Author(s) : Pooper
Game : Serious Sam : The First Encounter
Type : Single Player/Cooperative (Unsupported)
It is hard to expect quality from an unreleased map, especially when it is a first mapping effort. So the question is, would it be fair to judge an unreleased mapping effort with the same rigor as one would judge a released, final product? The answer would be, of course, yes. The reason for this is because there are some good quality maps and projects out there that are mostly finished, but never officially released by the author. Unfortunately, this is not one of them.
As this is a map pack consisting of three levels, I will talk about each of them separately. This will allow me to go in depth with it.
Level 1 – Dungeons
You start off in the dungeons, presumably between Metropolis and Alley of the Sphinxes from the core campaign, since the levels in this pack are tagged with the number “10.5” (Metropolis is tagged as number “10” and Alley of the Sphinxes is tagged with the number “11”) You appear to have fallen into a trap and your goal is to find your way out. There are 4 Netricsa messages pertaining to this level, though you will only ever see 1, as the other 3, for some reason, will not work with the level.
The gameplay in this level is not very good, right off the bat, you are given the second Colt Revolver, a Single Shotgun, a Double Shotgun and a Tommygun. The fights are thus not very fun or engaging, with each encounter only pitting you against a handful of enemies, usually of the same type. The only reason they would be challenging is because most of them takes place in cramped and almost pitch-black spaces. In a vain effort to give the illusion of variety, the author modified the sizes and colours of some of the enemies. There is also a part of the level where there are a bunch of health Pills that respawn infinitely after a few seconds, giving you the ability to refill to 200 health as long as you have access to that area.
There is one fight that is almost not terrible, and it is when you are given the Laser Rifle and some supplies. The room’s gravity flips over as soon as you pick up the Laser Rifle, and you are entered into a “boss fight” consisting of a lot of Beheaded Soldiers, followed by a swarm of Gnaars, topped off by a small sprinkling of Frogs. It would be almost decent if it were not for the fact that all the aforementioned pickups did not respawn so frequently.
This level, being a dungeon, is home to a few traps. There is one where a boulder shoots across a narrow walkway over a bed of spikes, there is one where spikes slowly close in on you, and a door opens at the last second, and there is a swing from the end of Valley of the Kings from the core campaign that you have to use to swing across a room full of spikes. While they are mostly well-implemented, the spike sandwich room could have really used a fight that takes place as the spikes close in, considering how long it took for the damned things to close in. That would have been a great homage to Army of Darkness.
The level geometry is, as mentioned previously, quite cramped. Featuring tiny rooms and extremely tight spiral staircases, the level itself tends very much to get in the way of the combat, and it does not offer any stand-out interesting visuals. For example, there is a set of stairs that is so cramped that you’d need to crouch to get through, almost as if it’s designed for midgets. There is one part, however, where a flash of brilliance could be seen with regards to the level design; There is a sewer section where at the end of it, you have to climb a ladder to get back up. The ladder is a texture, and you do not push against it to move up, instead you jump, and tap forward to go up a rung. This is, back then, a pretty clever way of doing ladders as other methods maintains Sam’s horizontal momentum as he climbs up, giving the effect of him shooting up the ladder at great speeds. However, one has to know about the technique, and what to do in order to get past that section, otherwise they will be stuck in there indefinitely.
The music is surprisingly fitting, making use of the music from Tomb of Ramses from the core campaign, giving the level fairly thick aural atmosphere befitting a dungeon level.
Overall, the level is mediocre. The combat is sub-par, providing not enough challenge or variety to keep it interesting. The traps and creative touches here and there keeps this level from sinking below average. This level is playable in co-operative mode, though it seems that it may be unsupported as you spawn outside the level when joining in network mode.
Score : 56% Fair
Level 2 – Riverside Part 2
In this level, you start on an elevator that takes you to the surface. You find yourself in a courtyard surrounding a pyramid complex of sorts. You somehow acquired a Minigun, a Rocket Launcher and a Grenade Launcher. (Most likely due to a misconfigured player start marker.) Your objective is to find your way out.
