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Review by: David Laprad
Published: April 5, 1998
You know the designers of a first-person shooter have done an exceptional job when you find yourself pushing the boundaries of sleep deprivation and battling exhaustion to play “one more level.” Recently, I have become somewhat jaded regarding my favorite genre, and rarely play more than a few levels in a single sitting. However, I found myself joyously battling demons deep into the night as I played Portal of Praevus, the official expansion disc for the fantasy-based first-person shooter Hexen 2. Motivating this behavior was a game jam packed with fresh graphics, engaging new environments, brutal creatures, destructive weapons, and a diabolical new player character. Simply put, it is everything an add-on should be, and more. Remarkably, it even manages to improve on the already exceptional quality of its parent title.
The game is bookended by the barest bones of a story, which hardly matters given its focus on action. During the opening, in-game cinematic, we learn it is a cold day in Blackmarsh. Although Eidolon, the final Serpent Rider, has been defeated, evil never takes a day off, and something dark and foreboding is lurking just beneath the blanket of a harsh winter. In a brilliant twist on a closed trilogy, the game summons players into battle against a fiendish wizard named Praevus, who intends to resurrect the souls of the Serpent Riders and use their combined powers to promote his own depraved agenda. The story creates a logical extension of the original trilogy’s narrative arc, and gives the series breathtaking new life. In fact, the stunning finale blows the Gates of Hell wide open for a full-fledged continuation.
The action begins where the previous game ended — at Eidolon’s Lair. During your investigation of the first region, which consists of five, castle-themed levels, you must piece together the clues that lead to Praevus. The second region transports you to the icy Tibetan world of Tulku, a sumptuous environment that contains all-new textures and beautifully constructed alternate realities in the spirit of the far east. Throughout the ten Tulku levels, you must solve simple theme-inspired puzzles and battle your way to a final skirmish with the appallingly powerful Praevus, one of the most sensational and tough-as-nails bosses ever to inhabit a 3D action game.
To encourage smoother gameplay, the level design is more focused than the original title, and less hub-oriented. There is some jumping back and forth between areas, but not much. Thankfully, each level is self-contained, and accommodates a clearly defined set of objectives. The architecture is remarkably inspired, and gives birth to believable, though mildly hypothetical, environments. Although I am a strong proponent of real-world level design, there is nothing wrong with abstract arrangements, especially when they are as mesmerizing and perfectly formed as the levels in the mission pack. That is not to say the game lacks the appropriate details; castles contain crumbling libraries, ornate throne rooms, spider-web filled catacombs, and mystic cauldrons, while the Tibetan levels contain mysterious eastern religious artifacts.
Of course, nearly everything can be destroyed, and many levels have a dilapidated and torn asunder look that suitably reflects the impact of a supernatural war. Additionally, the event scripting has been taken to new heights. For example, in one early level, I jumped on top of a long table, which broke in the center. I then used the angle offered by one tilted end to reach a secret area. Another nice effect is the falling of snow through shattered windows. In fact, almost everything has been modeled to reflect the actions of the player.
Most impressive, however, are the occasional remote points of view, which showcase events that occur when you activate a switch. These episodes feature eye-popping special effects, including entire rooms that morph into new arrangements. Although there are no deathmatch-specific levels, the designs are tight and circular, and encourage fast-paced multiplayer games. My only complaint, and it is minor, is that the levels do not make ample use of vertical space. Many Quake levels stretch as high as they reach wide; the levels in the mission pack are more horizontally-oriented, and the developers missed out on some intriguing design possibilities.
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