Who wants to play single player?
That's the question that most expansion packs ask these days, including the latest Quake 2 Mission Pack from Xatrix (the developer). First, we must examine if anyone wanted to play single player Quake 2 in the first place. The answer to that question is a resounding no. Quake 2 was anticipated solely for its 3D engine and multi-player aspect. ID software is well known for ignoring single player in favor for making the best multi-player games in the world. And that's something they are damn good at.
The first Quake 2 Expansion, The Reckoning, attempts to both expand the multi-player that id is so well known for, but also to make the single player experience more enjoyable. Xatrix has succeeded moderately at both, creating a mission pack with a single player experience somewhat better than Quake 2's, but not quite up to Unreal's, while including some mediocre multi-player maps.
The new maps are somewhat dull for the first half of the mission pack. Although they have new textures, they don't really stand out and many of the levels look just like levels that might have hit the cutting room floor in Quake 2. The later levels though, the ones that take place on a spaceship and on a space station, are extremely innovative and look great. The overall level design is far superior to what was offered in the original Quake 2.
One thing The Reckoning does capitalize on is the hub system, where you have to go back and forth between levels to retrieve items and to open up new locations. It's a system that was made popular in Hexen II, but it is better executed in The Reckoning, and it makes the small number of levels offered seem to be much larger than they actually are.
Since this is a mission pack, of course it includes some new monsters and weapons. Some of the weapons in the pack are uninspired and boring. One, the Phalanx Particle Cannon, fires two glowing balls at a time that act suspiciously like rockets. The second weapon is called the Ion Ripper which simply shoots orange particle beams that bounce off walls, much like Unreal's buzzsaw/ninja star weapon. The only weapon that is really cool is a rip-off of a popular movie. Assuming you've seen Ghostbusters, you're sure to remember how they captured the ghosts in their traps. There is a similar trap in the mission pack that acts just like the one in ghost busters, but if you get sucked into it, you turn into a food pellet that others can eat to replenish life. Although not original, it sure is a lot of fun.
Regrettably, most of the new monsters are modifications of monsters from the original game. Xatrix gave the normal enemy troopers some new weapons, including a blue hyper-blaster, a red ray gun, and the aforementioned Ion Ripper. Not very exciting to say the least. There are two new monsters, one simply revives dead monsters, making it extremely annoying, but the other, the Gekk, is much more interesting. It acts like an amphibian, able to swim in water and able to jump around on land, but it looks more like a reptile that stands on its hind legs. It also has acidic blood, a-la Aliens, that will hurt you if you come too close to it.
The new multi-player levels, while better than what an amateur can make, aren't anything special. The seven different levels, including a modified version of q2dm1, are bland - they aren't horrible but they aren't great, either. These levels don't really add anything to the Quake 2 experience, the built in multi-player levels are much better.
The mission pack is a decent diversion, but unless you really enjoyed Quake 2's single player game it doesn't have much to offer. Unlike last years Quake 1 mission packs, this pack doesn't make a boring single player experience fun, it simply extends it.