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Friday 19th May 2000:

PG2: "Phantasmal Garrison"
(Size: 3.10 meg. No Alternative downloads.)

An improved version of the old Phantasm. That wasn't good enough to review - this version is. I can't pick out all the improvements but there are some more complex areas and better details, as well as more balanced gameplay. A 4 map unit - 3 normal maps, an arena map - as well as a finish map and a cool little start map. In general the maps are on a large scale with an open feel, have a good use of 3D layouts which sees you returning to areas at various levels, and stick to their themes well. The sky is nice. First map is a mostly outdoor map with medieval sections built in. Good, if plain, large scale designs, the outdoor areas are decent enough, but more details were definitely needed. Second map is in a medieval town, using some textures from that old Village map. Buildings are joined together as if you are in just one part of a town. The buildings look good with windows and peaked rooves, and detailed pillars and torch holders. Inside, rooms vary from good designs to very plain. Third map is a temple map with terracotta style mixed in, giving it an original feel. A mixture of outdoor areas, with a neat canyon to start, and some indoor sections. Nice arches and texture trim in this, though some more complex structures would be good. Final arena map is in the same style and looks pretty good too though it's just a few rooms.

Gameplay is also good, particularly later on in the levels, as it's a bit overbearing at the start when you have just a shotgun. As mentioned, the layouts give good progression, though there isn't much exploration and the secrets are simple. For combat, the maps throw a *lot* of monsters at you in continually large gangs - groups of 3-4 Ogres, Fiends or Deathknights are very common, while smaller monsters can be even more numerate in places. Mixed gangs are used too, leading to tactical infighting if you are clever, there are also plenty of medieval barrels that can be used. Generally the gangs are not overwhelming - the open spaces make it easy to avoid attacks, and there is a proper supply of ammo and health. There are some trickily set up combats, with Ogre snipers or ambushes for example, but the continual gangs are a bit of a mindless set up. Boss monsters are used sparingly, and at the end of each map there is a custom Dragon monster, each with their own unique attack. These are pretty hard to take down, tough and manouvrable, so they provide a good finishing challenge. I wish the models were more "Quakey" though. The final arena has a very easy way to finish which stops it being the challenge it could be. Overall, a good unit with nice variety and plenty of action.

COE: "Coven of Ebony"
(Size: 4.10 meg. No Alternative downloads.)

Note: There is a Coe_p (400 k) patch, courtesy of Fat Controller, which changes the crude wizard monsters into much better quality Hexen2 necromancers, thus if COE is played with the patch the criticism of the wizard models no longer applies.

A 4 map (plus decent start and finish maps), distinctly blue unit. Despite the continual blueness, each map has it's own style: First map has an original blue + white slab theme, with mostly simple squarish rooms that are redeemed by having lots of good details and occasional curves. Second map is set almost entirely in natural caverns using the dark blue D0E rock texture, with grey/brown banding. Good use of natural angles as well as some more varied designs. Third map and final arena map both have more normal Id blue textures mixed with metal and blue stone. Room designs are a bit more conventional, and sometimes more complex (some are a still bit simple though) - the 3rd map's final curved bastion is very good. Generally more complexity would be the main improvement - it would be nice to see some outside bastions or big designs done in this style. All areas have had attention paid to them, so the architecture is pretty high quality overall.

This map uses custom monsters, skins, and sounds, worth noting given the variation in quality. Custom skins are: Metallic Deathknight and Knight skins - these are pretty good, they are subtle and fit in well. Those monsters are modified so they are tougher and the Deathknight also has a fireball attack, making them much more challenging. Turquoise Deathknight, Ogre and Shambler skins - these are poor quality, noticably inferior to the original skins, they look out of place, and I cannot understand why they were used. New "Axeman" monster - this is cool, like a bot with an axe (remember The Bishop??). Good skin, fast and vicious, fitting in well with Quake's arsenal. New "Mage" monsters - these are very poor, the model is absolutely awful and out of place, the attacks rip off various sources, and they are annoying to fight. Custom sounds for these monsters are okay, all very gutteral, not as effective as Zer monster sounds though.

Gameplay is blatant and unrelenting: In each room, throw vast hordes of monsters at the player, with reasonable ammo but sparse health. Repeat for the next room....and the next room....and... For some of the maps, this is fine, quite fun wading through the monsters, especially when you get good weapons. However, in some areas it is tedious and frustrating - the new monsters take a long time to kill, and when there is little space to move or run, the hordes *are* overwhelming (the start of map 2 is particularly poor). Despite skill settings, it's just too hard and crude compared to the general standard of good gameplay. The maps needed a better balance, fewer of the tough new monsters, and more attention to clever placements and combats rather than just hordes. But if you like hard, unsubtle challenges, then these are good quality maps to have it in.

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