Monday, 30 March 2015

Star Wars Chibi Rebellion Review

Here's a confession which may shock and alarm, so those of a faint disposition may want to sit down for this. I've never seen the original Star Wars trilogy. Over-dramatics aside,  this still elicits a surprise from people even whom I never would of thought would enjoy the series. Apart from having the displeasure of seeing the prequels, it's a universe I've never had much stake in (Most likely because the Force become the main 'thing' about the series, with the actual gritty stuff getting pushed to the side a bit) With this in mind, I never really had much interest in checking out LittleWhiteMouse's Star Wars: Chibi Rebellion, which was a mistake - packed inside this cutesy mod is a seriously original and fun game.

You play Jaiyl, an engineer set out for revenge against the empire on the planet Nothoth - a snowy landscape occupied by starports, imperial facilities, and pirate hideouts. If you're not familiar with the phrase Chibi, it's a Japanese term for a sort of cute deformed art-style that used to be fairly popular back in anime's glory days. All of the characters in the mod are in this art style; it works well and as soon as you get adjusted to it, it becomes part of the mod's charm. The structure of this mod however is extremely innovative - rather than having a rigid set of levels, the game is divided up into chapters. Each chapter is built of maps from a large pool of over 100 maps, randomly selected - there's a specific layout to the episodes which never changes but what maps you will play changes with every playthrough. The maps won't repeat until you get right towards the end of the mod. Each map is fairly short, with the biggest only taking about 5 minutes. Due to the tiny size of each map, the vast majority of them offer something new and interesting with only a couple being fairly generic.

You'll have to tackle many different scenarios such as puzzles, luring AT-AT walkers into traps, fighting enemy re-enforcements that have dropped off troops in areas you've cleared, walk around a town fulfilling little quests for certain people, escaping from a prison outpost, sneaking on-board an Imperial destroyer dressed in disguise...the variety on offer is fairly huge. The decision to make each map a smaller one paid off since it means there's little filler in each map. The only downside to the game is that each tech facility does get fairly samey and the planet's surface is always snowy. This can't really be avoided with the slot-together nature of the maps, but it still can wear thin after a while. The levels have light detail, but this goes well with the style of the mod. For the most part they're simple to navigate and explore, but some puzzles will have you scratching your head until you figure out the trick to them.

Enemies are of course Star Wars stalwarts the Empire - you'll fight Storm troopers, the AT walkers, as well as a variety of droids and not to mention a few fairly neat boss battles. Due to the projectile nature of Star Wars weapons, you move a fair bit slower than default and Jaiyl can't take too much damage. There is a variety of armour and shields that will protect against damage however. The guns are somewhat similar, with your familiar blasters and rifles before branching out a bit with a laser sniper-rifle and a charge-able shotgun. These latter guns are not found however - dotted throughout the game are boxes called Holocrons which can be used on a crafting table (either back at the Chibi base which serves as a hub map or dotted throughout various installations) to build new weapons or upgrades for previous ones. Upgradable equipment always work well with hub maps, so this was a really welcome feature. There's also a shop to restock on ammunition and supplies (and thankfully if you find yourself running short on blaster ammo the shopkeeper will give you some on the house) as well as sell scrap which is picked up from various destroyed enemies. One of the coolest items is an an airstrike beacon, which is functionally a set of binoculars you can use to call down a rebel attack (which is a dab hand at taking down the walkers) The weapon graphics are fairly simple but fun to use - however they're not widescreen compatible, so if you run at a widescreen resolution the guns will have fairly jarring cuts to the sides.

One of the neater features is your engineering tool, which not only does a lot of melee damage but can also be used to sabotage enemy robots so they'll rush and explode towards an enemy. They can also be used to overload certain conduits to create traps - finally there's a small mini-game of sorts you play when repairing something in a level. You have to hit the highlighted spots with your tool on broken paneling (signaled by smoke pouring out) to repair certain things, and it can be surprisingly tough if you try to rush it (but you can't go too slow either) It's rewarding to finally fix the device as well, and Jaiyl even makes a little comment when done.

