I will play every level in Rubicon X and comment on them.

For topics about the story, help in a certain level, game discussion, or finding/discussing content.

Post Aug 10th '09, 22:58

S-Secret 2: Hell Pfhor You
If there's one level that Rubicon is probably the most well-known for, it's this one: this hideous one-save-only gauntlet with loads of tough monsters in some huge rooms. Your task is to get to the exit, and for your valor you'll get an enormous pile of ammo and the dubiously useful Mortar. Coming shortly after a Rebellion level, the normal ammo is far more valuable, especially on TC because you can actually carry it all.

In actuality, the level isn't that hard -- Cow Pushing is much harder -- and most of the difficulty comes from the lack of a save after the beginning. 99% of the level can be won through simple patience; if you're patient enough to take down one of the Juggernauts, for example, you can use the 2x recharger it's guarding, and with that you've pretty much got the level won. As long as you don't go too quickly and get blasted by an Enforcer -- but again, patience (and good aim with the Maser) will take them down without much fuss as well.

So really, the only hard part is conquering the Juggernaut at the beginning. And on TC that's not exactly a trivial task; way too much health for its own good, and I swear that machine gun can shoot around corners. Just work your way through the level slowly, killing everything you see, and you'll be fine. It's a fun level, but for a secret level it's certainly pretty lengthy. The reward, at least, is definitely worth the effort.

In the original version, if I remember right, this level was flagged Rebellion, so you lost all the guns you picked up on Exit Door Leads In, and since a PCM spawns right behind you at the start, you were pretty much guaranteed one "fuck you" death before you learned to turn around and blast the guy when you teleported in. But now it's not, so you start with a much more manageable amount of ammo (enough to make it through plus extra) and you can shrug off the PCM.

Level design: 3/5; the level itself is actually pretty bland, it's just a bunch of big empty rooms; the monster placement is not what one would call creative, which is one reason why the level isn't that hard. Anyone can take on two dozen Troopers in a huge flat room with an Assault Rifle.
Aesthetics: 2.5/5; inoffensive.
Memorability: 5/5
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Post Aug 11th '09, 00:11

S10: Rozinante VII
One of the awkward things of numbering your levels like this in a nonlinear scenario is when you jump from Rozinante 2 to 7.

This one at least is made interesting by a Pfhor attack. There's enough friendly S'pht to keep them busy, but at least there's a little bit of life while you try to find all your ammo. Which is hidden pretty well, but that's okay, exploring this level is fun.

S11: Not *this* again

This level is essentially a retexture of a crappy Marathon 2 level, which in turn was a retexture of a crappy Marathon 1 level. Unless I'm crazy, I remember the original Rubicon having a much more developed and complicated version of this level -- in Rubicon X it appears to be a straight retexture. Of, I will remind you, a crappy level.

Your job is just to reach the end of the level, causing enough ruckus to let Durandal do whatever he needs to do. In doing so, you can slowly work your way through this massive level. Come on, we've all played this level twice before, why the fuck is it in here as well? It's not even the same ship! Stealing a level from a previous game, retexturing it, and packaging it as a different level, and then giving it a sarcastic little title about it is about the cheapest thing you could do. Especially since it's such a humdrum and tedious level to begin with: follow the corridors, go through these empty bland rooms into another corridor, repeat ad nauseum.

And, for the record, I think even the monsters are in the same places, except for when certain monsters replace others (i.e. there are no Cyborgs in Rubicon, Hulks are in the Cyborg slot instead). Gee whiz. Blissfully, the same secret is in the same place that lets you jump to the end of the level and skip the whole thing. I really do not think highly of this level, if you hadn't figured it out by now.

Level design: 0/5 for not doing any work to begin with.
Aesthetics: 1.5/5 because even the retexturing job wasn't that good.
Memorability: 5/5 oh yes, I know this level pretty well by now
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Post Aug 11th '09, 00:31

S12: Rozinante VIII
What really burns me is that after your little romp through the previous level, nothing refers to what happened again. So CLund must have really, really loved that stupid level and wanted to throw it in as a charming little reference to M1/M2.

If you haven't caught on to the trend of most Rozinante levels -- go get your ammo, and then we can leave -- you get punished here, because Durandal will teleport you out whether you geared up or not. Not much else to do on this level.

S13: Prize Payment Schedule
Back on the Salinger, or at least a level in the Salinger set so it's almost as good. You're looking for datafiles on the Achilles Virus, the true threat to humanity and what you're really out there to destroy: not the Pfhor, since apparently the UESC can handle them on their own (hahaha, what,) but a virus.

This being the track to the "good" ending is sort of underwhelming, really.

In any event, this level is actually pretty fun, though it is remarkably easy. The presence of 2x rechargers is entirely unnecessary given how few enemies there are, and how short the level is to begin with. It's basically a little linear level with a couple small battles; a prelude to "iwannavacuum," I suppose; the mission is necessary in the plot but pretty minuscule in reality. There isn't much to say about it. It's not bad, but it's not really great either.

Level design: 4/5; the "watch which wires you break" thing is back; you have to tear one wire, but you don't know which one, and tearing the other one will make the mission... mildly inconvenient.
Aesthetics: 3.5/5; the level is flat with low ceilings, which I guess is how I'd expect a tiny remote relay to look, and in reality it's a pretty pleasant-looking level with good lighting.
Memorability: 2/5; nothing here.
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Post Aug 11th '09, 02:40

S14: just a little further
This is a pretty pointless dream level. The level is just the shuttle you end the previous level; you get out of the stasis pod, read the terminal, then go back into the pod to end it.

