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Wednesday 17th March 1999:

TDK11: "The Demon King"
(Size: 7.00 meg. Alternative downloads: TDK11 / TDK11)

The Demon King: a full episode, including 10 maps (and various odds and sods like start and end maps), done in a full on fantasy style, with non-linear gameplay, a very basic but unfolding story, and plenty of atmosphere and exploration as well. So as you might guess you get a fair bit for your download, and it's a weighty undertaking. Before the review proper, there are some "issues" that are worth mentioning. Firstly: toughened monsters. Each monster has approx. 1 1/2 times it's original toughness. Is this good or bad??? Personally, I don't like it that much, it just means they take longer to kill, without making them more interesting or exciting. Secondly the gravity in the levels is slightly reduced - this is most noticable with the forest levels, but may be in the other levels too. I think this is fine, it's not altered too much, and actually makes Fiends more fun and effective. Thirdly, there is a bug (or possibly a feature) that when you return to a level you previously passed through, all the weapons, ammo and health are still there, but the monsters are still dead. I suspect this is a does it affect the game though??? Well, given the monsters' increased toughness, I found it pretty damn useful - I would have probably run out of ammo without the bug... make up your own minds about that!!

Fourthly, one problem in the otherwise excellent church level, is almost unplayable slowdown. Due to the huge size of this outdoor level, not only does it run at under 15 fps in places, it also has r_speeds (a measure of the number of polygons visible) that often exceed 2000, maxing out at 2500. Given that r_speeds need to be kept below 1000, this leads to the level running very choppily indeed - thankfully there is very little combat in that area, but it is a serious flaw - especially since you need to make a jump onto rocks that is hampered by a low framerate (try looking at the ground). Got all that??? Now, this episode is, in part, sold on it's non-linear gameplay and plot...well, it's pretty thin to be honest, the gameplay is essentially collecting keys and hitting switches, except you find out what keys to get where as you progress throughout the levels. You need to find scraps of paper to reveal the key locations, and this does require plenty of exploration and hunting around, though it's not too confusing (pay attention to the scraps, okay???).

The plot is, well, a bare bones plot, basically you progress through the maps and kill the bad d00d at the end - but there is a nice twist which is cool. I feel that more effort could have been devoted to a richer plot and gameplay that went with that, but hey, this is still Quake so I can live without it =). Onto the levels, and you certainly get an interesting selection, including a town (decent layout but very primitive, not that impressive), forest (very cool and atmospheric), farm (nice, some forest in it as well), church (impressive but very slow), cemetery (small but cool), wizards tower (wierd and gimmicky but some good designs - not much of a tower sadly), castle (a proper castle for sure, very good), and dungeon (metal style, some good designs). All of these fit into the fantasy theme well, all of them suit the episode, and give enough variety to keep you interested to see what's next. Best aspects of the maps included the forest maps, which were pretty good in style given that it's the Quake engine, and very atmospheric. With a gloomy feel, patrolling Scrags and an exploratory layout, I really liked these levels. Also, the castle and the church were impressive, detailed and looking pretty much like they are supposed to. There is also a good use of a really nice jade stone texture in the castle, church and cemetary, a texture I haven't seen before, but a great colour when mixed with the dark blue designs, and very pretty.

Finally, the cemetary is pretty cool, very small map, but a nice rocky outdoor design. The wizards tower and dungeon were comparable in design: some areas were good with impressive designs, but some looked rather bland - not bad, but could have been more interesting. The town was the weakest of the levels, although the layout is good and suitable, and some of the buildings are cool, some of it seemed rather amateur, with sloppy texturing and plain designs. A pity as this could have been a really cool map. Naturally, this episode does try to do some real life™ stuff that Quake isn't suitable for, but because it's in a fantasy vein, rather than real real life™, it mostly works quite well. Overall, the architecture is variable in style and quality, but much of it is very good and interesting - I do feel that some maps could have been finished more professionally though.

As I hinted at before, exploration plays a major part in these maps, which is definitely cool (well unless you don't like exploration). The episode as a whole is fairly non-linear, there are many routes and maps you can try before you get stopped and need to explore another route - this is good stuff. Additionally, within each map, there is often multiple routes, both to multiple exits, but also just exploring around the maps. Some of this exploration is essential to find clues, some of it gets you goodies, some of it is just for fun. I can imagine that some people may get stuck or confused, but I'm afraid that's the nature of the levels, and I do like exploration within reason - I found this to be reasonable. The one aspect I really didn't like was the wizard's tower, which relied on puzzles and trick gameplay - I can appreciate the attempt to try something more thoughtful, but it just bored me. Oh, there is no secrets as such, but there's enough exploration to make them superfluous - but there is a hidden Quad in one place - useful if you can get it and find it!!

Gameplay, again something I mentioned aspects of before: toughened monsters and remaining ammo - you also get given all but 2 weapons and all ammo at the start, but this is both intentional and useful. Gameplay is good and well balanced throughout, starting easy and getting harder, though never really overwhelming given that you can always recollect ammo - in fact, if you were patient enough, you could make this level ridicuously easy by collecting more ammo and health after each fight (would you do that??? hmmm, your choice...). However, although the gameplay is good, it's not really special or exciting, and can be a bit repetitive, though the map designs and exploration do make up for this. There are a few interesting fights, particularly in the forest levels, and also there's a good use of Fiends in places. In general the style of gameplay involves fairly tough monsters, but plenty of firepower and space to move around. The gameplay does hot up a bit at the end, throughout the castle and dungeon (though there also is an awful instant death area along the castle walls, a very bad idea), with more tough monsters and tighter spaces. The real final conflict is, well, hilarious and confusing - it uses a Quake monster that has been modified with all sorts of whack stuff, some of which makes for a very dynamic fight. It can be very hard if you've run out of cells and rockets though - certainly it's a fitting end, and though challenging, fun too. Overall, a large meaty episode, with some flaws, but plenty enough exploration and immersion.

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