The Gatehouse (Dark Mod mission) review…

The Gatehouse (Dark Mod mission) review… after the break…

The Gatehouse (Dark Mod mission) review…

THE GATEHOUSE is a “Dark Mod” mission, made by Bikerdude and Goldchocobo and weighs in at an impressive 100 megs. I played version 1.0 on Dark Mod version 2.01. For those who do not know, “The Dark Mod” is not a mod but a stand-alone game built on top of the idtech 4 engine (the engine that the game “Doom 3” was built on) that emulates the classic Thief gameplay (Thief 1 & 2) without the intellectual property. It is freeware and continues to be actively supported.

THE GATEHOUSE story is that you are a young Builder initiate (the Builders is “The Dark Mod’s” equivalent of the Hammerites, a religious organization loosely based on the fanatical and oppressive traits of Christianity during the Medieval era) in search of an ancient Builder relic. That relic, a sword, is located in an imposing and abandoned castle called “The Gatehouse” for which many enter but none exit alive. Will your wits guide you to the sword or will you succumb to The Gatehouse’s many tricks?

There are many traits that makes THE GATEHOUSE very appealing and yet I have very little desire to ever play it again or even to recommend it as a premier Dark Mod mission. At best, I could recommend it only as a novelty mission or even as a “tech demo” of the capabilities of what Dark Mod missions are capable of. I certainly can’t recommend this mission to new players as there are several traits about this mission that do not make it representative of what The Dark Mod is usually about.

To start, the production values of THE GATEHOUSE are excellent. The main menu screen is altered to reflect the mission. The intro mission “briefing” is also superb; Thief 1 & 2 would be proud to have such an intro mission briefing and the only element missing is Stephen Russell’s voice as the reluctant anti-hero thief himself. Strangely, the mission keeps the default mission loading progress bar and the mission loading screen is a bit on the low-resolution side. For such high production values previously, this omission is a bit of an odd choice.

Production values in the mission itself are excellent. The castle looks like just that and the detail is wonderful. At one point, a hidden door appears when a stone wall drops and you can see scrape marks for where the stone door fell. Individual rooms feel very logical, both in their function and in their place in the castle itself. There are several readable documents that gives the mission considerable depth and quite a few of those documents need to be read in order to complete the mission competently.

The highlight of the mission are the puzzles, for which there are several. The player must find and distribute objects, position mirrors, lockpick a door while under pressure, avoid projectiles and step carefully to avoid landing on tiles lest they meet a grisly demise. Some of these puzzles are very technical, especially the mirror puzzle. Just one of these puzzles would be enough to elevate a normal Dark Mod mission into a memorable mission and elevate a memorable mission into a fantastic one.

Yet there are several aspects of this mission that I found very detrimental, both towards recommending it in general as well as playing it again or even keeping it for demonstration purposes.

First, the level is extremely linear. Until you are given a choice between two puzzles to solve (you must solve them both but are given the choice as to which order), there is virtually no choice as to where to go or what to do. The linearity is forced to a rather extreme nature; Early on, you must pass under a low bridge which you would normally be capable of scaling onto (you can clearly climb the edges of the landscape all of the way to the bridge itself). However, you are invisibly forbidden in doing so, enforcing the linearity and frustrating those who are used to the more open-world environments encountered in typical Dark Mod missions.

Second, there is not a lot of typical Dark Mod gameplay in THE GATEHOUSE. There are, for instance, no enemies who walk around to frustrate the player’s movements. The puzzles act as the main antagonists; Finding their solution is the main impediment towards progressing throughout the mission. At one point, you must “avoid” the gaze of certain statues. I wasn’t certain what that meant but a lot of crouching and not moving near those statues tended to work. That’s as close to a guard or a skeleton as you’ll get in this mission. There is one door that you must lockpick (and that’s only because it is an integral step in a puzzle) and some quick mantling that must be performed (again, another puzzle), but there wasn’t any “steal items, avoid guards, find the secret area” gameplay you would normally find in a typical Dark Mod mission.

Third, the mysterious “haunted” aspect of the mission wears off quickly without adversarial resistance. Gates close suddenly and a few of the puzzles contain deadly consequences but I never felt as though I was in danger. A majority of the map is brightly lit; You really don’t need to even crouch except for a few choice occasions. Despite swords and bows that litter the interior, you can’t pick any of them up because there is nothing to guard against.

Finally, I was a bit put off by the final puzzle of having to jump-mantle quickly onto a series of sinking pillars. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best thief (or even a great one) and part of the appeal of Thief gameplay is the intellectual aspect of carefully observing routines of enemies in order to find vulnerabilities that you can exploit. I don’t play “The Dark Mod” for “twitch” gameplay that is more akin to first-person shooters, which that puzzle fundamentally represents. I’m not good at it. I don’t care to be good at it.

In conclusion, there is a lot of the mission that is nice. The production values are top notch. The puzzles, themselves, are very nice. There are a number of readables that add to the atmosphere as well as being crucial towards completing the mission.

Yet the mission doesn’t really feel like a Dark Mod mission. It feels more like a very nicely designed tech demo. It feels like one of those attempts to shoehorn a real-time strategy game into an engine designed for a first-person shooter, or an attempt to shoehorn a first-person shooter into an engine designed for a real-time strategy game. There’s never any constant suspense… There are no guards to constantly watch out for. There is nothing to steal (unless you count the sword itself). There is no reason for stealth apart from that one “statue” area (and even that might not need it). There is no reason to be silent.

THE GATEHOUSE is pretty to look at, pretty to walk through, intriguing to play through… But also very easy to delete after playing. That’s a little too bad, considering the amount of time and effort that went into it. I hope that Bikerdude and Goldchocobo continue to make Dark Mod missions and, when they do, I will look forward to playing them.


2 Responses to “The Gatehouse (Dark Mod mission) review…”

  1. qrackerjackquake Says:

    Hi Lutonaut 😀

    Since I discovered your blog and introduced my very own project ( I’m following you… and abou this post well I’m going to have a look at this game… thanks for your review.

    About the other review (comment) at it’s funny I understand you that’s why I’m a “Opera” user… to keep the fokin control… please!!!!!!!!!!

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hi qrackerjackquake and thank you for reading my blog.

      The Dark Mod is a very nice game and I would recommend that game to anyone. It is freeware, constantly maintained and has a growing library of “missions” (user-made levels) that players may try. While I may enjoy some missions more then others, that should not take away from the awesome amount of time and effort that has been placed into that project. All gamers would be truly enriched if only all such projects could be seen to fruition like The Dark Mod.

      As for the Seamonkey entry, I accidentally did not allow for comments on that entry and that has been corrected. I am not enthused by the Firefox browser’s recent design decisions, such as making it more difficult to turn javascript on and off. I feel that such decisions, like ending support for the BLINK tag, are excessively petty and provide nothing for the overall enjoyment of browsing the Internet. The recent banter about including in-browser advertisements is scary and that such commercialization of the Internet is not conducive towards the overall health of the Internet or benefit to it’s users. We are already bombarded with unwarranted advertisements in our everyday lives, many of which are for products and services that we either do not need or do not want.

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

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