A Score To Settle (Dark Mod mission) review…

A Score To Settle (Dark Mod mission) review after the break…

A Score To Settle (Dark Mod mission) review…

A word of warning to all those who will bother to play “The Dark Mod” and this mission, “A Score to Settle”: Don’t play it until you’re ready to delete “Doom 3” and this mod off of your hard drive. Don’t play “A Score to Settle” until you’ve played just about all the other missions that were available circa the date that this review premiered.

It’s not that “A Score to Settle” is bad… It’s that “A Score to Settle” will spoil you and make your remaining time with “The Dark Mod” that much more miserable.

“The Dark Mod” is a total conversion of the computer game “Doom 3.” “The Dark Mod” emulates the game play of the computer games “Thief 1” and “Thief 2” but without the intellectual property. The game is played in the first person, the player playing the role of a thief who has the ability to hide in shadows, sneaking up on unsuspecting guards and knocking them out (or more violent alternatives). Being a thief, it is only natural that most missions involve stealing a certain amount of valuable items as it’s goal.

“A Score to Settle” is a Dark Mod mission weighing in at a whopping 135 Megs, written by “Springheel.” The mission size is somewhat deceptive, as an introduction and conclusion movie probably take up a good portion of that space. If such movies were stripped from the mission, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mission itself was 40 Megs or even less.

“A Score to Settle” is not an amateur effort; It easily has the most elaborate opening cinematic of all the Dark Mod missions I’ve played so far. Personally, I would’ve been satisfied with a classic “Thief”-styled opening – An opening that “flavors” the mission just enough but, then again, perhaps the “Thief” games would have made more elaborate openings had computing power been more robust when the original games were released. Also, the shrinking candle as the player waits for the mission to load is another nice touch that I can’t remember other missions emulating to any significant degree. I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if other mission designers followed suit by providing equally or even more entertaining ways to watch a mission loading screen.

Practically all Dark Mod missions have the same type of mission – Infiltrate some place, steal stuff, leave undetected and cross an imaginary finish line. “A Score to Settle” adds an additional wrinkle – Humiliating the leader of a gang without killing him. In this case, knocking the man out and throwing him down to the bottom of an outhouse pit. The mission also imposes a mostly no-kill rule for story purposes, limiting your blood lust to a couple of unlucky fellows. I played the level on it’s most challenging setting and was quite pleased that I was able to complete the mission.

“A Score to Settle” has one significant innovation that most future Dark Mod mission ought to heed with great interest – Randomized routes that enemies take. A lot of Dark Mod missions that I’ve played have enemies with predictable, almost robotic-like routes. I remember playing one mission where an enemy unrealistically continually “patrolled” around a single column while another made an inhumane number of regular trips to the bathroom. With randomized routes, the enemies become more humanized and realistic; Imagine a guard getting bored with their patrol and walking a bit slower or suddenly taking the time to briefly talk to a known friend. Imagine a guard just leaning against the wall for a moment after completing a lap, exhausted from the constant patrolling. Such deviations gives personality to otherwise faceless enemies and gives the mission more character.

One aspect of “city crawling” missions that I never like is that most doors are inaccessible; I understand the need to make most doors inacccessible, lest the mission size simply explodes in size. Inaccessible doors breaks the immersion of reality and it was no different here. A door you can’t open is just like a water fountain you can’t drink from or a vending machine that doesn’t spit out a soda can – You understand the “why” it can’t happen but still want it to happen anyway. Regardless, the constant patrols and their irregularity in movement made the “city crawling” aspects of the mission feel tense and involving.

Finally breaching the objective, the compound itself was well thought-out for the most part; Food is stored near the kitchen and the kitchen is right next to where people are served. It’s somewhat questionable to have the torture chamber, though, next to where the food is stored but medieval towns were rarely sanitary (see: Plague, Black). In all, the building “made sense” architecturally and this further enhanced the enjoyment of the mission.

The mission is filled with tiny nice touches, too numerous to mention – The sword that opens the attic and the attic trap are two that spring to mind. The final touch, having to evade angry gangsters who’ve discovered their boss humiliated, was nice and it was the only time that I had to use a broadhead arrow. In the vein of “My kingdom for a horse,” “my loot for a few rope arrows” – I could only imagine what the city crawling aspect at the end would be like if a thief suddenly had access to more then a few rope arrows. Imagine having the option to travel amongst rooftops instead of depending on the fortuitous movements of enemies to make your escape.

The mission is not perfect; It hides a lot of it’s linearity well but it is linear when it didn’t have to be (a very fortuitous rope arrow, for example, would’ve allowed an inspired thief to climb directly to the attic and attack the gang leader from that route). The “chain” was also a bit confusing as well as a missed opportunity (having the chandelier fall on the two enemies playing cards and knocking them out would’ve been worth the extra price).

There’s a saying that the only worthy homages to the originals are when you can not tell the two apart; There is nothing in “A Score to Settle” that would be out of place in an original “Thief” mission. Had someone told me that “A Score to Settle” is simply a modernization of a long-lost, never-produced Thief mission, I wouldn’t have doubted it. The large file size is a bit misleading but the classic Thief-styled game play is not. One can only hope that more missions such as this are awaiting fans in the future. Great job.

One Response to “A Score To Settle (Dark Mod mission) review…”

  1. Springheel Says:

    Thanks for the kind words! 🙂

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