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Wednesday 3rd March 1999:

Chaos: "The Crawling Chaos"
(Size: 650k. Alternative downloads: Chaos / Chaos)

Interesting map this, with an interesting and original style. It uses some Wind Tunnels designs and styles (like, doh!, wind well as some of the great grimy bronze textures), which is rare enough with custom levels, but adds quite a unique style to create a level that looks very little like most metal levels. The overall theme is dark brown/bronze textures with bright yellow lights and some lurid custom slime - so a level of contrasts then. I personally think it is quite effective, though some may find it repetitive and oppressive - I would say consistent myself, though sometimes the lights and textures could be a bit more varied. Anyway, I like this style in the Wind Tunnels, and I like it in this map, and it's originality is interesting, and it's well themed as you might guess. As well as the colours and textures, there are some prominent designs that add theme to the map, mostly the subtly angled pillars, the angled corridors, and the 8 pointed window frames. The architecture is consistently good throughout, if plain in some corridors - though the style usually makes up for any plainess. Plenty of angles as mentioned before, effective 2D and 3D room designs, some good details like the pillars and buttresses and pipes, and of course the omnipresent lights. There are no stunning setpieces, though most rooms have something to offer, and the architecture is definitely good.

The layout is mostly rooms and corridors, with the wind tunnels being rarely used - some people hate the things so that should please them, I don't mind either way. There is a bit of exploration at some points, but not much - however the secrets should get you exploring if you have the patience as a couple of them were bloody hard (read: I still haven't found either mega health!). Gameplay is challenging and you need to watch your armour and health as there isn't a lot of it in some places. The level starts in a familiar (but good) situation and progresses steadily and mercilessly from there. There really isn't any opportunity to relax, and almost all combats require focus, be it on retreating, charging in, or taking down multiple enemies. It's the sort of fighting that is satisfying and fun if you survive though obviously less so if you die. Happily, although the very final combat is easy, there is quite a climax before that, just the sort of fighting that is rather exciting with the weapons you have. There is also a mental challenge at one point - again this is smugly fun if you get it, and annoying if you don't (I didn't the first time!). Of course, the challenge is no good without fun, and for the most part the level is fun (well assuming you find the RA secret, might be nasty without that), but in a few places the situations can be a bit too awkward. Overall, good level, good style.

TMS1: "The First Attempt"
(Size: 700k. Alternative downloads: TMS1 / TMS1)

Well if the title of the map is to believed, this is another great debut release that shows that there is little excuse for releasing poor first levels. In fact, it's like the author had the same maxim as me: "aim for Id quality or better" - for this map takes a map style that's reminiscent of Id's own metal maps, makes it equally well, adds some original touches and makes it twice the size of an Id level to provide a jolly good level that is equal or better to Id's (though the gameplay balance is not up to standard in places). This is not a point about making levels in a similar style, BTW, it's a point about quality and design and Id's quality being the starting point for good custom maps. And indeed this is a good custom map, well made, well themed and pretty well rounded.

The architecture is solid and good - in the way that metal maps are, nicely proportioned and detailed with the standard metal elements like lava, gargoyles and runes all adding interest and familiarity. There are some nice touches such as blue details on the wall, a set of spiral steps, and a lava canyon with a nice rock texture. There's enough angles and varied designs too and the whole map is appropriately themed with no out of place sections. On the downside, there no really spectacular designs in the architecture, some corridors are a bit plain and some more angles would be nice in places. Overall the architecture is good, and well built. One thing I like is that the lava is used with restraint rather than to make life awkward, though be wary of a dunking at the end of the canyon. The map does feel quite lengthy in layout, though you'll find yourself winding your way back to previous areas at various points - there's no exploration however, progression is linear. A few secrets and the first one is very useful - a bit too useful in fact as you kinda need what's inside.

Gameplay is very solid and contiuously tough, with little respite until the end (but equally, very few unfair combats). Appropriately, you face a lot of Ogres, as well as other medium class monsters. The gameplay tends to be fairly simple: see monster, shoot monster, repeat, though there are some more interesting combat situations, and it is fun enough just to wade through queues of monsters. Although the gameplay is well balanced and fun through most of the map, it's not well balanced at the start and finish. The start puts you under light but immediate attack by monsters, something I am not keen on, and it forces you out into a situation that is rather awkward for the undergunned start to a map. From there, the gameplay gets more fun, though ammo gets rather tight in the lava room in the screeny above. After this, the map proceeds very well, good reasonable fighting with plenty enough ammo and armour, until the very end which is very easy and disappointing. There is simply no big climax at the end - a pity. So the map could have done with a bit of gameplay tweaking, but aside from that it's a good map in a reliably traditional style.

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