Unfortunately I have no images for this level and I’ve been unable to get a download of it so I could take some. So I’m going to let the review speak for it.
It seems like more than three years.
It feels like it was a decade ago, not just June 1998, that I ingratiated myself onto the Mac gaming scene by creating a website called The AquaQuake Vault. I had been playing Quake1 like a desperate coke junkie for about 5 months, wanted to make a web page for an art class, and have it actually be about something. Most people just slap together a ‘home page’ embellished by some pictures of their pets and a few odd favorite links, toss it up on a server, and that’s that. I wanted to have a concept-oriented page that would have a reason to exist and be visited, and a roommate suggested that I make a site about Quake. Ignoring the fact that I had absolutely zero skills at page design or even knowledge of how to upload a .html file to a server, I decided to make a site that would bring it’s readers to-the-point reviews and download links for my favorite Quake addon levels. Since most of them involved the presence of water in one form or another, I decided to call it “AqauQuake” after a couple of three-finger straight whiskeys at the corner punk bar, then added the “Vault” part because it sounded, well, Quake-like (“vaulted chambers” — that kind of idea). After senselessly pimping my link to outlets like Blues News [yes, THAT Blues News] and the legendary JVox’s Boomstick at PlanetQuake, I was ‘picked up’ by the lads who were running Quakeintosh as one of their hosted sites for the singular reason that I played my Quake and made my stupid pages on a Mac.
(By the way, you can usually tell that a critic is in trouble and lacking relevant information to say when he/she prattles on about themselves rather than discussing the item in question, but just play along with me here — we’ll get to the goods in due time.)
So I made this goofy little site that had like two paragraph descriptions of the maps that I thought were worthy of inclusion in my select batch of levels (even going to the extent of sometimes referring to them as “my” collection of maps like one might have a collection of paintings … “Oh yeah, Naked5 — that’s one of my maps”, i.e.), and then a download link to the file itself. For some odd reason the site was a ‘hit’, and it never failed to blow my mind when people would email me to say how much they enjoyed visiting my pages, reading the reviews and then playing the maps. The best compliment I ever received was when one of the illuminati who became a part of the MacQuake Infinity domain I went onto join referred to the Vault as “Always a fun site to visit.” And I will never forget the email I received from some idiot who found me while doing a web search on underwater earthquakes, asking just what my site was supposed to be about and if I could help him with his research … Heh — them were the days.
The point of the above preamble is that if Korrupt and Charlie Wiederhold’s CTF_Barge had been made for Classic Quake, I would have reviewed and pimped it with relish. The Vault was all about levels like this — I even had a special section for Quake levels set on/in/around boats, and CTF_Barge may in fact be the definitive 3d shooter game boat-themed level. The first time I saw it I was in love, and just as with last week’s Envy, it is such a good map that it has taken me almost a year of playing SiN and writing these reviews to figure out just what to say about it. It’s always easier to trash something than praise it without being patronizing. Let’s see what I can come up with here …
CTF_Barge is just as the title describes — it is a SiN Capture the Flag level set on and around a huge barge that appears to be under the tow of two smaller tugboats. The sheer simplistic brilliance of placing each tugboat on the opposite side of the barge and using them as the SinTek and Hardcorps bases is one of the acts of true inspiration in the annals of shooter design. Someone must have been looking at a barge being towed into a harbor by two tugboats one day, looked blankly off into the distance and said the expression “Holy Moses, what a great idea for a map …” quietly to themselves. You don’t come up with ideas for great art sitting around an office taking phone calls, it comes from going out into the world and witnessing something (or looking inside of yourself, as the case may be) and having a certain gear in your head click. Maybe you don’t even realize the inspiration at the time, but in retrospect when sitting forlornly in front of a workstation wondering what the heck to make and remembering “Ohh yeah … that barge I saw yesterday … that was actually kind of cool … hmmm …”.
One of the reasons why I very quickly lost interest in Quake III was that the maps used in the game by Id do not represent anything that I can relate to as far as real-world experiences, though I will concede that was sorta the whole point of the game. I prefer games with maps that have a foot rooted in everyday reality (even if that is an imaginary interstellar mutant space cyborg reality like in Quake II or even AvP), and SiN as a game has earned a special mark in it’s favor from me because of the believable, “realistic”, urbane settings depicted by the majority of its level design. CTF_Barge sticks out as being especially effective at doing so — the only “seam” between the world it depicts and everyday reality is the game-engine color palette used in the texturing, and of course the violence. I have not seen many barges that have Heliguns mounted in them and automatic weapons strewn about the deck, but then again I have never been through the Suez Canal or Haiphong Harbor. I’m sure such structures exist somewhere.