Great. I have no inherent problem with dream levels, I guess, but this one is just a bit too pretentious for me. And that's remarkable!

S15: iwannavacuum
Here's a pretty fun level. For some reason, the really important Achilles Virus chip was shipped all the way out to lie on the floor in a hallway in a distant space station in the middle of nowhere. Durandal sends you to grab it, and when you do, realizes wait, Lysander can just make another chip anyway so it doesn't really matter.

The level is another vacuum level, obviously, and while I tend to have pretty shaky relations toward vacuum levels in general this one is okay. The problem with vacuums is that the time limit will constantly pressure you to hurry up, so you can't stop and explore the level without the risk of being isolated from an oxygen supply and suffocating. That and the variable rate of oxygen drain; a level that's feasible on Normal may be just short of impossible on TC (ahem, Acme Station).

iwannavacuum, though, is okay. It's not an especially long level, and it's pretty distinctly linear; there's a lot of elevators going up and down, and some of them have multiple stops, but it quickly becomes apparent that there's really only one way to go. And the level is actually kind enough to give you a recharger rather than make you survive on canisters. The level itself is cramped and narrow (my favorite...) with lots of Troopers to blow you up from around corners and plenty of Compilers to shoot seeking shots you can't really dodge. Since the level is mostly a tangle of corridors, and since you have to keep retreating back to the oxygen near the beginning of the level, it can be hard to remember which way is actually forward.

The level culminates in a huge battle as you struggle through a gallery of Fighters, Troopers, and a boss Hulk -- which would be fine, except the level is a stupid vacuum and the only useful weapon you have is the Maser, and that's not exactly a good crowd control weapon. So the best way to get the Achilles chip on the other side of the gallery is just to run around them, The White Room style, grab it, then turn around and head back.

I don't know, I don't feel great about this level. I mean, it's not horrible by any means, but like a lot of other Salinger levels, it's not exactly excellent either. It's just corridors again, not very compelling stuff, and by this point in the game (we're near the end!) the level is pretty easy. If you're playing on TC, in a way, the level is even easier, since by this point I was toting around 10 Maser batteries, and that's quite a lot, so most of the combat was trivial.

Not much else to say about this level either; the last few levels of the Salinger plank are a lot more sizable and have plenty of interesting stuff to talk about, but this level is just another kind of not-quite-full-sized adventure.

Level design: 3.5/5
Aesthetics: 4/5
Memorability: 2/5
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Post Aug 11th '09, 23:24

S16: Revenge of the Lysol Lady
Another dream level.

Playing through these dream levels seems to me like they're a license for the mapmaker to dick around and do whatever he likes under the guise of "being zany" rather than making maps that are fun to play.

This particular level, at least, has a good reason for existing: this level (as well as the Pfhor Plank counterpart "The Ascension Factor" and the Tycho Plank "The Descension Factor") serves as a way for the player to travel back through time into another storyline. Since the events of the Pfhor and Salinger Planks run pretty much simultaneously, there's no way for the player to easily warp from one to the other. Having a weird timeline-bending level like this one is a good excuse for the player to bail out if he doesn't want to end the game on that storyline.

Nevertheless, while The Ascension/Descension Factor have some vague symbolic significance of plunging into darkness or whatever, I have no idea, this level makes no sense at all; it's a weird Chimera level with an invisible guy shooting rockets at you while you run blindly through hills trying desperately to not be instantly killed. In other words, it's a peculiar and quirky level without any point, with an obscure exit and a cheap and cheesy way to die.

Not a fan, really. Especially since if you don't know what's going on you're going to explode several times before you actually find out how to get through the damn rocks.

Level design: 2/5; pointless and with a lame gimmick
Aesthetics: 4/5; most of the level is okay but the ship suddenly breaking off into space is a neat effect
Memorability: 3.5/5 for the aforementioned space exit
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Post Aug 11th '09, 23:54

S17: Rozinante XI
Eleven?! What about nine and ten?!

This level is the other branch point in the Salinger plank; you're supposed to give the Achilles chip to Durandal, but you can give it to Tycho instead and jump into the middle of the Tycho Plank instead. Not that it matters; you pretty much go onto the same level instead (Core Wars).

This level lets you explore the Rozinante the most (except for the end of the Tycho Plank obviously), but only if you betray Durandal; nevertheless, it's kind of interesting seeing just how much of this level there actually is.

S18: Core Wars
This level really ought to be the final level of the Salinger plank: Durandal realizes Lysander has to go, so... you're going to blow him up. With Durandal in possession of the chip and Lysander destroyed, you'd really think the Achilles problem would be over with. And really, the level itself feels climactic too; it's big, scary, and the assault on Lysander's core feels like a big final battle type thing.

In fact, one could really draw comparisons between this guy and Aye Mak Sicur, the final level of Marathon Infinity, and that's quite a compliment; besides the obvious circular motif in common, the scale of the mission is pretty dramatic and the very nice and cohesive architecture and level layout makes the level seem much bigger and more awesome than it perhaps is.

The problem is that it's not the last level; there's a couple afterward while Durandal has you tie some loose ends. But like the Scouring of the Shire, they don't really matter, and at least to me this feels like the climax of the scenario.

But it's not actually a hard level. You're fighting Bobs again, but since the last time you really did that was back on 10001 Nordic Nerds, it's not so bad, and like that level, the tricky placement of Bobs on multiple elevations gives the combat a tactical and intelligent bent to the overall gameplay.

