Closemouthed Shadows & Dragon’s Claw (Dark Mod missions) Impressions…

Closemouthed Shadows & Dragon’s Claw (Dark Mod missions) Impressions after the break…

Closemouthed Shadows & Dragon’s Claw (Dark Mod missions) Impressions…

In all fairness, I can not grant either “Closemouthed Shadows” or “Dragon’s Claw” a review for reasons described below. However, I will offer my impressions of both missions in the event that someone would like to play these missions for themselves.

Closemouthed Shadows & Dragon’s Claw are two “missions” (single-player levels) for “The Dark Mod,” a Total Conversion mod for the DOOM 3 computer game. “The Dark Mod” is an effort (and a fairly successful one at that) to replicate the game play from the “Thief 1” & “Thief 2” computer games created by the now-defunct computer game company “Looking Glass.” A sequel to the Thief series, “Thief: Deadly Shadows” (realistically, “Thief 3”), altered the game play from the first two games significantly in an effort to attract console and casual gamers to the franchise.

CLOSEMOUTHED SHADOWS

“The Dark Mod” has had an impressive history thus far: Most importantly, it has been released as intended. Releasing a playable mod, sadly, is a distant dream for a mass majority of mods that are started by enthusiastic teams of coders, artists and level designers. However, “The Dark Mod” has been available for public consumption long enough to have it’s history viewed in years, not months or weeks or even days. Therefore, a little forgiveness can be granted if newer players of the mod are not familiar with the mod’s earliest historical milestones.

While most players of “The Dark Mod” may recognize the mission “Tears of St. Lucia” as the ‘first’ mission, apparently, it was not. A much smaller mission, called “Closemouthed Shadows,” lays claim on being the very first playable mission for The Dark Mod. Like operating systems and programming languages, though, The Dark Mod has had the misfortune of evolving beyond the capability of playing missions designed for earlier versions of itself. In other words, like the Windows operating system, it is not entirely backwards-compatible with all of the missions designed for it. “Closemouthed Shadows,” being the very first mission, experienced this incompatibility all too well… Until recently, when it was updated to be compatible with the very latest version of The Dark Mod (v1.07 as of this writing).

At a meager 2 Megs, “Closemouthed Shadows” is more of a historical curiosity then a mission. Having never played the mission prior, I can’t tell anyone how much (if anything) has changed. The mission is, understandably, exceedingly simple – Kill someone and then steal a scepter. The tiny mission isn’t without it’s highlights – The lack of lockpicks forces the thief to find a key hidden in a boot which propels the mission forward. Not being one to kill, it was interesting to have to be an assassin for a change. In hindsight, I probably made the task far harder by using the sword. I can’t remember if I had access to broadhead arrows or not, otherwise, the kill would have been far easier.

There were a few design quirks that modern mod authors would likely not use. Amongst such quirks were having “actual” doors as non-opening doors instead of the standard type of “non-openable” doors available nowadays.

The exceedingly small size of the mission as well as it’s historical origin makes an honest review difficult at best. Players should play it merely to appreciate how significantly The Dark Mod has advanced since it’s humble but ambitious start. At 2 Megs, there’s absolutely no reason for even beginner Dark Mod players not to take a look… Just don’t expect much mission.

DRAGON’S CLAW

Unlike “Closemouthed Shadows” which measures just 2 Megs in size, “Dragon’s Claw” weighs in at an immense 97.6 Megs. The premise of the mission is to sneak into a quarantined section of The City to steal an artifact; No small task when you remember that in the world of The Dark Mod, zombies, ghosts and other unnatural but supernatural elements exist with the sole purpose of killing you.

“Closemouthed Shadows” could be called many things but it has one facet that “Dragon’s Claw” wishes it could have: Unbroken game play. Dragon’s Claw is incomplete at a few choice moments and bizarrely devoid of detail during others which is outright unusual for one of the largest missions presently available. This isn’t to say that there aren’t nice flourishes in the level – An early moment occurs when the thief, normally accustomed to avoiding everyone and treating everyone like a target to be blackjacked or killed, can walk amongst people completely uninhibited.

Through eliminating the obvious, you eventually discover that a grate underneath a dragon statue is your key in progressing to your destination. After an encounter with a female bandit in a sewer (what she’s doing there is anyone’s guess – The rent is too high elsewhere?), you succeed in entering the Plague Ward. I had the personal misfortune of jumping out of the entrance right next to a slumbering zombie. Thankfully, the zombie was not as proficient in finding me as a more lively (or, at least, an alive) opponent. I like the game play style of the zombie – The level had a layer of fog on the ground, obscuring the slumbering zombies enough so that a reckless thief might wander too close to them, awakening them. I wasn’t as appreciative with the actual model of the zombie itself and I don’t know if that’s The Dark Mod itself or the actual level designer. Regardless, the zombie didn’t look intimidating and that detracted slightly from it’s effectiveness as an enemy.

True to form, the Plague Ward has seen better days but it is also here where the first broken game play moment occurs. A wide open door in the Plague Ward leads to… Nothingness. Not just nothingness in terms of the game world but just plain nothingness. This “level leak,” where the level is literally left incomplete like a sentence stopped in mid-word, drastically destroys the frames per second smoothness of the level and literally rips the player out of the illusion of game play. I’m really surprised that a mission was left on the mission list with such a glaring defect.

The rest of the level plays fine if a bit bland. Avoid slumbering zombies, avoid ghostly patrols, steal artifact and then leave. Part of the concern was that the Plague Ward simply felt empty. There’s just nothing there in the level to give a sense of dread beyond the visuals. Yes, there are rundown homes. Yes, there are ghostly skeleton patrols. Yes, there are slumbering zombies. There’s even a ball of wavering light that I avoided out of an abundance of caution (a wisp?). Except for a small diary featuring a sort of Pagan curse placed on a family because a Pagan witch was unfairly executed, I didn’t see something that this level needed: The air of desperation. I didn’t see skeleton corpses on the ground or in a bed, consumed by The Plague. I didn’t pass through a makeshift hospital and read the diary of a doctor battling the inevitable before succumbing to the inevitable himself. I didn’t see hastily dug mass graves. Maybe there would’ve been people trying to dig under the wall to flee the Plague because that section of the city was barricaded in. Maybe a diary where soldiers on the wall shot at people inside the barricade trying to escape. A diary of a priest who has lost faith because so many people are dying despite their prayers for salvation.

The level breaks again, at least for me, once you get back to the well to escape. Quite simply, I couldn’t get back into it and was confused as to how to escape. After a long while fighting to get back into the well, I gave up.

Even if this level wasn’t broken so that I could write a fair review of it, my impressions of it are one of emptiness. Dark Mod levels are ultimately first-person puzzles that rely upon a combination of immersive elements in order to entertain. From the realistic patrols of guards, the “readables” of scrolls and books to provide tantalizing backstories, the placement of loot within the level to even the level design itself, all of these elements must converge in order to create an entertaining level. For a level that is nearly 100 Megs in size, the amount of emptiness was befuddling and not being a Dark Mod level designer, I am puzzled as to where all of that 100 megs went. If the level designer would fix the level enough to be playable, I would be half-tempted to play the level again in an effort to find out just what it was that I was missing out on.

I can’t, in good conscience, review this level because it is legitimately, mechanically broken. Yet from the amount of level that I could play, it would not be enough to simply “seal” the level up so that it stopped “leaking.” This level, besides mechanically needing to be fixed, needs a serious injection of story as well.

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