Eye of Ra
Author(s) : Getodac
Game : Serious Sam : The First Encounter
Type : Single Player
This map has eluded my review for a while now. I have played through the map once before and have taken screenshots from a previous playthrough with the intent of reviewing this, but to no avail. This time, with two playthroughs of this map, I would be able to detail the experience of playing through this map from two different perspectives, from two different points in my life.
While it is clear that a lot of love and effort went into fan-made mapping efforts, and while this kind of love and devotion often shows, there are very few maps that, if the player did not know any better, would be indistinguishable from the maps included in the core campaign. This is one of the rare few. The plot of this map follows Sam after being lured into a trap in the form of the Eye of Ra in a hidden alcove and dropped into an Egyptian underground catacomb filled with Mental’s forces and ancient traps. He then must find his way out without succumbing to Mental’s troops or to the traps. Considering Sam’s signature “subtle” approach to everything else, it is not hard to imagine this map being a part of the original campaign. This will be the only plot you’ll get here, because there is only one Netricsa entry pertaining to this map.
The first thing I noticed about this map is that it looks gorgeous. There is a lot of detail and care being put into the scenery without it getting in the way or causing the engine to choke. The lighting and mood of the level is at a consistently high quality throughout, even going so far as to bake shadows cast by the containers of the lantern in exquisite detail. For a map made for a 2001 game, this is quite unprecedented. The level is not just a pretty selection of corridors and arenas either; There are plenty of alcoves that are out of the way that contains ammunition caches and enemy spawning traps, even including an enemy that is hidden in plain sight thanks to the clever use of shadows. Believe me when I say that you will want these items awarded to you by exploration despite those risks. There is also an area where you will pass through at least 3 times, each time at a higher elevation than the last, making smart use of the rafters and partial roofing to give a sense of vertical progression. This makes it so that what seems like scenery and set-dressing to place turret-style enemies at various levels of elevation (Arachnoids in this case) will also become areas where you will pass through later. It bears mentioning that the indoor sections of the map leans slightly on the cramped and claustrophobic side, which serves to amplify the kinaesthetic impact of when the map opens up in the final few areas to a wide open outdoor space.
This map also carries its own twist of the Egyptian styled architecture, wearing the Croteam style of map design proudly while also delivering plenty of fresh-looking visuals and scenes. Each room and corridor takes design cues of maps from the core campaign and uses them as inspiration for an enhanced experience. The corridor at the start takes inspiration from the early levels and the corridors connecting the areas together. The underwater section is inspired by, and greatly enhanced from the Sewers level. The central area is inspired from that one area from Tomb of Ramses, except more visually appealing, and the final area is a clear homage to the meat-grinder wide open corridors of the Metropolis level, as well as the more common instances of it in Serious Sam: The Second Encounter. It is amazing how much attention to detail is put into this level.
Gameplay wise, the level is quite tough, and it’s not just the continuous and large magnitude of the waves that come at you, making each fight a mini-endurance run, either. Enemies are also smartly placed, timed and combined to ensure that you are always kept on your toes during combat. The tight and slightly cramped design of the indoor areas went a long way to amplify this effect. There is one area where even the Gnaars, known for being nothing more than fragile meat shields, were a legitimate threat. Ammunition and health supply is also relatively scarce, making it very important to manage your resources and to be careful when rounding corners or entering a new area. In my first playthrough, I intended to dock points for this, but looking at it now, I can see what the author is going for and appreciate the impact it has on the gameplay. Besides shotgun ammo, you are given just enough to unload on the enemy waves and just enough health and armor to survive their attacks. This is if, of course, you do well enough by having fast enough reflexes and enough combat endurance. It is very clear that the author designed this map specifically to give experienced players a fresh challenge. In the central area, spawn-triggers are activated once you pass certain points, making sure that there is a penalty for falling down in the form of extra enemy encounters. This also serves to eliminate any possible tedium that could result in falling off and walking all the way back to where you previously were. This is quite a clever design choice, and it is not one that you see very often in map designs.
If I have one complaint about the combat, it’s that the author went a little overboard with the close-quarters kamikaze spawns in an arena fight fairly early into the map. There is no reason to incur this massive a spike in difficulty this early. Halving the number of kamikaze waves that spawn in would do just as well to add a sudden spike in tension and difficulty without dampening the impact. There is also one certain Arachnoid that, because of the way it’s placed in the level, has a chance of clipping through a wall and fire at you from outside the level.
Exploration options are, as previously stated, quite adequate and smartly executed. Encouraging the player to look around the area for extra ammunition and health. These aren’t secrets either. Actual secrets in this map are actually quite clever as it rewards the more astute and observant of players without being overly hidden and impossible to find without prior knowledge. It should also be mentioned that for a map that builds up how it is full of traps, there are only three instances of it that could be counted as a proper trap, with only one of them being counted as a trap in the strictest sense. The first is a mandatory set-off type of deal, the other is in the final outdoor area and in plain sight. The one legitimate trap is…well, you will have to play the map to find out. Although I honestly cannot imagine anyone not seeing this one trap coming a mile away.
There are no traditional puzzles in this level, it’s very clear that the map is very combat-oriented and the true puzzle is in knowing how to deal with what is thrown at you.
Sound wise, it did a good job with the music choice, generating a fairly tense and spooky atmosphere in and out of combat. There is nothing in the background music to me that sticks out as inappropriate or ill-fitting. It also makes use of a couple of unique earthquake sound clips to generate a soundscape that enhances the atmosphere. In addition to that, there are plenty of choice quotes from Booger, Sam’s voice actor, to add a bit of needed levity to the experience, and it comes in at appropriate times at the appropriate situation.
Even the included readme is well-written and formatted. It includes the map synopsis, a small blurb about the author, detailed play info, known bugs, and a description of the map, which describes accurately that it is designed for experienced and veteran players looking for a new challenge.
The final verdict? This is an excellent map that sets the bar up pretty high for fanworks. It looks great, it plays great, it delivers a level of challenge beyond what the core campaign offers. This is a must-have for any Serious Sam fan, period. Which is why it is especially sad that this map features no support at all for cooperative play. I have enjoyed this level immensely, and after it is all said and done, it had left me feeling satisfied and disappointed at the same time. Satisfied to have played such a gem, and disappointed that such a strong talent only ever made one map to be remembered by.
Overall Score : 90% Excellent
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