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Chex Quest 3 (Windows)

By erc on August 28, 2012

Deus Ex: Invisible War (Windows)

By erc on August 12, 2012

Outlaws: Handful of Missions (Windows)

By erc on August 12, 2012

Outlaws (Windows)

By erc on August 12, 2012

Master Levels for Doom II (Windows)

By erc on August 6, 2012

Master Levels for Doom II (DOS)

By erc on August 6, 2012

X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse (DOS)

A mixed bag of a TC.

The Good
Overview and Storyline

X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse is the third and the final 'Total Conversion' (i.e. an add-on that may or may not bring gameplay changes but must replace all the game assets that are viewable on-screen) among the plethora of unofficial Quake expansions. Putting Abyss of Pandemonium aside (which was published four months later), it is also the last add-on to be released before the launch of Quake II.

According to the background information supplied on the official website, what became a commercial product in the end started its life as a mod in early 1997, when the team leader Jonn Gorden chose to test his modelling skills by creating X-Men characters as replacements for Quake monsters. With the help of Ryan Feltrin (a programmer already experienced in QuakeC owing to his Quess and Quake Rally mods) who made the required changes to the monster behaviour and attack patterns, the project quickly arose an interest in the Quake community. With the work already done on monsters and a design plan at hand, the team knocked the door of Marvel. They agreed to publish Ravages of Apocalypse on the condition of it being completed in time for Christmas sales of the same year. This deal left the expanded team (composed of three original members of Zero Gravity and additional developers from another modding-based company, Wraith Corporation) with a mere three months to turn the basic concept into a full-fledged game.

Before starting up the game, a decently done (albeit lacking voice-overs) 'CyberComic' intro sets up the scene. Apparently, the events take place in the aftermath of the heroes' battle with a powerful psionic entity named Onslaught (which was published as a mini-series in the form of comics in 1996) that left the earth ravaged and the mutants spent. Effectively tying the license and the game together, the developers then expand the licensed universe from this premise. One of the better known adversaries of X-Men, Apocalypse, turns this weakened state of the team to an opportunity and with the aid of a mysterious figure and the cloning technology supplied by him, he sets out to capture the members and form his army of X-Clones. However, another well-known antagonist of the series who is also fascinated by the idea of world domination, Magneto, learns about this intent of Apocalypse. To thwart his challenger's plan, Magneto utilizes his own technology to grant you, the unnamed player character who seems eager to improve his battle skills, a set of molecular implants directly connected to the central nervous system that allow the bearer to use 'cyber-metamorphic weaponry' at will. Reformed into a formidable weapon at the hands of Magneto, you are tasked with assailing the Citadel of Apocalypse.

You start your quest in a lovingly-crafted replica of X-Men Mansion, which serves as an in-game replacement for the usual skill selection screen in Quake fashion. Your journey follows a strictly linear path (i.e. you are not allowed to enter the second act without completing the first) that spans over two episodes each consisting of five regular levels and a final one where you confront the appropriate boss (there is also a secret level for the first episode). 'The Fortress of Apocalypse' sees you infiltrating the aforementioned citadel, a huge pyramid converted to a front base for Apocalypse's operations. As you delve deeper into the installation, the environments progressively change from tech-base themed structures to Egyptian-flavoured tombs, in line with the antagonist's origins and slightly resembling Hexen II's Thysis levels. After dealing with Apocalypse and learning about the greater threat, you go after his shadowy ally that was hinted in the introduction comic throughout the second episode, 'The Downfall of Sinister Plans'. Starting out in the war-torn streets, you continue hunting X-Clones in suburban / industrial zones that eventually lead to an underground installation where the ultimate battle takes place.

Ravages of Apocalypse does not derive much from its Quake origins. You battle twelve different X-Clones (each having two forms of action, which may be a ranged / melee attack or a defensive maneuver) utilizing eight different weapons (half of them clearly having a counterpart in the original game's armory) all the while hunting for keys or buttons that are crucial for progression through the level. Various armors and standard power-ups are also in, as well as secrets to keep an eye for. Of course, this being a 'Total Conversion', even though the gameplay mechanics mostly remain the same, at least 95% of the aural / visual resources are replaced. In the end, the quality of some of these replacements is the sole reason that keeps the pack (slightly) apart from the mediocrity of such unofficial add-ons.

