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Review: Peril on Mars

Project Information

  • Title: Peril on Mars
  • Author: Team86
  • Platform: Unreal Tournament
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 48%

Main Review

Despite the fact that it's clearly just an excuse to kill monsters, it can be amusing

Peril on Mars is a short pack that ranks with those considered by many faithful Unreal fanboys as a classic. This means that it is a carbon definition of what oldskoolers refer to as "Unrealness". While that distinction is something revered by many, it's also an indication of what to expect. Put together in 1999 by a small team of community designers, including a still budding David Münnich, Peril on Mars clocks in at four playable maps and an extro.

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Right off the bat the game hits a no bullshit notch. Immediately, the player begins in an opened dungeon cell with a dispersion pistol in hand and has to exit their starting position into a hallway patrolled by a Skaarj Berserker. The rude start doesn't waste time explaining the situation and the player simply has to collect items and clear a way to the next map. In this fashion, Peril is very arcade-like. The player never gets a real plot to lay any sort of groundwork for a story and basically the pack follows the rudimentary principles many oldskool Unreal single-player maps accepted as standard; You're a person who wakes up in a cell and you have to move through standard looking Unreal locales to a final destination that consists of a rescue ship and an ending flyby. You will read log books along the way but they are generally very rare and extremely bland, consisting usually of two or three sentences that mimic what passed for "harrowing" in Unreal. You'll basically traverse several dungeon/mine locations while fighting through a series of Skaarj and Krall dominated combat situations. Along the way you will find the usual ten weapons and a helping of items to keep you alive, all of which are more than serviceable. Ultimately the pack's climax peaks with a Titan duel reminiscent of Dark Arena's showdown. That's basically the gist of Peril on Mars, which really has nothing whatsoever to do with Mars. Instead you'll see settings that look directly planted on Na Pali origins.

While the pack seems brief and to the point, it still has its moments. The first map earns a gold star for providing some unique details. After the first encounter, the player is presented with some interesting dungeon set pieces and scripted events. In particular, a famous first Krall sighting and a Behemoth ambush that levels an exit point stand out for their ingenuity. To top it off, the first level ends with a rather surprising Warlord appearance.

The second level is a faithful mine themed map that is heavily influenced by the industrial Cliffy B maps from Unreal and RTNP (Obviously a David Münnich map). Certain layout points and design concepts mirror classic landmarks from their official inspirations. This is true in regard to elements of gameplay, with slave Nali, patrolling Skaarj and even a confrontation with a large Skaarj Warrior at a moment of foreboding calm. David's hard on for Cliffy B is noticeable even at this stage of what would become a popular community mapping career.

Subsequent maps return to the dungeon-esque theme of the first and the last map with the Titan offers some interesting gameplay mechanics. The player has to bring down the last onslaught of enemies while activating platform raising exits. It gives the pack a sort of frantic finish, with the player bracing for the open wilderness as Krall lackeys chase from behind.

While the gameplay is consistent throughout, it will only really require focus in the first map when the player is still light on weapons and supplies. While many fights are well staged with scripted events, others are particularly average. The pack follows Unreal's lead with enemy progression, so you'll be fighting "something" every ten feet or so. There's really no moment of tension since the player will always have the advantage (helped in large part by the fact that most of the combat situations are indoors and the player has plenty of cover) and a nice helping of performance enhancing artifacts (health and armor) will keep you healthy for the majority of the pack.

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There are some glitchy moments. In particular, two points of the game where the player can either be killed instantly or reduced to low health. One of these is unavoidable. A sequence in the first map has the player descend in an elevator only to have something give during transit and drop them to the bottom floor at full speed. What sucks about this part is that when the lift hits bottom an explosion will occur inside the lift that either kills the player instantly or reduces their health to low levels. This is completely random and if the player survives they have to quickly drop an attacking Krall and Tentacle immediately after the damage is inflicted. It's a critical flaw because there really is no way to avoid this through any conventional means and is clearly a mistake by the level designer. While the player can still heal themselves afterward, it's a frustrating oversight...than can easily turn people off. Another bug in the second map occurs midway through a cavern, where the player (and enemies) die instantly if they move into a particular corner. An invisible error here kills anything that comes too close. While it is avoidable, it's located in a spot that most people will probably pass through and everyone who plays Peril will die at least once here. Aside from these two problems, Peril on Mars is otherwise glitch free...although the ending sequence seems plotted in a way that seems confused at times.

Visually, Peril on Mars stands the test of time better than most. For a pack pushing a decade, the design quality is still pretty decent by today's standards (although, like other older packs the terrain is terrible). Though it should be said, nothing in the pack will capture awe from a design standpoint. Some lighting is cheap here and there, and textures don't always align very well. But there are plenty of worse examples out there.

Summary

Overall, Peril on Mars is a solid pack marred by a severe lack of story and two nefarious bugs that will piss people off. But despite the fact that it's clearly just an excuse to kill monsters, it can be amusing. Early moments concerning the dungeon are memorable, but otherwise there's nothing landmark here aside from the nostalgia factor. Game time shouldn't last more than half and hour.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.56% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.40%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.6 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.5
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.6 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.2
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).6 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.1
SoundUse of ambient sounds and event sounds to give the level atmosphere, and the quality of any custom sounds. Appropriate use of music and silence to complement the atmosphere.5 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.6
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.5 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.6
Final Verdict: Average
Score: 48%

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