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Review: Skaarj City

Project Information

  • Title: Skaarj City
  • Author: David "DavidM" Münnich
  • Platform: Unreal
  • Category: Single Map
  • Review Score: 17%

Main Review

You'll probably be kicked around pretty badly by all the Skaarj Warriors

I guess you'll be wondering now why I'm reviewing this random map out of the blue. Well, actually, this was the first custom product I ever played in my Unreal history, and so I tried it again. I don't remember the reason why I did choose this one back then, but because the name Skaarj City sounded interesting, and I'm a diehard fan of the Skaarj and their Mothership. Apparently, I realised much later that the author of Skaarj City was DavidM, the mapper behind popular projects such as Strange World and 13 Mutants. This was one of his earliest works; according to the readme, he already did some Deathmatch maps for Unreal and other single player releases (MercShip, TrapShip and his first real work known to us, TrapTemple). To be honest, before replaying this map, I kept calling it SkyCity all the time, because that's what it is: it doesn't look like a Skaarj settlement at all, it's a SkyTown themed place. You can see Sky Islands in the sky too. Plus, it's not a city, it feels more like some kind of linear maze. Well, you'd say the same thing for almost all of the earliest custom releases, where the environments didn't make much sense and authors were just having fun creating stuff with the editor.

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The build, as you may expect, is really weak. It is on the same level of the two Crescent Moon Squad mappacks, or almost even worse than those. The map is mostly composed of basic shaped, indoor areas: they're generally empty and sometimes filled with decorations, a few lamps or various movers from buttons to elevators. The only exceptions are the last few areas, where you'll enter a room which contains torches, wooden crates and a well – very detailed compared to the rest. There's one unique aspect: the infinite staircase. Basically, with the use of teleport actors, you can run in it forever and forever, and it's quite fun to shoot something and see the projectiles fly endlessly through the corridor, unless you put yourself in their way which is really common if a Skaarj Warrior happens to fight you in there.

Regarding the use of textures, they are generally applied well but the selection is insanely repetitive. Prepare to see some repeated patterns over and over. The Vortex Rikers pipes and electric lights feel totally out of place – really a failed attempt if the author thought that they could make the place more Skaarj-ish. And the lighting? Not much to say. Most of the time looks nice and it is sourced, while on the other hand you see red lights coming out from nowhere. For all the areas that have any kind of opening to the sky, you'll hear the same wind noises, but there are no dynamic ambient sounds. Music used is Newmca7 (from Cellars at Dasa Pass), which was extremely common in various old releases; to be honest I'm not against the choice, it's a pretty fitting theme for any generic dungeon where you run and kill.

The gameplay is moderately challenging. If you're going straight to Unreal difficulty, you'll probably be kicked around pretty badly by all the Skaarj Warriors. No, not because there's one right at the beginning, but due to the second area of the map. It's a large library full of these guys. As far as I can see, you're supposed to press two buttons disguised as books, and afterwards pressing more buttons and getting other helpful items if you want. The only way to avoid the Skaarj swarming you is to use either the infinite staircase (which, once again, I don't recommend for battle purposes) or two corridors with portals in them, that make you go left and right through the area. The game AIs instantly neglect your existence once you pass through a portal and you can use this to exploit the pissed off Warriors, whicg ends up sometimes in hilarious results. It's a unique way of hiding but it is logically bad. At the end, you'll feel pretty much forced to fight all of them, and you need to be a good marksman with the Automag since you don't have many items supporting you. Once you're done with this major problem, nothing else will stop you. Trying the map on lower difficulties may be a better choice in your first playthrough.

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The rest of the battles are easy. You'll start to get tons of ammunition, especially Flak Shells; you'll fight a Skaarj Berserker in a Rrajigar-esque ambush, and afterwards you'll enter what could be described as a "Krall City", because only Krall will annoy you until the end of the level, and they always try to screw themselves up rather than killing you. Item placement could have been better too – some of them are really unnecessary and there's ammo for weapons that you'll never pick up. There are also sections where you blow up lots of wooden boxes (which I found it somehow fun, I have to say) and a half-assed attempt at creating a long maze: the architecture will tell you where to go and it's hard to get lost in since it's full of dead-ends. Just watch out for a single thing... The map, while it has a Translator which you can find right at the beginning, has no messages and therefore no story. One interesting thing is that the ending corridor does look familiar... it's like an extended entrance to the Cellars at Dasa Pass. Good guess, because if you finish Skaarj City, you'll start right in that map. Basically, it’s like you have played a fast way to access the last quarter of the original Unreal game, and it may be cool for those who love it (yeah, count me in).

Summary

Simply one of the random single maps released in 1998, containing a rather memorable battle against Skaarj Warriors. It's up to you if you want to play it. Knowing how DavidM thinks about his past releases, I guess he'd throw this one in the fiery pits of Hell.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.22% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.12%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.1 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.2
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.2 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.0
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).3 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.0
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.2 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.2
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.3 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.2
Final Verdict: Very poor
Score: 17%

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