This is the level where the Netricsa messages not working really starts to become a problem. See, naively going through the level without the hints from Netricsa, the courtyards and the outside docks area are the only places accessible to the player. Without knowing to look for the key in the docks to the palace complex, players would get stuck indefinitely looking for a way to progress through the level. In fact, I was going to leave the level at that, until looking through the map’s data files, I got a tip off about the key…
The combat is a little better, providing a little more challenge and variety to the formula. Once you get past figuring out how to get inside the pyramid complex, you are treated to a miniboss fight, followed by a jumping puzzle and then a fight on top of a bed of bouncers. They provide a bit of variety to the gameplay, which is a great asset to the level’s overall quality. At least, it would have been, if the implementation was not so abysmal.
The jumping puzzle had you making use of jump pads, and the idea is that they would propel you to the next section. The problem is that they carry way too much momentum so you would always overshoot your target, or bump up against a surface that deals significant impact damage, ensuring that you always miss your target. You don’t have enough air-control to make up for the extra momentum either. Suffice to say, the only way to get past that bouncer jumping puzzle section is by cheating and flying to the next area. The fight on the bed of bouncers is poorly implemented as well, as the room itself lacks any form of traction, and you kept getting bounced around in a different direction as intended with no way of avoiding them reliably. This takes away control of your movements, which is an incredibly cheap way of increasing the challenge, since the outcome of the fight is not determined due to skill, but pure luck. There is also a section at the end that absolutely kills any appeal and patience I have for this level ; There is a gauntlet that you have to go through over a pool of lava, with moving platforms and giant swinging hammers swinging across the path of the platforms. The problem with the way this gauntlet is set up is that there is no way to avoid getting hit by the hammers, and you cannot crouch under them. Once in the lava, you cannot climb out normally. Therefore, the only way to get across is to bunnyhop in the drink before rocket-jumping up to a platform at the end to bypass it all. Again, this is poor design, and the only reason the rocket-jump strategy is viable in this level is because you are given 2 Mega Health pickups in the rooms prior, so you are guaranteed to enter the gauntlet with almost 200 Health. These issues really made me regret not giving up figuring out how to get into the pyramid complex.
Not to get too negative about this level, there is a pretty big secret area that rewards players with a Cannon, and it involves getting past the giant Electro-Fish sitting in the river, and fighting 3 giant Lava Golems back-to-back. This is actually a really nice secret and more maps should have secrets like this that are just optional extra areas out of the way that provides a big challenge and a big reward.
Visually, this level is worse in some aspects, and better in others. While the level provides much bigger spaces to fight in with more varied visuals, they are a lot more rough around the edges and a lot more glitchier overall. There are a lot of bits of random geometry that the player can walk up to, once they access the docks, and if they have enough time to waste, that serve no purpose other than to be background dressing. This reminds me a lot of the accessible Out-of-Bounds area of Sam be Damned! and similar to my thoughts on that aspect of that level, it could have been a great excuse to add optional bonus areas to fight in, and score extra weapons earlier than normal. There are also a lot of LoD glitches that have polygons just disappear noticeably as you walk a certain distance away from them, this has the effect of making the level look quite ugly at certain spots.
Moreover, I can tell that the author got a bit lazy towards the end of this level when I entered an area behind a locked door that I could not open before. There are two side rooms that are basically scaled-down versions of the Suburbs level from the core campaign. This leads to funny visual oddities such as houses with each floor shorter than Sam’s height. There are also more than a few instances of enemies appearing inside the midget-buildings, unable to attack you.
Overall, this level tried a lot of new things. Unfortunately, most of these gambits are sabotaged by poor and shoddy implementation. As a result, players are left with a slightly weaker experience compared to the first level. This level is probably the most frustrating of the 3, and it would not be surprising to see most players give up at this point. This is the reason that I would recommend casual players to avoid this map-pack. Map designers, on the other hand, would find this level to be a source of inspiration and design ideas. That is, if they could understand why they are implemented poorly in this level and if they know how to do it better in their own projects. This level, like the first, spawns players outside the level in a network game.
Score : 48.3% Below Average
Level 3 – The Final Run
After that horrible gauntlet at the end of the previous level, you appear in a city that has apparently been flooded with what I would presume to be acid. (It is green, and it hurts you constantly while you walk in it. It is acid.) You are tasked with navigating across the city on the rooftops. There is also a cart with a couple of bighead fans riding around on it for some reason. (No idea what this is about.)
