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Review: Spatial Fear: Prologue v1.2

Project Information

  • Title: Spatial Fear: Prologue v1.2
  • Author: Team Liquid Element
  • Platform: Unreal Tournament
  • Category: Large Campaign
  • Review Score: 72%

Main Review

Spatial Fear can draw a crowd. The problem it has is keeping them

When the Total Conversion known as Spatial Fear was first released in its version 1.0 form it was universally noted for its original storytelling approach and cumbersome game play. It was also a rarity among packs reviewed here at UnrealSP.org due to the fact that it had nothing to do with the Unreal universe at all. It was its own story in its own mythology with its own custom made resources. Aside from a reliance on some of Unreal's basic functions and library of sounds, Spatial Fear provided entirely new texture sets, musical scores, player/enemy models, and weapons. Despite some seriously questionable issues with the game play and overall fun factor, version 1.0 received a healthy 7/10 on the old schema (the 1.0 review can be found here). This review will only reflect the latest version, which is 1.2.

The full title is Spatial Fear: Prologue and it is... at its very core... a space odyssey. The game starts with a panning view of the stars as the camera slowly arrives at a speck in the distance following the opening credit roll. That speck turns out to be a ship. The opening itself if very well staged and cinematics in Unreal SP are rarely even close to this quality. It is handled with a very polished skill and the entire project ozzes with a professional touch when you load it up from its own menu and start your games. It isn't long before you assume control of your protagonist, a female science officer named Jael who is in her cryo pod. The player emerges from their pod to the standard nightmare scenario seen many a time in science fiction movies; a dark starship that is dimly lit with flashing lights and echoing with the shriek of distant alarms. Basically you are given the impression that something bad is going down and there is probably something in the shadows.

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The story doesn't rush things, and you'll spend a good deal of time imagining what kind of sick creature is waiting to pop out of the darkness and scare the living crap out of you (this anticipation is the peak of Spatial Fear). Aliens are onboard and they want the worm-hole technology your vessel is carrying. You don't get to see the main enemy for quite awhile aside from some brief scripted creep out moments. In this regard Spatial Fear has a great first impression. Your ship will be where the entire game takes place and aside from a brief dream sequence map your location will remain constant. The individual maps themselves sport rich layouts that will have you criss-crossing your way through every nook and cranny either trying to locate important materials or access sealed areas. A good percentage of the central maps play on this non-linearity factor and although you always seem to be heading for the next section there are always many steps you need to take to get there. The quality of the level design is aided greatly by the presence of the new texture sets and the use of decorative meshes that fill just about every room of the game. Whether they are door frames, cables, journals, mess hall trays, plants, pipes, chairs, you name it... Spatial Fear relies on meshwork on a scale beyond any pack prior to its release (or after for that matter). It's in areas where the meshes aren't used when a good eye will begin to notice the real simplicity to the actual level design. While the architecture is more than effective throughout the game, Spatial Fear is not really a BSP heavy spectacle as seen in packs like Operation Na Pali, Xidia Gold, Seven Bullets, or even Déjà Vu: Gryphon Revisited. Instead, Spatial Fear remains subtle in its environments throughout the game and goes for an overall consistency. The game looks the same from the first map to the last and remains true to a recurring theme; a cold starship that's lost in space. As mentioned before, there is a brief dream sequence map that foreshadows events that are implied to take place after the Prologue chapter and the theme and structure of that map is lightyears from the chilly sterile starship seen in the rest of the game. But overall, there is a genuine lack of a truly awe inspiring moment where you are dumb struck by the level design. For me personally, my best visual memory of Spatial Fear is its usage of space... most directly in relation to the ringed planet Phar that hangs outside most windows throughout the game. Spatial Fear makes space in an Unreal pack seem more than just a collection of picturesque images. The rings of Phar move and slowly circle the planet and mountain ranges are clearly visible on the surface. Great detail there!