High Points

Upon completing the first map proper, 'Enter the Unknown', it becomes clear that the most care on developer's side was given to the models, especially the X-Clones (whose still shots can be viewed through the front-end or at Zero Gravity's website. Especially considering the restrictions of the Quake engine and the accepted polygon limits of the time, these models are a huge accomplishment in themselves. Gracefully textured, smoothly animated and successfully distinguished from one another, they also fit perfectly to the game world without losing the comic book touch. The weapons carried by the player (essentially two cyber extensions, one for your each arm that transform into a different weapon upon user's request) also form a nicely textured, coherent set, most of them having fluid animations (especially the transition ones). Item models are mostly of good quality too, yet a few of them do not fit in with most of the environments due to the radical colors chosen for their textures. Unfortunately, the textures used for the actual maps vary greatly in quality. While the better among them serve the more experienced mappers of the team to create refreshing levels that goes hand in hand with the X-Men / comic book theme, the so-so (or rather, questionable) ones coupled with mediocre map design bring the overall visual quality down.

The pack also comes with its own CD-Audio soundtrack consisting of six tracks (which, for this reason alone, is not available with the downloadable version that was released much later) composed by Method of the W.O.R.M, an electronic / industrial / trip hop band from USA. The style is vastly different from what is taken for granted in Quake add-ons. That is, it is not dark ambient but mostly soft, at times uplifting techno-rock with sung lyrics. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but I think it compliments the different theme well. Besides, due to the lack of of greater ambient sound library, all Quake derivatives lose half of their aural impact if not accompanied by a proper soundtrack. Thus, it is better than nothing or the original NIN soundtrack which clearly does not fit in this alternate universe.

What might have been a selling point for Ravages of Apocalypse back at its release is the thematic Deathmatch mode where the players play as one of the twelve available X-Men, using their powers (rather than the usual weapons) against each other, complete with accompanying first-person hand / weapon models. I didn't have a chance to try the game in Multiplayer, though I conclude it may provide a fun, albeit short-lived diversion from the regular Quake DM. There are four DM-only maps supplied with the package, although they are all corridor-based, cramped affairs. Still, the regular SP levels are also available for multiplay. In fact, X-Men Mansion looks like it was designed with this in mind, with all its side-rooms making it much bigger in size than the usual skill selection map.

The Bad
As stated before, what consists the core of the game (namely, the maps and the gameplay that revolves around them) was done in a very short time frame with the collective efforts of about twenty people. Although I believe (and 'know' for some, through their previous creations) these individuals are skilled developers in their own right, it is apparent from the final product that the lack of available time, thus a proper quality check all around led to a mixed outcome which suffers heavily in combat balance and game flow.

Your weapon set consists of a power fist, a shotgun (fires two shots back to back), a chaingun, a plasma cannon, a flamethrower, an orb launcher (a grenade launcher more streamlined than the original), a rocket launcher (fires two homing rockets) and N.E.R.D. (a BFG in disguise). Since these are just different manifestations of your cyber arms, they are all available from the get-go, as long as you have the required ammunition type to power them. They may seem effective enough at first look, however, it quickly becomes clear that most of them are not appropriate for the job at hand. The shotgun is just too slow for dealing with X-Clones and lacks the close-range punch one expects from it. The chaingun, albeit dealing not much damage and annoyingly firing in bursts, burns through the ammo much too quickly. The flamethrower and N.E.R.D. dish huge amounts of individual / area damage but they are even worse in ammo consumption than the chaingun. Your best bets are the plasma cannon and the rocket launcher, the former having the best damage per ammo ratio and the latter being the easiest solution to most of your problems, owing to its homing rockets that surprisingly follow their targets very well. However, some of the clones are impervious to the effects of these two. So you have to fall back to one of the other weapons to confront them, which most likely results in burning up the ammo of that weapon without beating your adversaries and stumbling into another bunch while frantically searching for an ammo box.