The problem, as with the jump pad jumping puzzle from the previous level, is that they are poorly implemented, requiring players to manhandle the movement keys so as to not fall into the acid, and it always is a gamble which direction is the right one. You also take damage when landing. There is even a way to bypass everything, making use of a certain jump pad to land on the roof of the city wall. You might not want to skip everything though, since there are items on the roof that will prove useful. After two rooftop-hopping sections, there is a section with boats going around in circles in the very shallow acid pool, followed by a platforming section where the platforms sink as you step on them. Okay ideas, except, the boat-hopping section is way too simple, and there’s too much space in the gaps of the platforms, making it too easy to land in between and get stuck in a rapid damage loop. This is followed by a fairly boring and short fight with a swarm of Frogs, and then a final battle with Ugh Zan.
The fight with Ugh Zan II (As named in the Netricsa message that does not work in-game.) is fairly interesting. You are given a set of rings to jump through that damage Ugh Zan II via means unknown, as well as a spire in the middle that deals fairly heavy damage to him. The idea is good, but the execution is very poor, and can lead the fight into an unwinnable state. See, the jump-pads that fling you through the hoops do not give you enough momentum to do so for all 3 of them, and you always seem to bounce off the bottom edge of the second ring, deflecting you sideways so that you always miss the third ring. The central spire does barely enough damage to finish Ugh Zan II off without triggering his regeneration, and the rings at the side of the arena does not stun him. Moreover, these rings, and the central spire do not reset, so you have to know exactly how low on health he has to be in order to trigger the central spire (The side-rings are utterly useless for finishing him off.) otherwise you simply cannot win the fight. As you can figure out, this is not very well implemented, and is a big flaw in the map design.
Visually, the level looks significantly better than the previous two levels, offering cleaner level geometry with a decent amount of detail. The green theme of the acid flood is a welcome change from the typical, browns, yellows, greys and sky blues of the previous levels. (And a good portion of the core campaign too.) Of course, it does not really help much since the level is short, even when compared to the first level. After the fight with Ugh Zan II, there is a cut-scene that involves Sam walking on a sci-fi walkway with the bighead fans cheering him on. (No idea what that is about either.) I mention this, because, the camera angle is all sorts of awkward throughout most of the scene, and the way to trigger it is to walk to the front of the arena, opposite of where the exit door is located.
The music is taken from Sacred Yards from the core campaign, and it does not really fit all that well with the overall feel of the level. The War-Fight theme that is used in the Ugh Zan II battle, however, is more appropriate.
Overall, this level is the weakest of the bunch. There is the least wrong with this level when compared with the other two levels, but there really is not much of anything to the level. It is basically a long platforming section that is not well implemented, followed by a boring Frog swarm, finished off with an Ugh Zan fight with a twist that is poorly implemented. The recommendation for this level is like my recommendation for the second level ; Casual players should avoid, while map designers should look into it for ideas. This map can be played on the network, though there are no co-op markers. It is, however, the only level in the pack that does not spawn players outside the level geometry in a network game.
Score : 44.1% Below Average
As an addendum, I checked out more of the archive to see what else is in it, and it turns out that there is an intro level that only appeared in the network play menu. Loading it up, it shows Sam being overwhelmed by Highlanders and Major Bio-mechanoids in the Valley of the Kings level from the core campaign, and then ambushed when he took a secret passage to escape. This flies in the face of the numbering system used to tag the level pack, and I would count this as an aspect of misinformation.
Overall, it is a fairly weak offering whose only saving graces are the fresh ideas presented within. Even then, they are poorly implemented to the point where the second level is legitimately unbeatable. It is probably for the best that the map pack did not see an official release as it would only serve to frustrate and confuse casual players. On the other hand, it is a pretty decent showcase of ideas, and would serve as good fodder for map designers to be inspired by. If you are a map designer, I would recommend that you take a look at it. Everyone else, give this one a pass, you will not find much enjoyment out of playing this.
Overall Score : 46.7% Below Average
Download Link : [Link]