This is definitely in the top five Infinity/Aleph One scenarios I’ve ever played (the others are, in no particular order, Tempus, Rubicon, Eternal, and Pfh’Joueur, in case you’re wondering), and large portions of this scenario should serve as a model for future map-makers.
Cons: * Too frakking difficult. Not always in a “This is a challenge” way, but in a “If you stand in the wrong place for a second you will die” way, which is fine the first time but gets a bit frustrating after awhile. This probably wouldn’t be a problem if not for the $\\$ing fire speed of some of the enemies (I'm looking particularly at red defenders, blue hunters, the retooled Mothers of All Cyborgs and the like). This isn’t helped by the fact that Defenders fire on the left while pretty much everything else fires on the right, which makes the strafe-while-circling-enemies tactic I use in almost every other scenario almost impossible (although this isn’t really Ryoko’s fault since he wasn't the one who designed them. I guess he could have flipped them and just hand waved it as the A’khr being different though). I recently beat Marathon 2 on Major Damage without all that much frustration. I couldn’t even hack this on Normal. * Some of the secrets are probably impossible to find without the guide.
Pros: * Apart from the Guide Dang It secrets, the puzzles are uniformly superb. Almost everything in the game that isn’t a secret can be puzzled out without consulting a guide, but in some cases you’re going to have to think about it for awhile. * Possibly the most gorgeous map design I have ever seen in a scenario – even eclipsing the best levels of scenarios like Tempus Irae, Rubicon, and Eternal. Every single map is a beauty. * Apart from the insane difficulty, the gameplay is for the most part solid. I did find myself missing the shotgun though; the crossbow is an effective replacement, but you can’t carry nearly enough ammo for it except on TC :(
Neutral/Who cares: * The story is kind of simplistic, but it gets the job done. The writing is effective and the terminals are fun to read without ever going on too long like certain other scenarios occasionally do (\cough\ Eternal). * Some of the graphics were taken from other scenarios. Seriously, find something better to worry about. They’re all used beautifully and all fit nicely with one another.
It would be nice to have an HD version of this at some point, though.
Notice to players: Every single level has at least one secret. The “Nearby Skulls” count tells you how many secrets are on the level. I don’t remember any single level having more than seven.
My favourite levels were probably “Stone Temple Pilates”, “Into Sandy’s City”, “Escape Two Thousand”, “Sanctum Sanctorum”, “Dark Pfhorces”, and “Roquefortress”.
(April 23, 2012)
Edit May 27, 2020: I’m replaying this on Total Carnage and enjoying the combat a lot more. It’s possible some of this is the result of changes to the game since I last played it; however, it’s also worth noting that Ryoko himself has explicitly noted that this game is not balanced for any other difficulty setting. You’ll always have enough ammo on Total Carnage, even if you vid start every level (with Command+Option+New Game or Ctrl+Shift+New Game), unless you’re incredibly wasteful with ammo; however, this isn’t the case on lower difficulty settings, which have ammo caps that Total Carnage removes.
As a result, if you absolutely have to play on a lower difficulty:
Use a script that removes the ammo limits (or at least makes them into something ridiculous like 1,000 per ammo type).
My high esteem for this game hasn’t really changed in the last eight years since I wrote this review; if anything, I think I like it even more now. One of my own levels (“To Make an Idol of Our Fear and Call It God”) is a direct ripoff of “Roquefortress”, which should be a clue as to how highly I regard it. (Further edit, July 31, 2020: My level for the forthcoming re-release of Tempus Irae, “Il grande silenzio”, will be equally obviously influenced by “Stone Temple Pilates”.)
Version 1.3.0 adds six new levels to the end of this game, which are worth your time to play. (They’re normally accessible from a secret terminal in the last level of the main story, “Swan Song”, but you can always vid start if you don’t feel like replaying the whole scenario. The first of these is a rebellion level, anyway, so vid starting it won’t be any different.) The short sequel Kindred Spirits is also worth your time.
And I do recommend vid starting each level. It’s a fun challenge, since Ryoko made sure each level has enough ammo and weapons to complete from a vid start.
A 35-level single player major conversion.
This scenario is difficult and action-packed; it features a full arsenal of new, powerful weapons, and more threatening enemies than you could ever want.
1.4 has new Lua features like a performance overlay, weapon buffs, a lot of little bug fixes; it also applies ammo capacity limits on Total Carnage. Requires Aleph One 1.5 or newer, probably!