Chibi Rebellion was a pleasant surprise - as someone who's not a big fan of Star Wars I enjoyed it a lot and even if you don't consider yourself a fan of the franchise either, CR packs a great deal of surprises and innovations that make it worth playing regardless. There's a decent amount of re-playability and even a semi-hidden final mission when you recover all secret rebel pilot helmets throughout the episodes. Definitely give this a try.

Link to Chibi Rebellion idgames mirror

Saturday, 21 February 2015

No updates, AMC TC episode 2 soon

Just an apology for the lack of updates, there's a lot I'd like to talk about but we're wrapping up development of Episode 2 so that's eating up all of my time. Once it's done I'm gonna take a break for a few months to catch up on games and mods that I either missed out on or want to replay. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Underhell review

When you see a mod with ambitions to rival those of retail games and action movies, do you roll your eyes? I've been burnt far far too many times now to ever get hopes up for a mod (Dark Truths, a Half-life mod which promised the world, was probably the bitterest of mod cancellations for me. Nightwatch's eventual closure afterwards didn't sting nearly as much) The list of mods that seemed to have an insane feature list that not even AAA devs bother with is still somewhat big (and that's more of a damning indictment of the state of AAA FPS development) but every now and then a mod pulls through and actually sees release. And sometimes, they not only live up to but completely exceed expectations in every way imaginable. Underhell has that incredibly rare accolade.

I remember glancing over the Prologue and initially being a bit skeptical. There's a lot of Source mods with promises of great stories and gameplay and then fall flat, or alternatively they last for about 10 minutes before ending before they even really could begin. I downloaded it expecting a very short romp, maybe with an odd cool thing or two. Instead I was treated to an hour long action-packed story which actually managed to achieve the goal of feeling like a film without that being degrading. In my mind many developers mistakenly think that being like a film means being treated to cutscene after cutscene of 'character development' or worse still action sequences that would be much cooler if the player was actually allowed to take part. Underhell has it's share of cutscenes and character exposition, but it wisely leaves the actual action scenes and plot development to the player. The use of music and the development of plot gives the mod an incredibly cinematic feel but it reaches the lofty goal where you actually FEEL like you're actively in the set taking part rather than just sitting back and watching. It's one of the only games I've ever really felt has achieved that goal. It matches the plot beats of a classic cinematic film near perfectly, and the denouement of both the prologue and Chapter 1 is incredibly satisfying (managing to both make you want more but not feeling unfilled or short changed) A lot of games and mods have atrocious endings, so to see Underhell get it right in both the prologue AND chapter 1 says a lot of highly positive things about the author.

There are a few downsides however - sometimes characters do talk a bit too much about things that aren't too important (a conversation about generators dragged on for a bit longer than needed) which can hold things up. There was also a MGS-style bizarre conversation about the US Government which came out of left-field and left me scratching my head a bit. The storyline of future episodes is apparently completely planned out however, so I have some faith that it'll all make sense over the span of the game when it's released. There are some real interesting plot twists and developments, and it'll be interesting to see how they develop - a lot of Underhell's story draw is in mystery, but I'm hoping it'll turn out to be better than Lost ended up being (essentially plot ideas pulled out of a hat and then dropped unceremoniously when nobody bites)

Let's rewind a bit and set the scene. You're Jake Hawkfield, a SWAT officer and widower whose beloved wife recently passed away. So far so cliche, but of course as is the nature of these things the story is somewhat more complex under the surface. Underhell is separated into several different gameplay styles. The house is a hub location where you explore and look for clues (ostensibly pages from your late wife's diary) certain events transpire (randomly I might add) that make it clear there's some severe paranormal activity going on. For the most part Underhell doesn't rely on jump scares, although there are a few. The dreams are a slightly more surreal section somewhat similar to the flashbacks in FEAR or the trip out sequences in Afraid of Monsters. These reveal glimpse sights of Jake's past. Finally the chapters themselves (so far consisting of the Prologue and Chapter 1) are the meat of the package, and cover a wide array of combat and gameplay scenarios. The Prologue mostly consists of action, taking you through a variety of city locations before ending on a cliff hanger. Episode 1 is set entirely in a colossal facility located in the desert, and is where you spend the most time. There's a colourful cast of characters, and thankfully Mxthe resists the urge to kill them off within the first ten minutes of the game. Whilst there's always a limit to how invested in a character you can get with a silent protagonist who can't respond, they are still interesting people to work alongside and due to the game's length you do naturally start to feel involved in the various guards and their stories.

