Level: BtB2011 - For a Handful of Red Sand back home search
Author(s): Bigfoot
total rating:9.22 Gameplay &
Objects &
Sound &
Lighting &
afzalmiah 9 10 10 10
Akcy 9 9 10 9
Andzia9 9 9 10 10
Blue43 9 9 10 10
cho7 10 10 10 10
Christian 8 9 9 9
Diz 10 10 10 10
DJ Full 8 10 9 9
dmdibl 9 10 10 10
Drakan 10 10 10 10
EssGee 8 8 10 8
eTux 7 10 9 8
Glouglouton 9 9 10 10
Jay 10 10 10 10
Jerrod 10 9 10 10
JesseG 8 8 9 8
Jorge22 10 10 10 10
Jose 8 9 10 9
Josey 10 10 9 10
Magnus 7 7 7 7
manarch2 9 9 9 9
Matie 9 10 10 9
MichaelP 8 9 9 9
Minaru 8 10 9 10
Mman 9 10 10 9
Mulf 7 8 8 9
Mytly 8 10 10 9
Nina Croft 10 10 10 9
Phil 9 9 9 9
Raymond 7 9 9 9
requiemsoul 8 8 9 10
Ruben 10 9 9 9
Ryan 9 10 10 9
Scottie 8 9 10 10
Sethian 8 8 9 9
Shandroid 10 10 10 10
Soul 7 10 10 9
TheStig 9 9 10 10
Treeble 9 10 10 10
category averages
(39 reviews)
8.72 9.31 9.54 9.33

Reviewer's comments

"The first high quality entry in the contest. This game was, IMO, excellent. It also has a unique premise being set on Mars. It is a very long entry, but don't miss it. The secret area is a must see too, perfect for our Lara(;. A must play." - Ryan (20-Mar-2016)

"Plausibly the most time-consuming adventure of the pack, with net time reaching above two hours as we run around to light numerous fires, push many tables and solve lots of memory puzzles. Some keys require a great effort to be picked up and even getting the crowbar visible from the beginning takes the whole first half of the game (at one point after opening so many subsequent doors I wondered if I didn't miss the proper way to get that item, but it appeared to be all planned this way). At this game length, a vast number of levers might be sometimes tedious, but the riddle sophistication needs a word of respect and areas we unlock this way are always worthy to be seen. Unfortunately, thunderstorm sounds make some audio triggers very difficult to notice, and those used are not enough - I especially missed a sound of solution which should boost up relief after the task is done at certain crucial pickups. However the biggest disappointment for me was that I kept seeing the Martian surface through all those nice windows but I never actually got outside to walk the red sand, what made me feel like trapped in a cage. Still the interior is extensive, so I hit the sprint key many times, able to feel a lot of space to roam everytime I forgot about those windows. In the end I unlocked the secret zone, but I felt that while the all- secret finale is brilliant, the normal one isn't fulfilling enough, because lots of revolver bullets collected through the game allowed me to finish the whole ending guardian batch within seconds. SUMMARY: Recommended for its unique setting and beautiful, life-blooming locations, but reserve a lot of time and memory for it." - DJ Full (15-Nov-2013)

"This is more like it! After reviewing two ok, but perhaps uninspiring Btb2011 releases I was starting to think back to basics had lost some of it's Mojo! Thankfully "For a Handful of Red Sand" brings the bar back up to a high level and shows what can be achieved with the materials provided. What I loved more than anything else was that it was set on Mars! When you finally climb out of the industrial areas and look up to the fast moving deep red Martian sky you really do feel like you're on another planet! Texturing and lighting are exemplary, and the level is nicely structured. Make sure that you pick up the two secret keys too because otherwise you'll miss a chunk of fun (if challenging) gameplay. Music queues and ambience fits each area well. The block puzzles were straight forward enough and the timed runs were also generous enough to stop players from becoming frustrated. All in all I netted just over 3 hours from "For a Handful of Red Sand". An excellent level from the BTB 2011 competition and highly recommended. Stiggy :)" - TheStig (26-Aug-2012)

"Wow doesn't begin to describe this level. It starts out with an adrenaline rush which is ever present until the very end of the game, although along the way the pace does drop with the many pushblock puzzles and significant amount of key collecting. The environments are well crafted and quite immersive, and it's unusual how behind every door there seems to be an area larger than the one you just left. Quite a number of times I was running around like a headless chicken, only to find that, in the end, what I was looking for was nothing but a lever hidden behind bushes - so whenever you play this, double check all the walls if you must. There's just so much gameplay crammed into this level that even if you wanted to, you couldn't remember everything you've gone through when you finally reach the finish line. So far, my favorite level in this year's BtB, but I still have another ten levels to go so this might change. 135 minutes, 2 secrets. 09/11" - Treeble (11-Aug-2012)

"I tested this level and I must say I was amazed by the quality. it was the first level of Bigfoot and it was very good. There is an excellent lighting, great textures, gameplay is very good and the icing on the cake> if you find 2 keys (secrets), you can make a bonus game (perhaps the most difficult in the level) which is very agreable.There are a lot of work to do to get to the end of level. There is nothing difficult to do, maybe the jumping on the trapdoor with the torch to get a key for the bonus. Highly recommended and congratulations Sylvain." - Drakan (07-Dec-2011)

"Beautiful but very difficult level. Lot's of timed runs, hard traps. Objects and textures are quite nice. Garden, train station, square - all things in Mars - are made this game very interesting and very dreamlike." - Andzia9 (21-Nov-2011)