So the idea of the map is that the team bases are on these little tugboats set on opposite sides of the barge. You need to negotiate and battle your way though the barge, jump in the water, swim to the opposing team’s barge, grab the flag and swim back. It is as if someone wrote up a profile of my interests as a gamer and submitted them to the mapmakers as the conceptual blueprint for a map — “Make Skwank a CTF level that allows for a lot of aqua-combat and set it in a real world scenario with a believable sense of ‘place’.” Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
The map is a gem. Not only does it cater to my whims, but it is just the perfect size to be a fun map for 12 or even 2 players. The main reason for this is that if you have the nerve and the patience you can just use the grapple hook to pull yourself under the barge from tugboat base to tugboat base and completely avoid the labyrinthine innards of the barge. Underwater combat in SiN is a very special experience and Barge [just like the similarly themed OilRig levels] almost forces you to become adept at fighting while completely submerged or even just bobbing on the surface. I prefer the spread of buckshot from the Shotgun as an underwater weapon to trying to torpedo someone with a rocket (since the excellent but underused SiN Speargun is missing from the level, you do what you gotta). Another good underwater option is the hail of rounds spat out by one of the rapid fire weapons [Chaingun or Assault Rifle], especially when coupled with a Death Quad or Double Damage tech powerup. Use your crouch and jump keys to submerge and rise back up to evade enemy fire and then Grapple your way back onto the deck for health and more ammo when needed. Mad fun.
In fact, CTF_Barge is THE game level that finally sold me on the purposeful legitimacy of the Grapple Hook. I was one of those players who was so horrified and offended by the overuse of the Hook by Quake II CTF [and Lithium mod] Grapple Monkeys that it was one of the reasons I stopped playing CTF for a while. I mean, let’s face it — anyone reading this article has encountered someone that is all Grapple in CTF to the point where it is obnoxious, and almost a built-in game engine scam for unscrupulous players to exploit. They don’t run or jump or use the architecture, they just grapple up into a dark corner and Rail you while you hop up the stairs using your feet like a total idiot. Many CTF levels are designed de-facto and use of the Grapple isn’t really considered when composing them. Barge requires intimate familiarity with the Grapple, and in fact the map would be more or less unplayable without it if only because there is no way to get up onto the deck of the barge without employing it. I love art that makes me learn stuff, and CTF_Barge taught me how to use and appreciate the Hook out of sheer necessity. Brilliant.
This is also the map that best utilizes and demonstrates the effectiveness of SiN CTF’s incredible Heliguns. One of my favorite ways to play the map is to go on defense, find the Double Damage and just hang around the Heligun on my team’s side of the barge, covering the tugboat base. When an enemy player makes his running dive for the flag greet him/her with a nice shower of suped up lead — since the Heligun has unlimited ammo you can spare the extra rounds and just bombard the structure until a couple hit home. And if you time it so that they get mowed down after picking up the flag you can score some extra points by Grappling to the boat and reclaiming the flag. Just make sure you don’t sit on the Heligun clueless of who may be sneaking up behind you: players are actually never more vulnerable to an attack from behind than when on a Heligun. One well placed Shotgun round can often end the reign of a Heligun King, as I have painfully learned from many such ambushes. Heligun junkies make for great sucker frag opportunities.
There are only two things that “bother” me about this map. Just what is this barge hauling? Boxes of something bound for the Freeport Stockyards, maybe. Vats of liquid located in the dead center [and spanned by a beautiful catwalk] that serve some useful purpose, perhaps. But what is that liquid? (Looks like plain water to me, and yes I have hopped into each of them for a quick swim, being the fool I am.) Also, in spite of the fact that the barge’s enormous, deadly propeller spins very nicely at the bottom rear of the craft, there is no current or motion to the water except the point where something sucks you into the propellers to be chopped up like a Mafia victim. If you fall or hop over the edge, you stay in the same place instead of drifting away. Then again, I’m not sure how a general current could have been worked into the design [maybe you could have been washed to the aft end of the boat and then sucked to the bottom to drown … I don’t know, only suggest], and as with all kickass maps you really won’t miss it in the heat of battle.
Each of SiN’s impressive arsenal of weapons is placed in logical and distinct locations, player starts are all located near a significant weapon or powerup, the locations of the armor and health items is easily learned and readily accessible, and the convincing nature with which the level’s architecture is rendered makes me forgive the sometimes cartoonish primary colored textures. The map lacks the grimy, grungy, weather-beaten look of the OilRig, but what the Hell — you play the game to get a few caps and frag or be fragged, not admire the pretty scenery. Having the level competently and professionally executed in such an imaginative way is just gravy on top of the game itself, and CTF_Barge does a marvelous job in capturing the ‘essence’ of SiN as a game; there is even an ATV bike down in the lower hold somewhere (though I myself have never stumbled upon it), a wonderful example of artistic overkill. This level just would not work with any other title, even with the CTF accouterments.
So here we have it, a map that I waited almost three years to play and review. It is among the best maps in the SiN Gold package and one of the most logical and inspired levels ever conceived of for a teamplay mod. CTF_Barge was in fact the first of the SiN CTF levels I ever saw [it’s the first map in the default string of CTF levels] and makes up for all of those horrifying ThreeWave QuakeWorld, Quake II and Quake III CTF games I suffered through while hoping for something like this to end up on my drive.
It was worth the wait.
Visit Squonk’s Mac oriented SiN website for custom map and skin downloads and other goodies at http://www.squonkamatic.net/sin.