Falcon Outpost by Rob Collins, aka Doublez Down, is a single level release. Rob, as you may recall, has been churning out releases such as this at an impressive pace. The level follows a mission format and in some ways reminds one of an Assault level for UT, paid in no small part to the major AS-Mazon influence in the way the principle structures are designed. In fact, those familiar with the UT level may do a double take. You begin the level in much the same way; deployed near a cache of starting equipment with the mission parameters laid out for you via translator message. You'll pick up a couple of other weapons along the way.
Some might feel the mission level has perhaps been done better with single releases like Ortican when they get into Falcon Outpost. It is possible the Mazon influence doesn't do Falcon Outpost any favors in terms of providing a distinct location, yet Rob lays out a style to his gameplay that may win over those hoping for more. Like Gothic Resurrection, ammo is minimal, and often you have to go scrap to scrap with what you pillaged from the last kill. This was interesting in Gothic Resurrection but perhaps an odd choice for a more militarized outing, where you might feel you are under equipped for the task at hand. Nevertheless, you'll locate adequate provisions for the tasks you have to perform.
The automag and ASMD are given at the start, with confiscated Skaarj trooper weapons being the eightball and stinger for good measure. A minigun is provided strangely at the end of the level, and when I acquired it there was nobody left to kill. It's possible that it was placed for the last battle, but I had already dispatched the poor fellow before I realized it was even in the room. Despite these options, the scale of the level is very large. Many situations will occur where you will have the drop from long range on oblivious enemies. I found myself using the dispersion pistol quite a bit in here and the nimble player might consider this option in lieu of spending precious ammunition for better guns. The inner base itself feels like less of a human establishment (save for terminals and the occasional bunk) and more of your traditional themed Unreal conglomerate; Mercenary doors open into nondescript corridors, the size of most of the place seeming like it would have made pygmies out of the intended staff and is perhaps better suited for the force of Skaarj that have raided the place.
Story is pretty straightforward with provided logs detailing the bland musings of the outpost personnel and occupying Skaarj. A few of the Skaarj ones border close to Eddx territory with the proximity of tech based info dumps, but are blessedly not so numerous. What I found wasteful were things like translator messages telling me the room I was entering was a crew berth when there was already a sign posted above the door that said as much. Nothing particularly clever or unique to the story, but it is there.
Unlike his outing with Gothic Resurrection, scriped events are rather light in this one and while a few ambush spawns and fleeing Skaarj sightings occur there's little more to the flow of things than the objectives. Perhaps this is a good thing, as what can go wrong in any of the combat sequences has entirely to with a little AI pathing silliness when braced with ill met architecture and not faulty scripted sequences, which can arguably be more distracting; some trooper mobs do the jumpy jumpy thing on sloped walls and the major battle against a Warlord inside a gravity compromised room is reduced to a mere fumbling between pipes and conduits. I noticed some other instances of such things in other fights, to an extent. I would say that the enemies in general are at a disadvantage. Even in scenarios where they don't get tripped up, several locations feature enemies just kinda not paying attention, making for easy eightball kills. I must have squished seven or eight guys this way, and the map only has so many baddies to the overall enemy count. Skaarj family foes with the occasional Behemoth make for the bestiary, though troopers tend to come at you in squads. It's all rather fine and will pass for the average Unreal SP player, though veterans used to higher difficulties might prefer the tenser, less-easily exploitable scenarios seen in Rob's other work. I'm sure the level could be handled in dispersion-only runs if users keep the AI chained to tricky walls, and the fact that this can be done without too much difficulty is not so great. The only other instance I can mention that may have been an issue was that I had to traverse the entire map twice after killing the Warlord to figure out where to go next, and a door I was sure I had tested on an early backtrack suddenly opened. It could have been that I didn't go close enough, there are a few doors in here that are like that where you have to literally hug to see if they actually open.
The map uses a few custom files, mainly music. The scout ship from RTNP appears as both your delivery and means of extraction once all your objectives are complete. An outro movie serves as a bonus, though Oldskool users have to put up with the floating gun bug if they want to watch it. Overall, It's difficult to compare this to Rob's other levels. Is it an improvement or a weaker endeavor? Well, perhaps it's neither, or both.
The sense of location falters when compared to other levels he has done, the Mazon look sapping half the map's visual content. What remains is cool and well constructed, if a bit generic. At the rate Doublez Down has been able to pump out levels for this genre, it is only expected that there only be so much improvement. But this community has seen some fantastic single level work before, and Falcon Outpost doesn't hit the kind of high notes seen in Last Fortress, Ortican, Liberation of Na Pali, Vacillations of a Victorian Vagrant, or Vigil99. It also doesn't have the outright gonzo factor seen in levels like deCyber Duel and Cat Bombs that could give it a long term edge. But it isn't pedestrian either. It does everything it needs to do but not everything it could do; there is not a lot for me to talk about, really, and that says something I think. Rob has proven that he has the chops to make a coherent SP level and the skills to realize a functioning location. What he needs to do next is polish the wow hammer and knock us out with the next one.
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.7
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.7
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).7
SoundUse of ambient sounds and event sounds to give the level atmosphere, and the quality of any custom sounds. Appropriate use of music and silence to complement the atmosphere.7
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.7
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.5
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.5
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.3
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.5
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.7