City of Gold
Author(s) : GaryP
Game : Serious Sam : The First Encounter
Type : Single Player
Soon after Serious Sam : The First Encounter got released, people played through the game and beat it, over and over, with friends, on the hardest difficulty setting until the game waves the white flag and declares you the master of Serious Sam. Some of these people then went on to create maps that aim to provide a unique challenge with a higher skill ceiling than what is offered from the base campaign. And then there are mappers that prefer to create chill maps that are nice and easy to breeze through. This offering falls firmly in the latter category.
The plot of this level is that you are investigating an ancient egyptian city that has an unusually large amount of gold, when historically, Egytians valued silver above all other precious metals. I cannot comment on the historical accuracy of that claim, but the author did put in a bit of effort in writing up NETRICSA messages to form a narrative and context to the level. This is a laudable effort as mission-specific NETRICSA messages in fan-made levels are quite rare.
This map gives you the powerful double shotgun near the beginning, and makes sure that, on at least 3 occasions, you are topped up on health, armor and ammunition. You even come across a minigun with plenty of ammo soon after. It really seems that the author wanted everyone to be able to beat the level while taking in different nice and creative scenes based on Egyptian architecture. The sparse sprinkling of enemies throughout the level, save for the penultimate arena, certainly seems to support that hypothesis.
The gameplay is exactly what you’d expect from an easy Serious Sam level, although it loses out for being absolutely and painfully linear. There are no areas to explore, no forks in paths, no shortcuts to take, and no secrets to find. Once you cleared out an area, there is little to do other than to move on to the next area. It tries to make up for it by throwing up a couple of gimmicks near the start, like mobs spawning when you walk into a shaft of light, or the crusher room where you have to push a button to escape, but those are placed at the absolute beginning of the level. It, in a way, blew its load too early, and the rest of the level’s puzzles mostly involve finding an artifact to unlock the door to the next area, or finding a way to retrieve the artifact. Let’s be honest here, with how slow the ceiling lowers to crush the player near the beginning, who would ever get crushed by it? Then you encounter the room where the tall statue moves to reveal stairs to the next area and fight a wave of harpies that spawned in, which is incredibly annoying given how they get stuck in the geometry trying to get to you, and how your movement is hampered by the fact that you’re fighting on stairs for that battle. To be fair though, the moving statue puzzle is actually pretty good, though it would have been better if the bases they were standing on kept moving after you blew them up.
There’s one clever “puzzle” that involves reading a netricsa message for a hint on how to unlock the next area, and the penultimate arena is actually a welcome difficulty spike with 3 short waves of fairly intense fights. However, that fight also serves to highlight how much of a walk in the park the rest of the level actually is. This also sets the stage for an anticlimactic final showdown of a chamber full of high-level enemies…that you can easily abuse the entrance for. This can easily be done since they do not activate on sight, but when you fire at them, and they easily forget that you exist, just outside the room.
Visually the level is a mixed bag, there are spots where the level looks quite impressive for an early Serious Sam fanmade map, and then there are spots on the level where the texture work is absolutely ugly or otherwise muddy. There are also spots on the level where the architectural detail is painfully lacking or otherwise in dire need of more polish. Like, for example, the room connecting the penultimate arena with the final arena, or where you exit the mining areas back to the start via a 1-way texture. To its credit, none of the areas in this level are too big or require several minutes of straight up walking to get to the next area.
The sounds are nothing to write home about, it uses various peace and medium tracks from the base campaign. It works for the most part. However, the music used for the fight in the gold-melting foundry/cavern is ill-fitting as there is nothing particularly intense about the fights that take place in that area. If they moved that techno boss battle track to the fight in the penultimate arena, it would fit much better.
Unfortunately, this level is single-player only. Just as well, since having friends around would have made an already easy map completely devoid of challenge. The readme included in this level is one of the better ones that I have seen. It contained information about the map, the type of the map, the author, a homepage (now defunct), installation instructions, development details and special thanks.
Overall, the level looks good and fresh with lots of potential for aesthetics that could have been achieved if only the author took some extra time to polish the texturing and detailing work. The gameplay could have used a lot of playtesting for difficulty, pacing, and item placement. I have a feeling that if he had continued to make more maps for Serious Sam, he could have contributed so much more. I like this map, I really do, but I really cannot fairly give it more than a fair rating and a play-it-once recommendation.
Overall Score : 63% Fair
Download : [Link]
Bonus : A cursory search with his name returned this website which has been updated up until around 7 years ago.