So if there's one thing I dislike about this level (and there is), it's the Maser Turrets. What a horrible concept to begin with! You take the thing that makes Maser Bobs irritating to begin with (their ridiculous range and perfect accuracy) and make them invulnerable and difficult to spot and in altogether too convenient locations. They aren't so bad in Lysander's core itself, since there's plenty of conveniently-placed cover so it feels like a tactical challenge, but there's also others placed in the corners of large empty rooms and it's pretty much impossible to not take damage (and if you don't know they're there, you'll probably die).

While like most other Salinger levels, the save and recharger are pretty much impossible to locate, this one isn't so bad because there is one save right at the start and you should have double health from Rozinante XI, so at least you have a good foundation for beginning the level and exploring.

This is quite an excellent level but its placement in the scenario is a little improper. Making Sucking Cherries be the penultimate level (the "You Think You're Big Time" of the Salinger Plank) and Core Wars the final level would be perfectly fine, but that's okay.

This is really an excellently crafted level.

Level design: 5/5
Aesthetics: 5/5; the lighting on this level is actually quite well-done and dramatic
Memorability: 5/5
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Post Aug 12th '09, 00:19

S19: The Tar and Feather Club
The other problem with following up with an excellent level like Core Wars is that your level is likely to seem much worse in comparison.

And in the case of Tar and Feather Club, it's especially true, because this level is kind of a stinker. Durandal wants you to take down the remaining officers and troopers loyal to the Dangi Corporation. There is no reason why this level couldn't have come before Core Wars, but whatever. It's essentially another level against Bobs, but this time you've got UESC troopers on your side.

Good thing too, because this level is chock full of Bobs, especially those loathsome Maser Bobs which are in pretty much every damn room. So this level takes a lot more patience than it may seem as you slowly look around every corner to make sure there aren't any nasty surprises waiting for you.

The level itself is pretty simple: you need to get to the gym on this residential deck to take out the largest concentration of Dangi dudes. The level is probably longer than it ought to be because of how slow you have to take it, but there are rechargers everywhere so death, at least, doesn't cost much and staying healthy isn't a big problem.

In other words, this level isn't as hard, interesting, clever, or fun as Core Wars. No thanks.

Level design: 3/5; it's not offensive or anything, it's just not interesting.
Aesthetics: 4/5 for some nicely detailed architecture.
Memorability: 1.5/5
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Post Aug 12th '09, 01:02

S20: Sucking Cherries
The plot: Durandal tells you to shoot some bad guys. That's pretty much the only thing you're s'posed to do. Apparently Lysander started production of "AMDDs" before being destroyed; they're basically super UESC troopers, and they're the key opponents for this mission, but at the same time the Pfhor and UESC are tearing up the remnants of the Salinger for one chaotic three-way battle.

If Core Wars is Aye Mak Sicur, this level is All Roads Lead to Sol: rather than concluding the plot, it's just there to be a straightforward, high-intensity level with no pretensions. And that's what this one is: lots of big fights as you slog your way through to the final battle. And the combat is alright, but I have to admit AMDDs are not especially interesting enemies. They're like Pfhor Troopers, but much less aggressive, which means they're really a lot less fun to fight (they just stand there and lob grenades at you and have altogether too much health).

Everything leading up to the ending is challenging but not too hard; there's plenty of space to dodge AMDD attacks, there's a lot of Pfhor and UESC to beat up most of the other bad guys, and there's a very obvious "secret" 3x recharger that really makes the level trivial. It's the final battle that really makes the level: you drop into a large pit while bad guys pour in to fight you and each other.

So it's pretty fun and straightforward, and I have nothing to complain about. It gets the job done. Again, Core Wars should have been the final level, but there's nothing wrong with this one.

Of course, this isn't the real final level, thanks to what is probably the most obvious secret exit in the game.

Level design: 5/5
Aesthetics: 4/5
Memorability: 5/5
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Post Aug 12th '09, 02:12

S-Secret 3: Drinking Vitriol
The final level of the Pfhor Plank, but cranked up to eleven and a showcase of the original concept artwork and terminals.

The real point of the level, of course, is just to be excessively difficult, and to be certain it accomplishes that, but not in an especially fun way. I like the original level (Wading in Vitriol) as that's a hard level, but interesting, and probably one of the best-crafted Pfhor Plank levels in the game. But Drinking Vitriol is hard in just the wrong way to be frustrating and punishing without being fun.

The big problem is that just about every goddamn monster on the level has a seeking attack. From the Juggernaut that camps right outside the first door, to the Enforcer camping right beyond the second door, to the 30 gray Fighters (with seeking bolts) hiding behind the third door... So it gets tedious after a while. They're just not fun to fight, especially since the architecture isn't really geared for enemies like that; most of the level is either narrow rooms or huge empty spaces where you're on a narrow ledge over caustic Pfhor goo.

Because it's not practical or possible to try and dodge all these attacks, the player is pretty much forced to whore the rechargers and saves; in other words, it's not so much a matter of being skilled as it is of being patient and capable of escaping before you get hit by too many shots. The gameplay therefore isn't really as engaging as I'd like.

The level parallels Sucking Cherries with the linear combat-based intro and leading up to the final battle. Unfortunately, the final battle is a lot less fun than it could be as well. Rather than just a difficult showdown in a pit, you have to take on the Pfhor Council, a swarm of immobile orbs, half of which fire seeking shots and half of which fire regular ones. In order to take them on, you're supposed to jump down a ledge and slowly pick them off one by one while standing behind cover so the rest of them can't blast you.