Mxthe's level design is fairly sharp, and weighs in more heavily towards the realism side of the map spectrum. For the most part, the majority of map design go towards creating a realistic layout rather than one purely built for playing through. This can be catastrophic if the gameplay doesn't support such play, but Underhell's gameplay (and excellent music) help pace out things in such a way that realistic level design works to the game's strength. Combat is fast and vicious, but after it's over you'll want time to explore and search for supplies to restock between fights. Being a action/horror game a lot of the time you'll be moving through darkness - but there is ample items use to light up your way. The darkness is oppressive and ubiquitous throughout the mod, but it never feels tiresome and there's nearly always a way to navigate your way through the maps. One criticism I have is that whilst realistic level design is great for a slower-paced shooter, it's not as memorable as more abstract finely tuned areas that the half-life games themselves feature. It also leads to the problem of having too many corridors everywhere - this isn't such a problem however when the maps offer plenty of rooms to check out. You can also argue of course that it avoids the sometimes obnoxious arbitrary blocking off of pathways that many games employ - Underhell's basic plot is linear but once you arrive in a section of the facility you'll be there for a while and you're free to go about the place with relative impunity in what place to go and check out first (That's one of the biggest strengths of realistic level design conversely - they're far easier to create nonlinear gameplay in because of course buildings are designed to be efficient and not funnel people into one long path like games do)

The core combat in Underhell is a mix of Counter-strike and FEAR (although with no slow-mo except in a few scripted sequences) Guns have beefed up firing sounds and sound incredibly powerful. They're a fairly standard set of guns with the always lovable SPAS-12 and MP5 making appearances, alongside GLOCKs and SOCOMs and a G36 assault rifle as well. The game could do with a better explanation of differences between guns since at times the only obvious difference seems to be in magazine capacity. Enemies die very quickly and thankfully there's no real bullet sponges apart from a certain enemy set which is at least excused by what they are. Infected enemies which make up a significant portion of what you fight in Episode 1 go down easily, with a single headshot or a couple of bashes to the head with a melee weapon. The real danger is of course in getting swarmed - enemies do respawn but I have no problem with that mechanic in a survival game if it means they go down easily at least. There's a fantastic musical sting which precludes a swarm of infected, and without fail every single time I heard it there's a chill that runs down my spine. Underhell's main chapter isn't scary so much as it is incredibly tense. You can fight what may attack you with relative confidence, but it's the numbers that will lead to your downfall. Dotted throughout the base are convenient man-sized lockers which you can always duck into if the heat becomes too much. The soldier enemies are fun to fight and again take a page from FEAR's book by being vocal and communicating with each other - there's a few non-forced stealth sections which are difficult to fight through but still achievable. The only real flaw is that enemies can't navigate ducts or tight obstacles very well, which can trivialize some encounters. I imagine that's a big problem to fix - but I respect allowing the players to still do this rather than adding blocking walls that artificially limit what the player can do.

It's somewhat patronizing to say "this is great for a mod!" at least to me, but there's no real other way to put it sometimes - when a mod like Underhell comes out and does so much with what meager resources are available to modders at times, it's both a fantastic victory for mod players but also a sign that many retail shooters simply don't aim for very much at all. The massive amount of voice acting (Which is for the most part fairly solid however some voices simply don't fit the character models and stick out like a sore thumb - but it is uniform and gives the mod a great atmosphere) and the soundtrack composed by Tom Stoffel (there's a huge amount of original music for each part of the game) really help elevate Underhell above and beyond most other offerings in the Source community. It's not afraid to take risks with gameplay, and it trusts the player to think and navigate their way through an environment that doesn't hold the player's hand. It's a better game than most shooters on the market - hopefully this is just the beginning and we'll see the next chapter in a few years time (Underhell was also greenlit on Steam which means a more polished version is coming - I have some performance problems in the 2007 version of Source which this uses) To wrap it up - there are a few kinks in Underhell but the good parts vastly elevate these problems and make them trivial. It's a mod that aims high and delivers the goods and then some, and to top it all off offers a lot of re-playability as well. Play it as soon as you can.