"Gameplay: There is a large feeling of wandering without a clear goal, and a lot of backtracking is asked of the player. Another issue is the hang glider on a roof which is only usable once, possibly getting you stuck (or forced to drop down and lose health). There is too much torch action in general and it gets overwhelming after a while. However, those timed trapdoor jumps with the torch were a nice challenge, and one pushblock puzzle in particular was clever (in the train area).
Objects: Most of the decor is good, but some enemies will appear out of thin air when triggered. The large trees get in a way and make it hard to see, while there are some oddly placed objects...who would set up a lamp and a glass table on the cart of a train? The author seems to be obsessed with pushable tables and raising blocks, and it gets hard to keep track of them all. The secret route was great fun.
Textures: The caves are sometimes wallpapered, and some random vent tiles in the train area make Lara burst into flames without any explanation. Otherwise, the looks are good.
Atmosphere/Cameras: This was the best aspect of the level. The feeling of being on mars was great, and the way you could look into a telescope to check out earth in a camera shot was a nice creative touch.
Overall: The mars setting sets this apart from other levels and it is pretty fun to play, although I wish it was a bit less complex in structure. Finished in 2:15:55." - SSJ6Wolf (14-Nov-2011)

"Travel to Mars. The gameplay is well balanced between exploration & action, nothing is too hard or too easy for find all puzzles. There's a nice variety of enemies: flying machines, ninjas, dogs, crows, dragon(bonus). Rather varied puzzles and even an awesome action-packed secret area for those who manage to find 2 keys. A timerun quite difficult with the torch It was a pleasure to play this game, highly recommended." - cho7 (01-Nov-2011)

"This time Lara will have a dangerous ride in Mars. If the player is skillful, she'll be able to go back to Earth, of course. Gameplay is often fluid, but there are several timed runs too tight though. Ambience is good with a good use of lights and textures to recreate the planet atmosphere. Perhaps an abuse of moveables for the puzzles, but generally you'll get fun. Correct enemies, enough ammo, appropriate cameras and flybies; really a nice game. Also the secrets to get access to the bonus area are not very difficult to find, but if you miss it you'll lose an interesting part of the gameplay. Recommended." - Jose (16-Oct-2011)

"After the first 20 minutes I had the feeling that I'm really in for a treat. The level had a great flow and looked great with its rather strange setting on mars. Gameplay also offered a big variety of tasks including torch puzzles, raising blocks that needed to be raised /lowered to give Lara access to a pushblock and some nice jumping sequences. Sadly this feeling somehow vanished after the 3rd set of torches Lara found and got turned into annoyance after the 3rd raisingblock that needed to be activated in order to give Lara access to the 4th pushblock. It's a real shame that such a nice game with such great atmosphere and and fitting lighting has such repetetive gameplay! After 3 hours I was really happy that I have finally finished this game, i did however find 2 secret keys and thus got access to some kind of bonus level. As a matter of completion I entered this area and was expecting the 6th set of pushblocks with raisingblocks and the 10th pile of wood that needed to be set alight but what I got was completely different: Two nice mirror puzzles, a hard timed run, an action packed sliding sequence with two ghosts chasing me and a great final boss - I loved it! That said I think that this game would have done a lot better without its middle part. If some parts of the secret area were integrated in the real game it would get highest marks from me, but with this rather tedious middle-part that lasts for about 2 hours I just can't give gameplay more than 7 points. A must play and it's highly recommended to find both secret keys!" - Soul (16-Oct-2011)

"Setting a level on Mars makes a welcome change from the base/cave levels of this year's Back to Basics competition, even if this level is mostly just a base... on Mars. The glimpses you get of the surface of Mars are nice, with the red lighting making it look eerily otherworldly. The rest of the level looks good, though perhaps it's lacking any really impressive rooms. One of the more impressive rooms is the train yard, which is also home to some fun gameplay, as you slowly get closer and closer to the key you're after. It can be a bit annoying, though, as it's easy to get stuck because you've missed a switch and don't even know that that's what you're looking for. The same goes for various points in the level, where you'll find yourself scratching your head because you've missed a hidden switch somewhere. Not fun. But for the most part, the level is pretty fair, with some fun challenges, like making your way higher and higher in a courtyard or a couple of short timed runs. Pushable blocks are used cleverly a couple of times, though you'll soon get sick of pushing things around all the time - there are a lot of pushable boxes and tables in this level, and often you're just pushing them across a room. I finished the level after an hour and twenty minutes, but finding two hidden keys adds another ten minutes, as you make your way through the most action-filled part of the level. In the end, this is a level that's sometimes annoying but overall enjoyable. Not the most Mars-like of the space levels out there, but definitely more than just a handful of red sand." - Magnus (15-Oct-2011)

"This was technically the first BtB2011 level I played, as I post-beta-tested it way back in July. I was completely blown away by it then. And now, upon replaying it after finishing all other BtB2011 levels, I find that that impression still remains.
The main premise of the level is really unique, though I was a bit disappointed that Mars itself is seen only in tantalizing glimpses outside glass windows and domes. The gameplay mainly involves finding a large number of puzzle pieces and keys, as well as tracking down the appropriate puzzle-/key-hole, which more than likely is on the other side of the map. There is a huge amount of backtracking, and you'll certainly need a good memory to keep track of all the separate threads being woven into this complex and gigantic level. The puzzles are mostly in the form of switch/key-opens-door, but that's not always a bad thing, especially when multiple such mini-puzzles are combined into one big puzzle area such as the railway station or the city area.
The looks are mostly very good, though there were a few areas where I felt the lighting was a little dull. The builder has made full use of all the numerous plant objects in the wad, which results in very 'green' locations, including places like the railway station, where you wouldn't normally expect plants. They create an overall lush-yet-slightly-dilapidated atmosphere perfectly.
All of the above applies only to the main part of the level. If you find the two secrets, they give you access to special secret area that comprises about 20 minutes more of gameplay (and could easily have been a mini-level by itself), and that too in an area with a different look, atmosphere and enemies than the main part of the level, plus some great puzzles, timed runs, traps and a boss fight! The quality of the secret area is a notch or two above the rest of the level - it's a bit strange that the builder chose to concentrate his/her creativity on that, instead of spreading it more evenly across the level. I have followed eTux's method of scoring, so the gameplay marks apply to the main part of the level, and the secret scores to the secret area.
Overall: Undoubtedly one of the best levels in BtB2011, and one of my personal favourites. Highly recommended." - Mytly (15-Oct-2011)

