Railroad (Tunnel ‘O Love) is a pretty straight forward effort on the fixed geometry with panning background train levels. The primary thing I would change (as evident by the following critique) is how falling off the train affects your score. Overall I think it could look better, especially the engine car at the front, but it works well enough to provide a convincing environment to fight each other in. Especially since you are forced to see everything at once so detail levels were limited.
Railroad/Tunnel Of Love
This week’s offering is a look at probably the most notorious of the deathmatch level, a somewhat mind numbing but cleverly conceived of game level set on a train hurtling through an endless tunnel of death. While I first liked this map a lot, the appeal has kind of waned over the weeks because, frankly, the level is a ball-buster and a great example of why sometimes you really need to have a timelimit set on a game due to the fact that players might loose frags as quickly as they can score them.
Now the idea of a map set on a train speeding through a tunnel has turned up on two other occasions that I am aware of. The most obvious and well known example is the map from Unreal Tournament that is set on a train; I do not have UT so I cannot comment on the map, but have been told by players whose opinions I respect that it is one of the more interesting maps in the game. There is also a 3rd party Quake2 level called Ned’s Train that I actually have on my drive right now and is available in the venerable collection of Quake2 maps to be found at cdrom.com. The Quake2 engine, which Sin uses to such great effectiveness, does indeed support a map author creating a “train” out of building blocks, assigning it an entity value, and setting it in motion. What is so novel about these levels is that they are set in an endless environment that appears to whizz by at great speeds; the train feature is merely placed in the middle of the “room” textured to look like a train tunnel, and it is actually the room that moves and not the train … at least that is my theory of how the illusion is achieved. The bottom line is that it works, and the author of Railroad even went so far as to attach a damage value to the floor so overwhelming that if you fall off the train you are a squished blob of meat.
The result of this amusing feature is that most people cannot help to fall off of the train at some point, which reduces their score, and makes hitting a frag limit more of a chore. In that sense the map is very reminiscent of Quake2’s dreaded Q2DM6/Lava Tomb and Q2DM7/The Slimy Place and Quake3’s DEATH FOG levels, maps that feature an environment that is designed to put players in harm’s way not matter how “skilled” they are. Nothing is more humiliating that making a jump for some ledge with a weapon or item on it you need just to fall off, pitch into a vat of nuclear flesh eating slime and DIE horribly. The same kind of tension is captured by this speeding train of death where even the slightest clumsy twitch will result in your instant and arbitrary death. Railroad is a great example of why you really need to get a feel for how Sin’s player movements work and master the skill, because there are literally dozens of ways to fall off as you hop between cars, clamber up ladders, leap over boxes and get blown across the deck of the train by your opponent’s explosions. It is without a doubt the most nerve wracking map included in the game.
But there is no denying the fact that this map is a Sin level through and through. Not only does it hearken upon the “subway” themes in the single player missions, but it very nicely captures the nuances of the game in its gritty appearance [no Quake2 interstellar space tram here; this is a down to earth grimy looking beat up old freight train] and has a sort of natural tension to it due to the death gimmick. The first time I played this level I was instantly reminded of a scene from a James Bond movie or whatever where 007 is fighting with some huge menacing looking killer goon type on the top of a train [Octopussy, maybe?]. The point being that the map has this sort of theatrical feel to it that represents Sin at its best — the game becomes almost like a movie set, and you are a player in this movie. So on that level I really appreciate this map; too many game maps are just boxes inside of bigger boxes where you run around like an idiot and try to blow each other up. This map has a concept to it, a theme that distinguishes it from all of the other levels in the game … just ask anyone who has ever played Sin what they think of the train level and you will get a reaction, for better or worse. In fact, Sin is blessed with a number of levels that are quite memorable — SinCity, the surreal oversized room of Spry, and the Q3DM17/Longest Yard-anticipating Spool. Most people who have Sin don’t know how good they got it sometimes as far as level design goes.
Thankfully I am here to remind readers, and while I don’t really enjoy playing Railroad as I do some of the other levels, it is very well made and you will see it at some point if you play on the commercial servers. One of the basic hints I can share about the map is to take a look at it sometime on your own and get a feel for two things; where the weapons are placed, and just how to best negotiate the gaps between the cars. While they are not that far apart the motion of the walls as they speed by are disorienting and mess with judgment about distances and speed; if you over jump you will skid off the edge and if you don’t jump far enough you’ll slip off the side. Either way you are dead, and every frag you loose will mean one more you need to get back. The freight cars also have kind of a generic appearance to them: one pretty much looks like the other. But knowing which one you spawn inside of or are running towards is key — all of the cars not only have weapons inside of them but also on top of them, and knowing which ladder to shimmy up could mean the difference between ending up with the Rocket Launcher or the touchy Ion Cannon.
