- Title: UMS Solaris
- Author: Swordtail
- Platform: Unreal
- Category: Single Map
- Review Score: 59%
Intense, wonderful and full of unexpected surprisesDisclaimer: This map is hard to review. Even something like Déjà Vu 2.01 is easier to comment on. If you read this review and think it’s going nowhere, like a bunch of never-ending opinions about this and that, I apologize. I will try to mirror the experience of playing the map itself, though.
I’ll be honest: I found UMS Solaris to be one hell of a surprise. When I opened it and played for a few seconds I went “wow”. That “wow” had different meanings. Okay, now here’s another, hopefully clearer sentence: UMS Solaris was cool. Once again, “cool” has different meanings too, all depending on many factors. All of this means that UMS Solaris is something special you shouldn’t miss. Apparently this map was released many years ago (then updated in 2008) and was only available for download from the author’s website. If it wasn’t found by somebody the other week, UMS Solaris would have remained hidden in a dark corner of the internet, to be known only to Unreal Co-op veterans. There was virtually no information about it’s existence on any big Unreal websites. But now a larger public has discovered your creation, Swordtail. Let’s see what you brought to the table.
UMS Solaris runs on any patched version of Unreal, Unreal Gold and Unreal Tournament. It works fine on all platforms save for an OldSkool bug: you’ll pick up two weapons of the same type, meaning that you’ll have to scroll through two Automags, two Stingers, etc...; this will bother players who use the mouse wheel to switch between guns. The first thing you’ll notice is how much custom stuff it needs to run: various actors from Return To Na Pali, textures from Deus Ex, the full version of the music track Isotoxin, a bunch of classes/scripts/meshes made by the author himself plus something you probably will not expect to see. Swordtail tried everything to create an ambitious project in a year; for a first release, he put a lot of work into details. So, what is this mysterious UMS Solaris about? The story, as stated in the readme, goes like this: a human space vessel (the UMS Solaris) is examining our good old Na Pali in order to set up a Tarydium mining facility on the planet. But watch out, because if there’s something that goes along with Na Pali and Tarydium, it’s Skaarj. In fear that something may have happened to the Solaris, UMS sends one of their best units (your badass Prisoner 849-like hero) to investigate the fate of the vessel, hoping it didn’t fall in the hands of the Skaarj. You arrive to the Solaris but you’re shot down by a Skaarj shuttle; afterwards, you land in the ship and from there on it’s time to kill and most of all, trying to understand what to do. At first the map seems like something very common, a short trip through corridors, rooms and turbo-lifts while fighting lots of Skaarj, but you better scratch that because the more you proceed onward in the level, the more you’ll discover how large and unique this is.
There’s no denying it: the build of UMS Solaris is exceptionally grand and very ambitious. Not only the space vessel is enormous in size but you’re given the option to explore the outer space in the coolest way possible, provided you have the Pressure Suit and the SCUBA Gear to breath in the void. And what’s really amazing is that there aren’t any real boundaries: you can freely flying around and explore all the exterior parts of the Solaris without problems; just watch out at not going over the Skaarj Mothership found nearby... yeah, there’s that too, will speak later about it. The space exploration isn’t necessary; other than being a nice feature, with it you can take different routes to other sections of the map, and taking note what’s inside many of the chambers by looking through the windows. As a side note, due to a Unreal glitch, you can hold the Walk key to fly faster in the space. For the most part of the game, you’re going to walk inside the spaceship.
The indoor sections are on the average side, either because the author is not being that experienced with the editor, or he had bouts of laziness. It is probably the latter – looking at the visuals outside the Solaris, Swordtail easily had the potential to spend more effort for the rest. The main problem is that you’ll be running a lot inside corridors; they cover 60% of the ship and all of them look identical. Not to mention, most of the hallways are white and inordinately long, almost to the point that you feel like you will never make it to the other side. The constant running makes the experience slightly annoying, especially if you’re running to a dead end because the door is locked. The doors are all white-coloured, so sometimes you may mistake them for walls. Luckily, the locked ones can be recognized by a panel attached to them (as a computer or as black string with a lock image). From any of the corridors you can access the various chambers; they are generally designed as simple rectangular-shaped rooms filled with large computers, decorations and dead bodies too. There are almost any kinds of rooms that a respectable human ship would contain: crew berths, a med lab, the engine section, the shuttle bay, reactor areas, storage rooms, mini-restaurants, many emergency-related sectors and even some kind of artificial garden where various hostile and non-hostile wildlife species from Na Pali are kept inside. Their build quality is overall average: many areas feel rushed, and often contain nothing or weak details such as simple shelves; there are windows almost everywhere (which is not a bad thing) and panels, panels and more panels. Speaking of panels, time to talk about the logs; the author makes use of the Control Pad mesh from Return To Na Pali and two other models made by himself. Not all of the messages of the dead guys are registered on those things, but I have to say, the Skaarj version of the pad looks really nice.