Underhell's moddb profile

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Prodoomer - Review

Sometimes, mods that have good or fun gameplay are overlooked for small reasons such as poor english on the author's part, or a topic post that doesn't explain much about the project. I initially overlooked Prodoomer (by PsychoSilverTH) as I wasn't sure what it was, but a post on another forum inspired me to give it a shot - whilst it's quality level is mixed at times, I didn't regret spending the time to play and finish it (roughly a week on and off) at all and can see myself playing through it again in the future.

Prodoomer's story is simple and told in game through cutscenes - you're a marine called Dash and the demons have invaded. The plot takes you through a wide variety of locations - from invaded bases, to rooftops, to cities, and then to futuristic space stations before culminating in a demonic planet. The English in the mod is poor, but fortunately it's not like the plot is hard to understand. There's a few recurring bad guys and it's enough to help drive things forward, which is good enough for games.

Before each level begins, you start in a small hub map where you can purchase weapon upgrades and ammunition. Cash starts off at a trickle, but soon enough you'll be pulling in hundreds and then thousands from each map as you beat them. There's also a leveling system in place, and tied to this is a spell system. It's a very simple system, as each time you level up you gain access to a new spell. These range from simple attacks, to armour shields and turbo speed, to accuracy buffs, damaging auras, and timestopping abilities. Spells are powered by mana (what else) which recharges slowly but fast enough so that most of the time, just running around and looking for supplies is enough to recharge it. Naturally as you level up your max HP and Mana increase, so at the end of the game you have a huge amount of health and armour available...and you'll need it. Some enemies are incredibly tough, but most of them are fair - with a few notable exceptions such as a hit-scanning railgun/laser zombie and a tornado throwing Archvile (there are also sniper zombies in the mod, but fortunately they show a visible laser beam before firing giving you ample time to get out of harms way) Weapons have a mish-mash of art styles, but they all pack a neat punch and get more powerful as you upgrade (with some having new firemodes added) One thing that will throw players off though is each gun has strong recoil which throws your screen off - a spell negates this effect, but it may take some getting used to. I play a lot of shooters that love to throw your aim around so it didn't hurt me too much and I was able to keep my cursor on the enemies easily enough, but if you're not skilled in doing that you may struggle at times with keeping your sights on an enemy.

Combat in the mod starts off simple enough, with a new weapon set to go along with it - ammo is in short supply so making use of melee attacks to save ammo is pretty important. The difficult rapidly climbs alongside your power set however, which is part of why I was pretty impressed with the game on offer here. Spells don't end up overpowered as Prodoomer starts to throw the nastier choices of the custom Doom bestiary at the end of the game you will absolutely need to utilize the heavy hitting spells intelligently to succeed. That's the interesting part though; I don't know if it's accidental or if just the base combination of spells and super enemies work so well but I was using a wide variety of spells and spamming a single one wasn't an effective tactic (there is a cooldown timer on spells, but it's actually fairly short which encourages fast gameplay) Even stopping time can only help so much...but it all feels satisfying and finally winning a combat encounter is a great rush. You will definitely need to upgrade your guns as well for the later fights - fortunately there's no level scaling to be found so by the end your upgraded shotgun will kill the tougher vanilla Doom enemies in just 1 or 2 shots. The leveling, of both yourself and the upgrading of your weapons, moved quite naturally with your progression in the game itself. I managed to just reach level 30 and upgrade all of my weapons as I entered the last levels. One thing to note is that I didn't encounter any slaughter maps in the mod - the highest monster count ranged around 400, but most of the time you'll be battling tough groups of enemies from a wide variety of angles rather than huge clumps of weaker ones.