This is, of course, compounded by all the reinforcements that only roll in after you drop into the pit, and since you're already pushed into the corner by the Council guys, the reinforcements are pretty much guaranteed to murder you. A lot. On Total Carnage, the way you're supposed to fight this battle is altogether far too frustrating and awful for its own good.

But if you grenade fly over across the pit to the secret terminal (the terminal that would teleport you to Eat The Sword if this were Wading in Vitriol and not Drinking Vitriol), you'll trigger all the reinforcements but you can stay up on the high ledge -- or even better, fly back to the 3x recharger and pick them off from there. This may seem cowardly, and it is, but really this fight is so unbalanced on TC that I can't see any other feasible way to do it -- it is next to impossible to fight all of the Council guys in the open and if you get flushed out of your cover by the reinforcements you'll just get torn to pieces. And there really isn't any room in that pit to dodge anything.

Or, you can do what I accidentally stumbled on this last time I played it; right before the pit are a couple Troopers. If you knock one into the pit with a grenade, and then use the Maser until it's berserk, the Trooper will go around and kill all of the Council guys one by one and take off most of the pressure, leaving you with the tough but not impossible reinforcements on their own.

I am getting more and more experience at making exceptionally difficult levels that are still fun (that is, after all, the point of TGIBX), and this is just not one of them. It's far too slow-paced and annoying for a good secret final gauntlet.

Level design: 2.5/5
Aesthetics: 4.5/5; the Council room is pretty cool-looking
Memorability: 4/5
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Post Aug 12th '09, 02:24

S21: Hard Vacuum
This is the Salinger epilogue, telling you about what happens after you tear apart the Salinger. The UESC somehow managed to topple the entire Pfhor empire on their own (how the hell did those losers beat the Pfhor, humans are worthless!), and after you exposed the Dangi treason, well, everyone wins. The point is just to admire the nifty architectural tricks and read the lengthy terminals.

In a vacuum. Hope you're not a slow reader!

There's a Maser Turret hiding just around the first corner. If you're coming from Sucking Cherries this isn't so bad as there's a 2x canister right by the exit. If you're coming from Drinking Vitriol, there is a 1x canister in one of the side rooms, but it's easily missed and the first time I beat that level on TC, I came to this level and got fried by the turret right away. Why the hell is that there? That's so mean-spirited; a little kick in the nuts after you think you're done.

So pretty much you just progress through the ruined Salinger as the fragments drift apart into space. It's a very cool effect, especially in the last area as you have to jump down through one of the cracks and then pass through a void of floating chunks of ship.

The Salinger Plank, as I've said before, is kind of underwhelming in scope. While preventing the outbreak of an engineered super-virus is certainly important, it just seems a lot less impressive and exciting than single-handedly toppling the entire Pfhor empire. More of a Deus Ex scenario than a Marathon scenario, I guess.

The storyline has some problems with pacing; the first half of the Salinger Plank seems like a waste of time in the greater storyline, but the latter half does an alright job of tying it together, and there are a handful of genuinely excellent levels here.

Level design: 3.5/5
Aesthetics: 5/5
Memorability: 5/5
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Post Aug 14th '09, 03:36

Moving on to the Pfhor Plank, so we head allllll the way back to the end of Hairy Legs and...

P01: Rozinante III
Not much to say. You don't get to explore much, and Durandal will let you leave the level without grabbing the ammo -- and if you aren't familiar with the Rozinante levels, you won't even think to find it.

In your failure to... do whatever it was you were supposed to do in Hairy Legs, the UESC military genius Admiral Carroway has been captured, so you gotta go storm into the Pfhor fortresses to find him. Starting with...

P02: Sea of Slime
This is the introductory level of sorts; a prelude to the real next couple levels on the Pfhor Prime surface. All you need to do is find one specific terminal, from where Durandal will teleport you out. Simple enough.

The level begins with you standing on the coast of the titular sea of slime, as you and a bunch of UESC troopers try to hold off a horde of PCMs. (I think they're called PCMs, the floating mines.) These monsters are horrible and it's entirely due to bad coding: the sprite for the monster is substantially larger than the size of the actual monster, meaning you can shoot the damn thing all you like and the majority of your shots will quite literally pass through the monster without doing any damage. Which is either just an idiotic oversight that should have been fixed for Rubicon X, or a cheap way to make a basic monster more difficult. It should not be so damn hard to hit these things.

After that, the level is a pretty basic cruise into a Pfhor outpost. For what the level is, it's done excellently; it's an assault on a base, so there are some nice big fights around the perimeter and the fortress itself is pretty cool-looking. So this is a well done level without any real flaws, and the fighting is intense and fun without being ridiculous.

Even though this is a linear level, it's spiced up nicely because there are actually two directions to approach the outpost. The main way is to go through the canyon away from the shoreline, attacking the fort from an inland lake; you have to pass under a guard tower and a well-guarded position to do so, very fun. But you can also go wading into the water and maneuver along the coast, circumventing that entire area and approaching the fortress from another angle. I can always appreciate that; if I build an area, I want the damn player to see it, and I don't want 2/3 of the player base to miss a large chunk of level and the other 1/3 to miss an even larger chunk. But the variability still pays off when done well, as it is here.

In other words, a simple, pretty short level, but one that's done well. It's a good intro to the meatier levels that follow.

