The Heart of Egypt
Author(s) : Povilas Kinderis
Game : Serious Sam : The First Encounter
Type : Single Player
This level had a special place in my heart as it is one of the first custom levels I have ever played for any Serious Sam game, and it had given me great respect for fanmade mapping and modding projects. It is also depressing, since not many games released on personal computers come with modding, or even mapping support anymore. I mention this, because while the map is a disappointment compared to my memories of playing this level a decade ago, it is still an enjoyable experience. Moreover, it is the first mapping effort of a, then, 16 year old mapper, and for what it was, it looks absolutely gorgeous, almost on par with Eye of Ra’s visuals. But does it play as well?
Well, first off, I can tell you that there are a couple issues with the combat aspect that really take away from the overall experience of playing this map. The first one being that there are way too many instances where the combination of enemy volume, placement and room size forces you to run back down the corridor you just came from. So the enemies wind up chasing you down the corridor in a conga line. Not exactly what I would call good enemy placement or combat design. The second issue is that the author seems to love triggering kleer spawns right in your face without giving you any room to react and maneuver out of the way. This often happens just when you thought you cleared out a room. These two issues would not have been such a sticking point for this map if it did not happened with almost every encounter in the indoor areas. Surprisingly enough, these issues do not occur in the outdoor sections of the map. In fact, the best combat scenes of this map are the outdoor sections that occur in the middle of the map, and at the end arena.
Speaking of the end arena, and this really bears mentioning. The fights in the final area really do seem to be copied wholesale from the last area of Karnak from the core campaign. You have the row of mega-items in the middle of a wide arena, with caches of ammunition and spare health & armor tucked away at each corner. The fight is triggered with the picking up of one of the red backpacks, starting with Kamikazes, then Kleers, then Werebulls, followed by a cloud of Harpies, and then ending with a combination of Werebulls with Biomechanoid Majors. The one difference that I spotted is that after the last wave, the fight is extended with an extra wave of Reptiloids of the common and highlander variety. The end of which is signaled with the unnecessary spawning of a red backpack. One one hand, it is pretty lazy to copy a fight scene almost verbatim from the core campaign. On the other hand, one could say that it is to the author’s credit that he picked a good and iconic fight scene to rip off.
There is also one more problem with this level that I cannot get over, and it is the lack of any exploration elements. The level design is completely linear with absolutely no level sprawl whatsoever. So right after clearing out an area, there is nowhere to go to but the next. This is a shame, because, with how good the level looks, and how much care is placed in adding detail to each room, you would think that there may be alternate routes to explore, secret passages to find.
With the 3 big issues out of the way, I can now talk about what is good in this level. As I said earlier, this map looks absolutely gorgeous. Each room is different from the last, and they all have these quirky details in the geometry that looks clean, yet appealing. They also have this fresh quality of looking very different to the locales in the core campaign while retaining the same Egyptian theme. The author really did put in a lot of effort to produce unique architecture for the level that has never been seen before. There is only one room that falls below everything else in the visual department, and it is the circular room near the beginning with a very steep set of stairs, leading to rafters with broken boards, and a very awkward to climb set of spiral stairs. Something tells me that at this stage, the author still had yet to learn how to properly make stairs.
Combat wise, the level is still pretty solid despite the 2 egregious flaws I have mentioned earlier. There is plenty of variety in the enemy composition in each of the encounters, which could have had a much larger positive effect on the experience if the level design did not constantly force them into a conga line formation. This is why the outdoor fights feel so much better; The enemies and the player have a lot more room to move around. The author is also generous enough with the health and armor pickups that you never have to worry about being killed by a kleer spawning in your face. Come to think of it, this level is way too generous for its own good. While it is a good thing for a level to include plenty of ammunition pickups, you will trip over so many of them playing through this level that you might as well be playing with infinite ammunition turned on.
The music in this level is taken from Oasis from the core campaign, and it fits fairly well with the level’s overall feel. Although I think that the effectiveness could be increased if the music changed to that of Karnak in the final arena to reflect the nature of the encounters that take place there. Other than that, it just works.
You may have noticed by now that I haven’t talked about the plot of the map. This is because there is none. There are absolutely no map-specific Netricsa messages to give context to why you are there, and what your objectives are. While it could work for a level as linear as this, even a barebones narrative in the form of Netricsa messages or cutscenes, giving players a picture of the situation depicted in the map would go a long way toward enhancing the experience.
The readme is pretty interesting. It reveals that the level was most likely created with minimal help from the S! community. He seems to have opted instead to employ the help of his friends in beta-testing the level. Which is a surprise in and of itself, since first mapping efforts rarely, if ever, get tested for gameplay balance and glitches. Another oddity is the publish date; The level appears to have been released some time after the release of Serious Sam : The Second Encounter, and yet, instead of jumping ship and building maps for that game, the author stuck with this game and would publish two more maps for this game before leaving the Serious Sam mapping scene altogether. Besides that, the readme also contains basic information about the level, the author, a list of things the levels adds, a construction information blurb and a copyright/permissions notice. No installation instructions or author’s website address though, strangely enough. Also, like many Serious Sam fan-made levels for Serious Sam : The First Encounter, this level has no co-op support.
Overall, I would say that this is a decent level despite the issues, and is a very good first mapping effort from a young author. It is clear that a lot of effort was put into this offering, and you can definitely do worse than play this map once in a while. I highly recommend that you check it out, if only for the visuals.
Overall Score : 65% Fair
Download : [Link]