Shaky Grounds pt2: Tragedy

by Merlijn v. Oostrum

(451) views since Oct 2018

Released: 2017-10-26
Mode: SP, DM, COOP
Difficulty Settings: Yes
Featuring: 1.4+, EDuke32
Sound/music: Music
New Art: No
New Cons: No
Score: 98

Review by Aymeric Nocus (ck3D) on April 2023

The direct continuation of Apocollapse, Tales of Tragedy not only picks up on Merlijn's original direction that he had established with the prequel but also refines it in a variety of ways to the point where it's obvious how despite only one year having passed since the first map's release, the author's vision for Shaky Grounds has had the time to mature and this is essentially what Tales of Tragedy announces, as though to rectify a formerly loose aim.
If some of Apocollapse felt a bit like an experiment which mostly resulted in interesting and/or spectacular findings, but sometimes at the cost of the occasional gameplay hiccups around the seams, Tales of Tragedy perspires confidence and now mercilessly imposes the episode's rule set.

Some fundamental moments from the first map make a comeback so literal they almost feel ported over: the giant fault to cross is back, the firefights are tough and resources as precious as they are scarce, environments involve some open urban landscapes with a lot of detailed sector work which successfully structures them into arenas, and also Build design porn with torn terrain towering all around, and plenty of timed dynamic effects. Everything just feels a lot slicker however, with tangibly cleaner control from Merlijn as he himself had figured out a more precise perspective.

In comparison to Tales of Tragedy, Apocollapse nearly feels like a demo in that it presented possibilities, and now the author has started learning how to manipulate those. While Apocollapse was action-packed and unwrapped most of itself all at once, basically making for one massive reveal the player would spend their entire traversal taking in, Tales of Tragedy wisely distillates and chooses its moments. The linearity of the progression, which at times felt forced in Apocollapse, is now used as a way to literally drive the player through an unpredictable sequencing of various settings and sceneries (with the gameplay pacing, layout style and atmosphere adapting to match), and those only shine in return with a brighter sense of personality and purpose as the player progressively reveals, explores and conquers each and every one of them.
Leaving a level 'segment' always is made very clear by design or the use of gameplay markers, allowing one to mentally prepare themselves for each next one; except around the corner can never be foretold exactly what's coming which might as well be a rooftop, alien hive, concert hall or even an entire city block at the end which until then most likely looked just decorative from distance. And the originality of the path Duke will need to walk there, through the horizontal remains of a collapsed building across the pit is no less than legendary - and yet an idea Merlijn would, years later, somehow manage to push even further with the folded city in Tales of Tragedy's follow-up: Epicenter

At this point it should go without saying that the author's attention to detail be it audiovisual or, more abstractly, atmospheric is notoriously fantastic and of course Tales of Tragedy is no exception in Merlijn's repertoire. The homemade track here, again, is just as welcome as it perfectly matches the rest of the experience, which only makes sense.

Tales of Tragedy takes the fruits from the seeds Apocollapse had planted and very wisely runs. The presentation isn't as in-your-face as it was in Apocollapse with all the unsorted concepts scattered about in plain sight, and relies on obfuscation a bit more which only benefits the sense of progression, and makes this second installment function better as a video game level. All the insanity from the prequel is still there and in fact, looks better than ever, but it also operates better and that alone makes it a step-up.

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Shaky Grounds pt3: Epicenter
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