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Old 04-10-2009, 10:00 PM   #1   Add To Ignore List  
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Default [SE SP/Co-op] Mesa Verde - The Mountain Temple

Mesa Verde - The Mountain Temple

Author(s) : Unwary_Thief
Game : Serious Sam : The Second Encounter
Type : Single Player and Cooperative


We've certainly taken a look at some great maps so far, but up until this point I haven't reviewed a truly epic map. What do I mean by epic? A long, huge, sprawling, ambitious map with fights to rival what players had to face in the final level of Croteam's campaign. Apocalypse: Part One showed some promise but ultimately couldn't reach the same level of awe. Here we have the first epic map released for Second Encounter: Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde is a "lost level" that takes place in between Valley of the Jaguar and Teotihuacan in the Serious Sam timeline. In it, Sam has to fight his way through a lost Mayan temple to reach the sunlight and happiness on the other side. Netricsa messages make this goal clear, and provide all the backstory you could ever want to give you some motivation to finish. They also accompany quite of a few of the major locations in the map to give you advice, fill you in on some history, and let you know what to expect. The map has you fight through a Mayan city, the dark depths of a huge Mayan temple, a cave system, and finally a series of valleys. The whole experience will probably take you nearly 2 hours (this is one of the largest single maps I've ever seen), so be ready for a long and arduous journey.

Unlike most other maps, Mesa Verde doesn't really stay at a constant level of difficulty. The map starts out fairly easy and tosses plenty of health pickups your way. Once you get into the temple, you start facing some longer battles where you're aching for health and having to survive on basically nothing. Later battles, including the final one, are difficult but once again toss you plenty of health pickups. If I were to balance out the difficulty spikes across the whole level though, I'd say it would be fairly similar to one of Croteam's later levels. That means you can safely play through it on your default setting. Cooperative play is available, and I'd highly recommend it. This is one of those maps that feels even more epic when you're running through it with some friends.

On the whole, the map's visuals are decent, but not amazing. The one exception is the Mayan city you start in, which looks spectacular. Take a look at the first and third screenshots. While the buildings may not have all that much structural detail and a few of the textures look tiled, the style just works. The light, washed out colors create a beautiful and tranquil setting that is very different from any of Croteam's maps. Once you reach the main temple however, things start to look a bit worse. My biggest problem is the map's lighting; most of the indoor rooms are way too dark. Screenshot 4 is pretty typical for the map. I wasn't just cherry-picking examples of dark rooms either, most rooms are so dark that huge parts of the wall and ceiling appear completely black. While it's never so dark that you can't tell where you're going, it does keep you from appreciating much of the map's detail and architecture.

Many of the map's indoor environments were also disappointingly bland. You will run down quite a few painfully long hallways that amount to little more than 4 walls, a floor, and a ceiling. Very blocky rooms without much structural detail are also common (a problem which is made worse by not being able to see half the textures on the walls). The cave section of the map only uses a single texture, which gets old very quickly. But putting those issues aside, this map does have the ability to impress on occasion. The rooms in the last two screenshots have their own unique flavor and are very well done. The last valley also looks great, the perfect spot for an epic final battle. Like I said before, none of these problems are significant enough to make the map look ugly, but there weren't too many spots where the visuals really made my jaw drop either (the first area was a notable exception).

But let's get into the important stuff. Combat here is exceptionally good, and this is where the map feels truly epic in scope. Minor waves are almost without exception cleverly designed, and you'll face rushes of almost every type of enemy that can rush. Gnaar rushes were a tad overused in my opinion (the flamethrower/ chainsaw makes them almost trivial in SE), but in general the enemy combinations Unwary Thief uses are dangerous and fun to kill. He certainly knows how to keep the pressure on. Even the locations for some of these minor fights are incredibly creative. For instance, at one point you have to survive on a large elevator as it slowly descends. There are more enemies than you can deal with easily, and you have to plan out when you should use the Invulnerability powerup. It's a very tense fight. Another location has you fighting on the floor of the room, but you can jump up to the super-slick surface of the ceiling a la The Matrix: Revolutions. In fact, I think this is the first custom map that makes use of gravity tricks. In general, there is a solid balance between indoor and outdoor fighting. The larger fights are even better. One has enemies advancing along three corridors in a huge hall. To keep them from overwhelming you you have to keep all three corridors at bay, which is much easier said than done. The final fight goes on for a little too long, but manages to throw virtually every enemy in the game at you and puts quite a few enemies on screen. And yes, the large battles do manage to feel almost as epic as those in Grand Cathedral. Not everything is perfect though. Some of the larger fights go on for much too long with the same enemies pouring out of the spawners, which gets boring after awhile. Also, on quite a few occasions the map spawns large waves behind you AND in front of you in narrow spots, which isn't a mechanic I like that much, because you have to be expecting it to have any hope of surviving it (i.e., you have to die the first time and quickload). I usually don't say too much about ammo placement in my reviews, but I will here because Unwary Thief really nails it. I never ran out of ammo for everything but at the same time there wasn't enough ammo that I could use my most powerful weapons when I didn't absolutely have to. It's a fine line to walk, but Mesa Verde does it very well.

The map also has a number of non-combat based elements that make it even more exciting. Most importantly, you have an impressive amount of freedom to explore. In the first area, you can literally go anywhere you want. While some of this freedom is taken away once you enter the temple, many of the indoor rooms are cavernous, and there are plenty of side paths that reward you with health and ammo. The final area is also massive and open, with lots of places to explore. Second, the map has plenty of puzzles, most of which require you to open doors. One even utilizes the gravity features of the engine, which is a lot of fun. Third, the map does have a few secrets, but as far as I could tell they were mostly hidden health and ammo. A little disappointing that something more unique wasn't included, but it's not a big deal.

The sound was well done, Unwary Thief used a default Aztec track that worked just fine, and switched to the Summoner battle music for huge fights. While this is a fairly common strategy in custom maps, it does a good job of getting your blood pumping when it is coupled with dozens of critters to kill.

Overall, this map is an epic adventure. While it may not be quite as visually stunning as Croteam's levels, and I wish indoor environments had more lighting, the gameplay is generally excellent. I'd highly recommend playing through it, either with a friend or alone.

Overall Score : 89/100 Good
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Old 04-13-2009, 08:30 AM   #2   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Mesa Verde - The Mountain Temple

Cool review, wasn't expecting so much high praise as this was my first 'real' map built with the Serious Engine after about 6 months of usage of it, which also shows in some of the rooms details, as you describe.

The shadows are music to my ears.
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Old 04-13-2009, 09:51 PM   #3   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Mesa Verde - The Mountain Temple

You deserve the praise, it certainly wasn't perfect but it was a lot of fun to play. Nice job! Waiting to get to Military Decay...
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:07 AM   #4   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Mesa Verde - The Mountain Temple

I think Military Decay would get about 99%.
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Old 04-14-2009, 04:01 PM   #5   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Mesa Verde - The Mountain Temple

It's even more fun to play on co-op, though the odd markers meant that if you pass away, get squashed or swash at the end, you end up with just a double barrel shotty.

TwL : I would agree, MD has the most complete interactivity and fun in a map pack. It would have been perfect if, in a network game, it didn't give badsync problems between levels, or if it didn't lag a lot on the third level.

Last edited by Valerie Valens; 04-14-2009 at 04:06 PM.
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Old 04-15-2009, 05:02 AM   #6   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Mesa Verde - The Mountain Temple

Also MD is quite a large map. Walking around after killing everything is tedious.
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