VeNgEaNcE's House Of Horrors
single player and deathmatch level reviews for half-life

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USS Darkstar

This map may be well over a year old, but it is one of the best the community has to offer. The author, Neil Manke needs no introduction. He has been around since Quake and amazes everyone with every map he makes. This map however is in my opinion, is the authors finest.

Neil starts as he means to go on with the intro, which is nothing short of spectacular. We are treated to an impressive flyby of the Darkstar itself, sweeping around the ship, past its huge roaring engines until the camara comes to a stop and zooms in on one of the windows. Barney is knocking on your door telling you to wake up. Yes, yet again you play good old Gordan Freeman, and yet again he's slept in too long (me and Freeman share many qualities). After this impressive introduction you are left in your room ready for work.

The problem with a lot of Half-Life maps is they start good but the quality soon slips. With Darkstar this is not the case. The most impressive thing about this map is the atmosphere, which this map carries in truck loads. I think that Neil achieves this better than others thanks to his use of ambient sounds. Everywhere you go, you can hear humming computers, dripping water and the roaring engines I mentioned before. I think that the little touches in this map are what makes it come alive. For example, a scientist trying to get a game to work, autopsies, cargo ships landing, malfunctioning machinary and one touch I especially liked, steam coming off a cup of coffee (tea for us Brits).

Ok, so I've said this map looks and 'feels' really nice, but how does it play? Well you'll be pleased to hear that this map excels in gameplay just as much as looks. Darkstar is more the thinking mans (or womans) map. Neil provides us with some well thought out puzzles which are not too tricky but keep you entertained. The combat is also well pulled off, Neil keeps the player of their toes with his cunning use of suprise attacks (wait until you come to the area where the scientist is being barbacued and you'll see what I mean). Another thing I like about this map is the fact that it moves away from the standard grunt-fests we see these days (in fact in this map there's not a grunt in sight).

The lighting in Darkstar is pretty much perfectly executed and adds to the already brilliant atmosphere. In terms of architecture this map does not dissapoint. The exterior of the ship is amazing and I wouldn't be suprised if Neil got asked to build a real one for NASA. The inside is also entirely believeable, and is furnished with many computers and wonderfully built Zoo exhibits. Neil also shows us that he knows how to keep the ageing game engine under control. He generally keeps the r_speeds low and they only go over 500 once or twice. Darkstar is also successful in its item placement. If you look hard enough you will be rewarded with better weapons much earlier. Ammo and health are also scattered generously around the map. You do need to search a bit to find ammo though (realistically though I don't think ammo usually lies around on the floor) but this is not a problem. The last thing I should mention about Darkstar is the voice acting, which is superb. This use of custom sentences really helps make the player feel more involved.

Fantastic doesn't even begin to describe this map. You'll be hard pressed to find something as good as this. Neil's later maps may be technically better, but for me they lack the magic that Darkstar seems to have. My only problem with Darkstar is that it has to end eventually. If you do not own this superb map then download it now, or get your head checked!