Level design is somewhat mixed. The overall build quality isn't high - I wouldn't say bad at all just not at the upper tiers of mappers I've played. However the author uses coloured lighting to create lots of colourful scenery - it never feels gratuitous and feels like an extension of Doom 64 in some maps. A few maps are also styled after that game as well, but many others have wilder locations such as the aforementioned space station (which reminded me of Super Sonic Doom) One thing that may put people off is that there are quite a lot of jumping puzzles in the mod, which combined with Doom's slippery physics can be quite frustrating. There's also one section with sea mines which wasn't fun at all. You gain some more jumping abilities as you progress however - at first a double jump and then a wall jump that is fairly easy to pull off and feels quite cool. Gaining new abilities was a pretty interesting idea that's not done too often in Doom, and it felt good to have later maps open up a bit with what you could do and where you could go. You will need to utilize some spells such as turbo to proceed as well as the newer jumping abilities - this may put some people off but I enjoyed having to utilize the z-axis more than usual. Other maps include typical city maps - the best of one being an open ended romp throughout a suburb. Sweeping buildings and gradually clearing the streets of enemies and snipers is always satisfying, especially in this scenario.

The whole style of the mod feels very arcadey - it's a mish mash of different styles (some of which are a bit weird - the Call of Duty level up sounds and graphics, the gears of war logo when you're nearing death if you're hit .etc) but it all kinda fits together well. From what I understand most of the music is from Phantasy Star online with a few exceptions. It feels like typical JRPG music at times, with a relaxed and kind of jazz style to it - but that actually works towards the mod's favour. It definitely felt like I was playing a obscure arcade shooter, and that works to the mod's strengths. There's also some built in replay value - getting all the items, kills, and secrets on a map grants you an S-rank which is visible above the level's entry in the hub map. Getting consecutive S-ranks allows you to unlock helper allies for purchase. I didn't understand this system at first until later in the game so I had to play without them, but it's a nice reward for players who want to get a perfect score. There's also hidden rings throughout the maps - gained only through tricky jumping skills, getting all of them unlocks a hidden surprise (if I ever get them all I'll edit what it is in here)

I enjoyed Prodoomer a lot - there ARE tough and somewhat frustrating sections littered throughout, but the good ideas on display and the gameplay system make playing through and beating maps rewarding. The music and general level design work really well together and give the mod a nice atmosphere which kept me going till I saw the whole thing through (which is rare with most megawads) If you're looking for a good GZDoom campaign filled with custom content that works well, Prodoomer's not a bad project to check out at all.

Link to release topic on Zdoom forums

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Selling an environment

Ostensibly, most levels in FPS games aim to recreate something even if the link is extremely tenuous (see Doom's hangar levels) However depending on the kind of game/mod you're working on, it may or may not be important to convince the player that the environment you say they're in actually lives up to what you've created. Doom's levels were fairly abstract and naturally at the time there wasn't a whole lot you could do to detail a room to sell an idea. Quake by it's nature couldn't really support that either, whilst it's 3D engine allowed towering multi-layer rooms you'd struggle to actually fill them with things that form an actual purpose (not really a problem for Quake, given the world it's set in) Duke Nukem 3D was one of the first FPS games to actually try and sell it's environments - you had fire hydrants, toilets, vending machines, chairs - not just fluff to fill up a level but specifically there to say "this is a place people could inhabit" There had to be concessions made for gameplay (and that's a balance I'll try and talk about in a different post) but the world-building was there.

