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Tuesday 12th May 1999:

Ebony1: "Ebony"
(Size: 450k. No Alternative downloads)

A fairly recent map - well, 1999 at least, recent in Q1 SP terms. It's a small, well made, metal map in the classic Episode 3 style, and it adheres to the strong metal theme well - there is also a blueish section a la E3M6/7, perhaps more blue elsewhere would have provided a stronger link. So you can guess the style of the level - plain grey stone walls, rusty metal beams, red rune details, cool but some what arbitrary buttresses, and of course a bit more lava than you really want =). Though the room designs are simple, the architecture is consistently good - each room has some solid, attractive structures to offer. In particular there are some good uses of angles on the larger details, well structured ceilings, and a neat little spiked wall. The map is also clearly well made, nothing really seems poorly done or out of place. However, there could be some stronger links between the architecture throughout the map, as there are plenty of nice designs, but often no link between them (other than the theme). Also, some more impressive overall room designs would be nice, as the rooms are fairly simple and don't use much 3D. The layout of the map is small, simple and linear, there is some back tracking needed to complete it, which makes good use of the space. For the explorers though, there are plenty of secrets, which range from the simple to the highly illogical - a couple of the secrets require a lot of experimenting or a sixth sense to find!!

The gameplay is quite tricky in a couple of places, mostly at the start and when dealing with the annoying lava trapô, but straightforward elsewhere. You can see the latter in the screenshot above - a set of small squares over a lava pit - hit a switch and some more appear from the ceiling - some drop you in the lava, some don't. Once you work it out it's not to bad, but when you have to cross it 3 times, it gets irritating, so I don't think it adds much to gameplay - though being "trapped" on one side does make facing monsters more challenging. At the start of the map, you face some rather out of place Grunts, then straight into vicious combat with Ogres, Deathknights and other such nasties. There's a lot to fight initially, and good movement is needed - the start could be off-putting, but things do ease off due to the firepower you get. There are still a few surprises and monster appearences that keep you on your toes - of which some are fun and well done, but one could prove somewhat fatal. Unfortunately the map gradually gets easier throughout, with less exciting gameplay, and there is no climax at the end. Overall, having the trap only used once and focusing more on gameplay balance and planned combats would have improved this map, but it's still quite neat.

Cloning: "The Cloning Facility"
(Size: 1.30 meg. No Alternative downloads.)

Note: This map requires the Hipnotic mission pack, Scourge of Armagon, to run.
This on the other hand, is a rather old 1997 level, but one I couldn't find a review for elsewhere. Completely opposite to Ebony, it's a huge sprawling base level, with often plain looks, but carefully designed gameplay and masses of exploration. There is a basic mission to go with the level: you've infiltrated a suspected cloning facility (surprise surprise), and you must confirm it's cloning potential. I.e., find the cloning machine and escape, visiting a warehouse, outdoor canyons, scorpion pens, and an extensive sewer on the way. This is a sizeable base level, both in terms of overall size and room dimensions - some areas are pretty big by Quake's standards, but simple details ensure the level runs smooth. There's a surprising amount of diversity in the base theme, incorporating plain warehouse and garage rooms, rounded canyons, small detailed computer sections, simple and boring corridors, industrial metal/blue areas, and a well angled rusty sewer.

Curiously, the best looking areas (canyons, sewer), are actually optional side areas. The main areas of the base are done quite nicely in places (a lot of attention is paid to lighting fixtures on the ceiling), but sadly it is often rather square looking, with simple rooms. Later on some angles and cooler structures creep in, and the architecture is well made and textured for what it is, but it needed some more interest - and more consistency between areas. The crate room above makes good use of a simple design, the 3D maze of crates provides lots of stuff to do, and interesting combats too. One important thing is the exploration - you have to visit about half the map to exit (this can be done in a linear style), but there are other very worthwhile areas to visit - as said above, these are sometimes the nicest areas visually. There's no danger of getting lost since each area isn't that complex, and they look quite distinct. Additionally, there are a whopping *11* secrets to discover, ranging from the small and simple to complex "secrets within secrets", and even a couple that require rocket jumping.

Gameplay makes use of a blend of base monsters, and tougher monsters including Hipnotic's gnarly Centroids (which have a kennel in one area!!). It's can be fairly challenging if you don't pay attention, though you get plenty of weapons and armour which leads you to believe it might be a walkover. However, a careless approach tends to results in some pain due to the monster numbers (117 in total) and their tricky placings - Grunts are attack from various directions, Enforcers snipe from above, and Fiends hurtle out from crates. The gameplay has a well set up feel, and monsters are well used, though lacking in some areas. Further, the use of Shamblers near the end compensates for your now vast arsenal - an arena combat with sniping Enforcers provides a decent climax. There are some gameplay niggles though - the Fiends in the warehouse can be fatal due to the way they are shot out, a few areas seem rather empty and the sewer walls are *very* hard to climb out from, which is most annoying when your bio suit is running out - that one should have been fixed. Overall, not that exciting visually, but well worth playing.

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