"This level looks good right from the outset, and grabs your interest by providing a different setting on the harsh red planet - Mars. The outdoor planet areas look stunning with their red glow, as do the industrial areas. The believability fell when the classic architecture was introduced. It just didn't look right in this setting. I understand the plight of the builder wanting to use as many components of the BtoB wad as possible, but this seemed unnecessary and out of place. I think I would have been much more convinced if the areas had been maintained with the industrial style. Nonetheless what is provided is structurally appealing and very well lit, providing an atmosphere that makes you want to explore onwards. The builder really embraced the Steampunk concept particularly in the train station area. The main issue I have with this level is that it is somewhat over-indulgent, containing at least 2+ (or 3+ in my case) hours of net gaming. Normally I'd be more appreciative of this generous offering, but this is a competition level where the suggested gaming time is around 1 hour. If I don't get through all the levels by the end of the competition it will be because of this excessive game length. There is an old saying in rock music circles that if you can't make a statement in a guitar solo in 16 bars then it it ain't worth saying. I think the same goes here for competition levels - Quantity is not necessarily better. I would have been far more impressed if this had been compacted down to an hour of gameplay. Negatives aside, this is right up there as one of the higher quality offerings for this year's competition, and ticks all the boxes in terms of textures, geometry, lighting and atmosphere." - EssGee (14-Oct-2011)

"This was a really enjoyable level, and one of the best of BtB this year in my opinion. The gameplay flows smoothly all the way throughout, and there are only minor problems with getting stumped from time to time. Some of the timed runs were a little tough, but eventually they can be accomplished too. I do think the builder overdid it a bit with the multiple torch puzzles and multiple pushable block puzzles. However, I guess they were trying to make use of as much as possible from the wad, and to stretch the level out for as long as it could handle. And yes, the level does seem to drag on a bit from time to time, and you wonder when it will end, however each area is actually fun and the challenges are enjoyable. I was able to access the secret area, and sadly I must say that that was the only big letdown after the rest of the level being so good, but I did think that just the fact that the builder made an effort to include a secret area and give the secrets some meaning makes up for that. Enemies are used well for the most part - such as keeping the more supernatural ones like ghosts, raptors, and the giant mutant to the secret area, and the more realistic ones like the ninjas to the human Mars settlement. However, I did feel that the foxes and crows were a bit out of place... especially the crows. I did like the underwater snake though, especially when you get to see it through the aquarium glass. Objects are also placed well: architecture is presented very nicely; pickups are generous and easy to spot, as are the keys one has to find. My only problem was with some switches that blended too much into the walls, and other switches hidden far too well behind plants, causing one to get lost and roam forever with not a clue as to what's going on. The first secret was great: extremely challenging getting Lara up those timed platforms with the torch-in-hand, but because it's for a secret I think that challenge is fitting. The second secret is a bit of a letdown sadly. It's basically impossible to miss since it reveals itself after a timed raising block goes down again... which means everyone and anyone can get it. Either way, I enjoyed having a secret area as already mentioned, even though I did think that the first key was hidden a bit badly in that dark room with the mirror reflection, and I was only able to find it when encouraged on the forum to use the binoculars. The atmosphere is really good. The builder's use of music and ambience is well chosen, and the outside area that we get to see of Mars really does feel like another planet, adding to the way the story is told in this level which is very good. Making it through to the abandoned railway station also has some great atmosphere and puzzles. The builder's use of cameras is thankfully great. Cameras are used almost always in order to show you what a switch just accomplished which in a huge and complex level like this is very helpful. Texturing and lighting is great, even though some areas are a little to pink and purple for my taste. However, an attempt has been made with the tga given to indeed create as realistic an environment as possible, and I think the builder succeeded with this. A really cool level that I encourage everyone to play." - Sethian (11-Oct-2011)

"An example of a level where a little less could have been more. It does start with a nice opening flyby and for me had a really nice and logical flow after letting you in with a breaktile run and a timed run right off the bat. It almost felt linear in the sense that I was always clear where to go next and what to do next. The views of the outside Mars world are nicely designed and enhance the atmosphere of the adventure considerably. Exploring the mines and working your way around lava streams was fun. The first timed trapdoor run with the torch in hand did take a few tries and I would not be surprised if the average player would be giving up at this point. But then - after the first hour or so, it all goes downhill a little bit, because the to & fro backtracking becomes a bit more extensive and the climb, shimmy and especially the pushing of boxes and tables sequences become longer and longer and more and more repetitive and tedious - thus spoiling the overall impression of the level a bit for me. Thankfully, the train station and how the train is used to build gameplay around is makes up for it a little bit and at the end you get a full 20 minutes of extra gameplay if you found the two secret keys. Gameplay that really would have served the actual main level better than some of the push exercises, with its mirror rooms, slide sequences, alternating pillar jumps, breaktile runs and dragon fight. Bottomline, it is one of the longer and one of the better levels of the contest, but does not quite make it into my personal top three this year. [2:22, 2/2 secrets]" - MichaelP (09-Oct-2011)