Half-life stands as one of the greatest examples of this, for many reasons but for this post I'll be talking about Xen specifically. The entire game, you're sold the idea that Black Mesa has been engaging in top-secret, high-level research into things not of this world. Even at the beginning of the game you get a dubious nod to this with the crystal pushed into the Anti-Mass Spectrometer and how the administrator "went to some lengths to get it" As the game progresses and you start to put together the pieces of the puzzle, including where the Lambda labs fit into all of this, you start to build up a picture of what exactly they were doing over there. And then you arrive at the Lambda labs, and you see all of this huge machinery that has to be powering something, that there has to be some kind of purpose to it. You reach the very end of the complex, where you're greeted by scientists who quickly and undramatic-ally reveal the truth and confirm your suspicions - the alien world, Xen, that is part of this invasion has already been visited frequently by man. HEV suit holders line the walls, guns and ammunition depots lay to the side, and suddenly you realize why this glorified radiation suit has so many combat features and why being trained on how to use an sub-machine gun with a grenade launcher was relevant to the Hazard course that scientists have to go through (Ostensibly a game mechanic, but than the game's narrative actually gives it a purpose in the story as well) And then you see the colossal device used to move between dimensions - to call it a teleporter would be a gross disservice. It looks like it rips holes in the fabric of reality, which is what it does.

All of this rambling has a purpose, trust me - there's a reason people tout Half-life as one of the masters of show and don't tell, and the Lambda Labs is one of the key marks of this idea. Doom's teleport to hell was a flat red pad with a pentagram on it. Story isn't important to that game. Half-life's story is important, so the machine to move between space and time is at least as big as a warehouse - and that's the part you can see. You've pretty much walked through the mechanical intestines of this device. The build-up to the machine and the pay-off is fantastic. And then the trip to Xen is no less important. It's a down-turn in game quality for some, but they missed the entire point of the location. It's a trick that nobody would ever be willing to do again - Valve knew that to sell the idea of a place beyond worlds that was nothing we'd ever seen before, it would have to be unfit for human navigation. The long jump module didn't just exist to enable pointless jumping puzzles, it existed to show that this was an alien environment, that human movement wasn't considered in it's construction.

Todesangt 2 does a decent job of selling it's locations to you.
If you want to sell a location and story to the players, you need to back that up with gameplay and level design. Valve knew this when making the end portion of Half-life (and did an admirable job at the end of HL2 with the Citadel, but I think Xen's criticism made them hesitant to go further with gameplay changes) Does your game have a plot, a theme or even just a simple objective? Place the hints, tiny ones at the start, and build them up as you go along. Info dumps are the worst kinds of exposition (a necessary evil in some cases) but building the environment as you go along is important. Even stuff like shipping crates should be used if you're building the main headquarters of a criminal organization. What would they need to run this operation? Can I show the players they've been dabbling in drug-trade on the side as a way to finance their plot to blow up the moon? If you want the player to teleport vast distances or even into different realities, Valve's example shows as a shining example of the moment.

For another good example, a Half-life mod called Paranoia features you as a Spetsnaz agent sent against a terrorist attack on an old industrial facility. The plot thickens and you're sent into the bowels of the facility, through an old abandoned section of the base. The walls are caked in rust and dirt, and you feel the air is rancid even through your monitor as you explore the horrors that have occurred in there. When you return from your trip and speak to a scientist, she explains that she just quickly wants to run you through some radiological tests in case you breathed any contaminated substances whilst you were down there. It's a little moment that would mean nothing if not for how they constructed the place, and a little icy trickle of fear can be felt for your character because the environment sold the idea that the lab probably was full of contaminated air and that radiation was spreading through your body as you stood there listening.

For a negative example, a similar concept in the Blue Shift add-on for Half-life. A scientist has an idea to escape Black Mesa - use an old teleporter in an dis-used part of the base. Cool, sounds like a great concept! Except the elevator to this place is hidden behind a single sheet of plaster in a corridor about a minute away from the surface. There's a single door between you and this old teleport device, and then you get in and the apparently dis-used place still has power and there's people around. The Teleporter device is not even a quarter of the size of the Lambda lab's machine - there's no staging depots, no HEV suits, no weapons or ammunition apart from a shotgun in a security office, nothing to suggest that this room is where people leap across fucking dimensions. It takes a fraction of the time to charge up and send you to Xen, and it's powered by a battery a tad larger than a car battery. And this is supposed to be the old teleport system? and of course, your character has zero problems moving around Xen despite not wearing a HEV suit and being clad in a security vest, a blue shirt and a black tie. Why is this important? Because they didn't put effort into selling the idea to you, the trip to Xen was treated as mundanely as a trip to the shop to grab toilet roll. There was no investment in the trip, so it's hard to feel engaged in your activities as you run around fighting aliens in another level set. Opposing Force was guilty of the same - you climb onto a short tram ride that's right near the surface, crawl through a ceiling vent and then arrive in the bowels of the Lambda facility, near the huge teleport system itself just as Freeman jumps through. It's convoluted and damages the impact of the original moment. This is why it's important to build things up, and try and sell the themes you're portraying.

