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Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potential
Posted By: Steve LevinsonDate: 2/2/05 8:51 p.m.

I've finished playing Lost Lands 2 - all of it, including the secret levels. The bottom line is that Lost Lands does have a lot of potential, but continues to be riddled by fatal flaws that make it unplayable or even worse, not fun to play. Although Marzo supposedly fixed most of the problems I reported in my last review, from what I can tell, almost nothing has been changed. Most of the major flaws are still there and many of the thematic problems have sadly carried over into Part 2. I know that he has probably poured his heart and soul into this scenario, but it won't be remembered unless other people are able to play it. Players need to be given time to find things on their own and they will have no idea whether door #1, #2 or #3 leads the way to the safe route. When oxygen is a factor - and remember, it disappears much more quickly on TC - the player will likely not survive long enough to replenish it.

BTW, I did discover this time through what the problem was with the malfunctioning switch in level 7, The Crusade of King Andrew. There is a switch down in the shield generator corridors that can disable it. It took me a while to figure out that this was the problem. This is a very cruel trick, particularly for the player who likes to explore. Exploration should be rewarded - not punished - unless there is a very good reason plot wise that you don't want the player to stray off the path. This brings up another big problem - suicide traps. They're everywhere. A suicide trap is basically a place where the player can get stuck and has to either quit the game or grenade themselves to continue playing. In the original Marathon Trilogy, there are very few suicide traps, although there are many death traps where the player can fall into the lava and die. Death traps are acceptable because they're generally very visible. The suicide traps in Lost Lands often aren't. For players who like to explore, they are once again punished rather than rewarded. This takes a lot of the fun out of playing Lost Lands.

There are still a lot of Pfhor textures, some that even include the Pfhor emblem, in areas where they just don't belong. Terminal text is still poorly written and it does not change to reflect your progress in the game. It's rather silly to come to a terminal that says all is OK, to later come to a terminal that announces that you have been discovered and then to go back to the first terminal to find that it still says everything is OK. A more glaring case is on level 8 - Sewer Power - in which the final terminal mentions your killing those 3 aliens. I never killed the aliens. If I'm supposed to kill them, then I need to forced to do so. My other comments on this level still stand, BTW. It still takes too long to reach the only PB on the level and there are still to many flickta in the way in the under water passages for the player to be able to survive on TC without running out of Oxygen. The terminal text remains impossibly small to read, and there are some rather humorous errors in monster placement.

OK, now onto the new levels:

Level 10 - The Halls of Durwin

This is our first vacuum level and right away there is a problem. The only oxygen recharger the player will see for a l-o-n-g time is near their starting point, which means frequent trips back. Eventually, these get to be long and frequent, seriously interrupting gameplay. You really, really need an O2 recharger on the other side of the lava bath. Speaking of which, there is a lot of fighting that the player needs to do just to clear out the initial area. They then must take a lava bath to reach the first shield recharger. This is another bad idea - many players will be left with an unplayable saved game and be forced to start over or cheat. Once the player reaches the lab area, things are pretty cool, and the temptation to release all the simulcrums is irresistible - and a lot of fun. And the 3X recharger comes in handy later. There is a serious bug in the square room that is just north of the curved hall - the exit door closes after the player passes through it, but then automatically opens when the player approaches it from the other side. It's quite possible, particularly during fighting, for the player to inadvertently trigger the door to close with them on the wrong side. Since the switch that opens the door from that side is a one-time only deal, this can leave the player trapped. And speaking of which, the switch that opens it appears to be wires, but makes a door sound when tabbed and turns to a wall texture when hit. Weird.

There is a secret exit here - the first one I found, anyway - leap into a plasma falls and you're transported to a series of secret labyrinth levels, but more on those later.

Level 11 - Soap and Butter

Well this is a bit of a surprise. Those furry green energy balls are not so innocuous after all. Step on the wrong poly here and you're dead. Read the first terminal and weep, then head over to your jail cell. Nothing much to say about this level - a bit contrived, but certainly unexpected. And again, I never killed the first three aliens in the first place.

Level 12 - Day of Destruction (Chaos A.D.)