Many things will be at your disposal in Spatial Fear. Firstly, by using the new Use Key feature to access panels and buttons you can explore a variety of things; checking screens for information, prompting doors to see which will open and which will not, grabbing things like crates to help you reach certain areas, ect. And you'll be doing this a lot because you'll usually be in a position where your objective is really unknown and you'll take it upon yourself to figure out what you need to do (The Use Key system is much less jumpy than it was in 1.0, but there will still be spots where the hand icon will pop up when you aren't near anything). You'll get the standard pickup array, like a flashlight and various kinds of card keys. Eventually you will come upon some more innovative types of inventory like pills that enhance your performance, data upgrades to your suit that increase your resistance to certain things, weapon augmentations that increase damage effectiveness and things like that. You'll also get to pilot a little floating probe called a Scout Bot that operates very similar to the Cam Spy from Perfect Dark. There's also a com device that lets you talk to the computerized memory of a dead crewmate, who acts as your guide throughout the pack.

Certain aspects of the early game play turned off some players (myself included) in version 1.0 when they found that they were exploring a little too long before any major events occurred. Luckily in 1.2, the action doesn't wait long at all and you'll be fighting the game's first wave of enemies soon after you equip your first weapons. When it comes down to fighting, this is where Spatial Fear starts to show some of its problems. The first (and most common) enemies you'll encounter are these easily killable little four legged spider aliens that either lunge at you or occasionally spit easily avoidable goo. They basically look like the bastard love child of Unreal's Pupae and Half-Life's Headcrab. You'll see them in just about every map after their first appearance and aside from coming in various sizes there isn't too much else to say about them. Just like the familiar creatures they remind me of they nest the same way, sticking to dark corners or vents most of the time. There are also other crawling pests that eventually get bigger later on with strong projectile attacks. Eventually you'll meet the real aliens, a series of around four types of biped looking things that either rush you or... in the rare case that they have weapons... attempt to shoot you. Of all these creatures, the most interesting is the pink skinned things I dubbed "hoppers" (Since I managed to beat 1.2 without ever getting killed by anything so I never knew their names), that give off a mantis kind of vibe. There is a particular death animation that this guy has that is genius, where he simply lowers slightly and dies in a kind of sitting position. First few times you see this you're going to go in slowly to make sure it's really dead. But for the most part none of these enemies are really challenging to beat and aside from the one type I call the "runner" (which was the only of the main baddies that actually got close enough to hurt me) none of them really make you earn your agility skills. Still, the enemies move around a lot better than they did in version 1.0 thanks to the fact that this version actually includes path nodes. However, there are times, especially toward the latter end of the pack, where enemy placement begins to get sloppy and groups of enemies tend to bump into each other and even fight. Some of the fast ones even get hung up on some level design and the entire enemy horde at the end of the game (the one that blocks your exit) can be run past without ever being able to follow you once you move through a door. You'd think that an enemy capable of ransacking an entire starship might be able to get doors to work, but these guys usually can't figure it out. So yeah, it gets kinda clunky at the end and after enough maps go by you just have to deal with spawning enemies that pop out when you hit a panel or pick up an item. Lastly, the enemy sounds are a mix of some new ones and some misfit Unreal ones. It kind of takes something away when this tall, fast moving biped is screeching at me with Manta noises, especially since some of the monsters truly look cool. I think the development team missed a huge opportunity here to make the game's enemy horde a little more intense. No fight in Spatial Fear meets even the most average Unreal themed pack. If there is one aspect of Spatial Fear that pales in comparison to every other pack in the large campaign category, it's combat... with enemy A.I. in a close second.

On the other end of the combat spectrum are of course, the weapons. To put it in perspective, the weapons match the theme seen in the level design to pin-point precision. These are definitely space guns. The vast majority of the guns are energy projectile based, usually either blue or white. There is a rather Half-Life inspired crowbar that doubles as a door jack and also a grenade launching gun found in the game's last segment that looks suspiciously similar to the Flak Cannon in frame design. Otherwise, you're stuck with energy guns (and I'm not complaining). You'll have plenty of choices though, perhaps even too many. All the guns are really effective for clearing all Spatial Fear's fights, though I found myself using the Disruptor Rifle for most of the game. That gun and the smaller Disruptor Pistol (they both use the same ammo and look similar in appearance) fire basically the same type of energy, a very obvious Unreal Electricity texture placed casually on a mesh. Others use similar effects, nothing that looks terribly impressive. For comparison, I'd say that the new weapon projectile effects looked better in Strange World and Legacy. The guns themselves do look sleek with nothing really being too outlandish. They do the job, but they can be very underwhelming. Nothing really has that "BAM!" feeling and none of them really stand out as being very strong. They sound really underpowered (all of them) and the animations are extremely basic. I never really had the need to depend on any of the later game energy weapons over the Disruptor Rifle and I only had time to use the grenade launcher on Spatial Fear's final boss. I think Spatial Fear: Prologue just might be too short with too few combat situations to really warrant so many guns. I don't think I even used the small yellow one in actual combat and I barely used the other two. The coolest looking gun (the electric one you find early in the game, even before the rifle) turned out to be less useful to me than the pistol, so I stopped using it. Overall, none of the weapons really deliver a really gratifying effect when fired... but most of them are more than able to handle all the game's antagonists without too much difficulty.