Freeman's entire journey was reduced to a short vent crawl in Opposing Force
If you want story to play any part in the thing you're creating, you need to convince the player that the people in that world can use the things you're building, for the purpose you're stating. I'm not talking macro-level detail here, but simply re-enforcing the ideas and themes your story is putting across. I've played a lot of mods that take place in research facilities but actually are quite literally long corridors that exist for no reason but to pad out the play time. Is this a facility, or another BSP corridor with lots of decorative meshes put everywhere to convince me this is hi-tech?

Monday, 6 October 2014

Night Work at the factory - Review

Kingpin was one of those games that have aged in a rather weird way; the visual design, sound work and atmosphere still hold up well but the actual combat, to me, has aged very poorly. I still consider it a classic, but it suffers from typical Xatrix difficulty issues (mainly hitscan enemies with high accuracy, as in Redneck Rampage and RTCW as well) It's modding scene never took off, but I doubt many FPS games really did after Half-life hit the scene. As far as I know, Night work at the factory is one of the only and most likely biggest Kingpin mod you'll ever play.

The presentation is fantastic at first; an intro sequence sets the scene and looks amazing especially for a Quake 2 engine game. The scene is set in a snooker/pool bar where the main character is given a job to deliver a message to a factory owner - sounds simple enough (of course it isn't) The mod takes you from a journey through some small outer city areas through to a massive Steel mill, and eventually to the owner's office.

Visual design is simply fantastic; the steel mill part is so convincing I feel pretty convinced the author must work at one, or at least has actually physically been in one. The huge facility overshadows the one in the base game easily. Later levels set in a luxurious house are also equally impressive, and the author shows expert skill at getting good design out of the limits of Kingpin. However...there is also one flaw in creating realistic interiors, and that is that they don't flow well as far as games are concerned. There are a lot of locked doors in the mod, and of course you need to press use on them to open them (One thing I didn't realise until at least about half-way into the mod is that doors that are locked play an appropriate sound when used, whereas static doors make no sound - that was my own fault for not realising it sooner rather than later) Many of the steel mill levels are fairly labyrinth in nature, and whilst most of the time progress backwards is prohibited there was still occasions I could return to earlier levels even though I had no need to.

The plot of the game is fairly rudimentary, and the plot twist while obvious still made the plot a bit more dynamic. At the beginning of the game however there were a few cutscenes that didn't seem to make much sense...I expected them to be a regular thing but they only showed up at the beginning and then no more which made them even MORE confusing. Still, the author makes good use of cutscenes and it gives the mod a nice presentation. Also sprinkled throughout are a couple of funky new tunes, which gives the mod a fairly unique style.

The core game is pretty standard Kingpin fare, although you won't actually get a gun until about a 1/3 of the way into the mod (not that I find the Kingpin pistol any use at all) There are enemies with guns earlier, but they're to be avoided - a few minor stealth sequences at the beginning feel fairly tense. The first half of the pack actually consists of mostly puzzle solving and finding out how to move further ahead. It was pretty fun...the second half deals mostly in combat with puzzles mainly being about finding the location of a switch. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes it's not. There are also jumping puzzles in the mod - quite a lot actually, and sometimes it was unclear where the next step was. Fortunately falling damage is fairly meager in Kingpin so if you're not a habitual quicksaver a miss won't harm you much at all. While supplies are generous in fights, I struggle to enjoy combat in Kingpin - I won't view the mod negatively because of that however (because it IS a mod for Kingpin after all) but if you don't like Kingpin's combat either this mod won't change your mind - but the mod is worth going through regardless. If you DO like it than you'll be right at home here.