To make the map even more of a pain in the ass, at infrequent intervals there are signs and signal lights protruding from the walls and ceilings that will sweep you off the top of the cars like a broom: if you are lucky you will land on one of the flatbed cars, but more likely you will die. Learn how to duck under them or scoot out of the way. The Sniper Rifle and two clips of ammo are actually located up on top of the locomotive at the front of the train [makes sense], and if you get it you can often enjoy some nice sniping using the scope as you look back over the length of the train and pick off players as they run up and down the ladders or jump up on the car tops for the weapons. Just remember to snipe from a crouching position or you will be swept off, and listen for the sound of players climbing up the ladder to come get you so you can switch out of scope mode and deal with them up close & personal. There is also a little ledge on the train side of the locomotive where the U4 has been ingeniously perched; it took me several tries to learn how to hop off the roof or the ladder just right to claim it, another good example of why it is important to look at these maps on your own and study how best to play them. But keep in mind when you do grab it that the U4 muto leaps high and fast with just the slightest movement — it will suck royally the first time you try to make a jump while mutated and bounce off the train and into the wall and DIE, but them’s the breaks. Get used to it or learn how to control him.
If you scamper around to the front of the car there is sniper ammo and some Spider Mines perched on the small ledge running around the locomotive, and on the opposite side is the Invisibility Cloak. Go back up the ladder and to the front of the car for some cloaked sniping, then when it wears off walk to the front of the car — an Adrenaline powerup is lying on the cab of the locomotive, but again use caution when you grab it because if you don’t propel yourself in the right direction you will bounce off a crate or whatever and DIE. Use the Adrenaline as a way to help you skim the rooftops of the cars and snag the weapons on top, but for God’s sake be careful when you jump back off. At the read of the train a Bio Shield rests on the back platform of the caboose and can provide a great edge towards the goal of surviving long enough to claim the Plasma Rifle and ammo in the last car. You also don’t necessarily have to run through the car to get at the shield — remember that all of the cars have little lips or ledges running around the edges and you can use them to move down the length of the train if you aren’t too big of a klutz. And don’t forget to climb the ladders on either side of the car and grab the Rocket Launcher on top. Ohh yeah. Between all of the train cars are these flatbed cars that have stacks of crates, each of which is equipped with a 50 point health item, but they are sized just big enough so that jumping on top of them is kind of a pain — try walking up to them and pressing your “use” key to claim them like an item or turning a switch and don’t bother wasting time trying to jump up there. Also, these are the ONLY health items included on the whole train. Keep them staked out not only for your own use but to spot a vulnerable player who is desperately trying to jump up and grab one, and go for the sucker frag.
The particular flatbed next to the caboose car has the vital 100 point chest armor item lying opposite a shotgun, and on the other end of the flatbed is a Machine Gun lying opposite two 10 count rocket packs. Grab them, then hop onto the next car, which I think is the most important location on the train because it contains a chaingun, two 50 count boxes of ammo for it, two clips of ammo for the shotgun and, most importantly, a 100 point helmet armor. Grab it and, again, climb the ladders to get on the top and claim your Ion Cannon. Now leap down onto the flatbed between that car and the locomotive; on the close end are two of the odd 10 count plasma/pulse ammo sticks, but opposite them is the 100 point leg armor item to complete your Kevlar wardrobe. Don’t forget the 50 point health jar on the crates as you move to the front of the car where both a Machine Gun and Shotgun lie on the floor … and now we are back up at the locomotive again. Neat.
One of the pluses of this map is that it is relatively small — even just two players can be quite interesting as you stalk each other over the train like James Bond and Jaws, but my favorite games in the level have been when there are a lot of people running around and falling off and dying arbitrarily. Try staking out a car and defend it like a base: the car with the chaingun and Riot Helmet usually works best, if only because you can bet that players familiar with the level will be bidding for that helmet. Wait for them in a corner and mow ’em down.
One last little goodie in the map is actually a feature that I didn’t notice until I was doing screenshots for this article: at one point I hopped off the end of the caboose to document the arbitrary death of hitting the tracks, and after being squished I noticed that the tail of the train is adorned with a license plate. Like from a car. And not just any license plate, but one from Texas. Something tells me that it is in fact the license plate for John Carmack’s legendary Ferrari that Thresh won for being the best Quake player in the world … a little subtle homage with an in-joke for people with access to obscure and meaningless information like I do, I guess.
Visit SooN, Squonk’s Mac SiN oriented Website for custom map and skin downloads and other goodies at http://www.squonkamatic.net/sin .