Portal of Sigma is an Aleph One scenario with a new story, landscapes, textures, weapons, and updated sprites.
I've repackaged it and fixed a few things with the MML to make everything work with modern Aleph One. -Shappie
Simon Dupuis, Chris Wheeldon, Andrew Cormier, Rony Sanchez, Goran Svensson, Alex Bolton, Mike Finley, Scott Noblitt, Alex Dupuis
This is an eleven level campaign notable for its highly detailed architecture, linear level flow, and incomprehensible story. There are new weapons and new graphics, but much of the gameplay is unpolished.
First, I have to mention the architecture. It’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into it. You’ll almost never see simple rectangular hallways or square rooms. There’s lots of neat little touches, such as artistic wall indentations used to create unique-looking rooms, or waterways that flow sensibly into a central reservoir. There are also some neat mapmaking tricks, like being able to move/swim through some waterfalls to reach an adjacent area, or finding secrets hidden behind illusionary walls. Lighting, often ignored by many mapmakers, is consistently used to good effect in this campaign. Overall, the map structures have some of the most attention to detail I’ve seen in any scenario, and it’s almost a shame because many of these beautiful areas are sparsely populated with enemies and the player will spend little time in them.
Combat would be fairly easy if not for a pervasive lack of shield rechargers. Save terminals are plentiful, however. Many of the Pfhor enemies have a new look and generally they are more dangerous than their vanilla counterparts; however, they are also encountered in smaller numbers. There are a few instances of unfair teleporter ambushes in which enemies suddenly appear right next to the player, but overall combat was fun and reasonable.
The level flow is one of the biggest strengths of this campaign. Unlike many Marathon scenarios, the player will not have to waste a lot of time looking for switches or trying to figure out what to do next. This is because the levels are designed in a linear manner; thankfully this is done in such a way that it does not feel forced. There are a few times that a switch opens a door out of line-of-sight; thankfully when this happens there is often a helpful terminal nearby that will use both text and pictures to show specifically what door got opened by what switch. But unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only good thing I have to say about the terminals in this campaign.
The storyline is incomprehensible. After playing through all eleven levels I still have no idea what the Portal of Sigma is, or why I was sent on a mission to capture and/or destroy it. Spelling errors abound. Perhaps the developer does not speak English as his first language, but this is definitely a case in which finding an English-speaking proofreader would have been helpful. Or heck, even just using a spellchecker could have done wonders in terms of legibility.
The lack of polish shown with the terminals extends into the gameplay, and it’s probably most obvious with the new weapons. Pretty much every weapon has either been replaced or remastered, but the execution is lacking. The new arsenal includes a cool-looking chain gun, a triple rocket launcher, and a railgun that can shoot through multiple enemies. But some of these weapon graphics actually blink out of existence during certain animations. Even worse, there is actually inconsistency in how the weapons function! For example, the chain gun usually has a moderate rate of fire and can shoot two grenades at once. But sometimes, due to some sort of glitch or bug, the fire rate becomes insanely fast, only single grenades are shot, and the ammo capacity is suddenly reduced to about 40% of the normal maximum.
There are several later levels in which swimming is necessary to proceed. This wouldn’t be a big deal except I don’t think there is a single oxygen recharger anywhere in the second half of the campaign. By the final level I was down to just a few seconds worth of oxygen left. I fear that some players will end up getting stuck, essentially softlocked, because they’ll exhaust their oxygen supply and have no way to replenish it.
Ghar’hima Ship: What was the point of giving the player health and a pistol in the first level if it’s just going to be immediately lost in the subsequent Rebellion level? The force field was cool.
Suenagaku – This is a secret level that’s clearly unfinished. Half the level is unpopulated, and much of the remainder consists of elaborate corridors that lead to dead ends. There is a secret area that can only be opened by smashing some wires that are already smashed (this magically makes them whole again!). The newly opened secret area shows dev-specific text on the automap.
Todo lo que queda: In the fight against three blue hunters, one of them got stuck on the terrain.
All Good People: The battle inside the water tower was spectacular. The architecture was some of the best I’ve seen in any Marathon level.
Dream a Prophecy: This is a secret “Vidmaster” level that can only be reached from One Mint Julip. Apparently there was also a way to reach it from Destination HELL but the terminal was never activated? It’s the hardest level of the campaign and the challenge was welcome.
All Those Spooky: The final battle was anti-climactic. The player cuts through a few weak fighters, some F’lickta, and then reaches the victory terminal? Seriously?
It takes a lot of work to make a long-form Marathon scenario like this, so although I put this down somewhat quickly due to lack of interest, I want to give credit where it's due for the effort put in to give it the polish that the author was striving for. Most notably, apparently collaborating with various mapmakers from the community help build the maps, which all look visually stunning.
What I liked: * Visually appealing map design throughout. Looks better than a lot of TCs. * A lot of attention to detail in the terminals, texture sets, weapons, enemies, and items (also lol @ the DOOM armor pickup for shields). Though there is playful "reimagining" of existing images, nothing feels slapped on. * I never got lost or confused; the map flow is decent * Secret areas * Team effort * Cohesive presentation overall
Constructive critique: * This might not bother people who are just in it for the gameplay, but the writing is not strong, and personally I noticed it right away which is a poor first impression. If you're striving for something that has an impact on the player, you want to evoke a sense of mystery, build strong characters, and give the player a sense that they're on the map for a reason that feels like more than just a fetch quest, none of which I felt here. If you're collaborating again, consider bringing on one or more writers or editors for this. Hunt down some scifi or comics writers! I think having a strong story-first approach will also result in more interesting maps from a gameplay perspective. * Enemy encounters seem bland. Consider positioning that takes advantage of the enemies' strengths. Have them sneak up or have the high ground; Let them have the upper hand, and don't make them deaf. Surprise the player -- but not by having enemies teleport in right in your face, which happens several times in the first (actual) map. Also please don't teleport the player directly into a pack of hostiles, that's just rude. * Too many weapons introduced in the very first fighting map. This uses up all the excitement around weapon reveals almost all at once. * There's a bit of an ammo shortage. * (nit-pick) The first terminal that a compiler is sitting in front of doesn't look like a terminal, it looks like a wall. Then there's a ton of other walls that don't do anything which have the same texture. * I would have liked to see new enemy types since we got new weapons, but this doesn't affect my enjoyment that much. * Rebellion is a sucky map preference, especially when there's no pattern buffer immediately available. (your scenario is not the only one with this problem -- looking at you Rubicon X)
Soo I know I gave a lot of critique here, but I hope the author takes it in stride. Despite my criticisms as a player, I made a lot of maps and several longer scenarios for Marathon in my formative years and nothing came close to this, so I want to say nice work and I think anyone could enjoy this if they're just looking for a casual good time. Keep making stuff, and email me if you want an editor, playtester, or original music for future scenarios. ;) dreameter.music (at) gmail (dot) com