Level design: 5/5; not only for the two separate path choices, but also for a cleanly designed level overall
Aesthetics: 5/5; I actually like the Pfhor Prime textureset much more than the Salinger one, and the architecture on this level (the kind of exposed frame) is appealing to me as an architect, so, good stuff
Memorability: 3/5
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Post Aug 14th '09, 04:04

P-Secret 1: Cow Pushing
This is the first secret level on the Pfhor Plank, and it's a real stinker too. Like its Salinger counterpart, The White Room, there's nothing of value here except the Mortar Cannon, and that wouldn't be a problem if this level wasn't exceptionally difficult. No rechargers, an abhorrent amount of PCMs, generally cheap monster placement (having monsters teleport in behind you in narrow corridors), and all other sorts of nasty tricks which do a good job of making the level more annoying and frustrating than genuinely difficult.

A particular offender of nasty cheap level design is near the end, where you have to walk along a beam sticking out of a wall over a pit of poison sludge while dodging Fighter bolts (which will knock you off), PCMs (which will also knock you off or kill you outright), or a horde of Hunters as you walk by a stretch of windows shooting at you from the other side.

So this is a very tough and frustrating level, but maybe I'm exaggerating. After all, at least you get clear warning that this is a hard level.

The problem is that there's no reward for taking this level in the first place! You get a Mortar and a small pile of ammo, but the Mortar is of pretty dubious merit; it's a fun weapon but inefficient and far too weak to make it a mainstay. Give me the SPNKR any day. But there's no other ammo of any kind, and there aren't really any encounters that would even make the Mortar a useful weapon choice to begin with, so you have to use all the other weapons you have. And any secret level where I end up with less ammo than when I started is a secret I'd like to avoid. Why would I want to make the game harder for myself if there wasn't any payoff? The secret stemming off of the room with the secret exit back on Sea of Slime is more valuable than everything on this level.

Level design: 2.5/5
Aesthetics: 5/5
Memorability: 3/5
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Post Aug 17th '09, 21:45

P03: Molten Dihydrogen Monoxide
Durandal wants you, the player, to lead the charge into the mine where Admiral Carroway is being held. To do this, you need to open the main door into the mine and then teleport on deeper into the caves.

This level is a favorite of mine even though there's no good reason to like it. It really has nothing going for it. The layout of the level sprawls to an excessive degree; while there's a great deal of caves and mine to explore, and the terminals make it seem like you have to go into the mine to continue your mission, you don't; all you need to do is open the big door and then find a nearby teleporter to exit. All of this is done in a labyrinth of guard towers and elevated corridors, so all you really have to do is find out how the heck to get in there.

The problem is that the level is just so massive and because of all the cruft in the lower areas, 90% of the level is spent wandering aimlessly around, as the level lacks the directness in architecture that's needed for a level like this. The level only has one objective: break one single wire (finding the exit is trivial, as just about any terminal works and there are several). But the level is so huge and so nonlinear that it's like looking for a needle in a haystack: much of the rest of the level just exists to wear you down. And as near as I can tell, actually getting into the guard tower network area is a nontrivial task in itself. In other words, the level is just pointless wandering, which gets tedious after a while. A level like this needs more direction.

But there's still something interesting about it; it does the transition from surface garrison to underground mine quite interestingly and well, and the map is so nonlinear that for exploration nuts the level is pretty entertaining. The level is also a rare instance where the addition of fog makes it more interesting; in most of Rubicon, the fog just smooths out the architecture and fades the colors away, neither of which are needed to begin with. But in this case it helps, especially with the interesting lighting once you're inside the cave.

Level design: 2/5
Aesthetics: 2.5/5
Memorability: 3/5
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Post Aug 17th '09, 22:02

P04: Deep in the Aardvarks
Now we're in the real mine. Your task is to find your way through the mine to the ore crusher that they're using to hold Admiral Carroway and break the mechanism before Tycho crushes him. This mission, at least, is possible to fail accidentally unlike Hairy Legs -- the wire you're looking for is not in the control room you'd think it to be in, but in the adjacent room on the back wall. You won't know it's there until Tycho tells you to turn around and look at Carroway's cell (and the wire control on the opposite side), but by the time he does that he crushes the poor man.

This level's pretty fun too but also fairly challenging, mostly due to the Enforcers that are generally hiding just around corners to electrocute you as you go around them. The rest of the level has you running through huge mine corridors and shafts, which is pretty fun just because the scale is interesting.

The level is partially linear, which works for the mission (again, just one objective), but it's interesting how this sort of level has a backwards tree of objectives necessary to actually win. Ahem: you need to get to Carroway's cell. But all the entrances are blocked, so you need to open up a sludge drain to get there. But from there you need to find the door that will let you into the drain that will deposit you where you need to go. And the steps involved are for the most part visible, so the level at least doesn't obfuscate your goal.

In fact, the bulk of the level is quite adequate; not great, as there aren't many interesting battles; the massive UESC offensive into the cave that Durandal builds up to just ends up being a squadron of troops that die very quickly. So much for that. The rest of the level has you creeping through corridors hoping you don't run into either an Enforcer or a Hulk. But it's a fun enough level when you know where you're going. Exploring unfortunately isn't that exciting; after all, it's just a mine.

The only problem is the door leading into the sludge drain: it's tiny and so easily missed. It's held on the side tucked behind a rock in a big room where a bunch of bad guys teleport in to distract you; the room is part of a larger mine shaft, and it's easy to get turned around, and looking for a narrow small hatch to go through is sort of tiring and not really in the spirit of fun and fair gameplay.

Overall, it's an okay level; it gets the job done.

