Author(s) : Alexey ‘Vodkins’ Morozov
Game : Serious Sam : The First Encounter
Type : Single Player/Cooperative
This is another map that I have been wanting to review for a while. This map popped up on the TenFour map review database a long time ago and it received a gold medal. Naturally, I wanted to take a look at the level myself. So I downloaded the map, played through it, and it has instantly become one of my favourite Serious Sam : The First Encounter levels.
The first thing I noticed is that the level design and architecture is a radical departure to the familiar Egyptian landscapes and buildings that are present in so many fan-made maps. Instead, it takes place in a coliseum situated on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. To achieve this, the map uses textures and sounds from Unreal and Unreal Tournament to great effect. (Which makes sense since, according to the readme, the author has brought his experience and talent for mapping Unreal Tournament to the table for this offering.) The plot for this level involves Sam being invited by a mysterious “M” to relax and enjoy the races that were supposedly taking place in the coliseum. However, knowing Sam, the mysterious “M” is most likely Mental, and the time spent in the Coliseum would most definitely be anything but peaceful. Directions to guide you through the level are provided via an adequate amount of Netricsa messages, though they are fairly poorly written with slightly-broken English and an instance of 4th wall breaking by having Netricsa cuss.
Also departing radically from the typical glut of Serious Sam maps, there is a lot of level sprawl to go around. Progression through the level is far from linear ; There are a lot of areas that you can explore out of sequence and a lot of areas that are completely optional. (The room with the Laser Rifle comes to mind.) There are also plenty of secrets in this level, most of which are very well hidden. So far, I have only ever been able to find 3 of them. 2 of those are obviously hinted at in the exit room that teleports you to just outside where they would be located, and these secrets only open after you beat the final boss of the level and enter the exit room. I will not spoil them for you, as it is a nice reward for finishing the map. Progression through the level is based on finding certain key items and visiting certain key locations. And just like with Eye of Ra, there are points where you would visit the same area several times, each time at an elevation higher than the last.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of areas where the design of the level works against the gameplay, incurring an unintended impact on the encounters. The more egregious example that comes to mind is the massive wave of Gnaars, Kleers and Werebulls that comes at you from around the Chamber of the Guardian in the plaza area. This is where I would assume to be where the author intended to put a large encounter and endurance section wherein the player has to hold the chamber and survive. The intended effect would have had an impact, if it were not for the fact that there is only one vestibule leading into the chamber, and an infinitely-spawning ammunition pack. The result is that players could safely spam grenades out of the vestibule and none of the enemies would ever get the chance to reach the player and attack. This exploit could have been avoided if there were more than 1 entrance to the chamber of the Guardian, or if the enemies spawned in the chamber before pouring out. Another example is where rows of Kamikazes within exploding range of each other spawn out of the sky, giving players enough time to react, and cheese the encounter by timing their shots as soon as they landed.
Combat-wise, this map is quite satisfying. It gives you plenty of uglies to shoot at, and it gives you plenty of ammunition, health and armor to deal with them. The fights are very-well balanced, with the challenge being on par with one of the later levels from the core campaign. Besides that fight in the chamber of the Guardian, there is not one point in the map where I felt that I was being overwhelmed, or where I felt that it’s too easy. However, the author dropped the ball when it came to designing the final fight, as it is another example of a place where the player could easily exploit the level geometry to stack the odds in their favour. Moreover, considering the way the final fight is set up, exploiting the level geometry seems to be the only way to win the fight as you will be stomped down very quickly if you stay in the open and fight.
Visually, the map is stunning. Making great use of the premise and custom textures to create a fresh new look for a Serious Sam level. The author took great care to add in plenty of detail, and made sure that the level design (mostly) compliments its own gameplay and exploration aspects, as well as fit in elements Mediterranean architecture. I would go so far as to say that this is one of the best-looking maps ever made for Serious Sam. It is, thus, no surprise to learn that this map was made for a contest.
The sounds are another thing that are unique in this map. (As far as a Serious Sam map is concerned.) Taking sounds from Unreal and Unreal Tournament, as well as mixing in music from OutWars with the music from the core campaign, it delivers an aural experience that I have yet to see imitated in a Serious Sam fan effort. And it fits well for the most part, providing a thick layer of immersion to the player. There is only 1 issue with the sounds in this level ; The torches are too loud, almost distracting since it could easily be mistaken with the sounds of waves crashing on the shore, and the volume fall-off is too sharp.
The readme is pretty detailed, providing information about the map, the author, play information, build information, known bugs, installation instructions, a special thanks section and a copyright/permissions section. One thing to note is that cooperative play is listed as “maybe”, which is a somewhat accurate description of what the experience would be. The map is listed in the network menu under cooperative mode, but it contains no cooperative checkpoints. Therefore, players joining a network game running this map will have to be careful not to die to environmental hazards, and to be lucky not to be disconnected by network hiccups.
Overall, this offering is a very good experience. Delivering solidly on the exploration and combat front with non-linear map progression and plenty of secrets. What truly makes this map shine, though, are the aesthetics of the level design and overall visual theme. Even if the combat elements of this level were terrible, and they are not, I assure you, I would still recommend that you play through this map and take in the gorgeous scenery. Overall, it is another great map to add to the collection of any Serious Sam fan. It is just a crying shame that this is the only single player/cooperative level created by him. It would have been nice to see more creative projects like this from him for Serious Sam.
Overall Score : 85.8% Good
Download : [Link]