Essentially the gameplay will consist of accessing ship areas and systems to progress to the Worm Hole device area and eventually the docking bay. In between using smart exploration to find your way about (even using tools like the Scout Bot in particularly clever ways) you'll be clearing out enemies hordes that have built up in dark areas or engaging the main bestiary after triggering major level events. It should be said that no moment in Spatial Fear stands out as being truly intense or challenging. The thing that stood out for me as being the longest brain teaser was trying to figure out how to use the Scout Bot to finish a map (and the realization becomes obvious once you figure out that you can stand on it). Also, items like the Smart Vest (the one that can be upgraded with augmentations) are not as necessary as a power-up as one may think. I never actually upgraded my own vest during the course of the game and none of the game's combat situations ever put me in a position where I needed to rely on armor. Other performance enhancing things like the weapon damage augmentation and the accuracy pills did not really add any sort of noticeable effect to my ability to aim or kill things with the guns I chose to enhance. I'm not really sure whether the effect was simply too minimal to notice or if they didn't even work. In any case, the weapons are all equally accurate. The amount of medkits, space food, and healing modules are more than abundant and are the one pick-up besides keys and ammo that you'll really notice. The biggest dangers were things like environmental hazards, such as one segment where Jael has to jump through open space to reach an airlock on the other side (a scene fondly influenced from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Another spot earlier on was walking into a deadly fume filled hallway only to run back out quickly when I started taking damage.

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On the issue of sound, Spatial Fear comes with several new music tracks to boost the atmospheric integrity of the mod. The better musical scores you'll hear are slow, ambient noises that capture the gravity of the situation. Whether it is the scrapping, claustrophobic noises you'll hear after your emergence from the cryo pod to the dominating signature tones that ring throughout the game, the Spatial Fear score is in synch with the visuals on screen. What fails to work are the action tracks, which are all pretty repetitious in nature. The best track in the game sounds like an Unreal track, but I didn't check the music folder to verify. Unreal footstep sounds are heard, which is disappointing considering that texture-specific footstep sounds were coming into their own in Unreal SPs during the time of Spatial Fear's release and it could have easily been a positive feature to add. Also, as mentioned earlier, many of the creatures rely on stock Unreal monster noises. After all the work put into the textures and the models, it seems almost hack to deny the player true creature sounds. It's in stark contrast to all the effort put into making this pack independent of Unreal related resources. But when push comes to shove, the game sounds right when it needs to and that's all that matters.

Summary

In comparison to the flawed version 1.0, Spatial Fear: Prologue version 1.2 plays a lot better than its original release version. By introducing the enemy earlier the team avoided a lot of the tedium that came with version 1.0. The new HUD is also a much bigger improvement over the confusing original. The changes make the early game segments much more bearable and give the pack a good pace. However, not all of Spatial Fear's woes were solved with this final version. It still remains a dismal combat pack and the creatures still fail to satisfy the player's expectations, even with pathnodes this time. While not a strong pack for shooting and fighting, it remains probably the best presented pack ever made for Unreal. Whether it's the steady, unrushed storytelling or the professionally edited cutscenes, Spatial Fear can draw a crowd. The problem it has is keeping them there. When you get past the cool title fade-ins, the well written log entries, the attention to mesh detail, the sensible layouts, and the nice looking planets... actually playing the game leaves a lot to be desired. And to top it off, at the very end you only realize that the story just started.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.76% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.68%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.7 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.9
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.9 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.7
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).7 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.8
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.7 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.5
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.8 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.5
Final Verdict: Good
Score: 72%

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