The clones themselves do not pose much of a threat individually but when more than two comes together the combat becomes a frustrating exercise. Since half of them move faster than the player and most (if not all) require different weapons to deal with (coupled with broken ammo consumption / distribution mentioned above), even these minor confrontations usually result in death on player's behalf. This could be forgiven if only the bestiary was as diverse as Quake's. However, there are no more than three types of attack patterns for the clones, whom also share the same hitbox since they are all humanoid. Some of them dash at you to use their melee attack (Wolverine), while others stand perfectly still to launch their non-homing projectiles (Bishop and Cyclops). A bunch of them switch between the two (Beast and Gambit), while a select few have the ability to fly (Archangel) or hover above the ground (Storm). Owing to these limited abilities of your enemies, the combat does not require the minute thinking the original game expects from the player to overcome its three-dimensional set-pieces. In fact, most of the action plays out like a modern shooter than a classic one, where the player mows down the almost-stationary humanoid enemies one after another, all the while soaking up huge amounts of damage rather than avoiding it (since he is unable to do so).

The unevenness between the maps disrupts the flow of the game as much as the imbalanced mechanics. According to the readme file on disc, each of the eleven Singleplayer levels was built by a different mapper. Surely they follow an over-arching theme, but (as it should be expected from such a work distribution) the individual levels possess greatly varying degrees of quality. The one I like best is Wright Bagwell's 'Apocalypse's Crypt' (x1m5). It is an atmospherically lit, modestly detailed map decked with the custom Egyptian textures. It looks sweet, directs the player through its design and provides enough breathing space to properly tackle the clones. Then there is the mediocre ones, such as Ryan Freebern's 'The Forgotten Fortress' (x2m3). It is a crudely brushed, barely lit and badly textured map full of annoying obstacles, also lacking in gameplay department. The route the player takes through the map reminds me of the earlier custom maps for Quake, which suggests that this one might have been developed for the original game in the first place. Sadly, most of the maps tend toward this lower end. Apart from Apocalypse's Crypt, the remaining temple themed maps of the first episode are merely key hunts in gloomier, seemingly random structures with confusing layouts, complete with obscure puzzles. Maps of these type get worse by the fact that you must also hunt for a semi-hidden artifact in each level to form the ultimate weapon that is needed to defeat the episode boss.

The Bottom Line
Ravages of Apocalypse feels more like a showcase of its lead developer's modelling / animating skills than a fully-realized concept. Its beautiful 3D work and above-average 2D art are sadly overshadowed with an underdeveloped game. Unlike Malice (another Quake Total Conversion of the time) that attempts to drive further the mechanics of the engine it utilizes, RoA instead tries to do its magic within its confines to mixed results. It lacks the balanced, three dimensional gunplay and ingenious, interconnected mapping of the original game and opts to not use much of its tricks. What is served instead is a tedious slog through mostly bland environments. Its moments are very few and far between and these moments alone do not outweigh all the chore the player has to go through to get to them.

Still, if you got a copy of Quake at hand (and considering that the pack is freely available for download) this may be worth a look even if only to see the effort that went into modelling, texturing and animating the various X-Clones.

By erc on August 5, 2012

Quake Mission Pack No. 2: Dissolution of Eternity (Windows Mobile)

By erc on August 1, 2012

Quake Mission Pack No. 2: Dissolution of Eternity (Windows)

By erc on August 1, 2012

Quake Mission Pack No. 2: Dissolution of Eternity (DOS)

By erc on August 1, 2012

Doom³: Resurrection of Evil (Windows)

By erc on August 1, 2012

Doom³: Resurrection of Evil (Xbox)

By erc on August 1, 2012

Abyss of Pandemonium (DOS)

By erc on August 1, 2012

Chex Quest (DOS)

By erc on July 31, 2012

Chex Quest 2 (DOS)

By erc on July 31, 2012

Doom (Windows)

By erc on July 31, 2012

Doom (DOS)

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The Lost Episodes of Doom (DOS)

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Doom 64 (Nintendo 64)

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Freedom Force (Windows)

By erc on February 5, 2012

Resident Evil 5 (Windows)

By erc on January 14, 2012

CIA Operative: Solo Missions (Windows)

By erc on October 22, 2011

Duke Nukem Forever (Windows)

By erc on August 9, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Windows)

By erc on March 24, 2011

Project IGI: I'm Going In (Windows)

By erc on March 18, 2011

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