Illusionist’s Tower (Dark Mod mission) Impressions…

Illusionist’s Tower (Dark Mod mission) Impressions after the break…

Illusionist’s Tower (Dark Mod mission) Impressions…

“Illusionist’s Tower,” a mission for the Doom 3 total conversion mod called “The Dark Mod,” has produced one positive feeling after playing it – I really want to play the computer game “Prey” again. Badly. I might even dig through my massive games chest to find it after writing this review.

Allow me to explain.

“Illusionist’s Tower” is a Dark Mod mission that weighs in at 8.7 Megs, authored by “stumpy.” The plot for the mission is simple – Enter a weird and abandoned tower, avoid both conventional and unconventional obstacles, steal “fabolous” (not my spelling) treasure and then leave.

Illusionist’s Tower does not have conventional “Dark Mod” game play in that there are no guards to avoid. The mission is filled only with spiders, of which there is a plot-related reason revealed later on in the mission. The mission also makes heavy use of teleportation; In an early example, walking through a doorway yields an attempted deceptive teleportation to another level that looks just like the one you are in right now. The teleportation is not smooth, though, as the author may have intended it to be.

Despite my completing this mission, I can not “review” it because the more I think about the mission, the less there is to review. I have no doubt as to the skills of the author for he at least produced a mission that has a beginning, a goal, and an end. The mission is not “broken”; I was able to complete it without going through “the fourth wall” of the game by seeing someplace that I should not have or the mission crashing consistently to the desktop.

Instead, the reason why I can not review this mission is because there is no cohesion in this mission. Dark Mod missions are, essentially, first-person puzzles; Find a way in, unravel the paths of the guards (knock them out if desired), get the treasure and then get out. The color and texture of any particular Dark Mod mission lies with the “readables” (books, scrolls, notices, etc.) and the presentation of the level. In “Illusionist’s Tower,” the weird geography of the mission allows for no cohesion to take place. Yes, I get it; The occupant was an illusionist who could produce magical effects. Yet the magical effects are never defined and never presented as to enhance the weirdness of a particular moment. You obtain “weirdness” when something abnormal happens out of normalcy. If I am writing this review and, all of a sudden, a person in a clown suit knocks on the front door to where I live, that situation would be weird because I do not expect it to happen. If I were, though, a supervisor of the clowns for a local circus, the event of seeing a clown at my front door may very well be normal.

The problem with this mission is that it is constantly weird from the very beginning. Although it is disconcerting the first time you are “teleported” unexpectedly, you become immune to the teleportations afterwards because the entire setting is already weird. What might have made the teleportations stand out is if the mission started normally; You enter the tower and everything looks normal. Only when your skills as a thief are used do you find the area where the abnormalities begins and now you must use your wits to escape that area.

The mission is set up where I almost feel as though I should comment on the gimmicks more then the mission itself. I have nothing against the concept of teleportation in the game; Just that it was not used to very good effect in this particular mission. I have nothing against puzzles in a mission (the “nine” puzzle, for instance) but I found the puzzles in this mission not to be particularly compelling because there was no narrative driving it. Crossing what looked like “The River Styx” on an invisible bridge was interesting but… Inside a residential tower? Really? Walking on an upside-down hallway felt compelling for a moment or two but the gimmick was not given any further liberties; Why not walk on the ceiling of a “normal” room where the effect would be far greater? The “closet teleportation” could be used for great effect (Imagine the effect of walking into a closet, shutting the doors, and the act of shutting the doors triggering the closet on being used as an elevator or swiveling around into another room like a secret passage) but the surreal nature of the level dilutes the uniqueness of the event.

If anything, this entire mission makes me yearn for gimmicks that were used to great effect, particularly in the game “Prey.” Prey used portals (yes, those types of portals) and gravity switching highly effectively by integrating them into the storyline. The ability to walk on walls, walk through portals, “shift” yourself through objects… I am thrilled that I am able to play “The Dark Mod” as is but imagine a thief with the ability to use a ceiling like a floor or use portals that only they can see to navigate a difficult level. In my mind, the most useful aspect of “Illusionist’s Tower” is that it might inspire a skilled programmer in implementing these types of features in order to create new compelling forms of game play.

Illusionist’s Tower is more tech demo then mission, more “would it not be cool if…?” exhibition then an actual cohesive experience. You can never fault authors from always wanting to stretch the game beyond perceived limits; That is what authors do – Attempt to create unique and compelling experiences. The challenge and artistry of those experiences is in how one doles out the unique gimmicks that turns an average mission into a good mission and what makes a good mission turn into a great mission. In Illusionist’s Tower, too many gimmicks spoiled the mission and the ability to review it.

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