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Old 06-27-2009, 08:32 PM   #1   Add To Ignore List  
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Default [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Author(s) : Chris "toastar" Young AKA RatBoy
Game : Serious Sam : The Second Encounter
Type : Single Player and Cooperative

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In the early days of Second Encounter, Toastar brought us three maps: Village of the Cursed, Gates to Hammurabi, and Rio Azul. While all three maps were well-constructed and fun to play (I did give them good reviews after all), none of them were particularly epic; even the most memorable fights tended to be a bit too small, too cramped, and too short to be of the same caliber as Grand Cathedral or Otmosis. After a long period of inactivity Toastar is back with his fourth and final map: Alpine Mists II. And not only does it succeed, but it blows his other projects out of the water. Alpine Mists II is an epic masterpiece, and is without a doubt one of the most engaging experiences on our file system. It’s a shame it had to be Toastar’s final Serious Sam map.

Alpine Mists is a lost level that takes place before the Gothic castle in Second Encounter (we’re even treated to a cutscene at the end of the map showing the first area of the castle, although it doesn’t exactly explain how Sam loses his entire arsenal after passing though a door ). Sam begins in a snowy mountain pass and must fight his way through a crystal mine, a frozen peak, a futuristic military base, a lava cavern, an underground grotto, a sunken forest path, and finally a Gothic city. The sheer amount of variety in this map is overwhelming. You’ll fight your way through almost every environment imaginable, and while the map does feel a tad haphazard as a result, it’s all tied together so well that the seams are barely visible. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much of a plot to speak of (just get from point A to B, kill stuff on the way), and the map doesn’t feel quite as deep or engaging as, say, Otmosis as a result. On the other hand, Netricsa messages are implemented well and give Sam plenty of tactical information about his surroundings. The quality of these messages is one of the reasons the map doesn’t feel nearly as random as similar projects might. The map also features plenty of excellent cutscenes to help introduce the storyline and give Sam a preview of various areas.

The map’s difficulty is generally well balanced but occasionally too easy. Health pickups are a little too frequent, especially large ones like hearts. In the single player game you only get a heart if you find an obscure secret or perhaps before an utterly massive fight, but in Alpine Mists you find them strewn around like candy. The same goes for ammo packs and Serious Damage powerups. While these issues are far from being a deal-breaker or making the map trivially easy (there’s still plenty of challenge here, trust me), I’d suggest playing this project on a higher difficulty level than you normally would. Oh yeah, and Alpine Mists is long…really long. Expect the whole thing to take you between and hour and a half and two hours, depending on how obsessively you want to explore and look for secrets.

Take my word for it, this is one of the best cooperative experiences on our file system. The fights are huge, the environments are wide open, and there is tons of variety to keep you and your friends entertained for a couple hours. No matter how you feel about coop, I strongly recommend taking Alpine Mists for a spin.

The map’s visual are generally pretty impressive. As soon as you load Alpine Mists up you’ll be treated to a beautiful mountain vista complete with well-placed trees, ferns, rocks, blocks of ice, and water features. Moreover, this area is huge and wide open, giving you plenty of places to explore and plenty of scenery to admire. At this point you know this isn’t just an ordinary map, and fortunately, these high quality visuals aren’t restricted to the first area. The crystal mines feature angular and complex caves lit by sparkling blue crystals, the lava caves force Sam to navigate treacherous rock formations in a deep orange mist, and the futuristic military base has Sam fighting on a giant metal timelock suspended in space. Each area has spectacular visual features to make it unique and interesting, but the thing that really draws them all together is Toastar’s excellent use of terrain. Nearly every environment is made up entirely of terrain (which is a pretty impressive feat for a 2 hour map), and almost without exception it looks smooth, natural, and perfectly supplements whatever locale Sam happens to find himself in. Textures are chosen well to bring the terrain to life and give each zone a distinct feel, and other features like trees, ferns, waterfalls, rocks, and fireballs make each environment feel full of life. I especially liked the tree texture on the top of the ravine in the last area, it really does wonders to make you feel like you’re in a dense forest (although the trees seem a tad small). Sure, not everything is perfect. Some of the environments (especially parts of the cave area, the futuristic base area, and the underground grotto) look suspiciously simple and unnatural due to an overabundance of large, flat walls. With the sheer amount of terrain Toastar had to make for Alpine Mists, I guess it’s impossible to assume that every room would turn out looking amazing, but it’s a disappointment nevertheless that a few of these areas just don’t look that great.

