Full disclosure: I did sounds, scripting, and testing for this. Nonetheless, I feel safe in saying it may well set a new standard for Marathon scenarios. The original already ranked among the best conversions ever created for Marathon, and this surpasses it in every way. The design is astonishing, the gameplay is consistently superb, and the atmosphere is otherworldly. The rest of us are going to have to step up our game. With all luck, this will go down along the likes of Tempus Irae, Rubicon, Eternal, and Phoenix as one of the best Marathon scenarios of all time. What are you waiting for? Download it already.
This is a truly glorious day.
I did some work on this pack (cleaning up the fighters), so I’m naturally a bit biased, but these are one of the best HD monster packs available if you don’t want to go the MaraToon route; they’re faithful to the originals, but substantially more detailed. Until a skilled artist is willing to make faithful HD sprites, these are probably as good as we’re going to get (or at least tied with treellama’s ML Super Res plugins).
Note: Since this plugin contains hundreds of large images, it may not work on many maps with 32-bit Windows builds of Aleph One, particularly if you also use a lot of other plugins. The crash that enderandrew mentioned occurs because 32-bit Windows apps are limited to 2 GB of RAM – if a level loads too many monster collections, it exceeds that limit. (Most vanilla Infinity levels should load at most four monster collections, and most vanilla M2 levels should load at most three, but a lot of third-party maps use way more.) If these don’t load for you on Windows, get the latest 64-bit Windows app from https://github.com/Aleph-One-Marathon/alephone/releases and run it with that. (This also applies to Eternal 1.2.0 and Juzo-kun’s brilliant MaraToon plugins, among others.)
If you’re one of the <1% of people still running 32-bit Windows: (1) Sorry. (2) Go to Preferences > Graphics > Rendering Options and reduce the Replacement Texture Quality of Sprites until the game loads. (If you also use HD textures and landscapes, you can reduce Walls and Landscapes too, but those probably use far less memory on most vanilla M2/Infinity maps than these sprites do.)
Some people might consider it sacrilege how much this reinvents the appearance of the game, but those people are wrong. (Yes, it’s an opinion, and opinions can’t be wrong. This one is still wrong.) This is clean, simple, elegant, and gorgeous… and may just bring these games to an entirely new audience. I’ve had several people express interest in screenshots and videos of this plugin that had never shown the slightest bit of interest in Marathon before. You need this plugin. Get it now.
It’s a quarantine miracle!
Windbreaker seems to be the last net map creator standing since RyokoTK 4GOT again. If you don’t have this collection yet, there’s a good chance that you’ve been wasting your life. These maps are staples of modern net games, alongside Windbreaker’s previous few packs. They’re gorgeous, they flow incredibly well, and they’re even fun to explore and wander through. They also work well with Survival, since Windbreaker was even thoughtful enough to merge in scripts raising the monster activation limits.
Basically, if you’re still hosting Marathon net games in 2020 and aren’t hosting this pack for at least some of your games, you need to reëxamine your life choices. A set of net games without at least one Imperium map hosted is probably a subpar set of net games. I’d recommend this, Infra Apogee, Caustic Dystopia, Second Quest, Red Spectrum, Paradise Lost, and Starlight as a starter kit of packs for newcomers to learn (an admittedly very Windbreaker and RyokoTK-heavy kit, but their maps tend to be some of the most commonly hosted).
As for the maps here, they’re all great. I think “Yucatan Dive” is my favourite to wander through, though it’s rare to have enough players to make it worth hosting (so games where there are enough players are a treat). “End Times” and “Getaway UK” are very distinctive looking, memorable levels. “Hyacinth House” is also always a load of fun. I think “Inaugural Trams” is my favourite of the new levels – it feels like a cousin of “Tempus fugit” from Infra Apogee, not that I’m complaining. “TRON” is probably the most stylish, though.
If I do have a complaint, it’s that treellama made Visual Mode in Weland, and not one new map from Windbreaker since then. What gives? :V
tl;dr: It’s great that someone released new maps in 2020 and they’re actually good. Get this. If you already had an old version, get it again.
If you host net games at all, you need this pack. (And if you only join others’ net games, you still need this pack to familiarise yourself with one of the most frequently hosted third-party packs on the metaserver.) It’s utterly massive, with (as of this writing) 44 levels from tiny to absolutely gargantuan, all gorgeous, all with fantastic flow, all with impeccable weapon and item placement.
I must confess I haven’t actually played all 44 of these as net games (again, there’s 44 of them!), but I’ve never had a bad experience with any of the ones I have. In my ideal world, we’d see the stock maps hosted on the metaserver a lot less often, replaced by maps from packs like this and Windbreaker’s Imperium.
While I’m at it, Ryoko’s Paradise Lost, Second Quest, and Red Spectrum also hold up really well. (Red Spectrum is quite architecturally simple compared to Ryoko’s later work, but still has great flow and weapon placement.) Grab those too.
Edit: Ryoko added six new maps for version XI that match his expected standard of quality, bringing the total level count to 50. Several other levels also have revisions, expansions, or bug fixes. If you have an old version of this pack, it’s worth getting the new one.
It's probably my fault for not remapping the keys to something more logical whenever I play this, but still :(
Cool stuff, five stars.
I haven't actually gotten to play these in net mode yet but they are all significant aesthetic improvements over the originals, and for the most part they seem to flow better than the originals too. I was pretty shocked by how radical some of the rearrangements were (especially "Dead Fields") but I can definitely get used to them. My only complaint is that it would be nice to have an add-on that can throw in HD textures for the M2 levels.
It would also be really cool to have someone redo "Aye Mak Sicur" as a net map in this style (it was originally built as a net map to begin with, after all), although that's probably a pipe dream.
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.
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.