Sam Free World (Part 1.1 - City of the Night )
Author(s) : SamSamSam (AKA SamChen or samyup)
Game : Serious Sam : The Second Encounter
Type : Single Player/Cooperative
After reviewing a map made by a Japanese fan, I have decided that I will review a map-pack by a Taiwanese fan next. This review will be divided into 4 parts. The first 3 parts will look at each of the levels presented in the original map-pack release, and the 4th and final part will take a look at the attempt at a sequel that never got finished. In this map-pack, there are 5 level files included. 3 of them are the level files themselves, the other 2 contains the intro cutscene level and the co-op stage select level.
All of the story that you will ever get for this map-pack is contained in the intro level that plays out when you start the level from the custom level menu. To summarize, Sam needs to find a powerful ally in order to defeat Mental, and to do that he must go into the illusory world named Sam Free World to find this ally. On the way, Mental’s forces will try to stop Sam.
Once the intro plays out, you are dropped into the first level of the map-pack, the City of the Night. The level starts off slow, as expected for any large mapping projects. However, with a little bit of searching, players would be able to find a hidden Rocket Launcher, and a not-so-hidden Double-Barreled Shotgun. One of the first things that you will notice about the gameplay of this level is that the author likes to play a lot with enemy parenting. In this case, players will soon come face to face with a cart made out of wooden logs and pulled by a Werebull, these carts often carry enemies like Zorg Commanders, Demons, Kleers, Cannons and Arachnoids. These configurations make the enemies these Werebulls carry a lot more dangerous, as dodging the Bull-carts become that much more awkward and difficult. There are plenty of other gimmicks to this level beyond the enemy combinations, and you will learn of them once you reach the underground portion at the second half of the level, and pick up a scroll that tells you about them. One of the more notable gimmicks involve using the Flamethrower to light up the surrounding areas on fire in order to navigate around a darkened room full of spikes. The other gimmicks makes players navigate a tightrope room with Cannon enemies patrolling the area, fight a very vertically-oriented garden with enemies bearing down on you all the way to the top, before putting them through 2 very corridor-like rooms with very dangerous enemy combinations that include Gnaars carrying Cannon enemies on their backs and a rapid-fire Enemy cannon that tracks your movement.
Lots of fights
Now where do I begin with all these elements? They throw a lot of enemies at you very quickly after the first few rooms, and you are put in a very risky position where you could be killed outright several times throughout the level. This level has more Cannon enemies than the entire third episode of The Second Encounter combined, and even the most seasoned Serious Sam players will find themselves dying a couple of times. Thankfully, the author put in plenty of auto-save points, so you never will have to retread your steps for long after reloading your saves. Plus, the author is very generous with giving you 100 Health Hearts in this level. On one hand, the extra challenge and volume of enemies, combined with the aforementioned gimmicks do give you plenty to be entertained by. However, for many casual or new players, it could be seen as too much being thrown at them to deal with. While Ten-Four Map’s review is a valid viewpoint for this level, I would personally disagree and say that even low-skilled players could get through this level, at least, with enough perseverance and enjoy the experience. There is one design flaw in this level that I must mention. The vertical indoor garden has a set of stairs that lead to the top, and to exit the room, you must find and flip a switch. However, in order to get to the switch, you must drop down to the pool below, and in doing so, you will be forced afterwards to drop down even further and start over climbing from the very bottom of the stairs. This is a really bad element of level design that forces players to waste time for no reason and it really should have been excised from the level during playtesting. I actually used the ‘please fly’ cheat to quickly get back to the stairs leading to the exit. This would have been avoided if the author added a set of stairs next to the pool with the switch that allows players to return easily to the main stairs leading to the exit. There is also a bug in the map design where walking through certain points in the map would trigger HUD messages, and they could be activated an infinite number of times.
As alluded earlier in this review, there are plenty of secrets to find, a couple of them in odd places, and a couple of them reached via very unusual methods that encourages thinking outside of the box, literally. It is then unfortunate that the implementation of many of those secrets in the outdoor sections of the level seemed so messy. There is a part of the level right before you enter the underground sections that allows you to exit the level geometry and explore the level geometry outside the play area. There seems to be an extra area that was planned, but never got completed. In that area, there is a bouncer that allows you to leap on top of the outer walls of the level and access many of the secrets previously seen, but unreachable. Ironically, there is not particularly much to explore in this level, since most of the rooms are based on boxes or boxed-in areas, and most of the secrets are pretty obvious to find. Given the simple nature of the overall level geometry, some praise should be given for the amount of secrets places in this level. There was even one secret that I found completely by accident that I thought was pretty clever.
The visuals, on the other hand, are not very good. There are a lot of geometric detail put into the level, sure, but they do not seem to add to the overall aesthetics of the level other than detail being put in for its own sake. Not to mention the fact that for the entire outdoor sections of this map, only a couple of textures are used, and they are mostly badly aligned at the seams. There are also a lot of visibility sectors that were poorly implemented. Moreover, the door are very weirdly implemented, as they rotate around like a revolving door instead of swivelling on the hinges or sliding off to the sides. This gives the effect of previous sections of the level seeming to disappear behind the door’s thresholds. The indoor areas look a lot better, especially the indoor vertical garden, but I do not think that they do enough to save the level’s visuals from dipping below average, especially with how many instances of texture misalignments I found.
Another thing I found really off-putting is the author’s face being plastered all over the pillars on the outdoor sections of the map. It is really weird, and it does not add anything to the level’s visuals. In fact, just like with the dragon decals in Slaughter House, I find them to be very immersion-breaking. This is why in terms of visuals and experience, I found that the underground sections greatly outshone the outdoor sections.
On the plus side, the music used in this level was chosen well. They are taken from the BGM of The Pit from the core campaign, and it fits surprisingly well. It really adds to the feeling of isolation and that danger is very close. Out of all the music from the core campaign to appropriate for this level, I would have to say that the music that was picked for this level was the best choice. It is unfortunate though, that this will be the only level in this map pack for which I could say this.
Surprisingly enough, there are a few Netricsa messages that pop up in this level. The first of which introduces you to the idea of the Bull-carts. Most of them are written in very bad and broken English, and takes a bit to understand. Considering that the author’s first language is Chinese, some leeway will be given. I should also note that in one of the custom Netricsa messages provided for this level, a caption is written in Chinese.
These fights seem intimidating at first, but…
So, overall, what could I say about this level? It certainly is controversial in its level design and gameplay direction. Many people would either say that it is a great level with challenging gameplay, or that it throws so much at them that it is more aggravating then fun to play through. I fall firmly in the former camp myself, though there will be plenty who disagree. Yes, the level can look downright ugly at times, but I rarely pay attention to the scenery as I am more distracted by the amount of Bull-carts and Cannon enemies thrown at me, and the creative gimmicks that I have not seen in any other Serious Sam level save for maybe Rusutaku Assault. This is by no means an easy level, and I think that it takes a certain amount of effort to enjoy and appreciate what the author was going for with this level. Once that hurdle is passed, though, one would find something truely remarkable.
Level Score : 72.2% (84/118)
This week, we have seen a good start with Samuel Free World, with a strong and action-heavy first level that does not shy away from clever puzzles and gameplay gimmicks. Next week, we will take a look at Mirage, the second level in the Samuel Free World saga. Will it hold up to the bar set by the first level? Stay tuned for next week!
Download : [Link]