When I last spoke to him, Jim said the first two chapters are basically done. He is hoping to finish the briefing files and cutscene editing by the time Peter Klassen and crew release Condition Red. Hopefully, this will be very soon. Jim has shown real promise as a game designer -- one to follow closely.
When I first saw a preview of Ruins of Talos, I was thinking “Oh, great -- another shoot-em-up.” Well, I was wrong. John Johnson released a simple kill-fest a short while ago called Archon Raider. It had a good storyline, similar to the Early Missions of Kyle package, but fell short on both gameplay and design and was plagued by numerous bugs. I was looking at Ruins with a somewhat jaundiced eye, and for that I apologize. Ruins has easily surpassed all my expectations.
THERE I WAS, SURROUNDED BY ENEMY TROOPS . . .
The storyline is deceptively simple -- you launch with a squad of stormtroopers. The squad is killed, leaving you as the only survivor. You start out with weapons you find scattered around the crash site. Waste a bunch of enemies to get into the ruins, kill the Big Bad Boss, then go home to a nice cup of Corillian ale. But there’s a catch.
Halfway through, the plot takes a neat twist. Instead of a bloodbath, the game becomes more of a puzzle-palace. It’s much more than find the button or grab the key -- there are some genuinely original problems to solve. One involves finding a lost scepter. Another requires careful attention to detail. And that’s all I’m going to say about it -- you’ll just have to see for yourself.
John has made vast improvements in design style. The layout of the catacombs is very well done. There are a number of traps to avoid, jumps to master, and a few very careful balancing acts. I found only two flaws with the architecture. First, some of the rooms seem to be a bit cramped, especially with the logic he selected for the enemies. There are a few places where you must battle critters that use Boba Fett logic -- and there simply isn’t enough room to dodge. Second, the tunnels could stand a bit of decorating in spots. Some spots were very well done, others were sort of bland. Largely, that has to do with the texture he selected. All of the hallways have the same yellowish-tan color with little to break up the pattern. John tried to compensate for that by introducing various degrees of lighting, but couldn’t quite pull it off. But to be fair, the lighting does add to the feel of being underground. I can also understand the walls all being the same color, as if dug through bedrock.
But despite these flaws, the gameplay is smooth and challenging. John included a bunch of hints that appear in the form of text messages at the top of the screen. Many are blatant pointers to what you must do next, but some are far more subtle. It’s a great combination that keeps the frustration factor low and keeps you heading in the right direction.
Enemy placement has it’s ups and downs. There are places where the enemy is clustered thicker than flies on cowflop, and others where they’re kind of scarce. Outside the ruins, there’s not much logic in the placement of the enemy forces. They seem to be just milling around, waiting for you to stroll by. Once inside the ruins, it gets much better. The enemies are guarding various passages and switches that you need to get to. There’s a good section in enemy logic also, with the exception I mentioned earlier. There’s enough variety to keep you on your toes without overwhelming you.
As with Archon, John is showing off a ton of waxes. The combination of mercenaries, troopers, and natural creatures is done quite well. The troops don’t look like a faceless mob, they appear to be more like a rag-tag army. The creatures you run into are interesting and sometimes difficult to kill. John used a lot of Kell dragon and Gamorrean guard logic to good effect. Arachnophobes beware -- you’ll see a ton of creepy-crawlies once you enter the catacombs.
As a whole, the mission rates a good 96%. There were some things that could have been better, a lot that are great, and a few that are exceptional. Keep up the great work!
Download Ruins of Talos at http://www.swgamers.com/ftp/incoming/ruins.zip.