This is the first of 3 "tests" devised by the Medulons to see if we're worthy of serving them. Nice of them to tell us that no one has ever survived all 3. We are going to spend a day in Hell, but without any pattern buffers beyond the entrance, it will probably take much, much longer. This has got to be one of the most contrived Marathon levels I have ever played. After dying several times, I finally broke down and used the saved game cheat of AO, just to keep from losing faith and giving up. Just figuring out the key to enter the cave before the ambush was a major accomplishment. Those deathtrap rooms near the beginning once inside are just plain cruel. The maze, however, is worse than cruel. It is the most tortuous, twisted, deviant piece of mapmaking I have ever seen. Without knowing where they're going or what the goals, the player is forced to wander aimlessly for hours before they ever find that chip, and the chip insertion slot doesn't look like a chip insertion slot - I found it entirely by accident after I'd just about given up. The clues in map view are a help, but some people never think to use map view, particularly in mazes where there are so many overlapping lines. And of course there are the invisible A-bobs to kill you when you think you're home free. Thank God for the black f'lickta - at least they're a source of regeneration - just don't get caught between groups of them. And they regenerate so quickly.

Once the player finally gets out of the maze, they come to a lava-filled area in which they need to use hangtime to proceed. Because there are no pattern buffers and because the chance of dying is so high here, this is a major map error IMO. Not that the hangtime is all that difficult once it's mastered, but it's nothing the player would be used to. Another strike against an already impossible map. Next the player comes to an incredibly cool looking but ever so deadly arena with hunters, troopers, invisible major compilers and a major jugger. The player has to smash a couple of wires to gain access to a switch to raise a bridge to an exit teleporter. If this area weren't so impossible, it would be really cool. And then we come to an area of hibernating hunters. Just don't get to close to any of them. There are a couple of switches that must be flipped to access an exit teleporter, but either Marzo is even crueler than I thought, or there is a major bug here. One of the switches not only opens the exit door, but it closes a door behind you and fills the outside area with lava. You're safe as long as you stay next to the switch - the only dry place to be, but you cannot open the door from the switch without closing the exit door. The only way I can seem to beat this is to shoot the switch and swim through the lava. And then we reach the final area - a room filled with MOAH's and MOAC's. Unfortunately, the central poly that triggers the exit door also unleashes all the monsters on you. If you somehow managed to survive until now, chances are you'll die on your first several attempts to get through this room. It takes speed and perseverance, and of course each time you die, you have to start the level over from the very beginning and navigate the maze all over again.

There are two secret exits on this level, but I've only found one of them. There is a secret teleporter at the very end that takes the player back to the beginning of the level, where they can recharge and save their game. The active terminal here takes the player back to the beginning of the scenario to start completely over. And you just saved your game, didn't you? The second is a secret terminal that I only found through DTB. I'm not sure where it is and would be curious to find out, but it takes the player to the secret labyrinth levels.

Level 13 - Three Things Like Wizard - just a transition level, but still no PB - that sucks.

Level 14 - Day of Acknowledgement

Hmm - there's a big clue that we need to look for a secret door. Well, the sky would be a great place to have a secret door and we can see a window to the sky right from our starting point. It couldn't be that easy, could it? Actually, it is. There are some major ammo stashes here, though, and the path to them is visible along your route - the problem is that it exposes you to the numerous enforcers on this level, and the last saved game is - gulp - back at the beginning of Hell.

Level 15 - Hung Fu Monk

This level would be really cool if it weren't so impossible. The good news is that we've been rescued. Unfortunately, I never did find out how to reach the upper areas of the level, making finishing it impossible without cheating. I would really like to know what trick is necessary to get up there. As in a lot of other levels, there are numerous suicide traps, so watch out. The good news is that the Medulons use simulcrum-like suicide tactics to kill you, so that some well-placed shots can take out a bunch of them at once. The bad news is that shooting them results attracts more deadly variants that shoot at you with fusion bolts - and these jellyfish-like forms are invisible. The path from here is meandering and there are many places to explore. Fortunately, it doesn't take too long to find a room with a 3X recharger and a PB, but there are a lot of ways to die before then, and the last saved game once again is back at the beginning of Hell. This is just not acceptable. Once you do make it up to the upper reaches, it's simply a matter of finding a chip, inserting it in a chip slot and exiting to the outside of the space ship, where you're transported away. There apparently is also a secret exit to the labyrinth levels from the Garden of Teeth, but I never could find it. There are also some phrases visible in map view that make me wonder about if the mapmaker is a sociopath. Interesting, but the Pfhor prisoners are also being challenged to the same tests that you just completed.

