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level: small pile of gibs
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3D gamers edge: seal of approval winner
- superior layout
- superior action
- superior challenge
- beautiful architecture
- exceptional item placement
- exceptional gameplay flow
- excellent secrets
- read below
wow - where did this level come from? it's not often that an author i've never heard of produces his first ever spq2 map and it impresses me as much as this one did. this level isn't just good, it's the best i have ever played.
sent down to a strogg installation to destroy their computer systems with two virus-infected data-CD's, your mission is to simply (haha) find the CD's, put them into the computers, return to your pod, and get out. once you emerge from the pod, you are treated to my favorite style of spq2 gameplay. nothing fancy here: no new textures, sounds, models, or attempts to improve on the basic tools provided in quake2 - instead you get the most masterful use of the bare-bones quake2 engine and texture sets that you will likely ever see.
small pile of gibs takes place in a massive strogg installation, offering up 211 strogg to fight, and 8 secrets to find all in a single map. this level is colossal in size (approx. 7,000 brushes!) yet never once did my pc experience any slowdown of any kind. not even when the fighting was frenzied - multiple strogg attacking me in a large open area - never, not once. if that isn't a testament to the author's abilities i don't know what is. if i had named this map it would have been titled "the ascent", because that is what you must do - ascend up into the strogg compound and complete your mission. and what a marvelous ascent it is. it appears almost like a roller-coaster at times: twisting and turning corridors ahead of you, dizzying drops below, and architecture winding all around itself above you. the layout in this map is beyond anything i have yet to witness - it's like a combination of willits and escher - and i'll be surprised if i ever encounter it's equal. it's not just the layout that makes this level a pleasure to admire though, it's the architecture as well. the strogg installation is merged so seemlessly with the surrounding natural environment that it is simply astonishing. the architecture winds around cliffs, over rivers, through waterfalls, up elevators, and around spiral stairways... and it always manages to present the player with glimpses through the scenery at events to come and locations soon to be revealed. floors, walls, arches, corridors, support beams: every aspect of the architecture is treated with care and given just enough personality that it is stunning in it's beautiful simplicity. this level is a visual feast.
but what of the action - the gameplay? did i mention that there are over 200 strogg? as i first booted up this map it was with some trepidation that with such a high strogg-count in one single map i was going to be facing off against massive clumps of thrown-together strogg. but never - not once - does that happen. each encounter serves to enhance the gameplay and provide the player with fun. strogg appear seemingly out of nowhere at times, yet each battle is challenging without being overwhelming. health, ammo, and weapon placements augment the action wonderfully as well. health is sparse enough to have forced me to backtrack and clean up whatever i would leave behind. the big-hurt weapons are held off until later in the map, when the player is truly in need of the instant gratification of subduing strogg with a railgun or hyperblaster. the gameplay in this level flows smoothly and seamlessly, providing more-than-adequate challenge without overwhelming the player. spq2 action doesn't get any better than this.
the only downside to the level is that in the heat of battle i would ocassionaly fall off of a ledge and find myself a long way away from where the battle was taking place. this did produce a lot of semi-annoying back-tracking that i wish i hadn't been subjected to - however i'm not sure if there would be a way to correct that without marring the beautiful aesthetics of this map.
the bottom line is that this map is a masterpiece. a single level that takes several hours to play through is just amazing. the layout is such that this already massive map seems to be 3 or 4 times larger than it actually is. go ahead and take a noclip view of the whole thing, and see if you're not as surprised as i was to see just how compact it really is. the guys at id software may have invented this great game of spq2, but small pile of gibs takes it to new heights. this is a must-play map, my favorite to date.