Level design: 3.5/5
Aesthetics: 3/5
Memorability: 2/5
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 17th '09, 22:16

P05: Rozinante V
Not much to say here. This level introduces the Dangi Maser on this plank, but there are no plot hooks to bring you over to the Salinger plank; just a "how the heck did this happen?" sort of thing.

P06: Hex Level 73

Here is a nightmarish monster of a level for you. Your objective is to destroy one of the Tycho Clones by pressing two switches and disabling his power cores. The level begins pretty close to where you need to go, and for a change Durandal offers exact directions to get there: go through the door, up the stairs, and there you are. Here's a picture. Just jump down one shaft, press the switch, return here, and repeat for the other one.

The concept begins to curdle at the "return here" part of that summation: the level is a horrendous maze of dark, twisting corridors that overlap each other to the degree that the automap is quite useless. All of the corridors loop back around on each other, and all of the corridors look the same: either they're dark gray or bright blue. With no architectural cues as to which way to go, this level can literally take hours to finish because of how impossibly complex it is.

Meanwhile there are more Hunters than I care to count bugging you, and enough Lookers hiding in dark corridors for you to step on like squeaky landmines (and, of course, there's no recharger).

This level is awful. Just really bad. It's so unforgiving and frustrating, not to mention it's not in the least bit fun to begin with. While I'm personally against using grenades and rockets to try and subvert level design, in this case I typically rocket jump out of the pits the objectives are in so I don't have to futz around with the rest of the level.

so bad.

edit: also the possibility of being instagibbed either by a sneaky Enforcer or Looker, and therefore being thrown all the way back to Rozinante V, is a little too high for my taste

Level design: 1/5
Aesthetics: 3.5/5; one noteworthy little detail is how some of the Hunters and Lookers have special blue color tables so that it looks like the blue rooms actually cast a blue light on them. Very well done.
Memorability: 4/5; this level and another one right near the end of this plank are infamously overcomplicated.
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 17th '09, 22:18, edited 1 time in total.
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 17th '09, 22:41

I had the same experience with the hex level. Very frustrating.
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Post Aug 18th '09, 00:17

The trick to Hex Level is leaving a trail of bread crumbs back to the start :) (and you just go into the door behind the terminal)
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Melbourne, Victoria

Post Aug 18th '09, 01:04

The terminal tells you to go through that door, it's only helpful for the easy part of the level: getting to the switches.

It's getting back that kills you. Hex Level 73 is such a bad level. :(
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 18th '09, 01:21

P07: Things May Happen
They may, indeed.

P08: Science Stands Alone
This is probably my favorite dream level in the game for balancing out strange chaos architecture, good looks, and at least a sensible level design that doesn't make you hate life. You have to make your way through a Pfhor swamp and then enter a weird fortress tucked away in 5D space.

The cool thing about it is that there are two separate entrances into the fortress; entering through one path lets you into one area of the building first, and then unlocks the other half, and then reveals one exit; doing the other entrance has you explore the building in reverse, opening a different exit. They both go to the same place though, I believe.

It's a good, short level that still has that dreamy bizarreness without sacrificing that key game design element: fun.

Level design: 4.5/5
Aesthetics: 4/5; good architecture and decent lighting even!
Memorability: 4/5
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 18th '09, 01:58

P09: Rozinante VI
Hope you didn't like those weapons, because this level abruptly takes them from you. It's strange why; there's no legitimate reason plot-wise why you would lose them, but apparently there was an "anomaly" and you lost them.

I dunno. I don't feel very positively about Rebellion levels as a general rule. When done well, it informs the player (in a meta-game sense): don't bother with restraint. Use what you got, because you can't keep it, but don't worry because you won't be without ammo for long. It resets the scales. It also allows a player to start the scenario halfway through if there's a particular level he wants to play without worrying about missing guns.

When done wrong, as it is here, it comes completely out of the blue and just seems like a crude way to snap the player back and keep a conservative player back on the ropes. But it just seems mean-spirited -- like, I bet you wish you had used those rockets earlier, because guess what jerkface? Now you don't get them at all.

P10: Okefenokee Tourist Trail
The plot of this little story arc is a bit tough to believe. Durandal manages to snooker Tycho into believing that you and D-boss are going to free Tycho from his limitations in the Pfhor network? Just like that? Really?

But whatever. So step one is to break some stuff in a station situated in the middle of the swamp. This is a pretty fun and interesting level: there are three outposts that you need to visit and lower the barriers behind each panel of wires. One of them you can access immediately, but the other two are made a bit complex. No big deal, the layout of the level is simple enough; there's a boardwalk going in one big circle around the perimeter of the map and passing through each outpost.

So it's a pretty relaxed level, not especially challenging as you pick off Fighters and Enforcers protecting each outpost, and the atmosphere is good. These levels I find pretty enjoyable; my favorite environment is a built structure meshed nicely with the environment, and this level does it especially well with the somewhat unique boardwalk layout.

There's nothing really to complain about with this level. It's not amazingly good but there are certainly far worse levels and for the idea, the execution is quite solid.

Level design: 3.5/5; pretty barebones but what's there is done well enough
Aesthetics: 4.5/5; very nice environment
Memorability: 4/5; unique architecture and layout, who can complain?
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 18th '09, 14:41

They did that for people coming from the Salinger Plank, it would have been nice if they included a separate Rozinante level for those people but oh well.