Level 22 - Fortress Impervium

Strange that there's such a gap of levels in the regular story line, but we'll get to the secret levels later. All right, this is a decent level - challenging, but playable. The goal is to break into a Pfhor base and we start out on a Pfhor supply road. After a really major battle, we can gain access through the back door and after some more battles, we gain access to a pattern buffer - our lifeline. The eye candy in this level is outstanding - more what I would expect from a major scenario. Eventually we descend to explore the catacombs of Weird, which are really not all that weird compared to what we've already been through. Down in the catacombs we meet an ancient AI, Azrael, one left behind by the natives of this planet. He allows us to pass on the condition that we kill all the Pfhor (why even ask?) and that we take him with use when we leave. More on that later. Oh, he warns us not to disturb the tombs, but if you don't look in map view, you'll never suspect where they are until you drown in lava. There is one major trick to exiting the catacombs - there is a large hall with a switch that doesn't seem to do anything, but eventually we figure out that it controls a platform needed to reach the exit teleporter - we just need to flip it twice. Although it took me a while to figure it out, I liked this little puzzle. Finally we reach the East Wing, where we find a chip that can be used to finish the level. A bit contrived, but playable. We are warned against trying to leave via the front gate, but I never found the front gate in the first place.

Level 23 - Room of Giggles

I must have missed something here, as the only way I could get to Azrael's chip and the exit was to blast myself up to the exit - not that I had a clue where it was. There is a water path that leads there, but there is a strong current that blasts the player out before they can enter. Perhaps there is a way of turning it off or entering it from elsewhere, but I never found it. Otherwise, this is an enjoyable level with lots of places to explore and some decent action. The primary PB is well-placed, and shield and O2 regenerators are adequate. There are some very cruel traps, but I can live with these compared to the traps set on the other levels. I get the impression that this is not the end of Lost Lands and that additional chapters are planned. My incredibly strong advice is to fix parts 1 & 2 first - otherwise no one will play the later chapters, period. Hey, if you want to make a scenario just for yourself to play, that's your business, but Lost Lands has so much more potential than that. You really need a team of independent beta testers and you need to take their advice. I've given a lot of advice that didn't seem to make it into part 2. If you have 3 beta testers, preferably one who plays on TC and two on normal, and all three say that something is unplayable, you need to listen to what they have to say.

OK, now for the secret levels. I'm not going to discuss them individually as they're much simpler than the main scenario and each one is pretty short. My general comment is that the secret levels are not at all up to the quality of the rest of the scenario, although in many respects they are much easier. I know that this represents Marzo's earlier work and he hates to abandon it, but most mapmakers end up discarding their first maps as they improve in their skills. My very strong advice would be to replace the entire labyrinth series with a new, much more elaborate secret level or two. I also recommend tying the secret levels back into the main line of the scenario. No one likes to skip major levels because they found a secret. Once again, the player is being punished for exploration.

Some final thoughts - there are a lot of sticky and bouncy polys in the maps. It is incredibly frustrating to be walking along and suddenly find yourself glued to the floor and unable to move. It's also frustrating to head for a door or opening only to find yourself emerging a full WU to the left of where you expected to be. These are bugs in Forge that are well-known and that require special measures. Some polys will need to be split, and the bouncy polys need to be made not exactly square - that is the cause. Finally, some comments visible in map mode are decidedly not PC. I'm sure that this was intended to offend in much the way that lyrics in Rap music do. Still, this is a first for the Marathon community that can only alienate some players. Yes, Rubicon contains some porn and Erodrome is over the top with pornography, but these were in context to their respective scenarios. The comments just don't fit with what are otherwise some very good, but flawed maps.

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Replies:

Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialSteve Levinson 2/2/05 8:51 p.m.
     Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialrampancy 2/3/05 3:52 a.m.
           Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialSteve Levinson 2/3/05 5:15 a.m.
                 Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialMazaro 2/3/05 4:33 p.m.
                       Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialMazaro 2/3/05 4:35 p.m.
                             Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialRyokoTK 2/3/05 5:34 p.m.
                                   Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialSteve Levinson 2/3/05 8:53 p.m.
                                         Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialSimon of team Sigma 2/4/05 6:30 a.m.
                                               Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialMazaro 2/4/05 12:06 p.m.
                                                     Re: Lost Lands 2 - Room of GigglesOld Timer 11/24/15 2:41 a.m.
                                                           Re: Lost Lands 2 - Room of GigglesGeneral-RADIX 11/24/15 4:09 a.m.
                                                                 Re: Lost Lands 2 - Room of GigglesOld Timer 11/24/15 9:41 a.m.
                 Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialLion O Cyborg 11/24/15 9:54 a.m.
                       Re: Lost Lands 2 - so much lost potentialLion O Cyborg 11/24/15 9:56 a.m.

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