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Review: The Keep

Promises a lot, but sadly, does not deliver.

Project information

The Keep
Small Campaign

Main review

As I mentioned in my previous review of AngLoiD's work, he is a well known and respected DM mapper - and as seen in Lapetus & Outpost 5 case, he's also quite capable as a single player map author. The Keep however is two years older than the previously reviewed two-pack, and while certainly larger in scale and ambition, it fails at many aspects where Lapetus actually succeeded.

A decent beginning. The titular Keep seen from the front side.

This 5-level series starts out surprisingly well: while the titular Keep is a low-poly squarefest, it is constructed somewhat realistically most of the time, with the exception of the strange maze underground that seems to be sticking out like a sore thumb. Besides that part, the building has all characteristics that qualify it as an actual keep, including such features as strong defensive positions in the towers or by the main gate, simplistic living quarters and a dungeon, complete with prisoners... that are out for your blood, strangely, despite you being the person that has to free them. This good trend continues with the second map, Drawbridge, which is a proper extension to the beginning map, however afterwards things go downhill and they do so fast. The remaining three levels are simple, uninspired constructs that are there just for the sake of being there for the player to clear them out and they look rushed, far worse than the two maps that begin the pack. As far as technical execution of this goes, well... there is a BSP issue or an occasional HOM here and there but they're not all that abundant. The single instances where they DO appear though are well visible and can spoil the enjoyment of playing through the pack.

The Keep's interior seen from topside.

The audio layer is... tragic, sadly. The two first levels do contain music tracks and they fit quite well, but the remaining three maps use no music whatsoever. No ambience in the entire pack is also a problem as some of the levels, no wait, actually all of them would feel way more authentic if they weren't so completely mute.

Unfortunately in the storyline the levels don't deliver anything at all, either. Not a single translator message, not a single trigger/event message, no synopsis in the readme, nothing. From what I see, the player is to infiltrate a keep and then go through hell in order to finish the pack. But that's just pure guesswork on my part.

Believe it or not, you fell from up there, straight into the trap.

The gameplay is where the pack really shines at times though. The player is quite well armed to kill most opponents but multiple adversaries are placed in such spots that it's actually best to avoid confrontation, for a change. More than once there is an option to skip a battle rather than confront the opponents head on and it's actually recommended. Ammunition is plentiful in most spots, but not plentiful enough to kill absolutely everyone. Thus, players are rewarded for being inventive, stealth and cunning; on the other hand, if they try killing absolutely everyone and everything on sight, they are bound to regret it. At least that is the case for most of the pack. Things go pear-shaped in the middle level though, where the exit remains inactive until the player kills two packs of beefed up spinners and this begins a very slippery slope on the penultimate level where the miniature IceSkaarj are met. These buggers are fast, tough and ultra-strong; it is recommended to actually start using the dynamite items that are scattered around to get past them, and it's recommended even more to skip a large portion of the "Skaarj Pit". The final level, "The Waterworks" is a real trial by fire, where luck is even more important than ever before. Naturally, there's still more than enough for the players to heal and shield themselves but many encounters will whittle those defenses in seconds and thus it is recommended to rush through multiple sections of the deadly area in a race for your life. It can be frustrating, but the satisfaction after completing the trial is comparable to almost nothing.

The "Skaarj Pit", already cleared out of the opposition due to sheer dumb luck on my part. I wonder what the fresh hell is Vandora's mural doing on the floor.

One big flaw of the gameplay mechanics however is the often-illogical and too-well hidden switches that open up further sections of each level. More than once I found myself lost, looking for that one small button or a lever that blends with the surrounding wall almost to the point of being invisible. Were it not for that, I'd be much less frustrated while playing. If in trouble, I recommend resorting to cheats and summoning yourself a searchlight, it's a minor cheat and will certainly help when the surroundings become too dark to find That Damn Fourth Chaos... button.


The Keep promises a lot: the architecture, while simple and flawed, begins with a realistic and believable twist, the gameplay makes the player stop for a minute and think what to do next rather than rush in and shoot everything in sight like DeathSpank, forgetting that there are questions to be asked about the state of things. This is however the case only in the first two levels of the pack, then the entire thing goes downhill. Sadly, The Keep does not deliver the promises made by its first two levels as the constructs become uninspired and plain ugly and the gameplay evolves (or devolves, more like) from a think-before-you-move-in formula to a frantic run-for-your-life one. Unlike Lapetus, this pack, AngLoiD's first single player endeavor can't be recommended as a whole. My suggestion is: play the first two levels, then call it a day before the remaining three ruin the fairly good impression.

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Build (16%)
  • Architecture
    Imagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.
  • Texturing
    Use of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.
  • Lighting
    Lighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).
  • Sound
    Use 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.
  • Technical Execution
    Technical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.
Cast (14%)
  • Conceptual Grandness
    Scale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.
  • Story Construction
    Backing story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.
  • Story Implementation
    Progression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.
  • Gameplay Awe
    Quality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.
  • Gameplay Balance
    Balance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.

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