Updated: September 23, 2013
Sauerbraten is one of the first Linux games I ever reviewed, back in 2008. It was a simple, no-nonsense shooter, based on the Cube 2 engine, with both single and multi-player modes, quirky maps, decent graphics, and a solid dose of entertainment. The game reminded me of the good ole Doom, plus several Quake-based friends and rivals like Nexuiz, OpenArena and others. All in all, it was one of the better candidates for FPS fun on Linux.
Fast forward five years, some of old open-source game engines feel rather, well, old. Plus, with the phenomenally refreshing breakthrough of the Steam gaming platform and proper commercial gaming on Linux starting in early 2013, embodied in the likes of crazy yet utterly fun and professional titles such as Team Fortress and Serious Sam AKA Make Dedoimedo Vomit game, you might think the dinosaurs like Sauerbraten deserve the backbench, to be relegated to history, to be packed and sent to the geriatrics division in your nearby digital hospital. Because, why would you bother with a game that was first released in 2004? Ah. Because good games are eternal. Collect Edition, let's find out what it does.
Collect Edition is the mad notes
Well, Sauerbraten has not changed much. It's a heftier download, but the graphics and the game nature feel the same more or less. However, it is the content that makes all the difference. You still have the usual slew of maps, most of which are dark, claustrophobic and lit with colorful neons. You still have your monsters, some which look like giant red tomatoes with teeth and horns, and which wanna hump your help, and others like the exact copypasta of the satanic minotaur from the aforementioned Doom. Capture the Flag, Hold, and such. However ...
The big difference is that you have a campaign now, plus several really detailed maps, which now also include a puzzle element. In other words, you cannot just go about killing stupid monsters, you really need to figure out which switches to turn on, how to move about the map, sometimes retracting entire levels for that one last missing item, listening to the commands and hints from your AI advisers in the sky, and even operating machinery.
I was planning on spending about 20-30 minutes collecting screenshots, but then, I found myself trying to finish the last two maps, called Level 9 and Lost, and I was soon immersed, playing for nearly three hours, and I was gently inching toward slight nausea, although nothing as exaggerated as my Serious Sam reaction.
Indeed, making the user CARE is the most important factor. If the player only has to go about slaying stupid bots, then there's not going to be any emotional engagement. But if you have to work hard to solve a map, and you need to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get past a locked door or some energy wall, you will sort of develop a soft bond with the game's content, and you will want to play again.
I think the Collect Edition has really nailed it in this regard, even by adding just a small number of special maps that set the different tone, that put it apart from all the other similar and somewhat generic first person shooters. The fact an open source engine exists does not mean the games built upon it will be anything more than a silly collection of sounds and animated images. So it takes more than that, and Sauerbraten has really upped the ante.
Really, really nice. You need to shoot crates to move them about. You can jump out of a spaceship. You need to disable enemy air defenses and delete their files off the server, and this means matching the encryption code painted on a wall. You can also take remote controls and operate platforms, allowing you to cross energized rails that would otherwise kill you. Then, your air crew gives you notes, encouragement, lame jokes, as well as directions how to solve the level. Unexpected, awesome.
Graphics & sound
Let's be fair. Sauerbraten is not going to win any 3D nomination any time soon. The graphics quality is fairly low overall, but that does not mean it's bad. Far from it. The ambiance is stark enough to evoke thrill and maybe a bit of fright now and then. Plus you do get nice, colorful explosion, lots of blood spatter, shadows and blooms, and all the usual things that people consider a must for a game. Moreover, Sauerbraten is fairly light and will run well on old machines, so there's another bonus.
The sound could be a bit better. There are a lot of inexplicable grunts, either coming from my character jumping about, or from enemy characters behind the walls, which is sinister enough in its own right, and if done deliberately, should be left there, as is. But all in all, it's a fun orchestra of killing and running.
I am most pleasantly surprised by Sauerbraten. I have thought it to be a dead project, but the release of the Collect Edition proves otherwise. True, the releases are slow and steady, but that's fine. You don't need any mad dashes anywhere, as long as the product delivers. And believe me, it does. Again, you might sneer in contempt, and try to compare Sauerbraten to mighty commercial games. That's not the idea. It misses the point.
You can have both expensive games and free titles like Sauerbraten, and both can be engaging, challenging and fun. The graphics can be stellar, but they can also be just passable, if the overall effect is one where the player ends up producing adrenaline in his ad-renal gland, and if you spend time hammering the keyboard, well, mission accomplished then. Anyhow, Sauerbraten Collect Edition is an excellent package. It has everything. One of the more pleasant surprises of this year, for sure. And it gets a superb 9/10. Keep up the good work.