Post Aug 19th '09, 00:35

P11: Frog Blasting/Blasted Frogs
(Depending on which exit you take from the previous level, you end up either on Frog Blasting or Blasted Frogs. As far as I remember, they're roughly the same level, but objects are in different places and you start in a different location. And I don't believe you can access the secret level from Blasted Frogs, so Frog Blasting is the level I chose.)

(Edit: this is wrong, you can access the secret exit, and in fact the first half of Blasted Frogs is pretty different, but I still only did Frog Blasting.)

This level sucks in every conceivable way. It's a monument to nearly all of the bad habits in single player map design, so I'm just going to go through the level point by point.

First of all, the layout. Frog Blasting is a loosely linear level; it's done in two more or less separate segments, and in order to get to the area with the chip that you're looking for, you need to open a sewage drain chute and go through it. The problem? This is so fiendishly obscure and there are no pointers anywhere in the architecture or layout or terminal text of where to go; the level is so unclear in its layout that you can spend an hour plus looking for the door that you open. It's not as bad as Hex Level 73, but it's close; the open spaces are misshapen and curved, and with the way the interior sections go up and down, and curve back on themselves, you get no pointers as to which corridor goes to which building. Huge tracts of overlapping corridors and superfluous buildings, and a lack of variation anywhere in the architecture, makes the level just another nightmarish maze. The first problem is finding the first terminal, which comes with a recharger but no save. Durandal gives you no help whatsoever, so you just keep going.

The next thing you find is another useless terminal and a wire panel next to it. The wire is what opens the hatch to the second half of the level, but good luck figuring that out; it changes the level of the sewage, but you're unlikely to notice that at all. The sewage in the first half of the level is done in similar styles to, say, Charon Doesn't Make Change or One Thousand Thousand Slimy Things -- it's a decoration, but you want to stay out of it; everything interesting is upstairs. But it turns out that no, the wire opens a single door in a distant corner behind a wall, half-submerged in sewage. You would never find it back there unless you were desperate and tried all other options, or if you fell in on accident and just happened to pass through the corridor.

The door itself is opposite the first save in the map, I believe, but the room is damn dark and the save is easily missed -- and with the second section being what it is, that's going to suck to be you. The second half is pretty much a simple run to the chip and back, with one path going in front of one of Rubicon's notoriously dangerous Juggernauts. Now, because the game took your guns away a couple levels ago, and since this level has almost no ammo at all on it, you have absolutely no way to take this Juggernaut down on TC. All you can do is run past and hope the Juggernaut doesn't use its machine guns, as there's no way to not get hit by them in that big open room.

But getting past the sheer failure in the layout to begin with, the texturing and lighting on this map is exceptionally poor. And these are problems present in Rubicon to begin with, but this level is especially bad; most of the level is gray with no lighting to accentuate the architecture, and with enough fog to dull whatever few features there are. This level is not a looker. Even the geometry is just sloppy and nasty; it's off the grid, which gives it that nice "organic" geometry, but with no consideration to how textures fit into this plan, so all of the textures are fit badly, and the curves are just bland and featureless.

Even the combat on this level sucks. There are few straightforward battles on this level; most of the enemies are shooting at you from other ledges and towers, so you'll put the Pistol and Maser to good use. But that's okay. The big problem is that because the level has so many open windows, the entire level is just a field day for the many PCMs and drones to come at you from any angle conceivable. It seems like no matter how long you're on this map, they just keep coming every few minutes. (Do they respawn? That's really shitty.) I've already expressed my distaste for PCMs, and this level is especially bad; they're silent and can come at you from any angle, which means they're usually coming from behind, and since they don't make any noise or shoot at you, by the time you see them on the radar it's likely too late. Even the Drones are extra shitty, since some of them shoot bursts of seeking Defender bolts. Anyone who played the original TGI knows how frustrating those red Defenders were, as those shots are rather hard to dodge and do a lot of damage. So couple them with speedy, maneuverable Drones and you've got a real hair-puller. That's just really shitty, unrewarding combat, and trying to contend with this nonsense while finding that goddamn door in the sewage is... trying.

Feh. And the worst part is? When you find the chip, you're likely to return to the first terminal. There's no reason not to; Durandal didn't say anything. But what happens? Durandal insults you and chides you for not following instructions (you're supposed to be over there you idiot!), which is just douchebaggy behavior since he never told you about another terminal to begin with! What a jackass. I hate this level.

The secret exit is properly obscure: there's a switch that seems to do nothing, but in actuality it lowers a single step on a boardwalk allowing you to swim onto it from the sewage. It's actually a good secret; the window across from the switch shows you the step that lowers, if you have the eyes to look for it.

Level design: 1/5
Aesthetics: 1/5
Memorability: 1.5/5; this level doesn't have any real features to identify it to begin with. What a bad level in every way possible.
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 19th '09, 14:31, edited 1 time in total.
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 19th '09, 00:53

P-Secret 2: Breathing Nothing At All

P-Secret 3: Canned Air
These two levels are actually sort of strange. For one, they're the only secret levels that actually have a role in the plot; in fact, the only thing to find on these two levels, besides the obligatory Mortar Cannon, is a berth of exposition. As it happens, it gives some of the clearest storytelling about the Salinger plank that you can hope to find.

Which is funny, since it's deep into the Pfhor plank and if you've not played the Salinger plank yet, this level is going to be hopelessly confusing.

The level itself seems to be a stylistic homage to the "classic" Infinity level Acme Station: a vacuum level deep in space, with most of the level's structure being glass tubes with exposed frame. This is arguably the best looking Salinger level in the entire game, if Core Wars doesn't take that title for you. It's simple, and small, but it looks very, very nice.