"This level takes place on a quite unique place, planet Mars. You can even glance outside several times and see the stormy environment of the planet. The game starts inside, immediately with a run through breakable tiles and spikes, this 'introduction' shows that the adventure won't be just a walk in the park... There are many challenging timed runs, none of which are repetitive, I actually found them fun to do, especially the trapdoor sequence that you can make with and without the torch. At first you can find many doors, it makes you wonder where you're going to collect all these items that are needed to open all of these. But as soon as you find the place to start you can progress nicely, there are some great tasks on the way. There's a small amount of backtracking involved, but it's done well, as during gameplay you slowly progress back towards the beginning again. The gameplay is quite challenging at some points, thinking and open eyes are needed. I liked the trapdoor sequence in the outside(ish) area, also gazebo pushable puzzle was very well done, the puzzles in the train station area were great, too. Just before the end you can enter a bunch of extra rooms if you have found the two secret keys. I also visited that area, now that was the perfect ending! The fast-paced sequences, interesting tasks, beautiful rooms were brilliant, the happenings after placing the Heart surprised me and made me say ‘wow’!
There’s a nice variety of enemies: flying machines, ninjas, dogs, crows, dragon. The objects were used very well for decoration and also for gameplay. The secret system is excellent, make sure you don't miss the two secrets, the secret area is a perfect ending for the level with its nice challenges and beautiful rooms. There are very nice camera views that also show the outside rooms where you cannot get to; they’re also helpful and the flyby sequences were well done, too. I also loved the idea of being able to see Earth through the telescope. The atmosphere is perfect, especially the ouside Mars atmosphere spices everything up nicely, it gives more depth to the level and keeps it true to the story of it. The music tracks were used properly, as well as the background audio, that was always fitting. Lighting was really good, perhaps a bit more contrast would have looked just wonderful. The texture placement was great everywhere, no wallpaper effect, is was well varied.
Completing this one took me two and a half hour to complete (according to the statistics only, in reality it was much more of course). It’s definitely one of the best entries, highly recommended to play!" - Matie (08-Oct-2011)

"First of, the story takes place in an alternate universe/timeline means that it is, in fact, not uchronian. Anyway, the location choice did this wad justice, I liked adventuring in this settings on Mars, and the glances to the reddish outside were great moments. As well as the glimpse through the telescope to Earth. A well designed level and quite a big one with many various areas, storerooms, living area, train station etc. Excellent gameplay throughout with lots of interesting tasks, pushblock and torch puzzles, timed runs, even though the allotted time was too generous in every case. What's with all the torches by the way? I counted 11 but we need just the 1, what an overkill. I prefer to be given just as many as needed, then it is the player's responsibility to hang on to it. Good texturing and object placement. The first kite was perhaps unnecessary and ended up with a wing inside the wall. An extensive secret area in the end with great jump sequences. Very good level, highly recommended." - Akcy (29-Sep-2011)

"Being a bit late to the party, I had already read, that there are quite a few lengthy games represented in this year's competition. At 2 hours and 15 minutes of net gaming when all was said and done, this game turned out to be one of those. While I still disliked the duration issue because of some of the lazy tactics that are almost always characteristic to such games and are present here as well, I must admit I did not feel the length so much this time. Maybe Moonlight Legacies (and outside the competition, but about at the same time frame - Vinci's The Great Obelisk) had already stretched my tolerance meter for the matter, but somehow it seemed less of a drag. Sure, the movable object puzzles, while sometimes clever in a TR-logic way (now really - what would have kept Lara from simply crawling under the table to get those vital keys or use a long stick to reach those high levers in real life instead of going through all this elaborate shenanigans with raising platforms and moving boxes and tables?), seemed to drag on as much as possible, torch puzzles reoccur enough to make an average 3-level series that employs them green with envy and the main gameplay relies far too much on flicking numerous switches. But to be fair - the unjustified length and lack of imagination as far as the main gameplay is concerned is pretty much the worst thing you can say about the level. The looks are competently solid and inoffensive, with some fairly nice areas and effects (the botanical garden, the train station, the outside Mars landscapes you can't reach (probably for a good reason), the nice effect with the telescope) thrown in for good measure. While the main gameplay gets mundane after a while, it flows considerably well and is generally intuitive enough to make sense without much outside help. The 2 secrets are not too hard to find, and if you want to get the most out of your experience here I would urge you to do so, as the absolutely best slice of gameplay-pie is kept hidden in the secret area you can unlock shortly before finishing the game. It's actually quite perplexing, as the diversity of that section alone is almost head and shoulders above anything you will find in the main level, so I couldn't help but wonder and second-guess what the motivation could've been to put it away where players could potentially miss out on it entirely? True, it is generally more difficult than any other task in the level - but if that was the main concern - why not just involve a watered down version of any of the tasks in the main gameplay? Whatever the case - I decided to reflect the scores for the main gameplay and that of the secret area separately via the 2 categories, just to illustrate the difference it made for me. All that said - this certainly amounts to one of the better levels of this year's competition, so very much worth the effort." - eTux (25-Sep-2011)

"My judgement was swinging between a 9 and a 10 in the gameplay and puzzles department and then I said to myself "why would I punish the level for being tough in ways when everything adds up so well anyway?". It's a winner, undoubtedly, with great sounds, settings, textures, rather varied puzzles and even an awesome, action-packed true secret area for those who manage to find a couple of keys that aren't too hard to find so that only a few would ever get there. I liked the red clouds flying above Mars and was sorry I couldn't get out there even for an instant - but it was worth the look at least. And I wonder what kind of civilization built all those somewhat classic/steampunk places somewhere in the Red Planet... No handful of red sand but quite a lot of great taste entertainment. Very well done!" - Jorge22 (20-Sep-2011)

