Icarus: Alien Vanguard (PC) review
"Shuttlecraft, the first level, is arguably the best introduction to a Doom game I've experienced. It's longer than most and there are a few sneaky little tricks to ensure it's a good bit tougher than expected for the first map. It has this tiny chapel that seems non-threatening and actually is uninhabited when you enter, but things go Silent Hill and it transforms into the sort of nightmarish place you'd expect black mass sacrifices to be held. Not to mention all those imps that appear to ensure you're that sacrifice. Pure gold."
Back in the days of happiness and splendor when Doom 2 reigned supreme over the gaming world, there was a thriving community. Due to the game's source code being available to the public, hordes of people knocked themselves out creating their own levels. You had great ones being created, as well as tons of crap. Hell, even the Columbine kids cranked out a couple before becoming notorious for blasting things a bit more human than the average Hell Knight.
One of the bigger names in the level-making scene was a group known as Team TNT, who became respected enough they caught the eye of Doom's top dogs. Just days before they were supposed to release their first 32-level megawad as freeware online, id Software got in touch and picked up Evilution to be one half of their two-game collection, Final Doom.
While some in the community were happy to see their level-designing peers gain enough respect to "go pro", many were not pleased that a highly-anticipated free release was now something they'd have to shell out money in order to play. These folks branded Team TNT as sellouts. After playing Evilution, I'm not totally sure why so many sets of panties were in a bunch -- the game is competently made with some very nice levels, but there wasn't much that really grabbed my attention, screaming "This is bloody awesome, mate!" at the top of its lungs.
To show their hearts were still in the right place, Team TNT resumed creating freeware for the fans and released Icarus: Alien Vanguard in 1996, giving us more of the same: competent, but not memorable.
I had high hopes at the beginning, though. Shuttlecraft, the first level, is arguably the best introduction to a Doom game I've experienced. It's longer than most and there are a few sneaky little tricks to ensure it's a good bit tougher than expected for the first map. It has this tiny chapel that seems non-threatening and actually is uninhabited when you enter, but things go Silent Hill and it transforms into the sort of nightmarish place you'd expect black mass sacrifices to be held. Not to mention all those imps that appear to ensure you're that sacrifice. Pure gold. I was still feeling pretty damn good through the next level. Even if it is little more than an ugly metallic silver maze, it's still a devilish one, with all sorts of niches where undead soldiers and imps can get the drop on your space marine.
But things started going downhill after that promising beginning. The theme of Icarus is that you're wiping out the forces of Hell inhabiting a gigantic spaceship. To ensure you don't overdose on those metallic silver spaceship textures, many levels will have you either beaming down to a hellspawn-infested planet or entering the ship's various simulation programs. That's cool, but having a number of short levels that aren't particularly challenging or interesting isn't. While I might be completely off-base, I got the idea Team TNT might have been so stung by the criticism received for selling Evilution to id, they rushed out Icarus as quickly as possible to mollify their fans.
Sure, there are a number of cool levels scattered throughout the game (such as secret stage Prestidigitation, where seemingly every action you take causes the terrain to be altered in some way), but so many seem to be little more than placeholders to give Icarus the full compliment of 32. After the first two, there were a number of short, easy levels, with only the upside-down simulation Flipside standing out as remotely enjoyable.
And that's how things were for the entire megawad -- I'd play a very good level and think things were picking up, but would immediately get something mundane to slog through. Right after those kickin' opening levels, there's the short and extremely dull Quarry followed by the barely superior Engineering. The designing tricks used in Prestidigitation had me raising a toast to its designer (Ty Halderman, I salute thee). As for the other hidden map.....I could barely remember any aspect of it mere hours after reaching its exit.
Still, it's not like I can complain too much -- after all, this game was freeware all the way and isn't remotely close to being one of the worst fan-made Doom games out there. Team TNT gives the player some fun levels to work through and most of the lesser ones are short enough to be little more than annoyances. It's not epic or awesome like Requiem or Alien Vendetta, but it's a suitable way for a bloodthirsty chap like me to blast my way through the night.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 05, 2009)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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