31st of December 2023
Simpler Times | Single | Author: Alex Pistol | Download
The Review: It is the future, and Duke's finally been cancelled. A rumor has it that Duke's old betas have been found, so Duke sets off to find
them in order to reclaim his reputation. Little does he know that this is merely a ploy by the aliens
to lure Duke out of his isolation, then deliver one final blow to his career before killing him.
And such is the excuse for the existence of Alex's new city map, Simpler Times. The city is a curious hybrid of American and European city designs: its clean streets, elegant buildings and a river running through the middle of it are more reminiscent of European cities, but it also has the sleaze, size and commercialization of Americana. The map is seemingly open-ended with a huge outdoor area, but there's always only one place where you can go and no optional indoor areas. Design is meticulous, with every trick in the book utilized to its fullest. The map gets plenty of mileage out of new features such as flipped textures and sloped sprites. Areas beyond the gameplay area have received plenty of attention too; the gorgeous white church must be the most effort anyone has ever put into a mere decoration. The map is teeming with creative ideas, such as a food cart that you can kick, a gym with various exercise machines and fitness equipment, an operable car lift with a car on it, etc. The first building alone is a spectacle with its pyramid-shaped end and its spacious lobby designed as if as a commission from a building company, all wrapped in a multi-story structure involving various tricky effects. These are but mere drops of what the map's got to offer, as every area is littered with similar stuff. (And don't forget to make use of your use key to find hidden interactions!) There are also simple things that are effective but easy to overlook, such as the use of explosion sprites as trees.
Gameplay is a more standard package with some creative ideas mixed in with typical key hunting and occasionally irritating combat. Where to go is more of an early-game problem, as once you find that first place where you can go the map then guides you for the rest of your journey. There's a bonus objective involving saving several cocooned babes scattered across the map. It's a fun little sidequest, albeit jumping required to reach the babe in the gym was a bit too finicky.
Combat-wise I had a bit of a rough start, as it took a while for me to come across a shotgun, just sitting there on a random park bench. Things then settle down with respect to item distribution, but there is one recurring problem that reminded me of some of the worst moments in Back in Business: Upon finding something of significance the game spawns in plenty of enemies, often including Commanders and Battlelords, and usually the spot you find yourself in is less than optimal, with the maps intricate design (and, occasinally, invisible walls) getting in your way and restricting your ability to move around while getting pummeled by rockets and whatnot. One of these moments takes place during a "puzzle" where you need to use steroids to reach another rooftop, then squeeze in through a vent, definitely the map's lowpoint. (And why force the use of steroids here in the first place rather than, say, a simple ladder?) The ending was also a bit disappointing, as some neat and creative trick would've been a better sendoff after an hour-long (57 minutes to be exact) map than fighting three Overlords in the river.
Conclusion: After Simpler Times it's fair to ask, where does one go from here? Can anyone hope to pack more great design and creative ideas into a single map file than Alex has done with Simpler Times? But there's something to be said for gameplay, as part of me would like to give the map a lower score for its often tedious combat, but here design is of such exceptionally high quality that it just sets a pretty high lower bound for the score. If you find such reasoning lacking, feel free to slash a few points off the score.