"This is a challenging but not a sadistic level. And yes, there is a difference. I decline to reward the latter with top scores, no matter how excellent they may prove to be (so get yourself prepared, [i]Madness[/i]). On the other hand, this is a very long level. Although I was assisted by Dutchy's well-prepared walkthrough, so that I knew where to go and what to do when I got there, my game clock showed two hours and forty-eight minutes at the end. I reviewed the rules of the competition, and I quote: "The 'Back to Basics' challenge is to build a single level of about one hour net gameplay with every builder using only the supplied wad and texture set for BtB 2011." Since it is generally accepted that the longer levels tend to receive higher scores, all other things being equal, is it fair to award high marks to an otherwise excellent level that has so blatantly violated the rules? Indeed, is it fair to allow such a level to compete at all? Those are tough questions. I've compromised by docking each rating category one point, although under normal circumstances I probably would have awarded at least one 10 in a category. These preliminaries out of the way, I found that [i]Red Sand[/i] provided some wonderful tests for the fair to average raider. I did everything here legally and by the book, I'll have you know, so by definition just about anyone who has played Tomb Raider for a while should be able to get through this one (although I do believe that having the walkthrough close by will avoid a great deal of unncessary frustration). There are three timed segments with collapsing platforms that I can recall, each of which presented a different challenge. And near the end there's a breaktile run around blind alleys that took me a while to conquer. Not to mention the disappearing pillars puzzle that gave me fits, even though I followed Dutchy's advice and saved after each successful jump. Finally, a good chunk of that time on my game clock was occasioned by an inexcusably tedious pushblock puzzle in the train station. In sum, this is an exhilerating adventure that should place high in the final BtB standings, even though it's nearly three times as long as it should have been." - Phil (19-Sep-2011)

"Right away I have to say that this one was one of my personal favorites from this contest. I really liked the layout of the map, especially the hallways with the view to the red planet's surface, the mining area with the lava and also the train station and the large courtyard area. The game play was excellent throughout, and had everything from agility tests to clever block pushing sequences, although I have to admit, that I got stuck quite a few times. Some tasks were rather complex as there has to be a bit from and to for getting to an item, some things were easily overlooked and to add more difficulty there were several very tight timed runs. The add-on secret area was quite another challenge, with more timed runs, and a really nasty disappearing timed pillar over lava room, where it seemed nearly impossible to get the steps and timing right. It is fair to say that this level is definitely not for beginners. There was nothing special about the enemies - just a couple ninjas here and there and a very hard to kill raptor in the end. The builder did an excellent job with flybys and camera hints throughout, although I think a couple more hints - like where to run to after turning the wheel in the train station - would have been nice. The level had beautiful looks with great texturing and lighting and also an excellent atmosphere. Great level - highly recommended! (2h 35min, 2 secrets found)" - Blue43 (18-Sep-2011)

"This level directly starts with a rather difficult agility test with spikes and raising platforms, and goes on with some refreshing gameplay ideas like carrying the torch up some blocks to get a secret (very nice one - in contrary to the very easy second secret) and also some good classic gameplay. The views to the outdoor areas are spectacular and the atmosphere really felt like we play on Mars. The sound could be a bit better chosen in my opinion (the "standard steampunk" sound at the start really didn't fit) at some points, but I don't think this is a big flaw in this level. Soon, this level turns into an exploration level, and this was the clear let-down here, as nearly the same tasks had to be done so many times. Other reviewers already mentioned the iterative raising blocks, which got a bit boring after the x-th time, and I agree to them. Maybe making this level not so long and with not so many raising blocks would have been better here. Eventually you get to a train area, where things didn't change much (too long pushblock sessions, raising blocks) and I didn't like that invisible wall at the end of the railway - if you light a flare, you still can see the black textured wall at the end. However, there weren't so many stuck moments in this level for me, the big advantage was that it was very much flowing and the tasks were mostly clear. I also liked the little courtyard with a lot of tasks to do, maybe a monkeyswing could be more clear to see and at a point there could be less shimmying, but I still enjoyed it. Textures were mostly well applied, but I really disliked some textures in the corridors would much more fit outside, this gave some of the rooms a strange look. Again a minor gripe. I was lucky to have found the two secrets, as the final area you only can enter with the two secret keys was absolutely superb in terms of gameplay with the even slopes, the timed run up the tower and the mirror rooms. Don't miss this one as it makes much more fun and the finale seems more accomplished than without it. A nice usage of the globe item in the final cutscene." - manarch2 (17-Sep-2011)

"A very complex level. A lot of platform-puzzles, very well created in a stunning environment. A bit too much running to and fro and many possibilities to get stuck. A few more camera-hints would have been helbpful. A lot of good ideas show quite a lot of creativity. Very good work!" - Christian (11-Sep-2011)

"This magnificent game is certainly a winner; and I would give it full marks, if it had a few more camera hints to show exactly what some levers do... specially at the gazebo part: how on earth would I guess that using a lever would elevate, behind a door, a ledge that should be retracted to show a crawlspace with an important switch? The train part was also somewhat confusing, but except for these issues the game flows smoothly, with just the right amount of difficulty to spice up things... up to the bonus level, which is mightily difficult. I enjoyed very much the all encompassing cleverness of the game; the puzzles were too good for words. Congratulations and thanks a lot!" - Josey (07-Sep-2011)