Bailing out of Frog Blasting to take this path instead is a good choice not only for the Mortar, which is actually kind of useful for pushing through the next levels, but the 2x canister at the secret exit of Frog Blasting is very nice to have for the exceptionally cheap and underhanded beginning of what's coming up.

(edit: both of these levels are lumped together because it's a two-part level; the first level is a vacuum and has all the exposition; Canned Air has oxygen, requiring a second level)

Level design: 4/5; one of the few times where storytelling is its own reward
Aesthetics: 5/5
Memorability: 4/5
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 19th '09, 00:54, edited 1 time in total.
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 19th '09, 02:31

P12: Sodding the Logs
Now it's time to take the chip you got from Frog Blasting and put it in a slot at the far end of this building.

I'll start with the good stuff: this level is just gorgeous; an uncharacteristic use of dramatic lighting as well as an astoundingly good use of fairly minimal architecture (sort of a modernist approach to Pfhor architecture) with windows everywhere gives the interior section of this level a great contrast between the brightly lit corridors and the pitch-black swamp outside. It's done really well.

And for the most part, the combat is pretty solid too. The layout of the level is simple and linear; while you begin in a kind of random location out in the swamp, once you find your way into the building it's pretty much a straight shot with a high level of combat. And for once, there's a good, practical use for all the SPNKR ammo you've probably been holding on to -- there isn't a lot of use for it on Okefenokee or Frog Blasting, since most of that is just against small individual enemies. But here you fight Fighters and Troopers in large clumps, which is tough if it catches you off guard (and it will, once or twice), but just play it safe and clear out rooms with the SPNKR or Mortar and you won't have much trouble. It's a fast-paced level, and very fun.

So my only complaint is the beginning, in the swamp. It's absolutely pitch-black, and with several spawn points in random locations around the area, you're going to be hopelessly lost if you die before reaching the first save. Which is a very good possibility; if you came from Frog Blasting, you'll only have 1x health, and with the hordes of Fighters and Troopers shooting at you from inside the building, and Hunters wading in the swamp, as well as a handful of Lookers under the water (which is a hideously unfair trick since you can't see it and there's nothing you could do anyway). This is a nasty survival course that relies a lot on luck and good use of the automap.

But once you get into the building it's an excellent level, one of the best in the Pfhor plank.

Level design: 4.5/5; the level is simple, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. My only complaint is the swamp part.
Aesthetics: 5/5; stunning use of lighting
Memorability: 5/5; unquestionably one of the most fun and good-looking levels in the entire game.
Last edited by RyokoTK on Aug 19th '09, 02:31, edited 1 time in total.
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Saint Paul, MN

Post Aug 19th '09, 03:15

P13: Rozinante IX
This level is the exit to the Tycho plank from the Pfhor plank. If you want to play the Tycho plank, this is where you want to start, as you need to get the Achilles chip from iwannavacuum II; if you're on the Salinger plank, you already have it, so no need.

If you aren't paying careful attention to what you're doing, you can accidentally screw yourself and go on to the Tycho plank either way. You're supposed to get a virus chip on this level that Durandal wants you to sabotage Tycho with; if you aren't thinking, there is a chip slot, and you might just instinctively put the chip in that slot. Hitting Durandal with the very same virus. Derp.

P14: Bump and Grind
Time to take down Tycho's flagship.

This is an okay level. I think I've said before that I'm not really thrilled by Pfhor ship levels; most of Rubicon's are pretty poor (Not This Again, Exit Door Leads In, This Hurts Less Than Uhh, the list goes on), but this one squeaks by as an okay level.

I have two major criticisms: one is the excessive intro battle. Durandal sends a few Defenders to help you, but the trigger polygons are set in the middle of the battles, and it's quite possible to clear out the entire Pfhor troop in a room, then walk in a bit further to have the reinforcements teleport in after the fact, shrug their shoulders, and bail out again. The worst of this is in the intro battle; you start in a small room with enemies on all sides, which to me is a major mapping faux pas. I believe that the player should always be able to make the first move on a level; if you're going to take a sip of soda or something while the level loads, you're going to pay for your inattentiveness by a quick death. This level assures that; you will get murdered very fast, surrounded by Hunters, Troopers, and Lookers.

Even expecting the intro on this playthrough, I still got killed once before I saw the escape route.

The second criticism is not a new one for Rubicon: unclear objectives. Durandal, of course, is absolutely no help at all in telling you what you're supposed to do. You have the chip, so you know you're supposed to install that, and that happens to be at the lower level in the southern end of the map. But it turns out you also are supposed to clear out the bridge at the upper level of the north end of the map as well. Nowhere in any terminal text are you indicated that you have to do that, and really it doesn't seem necessary; you have the virus, what do you need the bridge for?

Beyond that the level is okay. There are several big monsters that you probably don't have the time and ammo to kill: several Thinkers (the dudes in the floating chairs) and a Hulk. Most of these guys can be offset by the high numbers of Compilers; it's easy to incite infighting and have monsters take each other down for you. Other than that, this isn't an especially complicated level; there's a 2x recharger near the beginning that's not so much secret as concealed, which will make your experience much easier.

The level looks pretty nice, too, at least for a Pfhor ship.

Level design: 3/5; the individual parts are nice enough but the unclear objectives make this one more tedious than it oughta be.
Aesthetics: 4/5; pretty crisp for a Pfhor ship
Memorability: 3/5
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Saint Paul, MN


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