To wrap this up...the visual design and style make this mod definitely worth playing despite some sections being frustrating. It's rare to see large mods for older games these days, let alone a one-man band mod for a title like Kingpin. When you see mods like this, they're clearly made with love for the base game. This is no exception, with some of the best looking areas I've seen for the Q2 engine (even beating some Half-life mods I've played as well)

Link to author and mod's website

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Gene-Tech: Before the storm - Review

Enjay is a rather prolific author in the Doom community; most notably many of his projects incorporate ideas and elements from various games, meaning each one is different and has it's own style (However Enjay's mapping style is fairly recognizable) His BGPA Missions Liberation is one of my favorite mods (and will eventually get reviewed here at some point) and inspired the AMC TC in various ways. While Gene-Tech is a different style of game to that mod, it's a fun SiN/Quake 2 inspired romp that will take you about an hour.

Gene-tech starts without too much fanfare; you're dropped into the headquarters of Gene-Tech Corporation which is based on Mars. There's rumors of dubious research and alien collusion which is against various international laws (Enjoy always sprinkles little realistic tid-bits like this into his mods and it's always a neat touch) Your job is to go in and find out what's going on. Pretty simple stuff so far. The level design is fairly crisp and uncluttered, with the level interconnecting to resemble a somewhat real facility. A teal and orange colour palette is used consistently throughout the mod (even enemies and pickups match it) and gives it a really distinctive art style. The texture work is near perfect, and sprinkled throughout are new 3D enemies and pickups.

The guns are all lifted from Quake 2 with the exception of 2 guns from SiN; they act nearly identical to the originals apart from the Hyperblaster which felt fairly sluggish compared to Q2's, and the Railgun which felt like it fired a bit slower. They have new skins to fit the colour palette though, and I didn't mind taking some old friends along for another battle even if it was in a different engine. They're fun to use and take care of most enemies quickly enough, which is good enough for me.

The enemies are retextured enemies from SiN and Quake 2 - the human enemies are fine to fight albeit with the annoying tendancy to all be hit scanners, like most of Enjay's other projects. Don't be afraid to drop the difficulty down a bit if you're having problems. Alongside them are robotic droids and spiders, ala Strife. There's also civilians dotted around the map - most of them run and cower and a few can be spoken to, revealing little bits of the plot. There's no consequence for killing them, but I always avoid hurting civilians in a game where you're ostensibly the hero so it creates a bit more of an interesting dynamic when fighting enemies whilst avoiding the civilians (It stops being interesting if a gameover results though, which doesn't happen here thankfully) There's a lot of secrets in the level, and with the well-connected layout it's definitely replayable.

About half way through the map, the plotline reveals that the aliens are none other than the Strogg from Quake 2 - that's not a sly chip at reused resources, they are intended to be the one and the same alien race with the finale of the map revealing it's set before the events of Quake 2. The enemies act fairly faithfully, but as someone who played a ton of Quake 2 in the past they're still easy to tell apart from the originals. The plot revelation was pretty interesting, but ultimately the map is light on story and concentrates more on the action side of things. The initial fight with them was a bit difficult if you don't think ahead about a certain pickup granted to you.

Usage of ambient sounds is fairly rich, with lab machinery humming and automated systems chugging along. Music is a mix of System Shock 2 and Quake 2; however there's a bit of clashing going on when the heavy rock of Q2 music stops to play a slightly more ambient piece. The music isn't especially standout - it's not bad either of course, it just does the job and nothing more.

Gene-tech is an enjoyable level from Enjay; whilst it doesn't do anything new that stands out it's still a well-crafted experience with a really nice colour palette and solid level design. The 3D models also work fairly well and don't really clash or standout poorly - whilst it's a shame Enjay doesn't have as much time to pump out doom wads anymore, this wad shows he still knows what he's doing well and hopefully we'll see more in the future.