"The first back to basics 2011 level I tried to finish. I tried to play the last train to paris but I can't finish it and I thought I would play it at a later time. I thought this level was incredible! I loved it! This auther (Whoever this is) is very talented! Sometimes it does get hard (especially in the bonus level) but thanks to the forum I got through. In the beginning it looks like a level where you will go outside in mars but after you realise you can't go outside. I am actually happy you can't go outside because if you can go outside then it will get too complicated and also the indoor areas are brilliant! The part which I didn't really like was the train station because it was (for me) the hardest part of the game in the normal route. Also it felt haunted and I felt scared! I really enjoyed this level and everyone should try it and they should try to find both secret keys so they can play the bonus level because the bonus level was incredible!" - afzalmiah (06-Sep-2011)

"Very solid and heavy density. Sometimes so much backtracking... but it's a level with a good atmosphere and complete tasks." - requiemsoul (05-Sep-2011)

"Ok, firstly, to be disappointed that you didn't find "a handful of red sand" is your own fault because the title of this outstanding level was drawn from the storyline. The words were supposedly spoken by the first people on Mars. Obviously, people have been on Mars for some time, developing the atmosphere, building and living in an elaborate base, so Lara was not there to discover the place. I, personally, thought this level was absolutely superb and only had a few aspects to it that bothered me. The atmosphere was unique and fabulous. I kept looking up to look at the outside atmosphere and being glad Lara was warm and safe inside. The level flowed nicely and most things made sense and felt right, but don't think you can even attempt this level without your thinking cap firmly in place on your noggin! I was stuck more than a few times. There were block puzzles, but they were not ever boring and tedious. Many block puzzles had to be solved using more than just proper block placement. One puzzle could only be solved by block pushing, switch pulling AND by using a key! I never got bored and I was never frustrated with any puzzle or difficult jumping sequence, etc. I did think that there was a smidge too much backtracking, my least favorite thing, but it wasn't horrid by any means. I was also not a fan of lighting a fire to open a door or raise a platform. That doesn't ever make sense. Also, this isn't a complaint, but the level took me four hours and that is WAY over the hour long time limit. I'm not sure if this would be unfair or not to the other builders, but I would think this not so little oversight would have been recognized fairly easily during building. If any level ran over long, I'm glad it was one I really liked. I loved the telescope and what it shows. I am also VERY happy I found both secret keys, because the author saves many of his or her best segments for the secret route. I can't imagine NOT playing the secret area, it was really great and challenging. I was really impressed with this level and I think I know who the author is and I hope I'm right! No matter, this one was truly awesome and I loved it." - Shandroid (04-Sep-2011)

"No doubt, the author of this level is not a beginner... I'll not say it's my favorite level from this BtB, because it's only the 3rd that I've played, but it's a serious potentiel winner. Gameplay well balanced between exploration & action, nothing is too hard / too easy to find and all puzzles are logical, just take the time except for the timed-runs of course. The "bonus" for the secrets is a poisoned gift, but why not, miss Croft is a masochist after all. :)" - Jerrod (02-Sep-2011)

"After half an hour I thought, this could potentially become a top entry into the contest. The level architecture, the lighting and texturing is of hihg quality, no doubt about this, and the gameplay seemed to be good enough. But this impression faded away from than on. Too much of the same gameplay principles again and again, as Mulf perfetly explained in his review. The rooms often seemed to be constructed in way, that they had been build without gameplay and then some blocks, trapdoors and switches had been placed to create some artificial gameplay in it. So I also was schlepping to the end of this adventure and waited for a nice finale to get the handful of red sand. So at the end I was quite disappointed. A lot of potential is given away. If the level would have been concentrated and polished gameplaywise into an level of half the scope, then this would be a candidate for a top entry. I hope the potential is better used in upcoming levels of the builder." - Raymond (02-Sep-2011)

"The story takes places inside a mars base. This base is not a base like the others. We can find a train station, a gazebo, some ninjas and dinos or plenty of things which don't seem like an alien... But with steampunk we can imagine plenty of things. I like especially the different challenges (not too easy and not too hard) and the different views of the outside of the base. Highly recomended." - Glouglouton (02-Sep-2011)

"The idea of awarding the player for finding two little secrets with an extra level was probably inspired by Cowboy`s Fading Light to find another home in an excellent BtB 2011 adventure. Unlike wasting his time finding extra ammo and health packs that nobody needs anyway the secret present for the player this builder has in store is one that any player will be thankful for . I enjoyed this little adventure very much and can see it in the top rankings of BtB 2011." - Ruben (01-Sep-2011)

"This seems likely to be one of the top three entries in the contest. As a top entry it is elaborate and inventive, and takes 3-4 hours to play. As other reviewers have noted, it is professional in design, in texturing, and in the placement of steampunk wad objects. Lara explores the interior of Mars, an inspired idea, and sometimes windows allow views of the red planet outside, where a terraforming project causes wild storms. Too bad the necessary limits of the wad do not allow more of this, or let Lara go outside. Since Lara is inside, I wished the lighting had been better; it is too unrelievedly gloomy in too many small warehouse-type rooms that occasionally make us forget the grand vision of what is outside. There are two secrets to find, each yielding a key, and these unlock a bonus area that is a must play as a fitting conclusion to this adventure. Because there is so much to find and to do, Lara had trouble at a couple of places. One was at a sort of French chateau, with its sloped fine roof to keep out the rain(?) that falls inside the Martian cavern. Nothing happens in this area until Lara finally stumbles into a lever that is hidden behind a bush. Lara got up to the roof and slid down on a glider zipline--it was clear that something had been missed on the roof. The other spot where play was delayed was in the train terminal. Again, nothing happens until Lara has lit four fires. The fourth fire eluded Lara, even though she repeatedly searched and researched the same areas. Finally, stumped, she was reduced to musing: "There can't possibly be another wood stack. I've searched everywhere except...." This is a long level, so maybe that was why it sometimes feels there is a formula working of switch releases button which lowers raising platform which lets Lara pull back a block or table--altogether a minor quibble compared to all the good stuff here. Excellent design with a superb background idea, a gem of a contest entry." - dmdibl (01-Sep-2011)

