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Friday 11th June 1999:

Aopv105b: "Abyss of Pandemonium Episode 1"
(Size: 5.10 meg. Alternative downloads is link above.)

Important note: This set of levels is part of the Abyss of Pandemonium mission pack. The full mission pack contains additional weapons and monsters, but in my view these add little to the game - they are not bad, but not great either. So, since the maps can be downloaded seperately, I have chosen to review them seperately. If you want the full mission pack, you can get it from: Playing these levels on their own does have the following effects:
1. The skill setting map needs renaming - it is called "start.bsp", which is the same as Quake's own start map. So rename it to "aopstart.bsp" or similar.
2. When each map loads, it will give some error messages in the console - this is just Quake not finding the extra monsters and stuff.
3. You can get stuck in the first map, so if you find the secret just after the start, do not go down into it.
4. The final "boss" map doesn't work. Don't worry, if you've finished the penultimate map, you should have had a lot of fun =).

Many thanks go to Borsato for finding and playing this pak to confirm the maps were worthwhile.
I'm going to conveniently ignore all the background to the mission pack, as it's the usual lame "Quake has yet another general" story and a flimsy excuse for some added monsters. Suffice to say that this episode is a series of maps that are consecutive in design and gameplay, so I'll review each map in order. But some general issues first: These maps have been made by some established Quake mappers, including the world famous Mexx, so the general standard of the maps is very good. Secondly, the maps all feature a lot of custom textures, which are also generally good, consisting of altered Id textures in some maps, and completely unique textures in others. Although there are many better custom textures around (as current custom DM maps show), these textures are still pretty good, and definitely add flavour to some of the maps.

Aop1m1 is a very small, simple and linear metal map, that is more stone than metal. The map is very plain: there aren't any complex designs, and the grey stone walls have few details. However, there is a good use of subtle angles for corridors, the yellow grille lights give it a good theme, and it looks clean and solid. More complex designs would be better, but it looks okay. Gameplay is a bit problematic - it's all fine except one very gnarly "two Fiends + one small room + one shotgun" situation that is very hard to survive (and not much easier even with the mission pack weapons). This could prove impossible for took me many attempts, so be warned. Aside from this problem, it's all decent combat with Ogres and Knights, quite fun.

Aop1m2 is a large base map, mostly indoors, with a cavern at one point and a cool outdoor section at the end. It's quite large, especially in room design, and has a fair bit of traversing the map to progress. The architecture is good, with some diverse room designs and plenty of wall and ceiling details. This ensures there is plenty to catch they eye, and makes good use of all the base details - so the map does look pretty cool throughout. There's a bit more exploration than in the first map, but it's limited to a minor route choice. Gameplay is better, as there are no real flaws, apart from a few empty corridors (due to mission pack monsters missing). It definitely tends towards sniping gameplay due to the large numbers of Enforcers in many areas - single shotty proved most useful here. The ending isn't particularly harder than the rest of the map, but it's good fun nevertheless.

Aop1m3 continues the base theme and is larger again. It's more diverse too, with a mixture of outdoor/cavern, indoor, sewer and water areas, though normal base areas are most common. Architecture is similarly varied, again it's good but more consistency would be nice. For example, there are many lifts, some are very plain, while some look much cooler - I'd prefer them all to be cool. Room designs are fairly simple, but again there are a lot of visual details, so again the map looks good. No real exploration, but the variety gives a good sense of progression as you pass through different areas. Gameplay is a lot of fun in this map, with mowing down corridors full of Grunts with the nailgun, charging into crowded rooms to push the old double shotty into an Enforcers' face being particularly pleasing. Apart from a few empty areas, combat is consistent throughout, and the ending is quite good, though the Perforator does reduce the challenge.

Aop1m4 is by far the highlight of the episode - not that the other maps aren't good, but this one is exceptional. It's done in a unique and exotic terracotta temple style, with all custom textures, and consists of a series of temple areas linked by caverns and water filled tunnels. The design is superb, it's a large map, with many different areas, but almost all use the same theme so it feels consistent. There's a great sense of progression and exploration as you traverse various areas, and there are lots of outdoor bits which I really like. Architecture is good all the way: I'm not keen on the rock texture, but despite it the "natural" rock sections are done really well, with lots of angulation. The temple bits have more interesting textures, and the combination of arches, pillars, turquoise alcoves, small ruined parts, and various details produces an intriguing style. There is also a bit of medieval style at the end, which looks quite impressive. Overall, this map looks and feels very cool. Gameplay is rock solid in this map, and builds up nicely to a brutal end. Apart from when you are backtracking, there are plenty of monsters - mostly medium medieval monsters and quite a few Shamblers - and they are used well, catering to the monsters' strengths. There are some mini-climaxes on the way, and some calmer areas of respite - also plenty of ammo to deal with the combat. It's a lot of fun, and the ending can prove very challenging, which makes it a fitting finale. However, if you go into the final room without the silver key, you have to do some tricky jumping up rocks to go back and get it - be warned. A great map.

Aop1m5 continues where the medieval section in the previous map left off, and is the final playable map without the full mission pack. It's a very large medieval/metal style map, and the sprawling layout feels like it goes on for ages - this gives good gameplay value. This is a very diverse map, although it focuses on a medieval/metal style, there are many different styles of both architectural designs and textures. Some of them are rather cool, some of them are a bit confused or garish, though there is nothing actually *bad*. There aren't as many impressive large scale designs as in previous maps (and the room sizes are smaller), but still plenty of interesting smaller designs and details. There isn't much exploration, but again the diverse sections give a sense of progression. Gameplay is just as solid, there is a steady flow of monsters, with perhaps less empty sections than previous maps. There's quite a lot of straight foward corridor fighting, with some small arena type combats in the rooms. Although you now have plenty of weapons, both ammo and armour are in shorter supply, so the challenge remains constant and taking care is useful. The ending again can be quite hard - doesn't seem so at first but there's a surprise in store, so it's quite a fitting ending. Another good map, but it needed more consistency.

Summary: These maps, despite some very minor niggles, do stand well on their own without the full mission pak: they are good, interesting maps with good combat almost all the way. Well worth playing.

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