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After their brief initial appearance, the expansion packs for id Software's Quake and Quake II have been difficult to find, unless you're the sort who relentlessly stalks ebay and is willing to shell out substantial sums of money for used copies. Hence it came as a boon when id launched almost its entire back catalog on the Steam digital distribution service and the Quake expansions became available either individually or as part of a Quake collection pack. Now that the rarity factor is no longer applicable, let's get down to seeing how the first expansion pack for Quake II, The Reckoning, actually stands up to scrunity.
The Reckoning was made by Xatrix, which also made the gangsta rap shooter Kingpin, and, as Gray Matter Studios, the single-player campaign for Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Being an expansion pack, The Reckoning continues in the same setting as Quake II, the alien landscape of Stroggos, where you, as the archetype lone marine, must make your way through various environments and teach the Strogg once again what it means to mess with mankind...at least the portion of mankind that can carry a warehouse-worth of weaponry, rocket-jump and heal instantaneously with health packs.
The early portion of the game has you moving through rugged limestone caverns on the outskirts of the Strogg fortifications. This is where you meet the first new monster of the expansion, the Gekk. The Gekk is a cousin of Quake II's Mutant: He can leap about and has a clawed melee as well as a ranged acid-spitting attack. He can also swim (with some decent animations devoted to the same), but getting out of the water seems problematic, and he then becomes a sitting duck (pun intended) for your trusted shotgun. Following this you go through sewers and some other nondescript areas, which creates doubts as to the quality of this expansion pack. Several of the maps in the first “unit” are more the stuff of amateur mod-teams, with some archetype bad level design syndrome like having the only entrance to a room from a flooded pipe...huh? Also the layouts are something of a mishmash, not giving you any proper sense of what place you're in.
Happily though, the level design dramatically improves soon after, and the rest of the game stands up to Quake II quality. There are not many places where the architecture itself is stunning, but the maps are pleasing enough to look at, with some creative uses of colored lighting, and more importantly, fun from a gameplay perspective. The missions in The Reckoning are similar to those in Quake II: fetch so-and-so item, turn off power, place airstrike marker etc. so those looking for novel experiences may be disappointed. However, the combat gets a fresh coat of paint thanks to the changes made in weapons and enemies.
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