"This game starts off well and then - it gets even better. The storyline and setting is ideally suited to the steampunk theme and the brief glimpses of the arid red surface of Mars contrast extremely well with some of the lush indoor areas. The gameplay is fast paced, exciting and well rounded with some lovely agility tests, the hardest of which is for a secret so can be skipped if you prefer, although if you do manage to get both secrets you can access a bonus area, which is just not to be missed - raptors, fire wraiths, sliding floors, morphing tiles, great timed run etc - almost a game in itself. Now that's what I call a bonus. Superb ending sequence too." - Jay (30-Aug-2011)

"After the end of this level (played with the secret area included) I have to say that it was a magnificent job. I like how you progress in different surroundings, from dark deep areas with a sinister scent to an ''open'' garden with so much light and that glassy structure (I found very interesting how some of the windows were breakable so that you could continue pushing the block). I should add that you are really good when it comes to hiding things, such as the lever behind the bush (I needed help out of the forum)and the last yellow secret key which was easy to get but hard to find if you don't keep an eye on what you are doing. The train rail was the most sneaky part for me: I was wandering around the whole place for about an hour before noticing that there was a pushable block near the darkest part of the station. The only issue I don't like so much about the level are the torches. I mean, I liked it the first time, but along my way I did it several times and I thought it was a little bit repetitive. I can't finish without talking about the part I liked the most: the secret area. It was just perfectly made, it was original and you didn't get bored of what you were doing, because every stage was different. It was challenging though you didn't get anxious because of the difficulty (which is something important when you are at the end of the level and you expect and ending soon). I am still puzzled with the gold key for this area, I hope you someday tell us its use. It was a pleasure to play this game, highly recommended." - Minaru (29-Aug-2011)

"It's immediately obvious that this is a level by a builder who knows what they're doing. Although I suspect that when you look at the rooms in the Editor, few of them will turn out to sport any particularly sophisticated geometry, they are put together very well and do not in fact look simplistic or boxy at any point, because the builder has made the best possible use of such objects as the wad provides, and there is certainly variation enough to prevent the level from ever looking repetitive. Texturing too is very well done indeed, the only (minor) issue I have—a pet peeve of mine—is that there was too much mirroring going on, particularly obvious in the case of certain brick textures. I was a little less fond of the way lighting was used; I think it's generally a bit too much on the soft and bright side, thus not allowing for strong contrasts and shadows. It is, however, never plain flat or indeed excessive (the latter arguably applies to the Martian environment, veering towards Xtreme Pinkishness as it does, but this is used to create an effective contrast between outside and inside), and thus obviously intended to help create a consistent atmosphere throughout. Incidentally, the Mars setting is original enough, although for most of the game you can easily forget all about it, the only strong reminder (not counting any glimpses of the outside that you occasionally get inbetween) coming towards the end, when 'using' the telescope and finally in the camera view which ends the level, good and aptly implemented ideas both of them. However, even with all its merits in the design department, I felt rather let down by the gameplay. First, choice and placement of enemies. Yes, the wad in itself provides a selection of enemies that seems oddly out of tune with the 'steampunk' theme, but that does in no way force a builder to have a crow hover over an underground lava pit; indeed I think the level may have been best served without any enemies at all. Then there is an odd imbalance as regards the two secrets: if you get the first, you've seen the level at its toughest; the second, on the hand, is quite impossible to miss. You need both to access a secret area, the inclusion of which in itself is to be unconditionally applauded; however, by the time I reached it I was happy enough to be done with the level. Which brings me to the main problem: I'm quite positive that the level is simply too long. It is very long purely in terms of the hours that you spend with it, but it also feels longer and longer as you're schlepping yourself towards the finish trigger. This is mainly, I think, because of the builder's reliance on only a handful (no pun intended) of specific tasks which keep reappearing (with variations) throughout the level: 'raising blocks' blocking pushables or levers, timed runs over such blocks or trapdoors, and torch puzzles—the latter incidentally not fitting in very well with the setting. I suppose lighting a campfire (or two, or three) in order to magically open a door has become so firmly entrenched a cliche in custom level editing that these days few people ever spend so much as a single thought on the blatant absurdity of this common procedure, but how much more appropriate would it have been (especially given this BtB's theme) if the torch had been used to provide heat for a steam engine, for example. The biggest letdown for me, however, was what could and should have been the grand finale in the train station. Instead of something stunning, say, the firmly established boundary between outside and inside is threatening to break down, and Lara has to stop the roof from caving in or the walls from coming tumbling down—anything really—instead of an imaginative solution of some kind or other, we only get the same things we've done before, many, many, many times before: pushables blocked, a timed run, another torch puzzle, all rolled into one and 'spiced up' by some wilful obscurity (missing or actively misleading cameras, the 'cleverly hidden' switch, the latter another of those things that the player has encountered, sadly, several times before). Still, to end on a positive note, the fact itself that I was entertaining high hopes for the finale in the first place seems to be an indication that all is not lost, far from it. It seems that the builder reserved puzzles of a different kind for the secret area, but I wouldn't have minded to encounter the mirror puzzle, for example, during the course of regular gameplay—it would certainly have made for a nice change. Also, while there is a good deal of backtracking to be done, it's within reasonable limits, and I liked the concept of returning near the beginning of the level in order to pick up the crowbar. So, all things considered, if the level had been condensed somewhat so as to avoid its repetitiveness, and if the more imaginative puzzles hadn't been kept locked away in the secret area, it would have been a very good one indeed. The potential is there, no doubt about it." - Mulf (29-Aug-2011)

