environment seems like something id might have built for "The Realm of Black Magic," if only they were as awesome as Sock. That's another way, I suppose, of saying that like Sock's other maps, this is very Quakey, in that it is based on a close examination of the original id maps, but it extrapolates that into something more. I noticed a couple of extra textures from Heretic 2 thrown in (I used to make Heretic 2 maps), as if this map was just like, blatantly designed for me to find it awesome. The 3d design is amazing, and is reminiscent not only of Heretic 2's city levels, but also of reminiscent of one of my favourite Quake maps, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and it also kind of reminded me of the "Night City" section of one Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Nothing but good associations here. In addition to the great concept, impressive detail, striking 3d design, and excellent texture work, the lighting deserves praise all on its own. Subtle blue creates the effect of moonlight, while yellow is used for torchlight - adding significantly to the atmosphere.

The gameplay is similarly great. Finally a Sock map with hordes. I had found his earlier maps a bit frustrating at times because they were so indoor-focused and linear. Well, that's completely solved here - the map is nonlinear and mostly outdoor, and you can basically do it in whatever order you want. Also, as people may be aware, I favour hordes, and this map does use hordes, even if it's relatively moderate. I only died once, in the "Mausoleum" section, which was a blast. Secret hunters will love this map - throughout the map are secrets that aren't just a dead-end closet, but actually suit the map concept - secret passages that guards, thieves or spies might use. All of the secrets and shortcuts that I found exploit the map's ingenius layout (I was just arguing with a friend about how so many modern games insult the player's intelligence by limiting playspace, and would never "trust" the player to complete a nonlinear map, find shortcuts, or navigate rooftops on his or her own). Before Sock began his (now sadly concluded) "Year of Quake mapping," he played a whole bunch of custom Quake maps and provided critiques from a systematic perspective that one commentator (I forget who) referred to as the equivalent of Luther's 95 Theses. Even if making the community rethink its design perspectives in this way was all that Sock contributed, it would still be a great contribution. But subsequently we got his design perspective manifested in the stealth mod "In the Shadows," and moreover in a string of excellent Q1SP maps, each one better than the last. This map is a leap beyond even Sock's previous standards, and at long last we can say that someone has finally topped 2005's reigning "best single Q1SP map," The Marcher Fortress. With this map Sock undeniably cements his reputation as one of the most talented guys to ever make a Quake map. I've commented before on the resemblance of some of Sock's work to the original concept id (or Romero, anyway) had for Quake, of a dark fantasy FPS game set in a medieval world, perhaps with a Lovecraftian influence. For those of us who have spent so many years immersed in this game, playing this map was actually a very eerie experience - like encountering the ghost of what might have been.

Score: 20/20