That brings me to my other major concern. There are really no manmade structures at all in Alpine Mists until the very end, and while there’s technically nothing wrong with that, including some of them would have been an excellent way to break up outdoor environments. Croteam, for example, made extensive use of outdoor environments in Second Encounter, but to keep things varied you were never that far away from human architecture. Even though Alpine Mists does its best to cycle through natural environments as quickly as possible to keep any of them from getting stale, some of them do get a tad repetitive just from a lack of human architecture to break them up. The Gothic architecture that is there, however, is done well, especially in the final area where you have to fight amidst a massive field of Gothic ruins.

http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_1-6.jpg http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_2-6.jpg http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_3-6.jpg
http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_4-5.jpg http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_5-4.jpg http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_6-4.jpg
http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_7-2.jpg http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_8-2.jpg http://i421.photobucket.com/albums/pp292/Xenon797/Review/th_9-2.jpg

I’ve never been particularly impressed by the combat in Toastar’s maps. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been disappointed by it, but his fights have never been quite as massive, hectic, or cleverly designed as the ones created by Croteam or even other mappers like Pompey or Unwary Thief. That is, until now; the combat in Alpine Mists is nothing short of spectacular. Most maps start off slow, only giving you a few enemies to kill while you build up your arsensal of weapons, but here, the combat hits the ground running with a huge and clever first fight against werebulls, mechanoids, Kleer, and basic soldiers. It had me switching through weapons constantly and frantically, and is a whole lot of fun. These type of fights never let up; you’ll face countless enemies, cleverly designed and incredibly varied attack waves, and some really creative battle arenas. I’ll give you a couple highlights. In the second mountain pass area you get to fight an utterly massive wave of mechanoids with a single Serious Damage powerup. You have to make good use of it or you could find yourself overwhelmed. And of course, the final battle is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a custom map. You’ll fight huge waves of every type of enemy rushing at you from across a massive courtyard, and keeping them at bay is a spectacular, epic way to close out an already excellent experience. Unfortunately the cannon makes this fight a bit trivial since they tend to line up rather well for you, but if you can hold back your impulse to go bowling the fight suddenly becomes a lot more exciting. But like I said, these are just highlights; even the map’s low-key encounters never get repetitive or boring. Trust me when I say you’ll want to keep playing Alpine Mists just to see what else Toastar will throw at you.

While there aren’t quite as many gimmick fights or clever arenas as Otmosis, Alpine Mists still does pretty well. One entire area (the lava caves) features low gravity fights, which I’ve never seen before. It’s a lot of fun jumping twice as high as normal, and you’ll find that it’s a huge help while navigating the cave’s obstacles and during the cave’s fights. Another arena has a series of portals placed in various spots that will teleport you all over the place. They’re great for escaping from the enemies that will try to swarm you, but don’t be surprised when enemies decide to use them to try to sneak up on you. A third fight has you fighting on the surface of a frozen pond inside a cave. I wish there were a few more clever arenas like this in such a long project, but on the whole I certainly can’t complain.

Aside from the combat, Alpine Mists includes plenty of other elements that make it a great map. While the map doesn’t really offer any puzzles, it does offer quite a few detours (some even into completely different locales) to find something that will allow Sam to proceed. One detour has Sam activate some explosives that will form a bridge of stalactites over a dark pit, which is an excellent environmental puzzle. Another section requires you to travel to two very different sections of a foreign planet to activate a portal back to Earth. These detours are clever and make the level feel far less linear than it actually is. And also, it’s a Toastar map, which means it’s full of great secrets that you’re going to want to go out of your way to look for. You’ll find plenty of hidden health and ammo, but also some of the more humorous secrets that Toastar is known for.

The music is also very well done. Toastar uses tracks from all three of Croteam’s base civilizations, switching between them at various points in the map to heighten the mood. Most of these tracks supplement their respective environments well, but I totally disagree with Toastar’s choice of Gothic music for the forest ravine section at the end. It just doesn’t feel quite right. A few of the larger fights switch to boss battle music, which works quite well to get your blood pumping, but for some reason the final battle doesn’t. The default Gothic castle battle music is alright but the Grand Cathedral track or the second boss’ music would have added a whole lot more excitement and tension to the fight.

Overall, Alpine Mists II is a spectacular achievement that definitely deserves a spot in every Serious Sam fan's collection. It may not reach quite the same heights as Otmosis, but it's nevertheless one of the best maps our file system has to offer.

Overall Score : 94/100 Excellent

Last edited by Scorpion777; 06-28-2009 at 10:13 AM.
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Old 06-28-2009, 06:22 AM   #2   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Nice review, but his nick is Toastar
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Old 06-28-2009, 10:14 AM   #3   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Fixed, because I'm crazy obsessive like that
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Old 06-28-2009, 10:27 AM   #4   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Seems you've still got a ways to go.
It's "Beast Hunt: Part 1" next.
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Old 06-28-2009, 10:32 AM   #5   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Actually it's "Home" next, I skipped over it because I was stuck in a string of incredibly short maps and felt like doing something longer.
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Old 08-29-2009, 09:50 AM   #6   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Yes, I haven't been working on reviews for awhile. Somewhere between working 60 hours a week and preparing for the LSAT (the US law school entrance exam) I lost all my free time. But I'll be able to pick the project back up once my schedule becomes less crazy in a few weeks.
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Old 01-14-2012, 11:30 AM   #7   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Teh custom map I mostly played
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Old 03-05-2013, 04:25 PM   #8   Add To Ignore List  
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Default Re: [SE SP/Co-op] Alpine Mists II: Dust of Ages

Thank you very much for this review. Honestly, I've never heard about this series of maps, and now, after reading it, I definitely have the desire to play this map as quickly as it possible.
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