"After finishing six BtB2011 levels, I must say that so far, this level is the best. I am sure it will enter the top three BtB levels this year. And here's why I think so: The level is situated inside a base on Mars, and it is amazingly well built. Inside the base we explore some caves and mines, some beautiful gardens, pools, halls and other facilities, and yet, a lot of times we have the view of the outer world which remains inaccessible (logically). The level starts with a bit tricky run over falling tiles, followed by timed run across some spikes, just to give us hints that the whole level will get tricky at moments, but also very ballanced, just like this introductory run across lava room. Puzzles in this level are elaborated to perfection, including some backtracking which is not overdone, to my great pleasure. Some most tricky parts (such as timed run with the torch) are completely optional, and can be skipped completely if you're not too dedicated secrets hunter. Camera hints are there, and it is not very likely to get disoriented here. The most complicated puzzle was in the garden with gazebo, where a player must use one floor lever twice, and it is very unlikely that players would ever think of that by themselves (ah, the sneaky lever!). There is a lot of work to be done in each area of the level, including puzzles with pushblocks, timed runs, torch puzzles etc, but somehow the player has a pretty clear idea what to do and where to go next. As I already said, a perfectly ballanced level. There are only two downsides in this level that I noticed: too much doors to open (for my taste), and badly solved problem of geometry inside the train tunnel. It is never a good idea to build an invisible wall which will prevent Lara of going any further. I enjoyed this fantastically built and ballanced level, even when I got stuck at the moments, I not once had a wish to give up on it. Gameplay is fluent, despite the tight timed runs, pushblock sequences, elaborated puzzles and backtracking. One piece of advice: Make your best to collect two secret keys and gain access to the best part of the level, which represents a cherry on top of the cake. Highly recommendable level, and mostly enjoyable! Well done!" - Nina Croft (28-Aug-2011)

"In this level there are two secrets which are required to get into the bonus part of the level. Any player MUST find the secrets as failing to play the bonus will mean missing out on, possibly, the best of this stunning level. I will only award straight 10's if I can find nothing to criticise and if there's the 'wow!' factor. This has got it in spades! The first thing the payer will notice is the amazing looking areas and scenery but will soon be distracted by the superlative gameplay. Agility tests, timed runs (some are quite tight), baddies to eliminate, puzzles, this level has got the lot. Great use of textures and lighting completes the list. There is a slight deviation from the guidelines of about one hour net gameplay (three hours fifteen) but, who cares? This is a 'must play'." - Diz (27-Aug-2011)

"Irony on
Quite obviously the level builder has not understood the rules from BtB! A rule means which a level should have a playing time of one hour. And not between 3 and 4 hours. A playing time between 3 and 4 hours are a waste of time and money. What could I have not made during the superfluous playing time. Marry, make a driving licence, make a career, play lotto. All I could have done if the level builder had not held me from it. One should exclude him from the contest, extinguish his levels and punish him in future with disregard. Yes, exactly this one should make!
Irony off
OK, the level is maybe really a little bit too long, but there is also a lot to discover. The whole area with the train looks, for example, very good. Quite in general I must say that the level is well built. The problem is only that the level builder has exaggerated it now and again. The player must push too many blocks and tables. And he must run too much to and fro. Though it is always nice if a level has a long playing time, but here would have been less more. A plus are the well formed Flybys. There's nothing wrong with the textures, there the level builder has performed a good work. Apart from the Secret area and the time run with the torch which one had to make if one wants to get the first Secret key this level is well playable for every player. There are no difficult places and the level builder has inserted enough camera hints. The Secret area including the time run to the Secret key is a little more difficult of course. Indeed, both time runs look more difficult than they actually are. A little more difficultly is the run above the crumbling tiles. Though the distance is short, but has two twists about each 180 degrees, thus the player must jump virtually blind onto the next crumbling tile. All together is this a good level which has, however, a few lengths. Less push blocks, less rooms and less to and fro would have been better, then it would have given even more fun." - Scottie (27-Aug-2011)

"This level is set on Mars, and you get various views outside throughout (although you don't go outside). The visuals are mostly great, with some interesting areas and structures (like a sort of indoor town). The setting and backstory also helps a lot; going from the facilities above to the terraformed caverns (including a train station) and strange crypt complex really helps create a sense of place. The only bit that's a little weaker is the crypt, which has some wallpapered textures and weaker lighting, although that might be an issue with a lack of textures to convey that theme properly. The weird floating death animation for the Ninjas I saw in Last Train to Paris is also present, so it's apparently built into the WAD and not something that can be avoided.
There's quite a bit of variety to the gameplay and it flows well. The only issue I had is that there's a few too many "move a block to reach a switch" puzzles in the middle part of the level, which got a bit repetitive. There's also a couple of switches that seemed slightly too hidden, although I did find them eventually. It's highly recommended to find the two secrets (they aren't too hard to discover, although one involves a very tricky trapdoor sequence), as the keys let you access an extra section that takes fifteen-twenty minutes and provides the gameplay climax to the level. While I've only played three levels so far, I can definitely say this is going to be a contender for my favourite level in this BTB." - Mman (26-Aug-2011)
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