You think that was all? Well, you’re wrong, since UMS Solaris is big. The ship is basically composed of 19 decks - with only a few not being accessible - the first one being at the top and the 19th at the bottom. You start at floor 10, and you’ll be heavily disoriented. This brings up the aspect that will mainly put you off when playing this map: it’s extremely confusing on what you have to do and where you have to go. I actually even asked for help to know how I was supposed to proceed, and that rarely happens. The layout is non-linear, and you have a lot of choices on where you have to go first. What will bug you is that you don’t get enough information about your current objective/destination, even though there’s an incredibly high amount of messages in general. They’re in the style of Zero Black and The Sky Shard, EddX’s most known works: all you read is info about the status of anything related to the Solaris and its experiments, background stories about how the Skaarj ambushed the humans, the already mentioned logs of the carcasses and books that say stupid stuff like this... (see picture below)
So, can you ignore all the messages? Unfortunately you really shouldn’t. Some of them (either panels or logs) do give hints for your mission, but only to a certain extent. Once again, you’ll receive more help from the non-translator messages that you see on the top of the screen: they’ll say what has been unlocked, and also, you can recognize operable panels that you may use now or later; practically, instead of “Translator Message incoming”, you’ll read “Control Panel” or something like that. This is the best time to take note of the computer you’re using, so by the time it becomes operable, you won’t go around pressing all the panels you see in an area. And I won’t be surprised (and as the readme says, the author will not too) if you decide to take the “press everything” way until you hear a different beep sound. That’s the pattern: you press a panel and unlock something, you press another panel and another panel becomes usable, you press this panel and something new happens, etc. All of this to unlock the other floors of the Solaris until you arrive at Deck #1. Doesn’t sound hard enough, you say? There is even more cryptic stuff you have to discover to beat this level. The hardest one I found was deactivating a Skaarj force field (they are everywhere, either blocking you or to separate the space zone from the ship). You won’t get any info on how to remove it apart from a nearby Skaarj log which hints that the field gains energy from a Skaarj structure. There’s only one here – the Mothership, which is attacking the UMS vessel. As you will expect, the same brushes from Demon Crater are used. The author didn’t credit Pancho in the readme, but personally I don’t mind this choice as the appearance of the Mothership has been handled nicely. From outside, it appears like a classic flying saucer, missing the bottom part of the Mothership that has always been speculated to exist (and then confirmed by AS-Mothership from UT2004); you’ll only explore the part visible in Demon Crater. Now, this area is already heavily protected, and there’s nothing special to find as the door to the Basement is locked. Would you expect to find a small panel, placed on a wall just near this mentioned door? I took an hour to find it. Once you press it, you will have access to the upper floors of the Solaris, as long as you have activated the Turbo Lift which is yet another hassle. The rest is just as hard, for instance having to find two Cards that let you unlock the final rooms to the exit. They are hidden as well, and you have to search throughout the entire crew berths. One of them is inside something that I wasn’t expecting at all: an artificial creation of Nyleve via simulation. Yep, another Pancho work thrown into this map for good measure. It’s a pretty nice revisit, and it differs a lot from the original one, like the absence of the crashed Vortex Rikers; I didn’t like the wooden platform which moves automatically, though, as it didn’t make much sense. Later, in the Commanding Officer’s quarters, you find a living cat. Wow. Finally, a cat in the Unreal world, and one that’s surprisingly cute... because it’s from Deus Ex! UMS Solaris is surely the least predictable map for Unreal I have ever played; Swordtail must have been on crack!
Finally, you have to press more panels, and then you have to escape. I’m happy there wasn’t a time limit for that, because at first I didn’t know where to run until I read some of the translator messages. Knowing how to beat this level is a hard task, and if you’re stuck, here’s the list of things that need to be done, in points:
•Descend to floor/deck 19 to find two panels. Press them.
•Go into the engineering section, kill everyone and press every panel you see until one of them beeps.
•Go back to level 10 and head for the final corridors (directly at the opposite side of the bay). A room protected by a Lesser Brute and a Skaarj Infantry is now unlocked. More panels to press.
•Return to the engineering section and watch out for more enemies appearing on the way. Press all the panels again; one of them activates the reactor which will give energy to the Turbo-Lift 1.
•You need to deactivate the Skaarj Force Field by pressing the hidden panel in the Mothership prior to accessing said Turbo-Lift. Ascend to the first, upper floor.
•Enter the Nyleve simulation and descend to the waterfall. Enter the Nali hut and search for the Soldier Card (it’s a blue thing). Now you can access Deck 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2.
•Go to Deck 2 and find the Commander’s chamber, the one with the cat. Take the card here. Now go to Deck 6 (the one with the prison) and use the teleport pod to access Deck 1.
•Enter the Bridge, press every panel until you hear the alarms. Now, go to the location mentioned in point 3, where the emergency turbo-lift has been unlocked. You’re done.
I have written all of this stuff because I want people to enjoy this map and not be stuck all the freaking time. If you haven’t played UMS Solaris, you have no idea how much confusing it can be. Other than wasting time in understanding the complex layout of the vessel, you have to take care of the core gameplay as well. It can be summed up as the map’s fun and easy side. At the beginning you’re in trouble because if you enter the wrong room, you will find yourself facing a deadly amount of Skaarj. Fortunately, you’ll quickly find some weapons, and later you’ll pick up tons of ammo and most of all, health packs and loads of Shield Belts, Assault Vests and Suits. The placement is a bit crazy, and in a certain spot you even need to do a bit of weapon-jumping. If you are lucky, you may even find a super secret area (which in terms of sense it doesn’t make much in a place like this) where you can find more equipment. There’s a slightly bad designed aspect about the Suits; other than a SCUBA Gear, you’ll need a Pressure Suit to explore the space, and you may lose it if you get a Kevlar Suit or due to the enemy damage; not that annoying anyway, since there’s no need to go outside. The fights will generally end up being quick: due to the high amount of ammunition, you won’t be stuck with a Dispersion Pistol all the time and you’ll use the other weapons when you feel like so. Enemies are Krall, Brutes, Pupae and Skaarj. Expect a lot of battles between Krall and Skaarj, since they’re mostly put together. Brutes are barely a threat, while the Pupae manage to be tough even without surprise ambushes: they come in pack and mostly inhabit the lower decks, that are very cramped; I have also to mention cases of respawning enemies (in the case of Pupae and Skaarj) when you complete an objective. These ambushes are hardly expected and you may suddenly perish against groups of Skaarj Lords and... Infantries. These latter are once again your worst enemies – obviously. The strongest ones have the ASMD and the Rifle and can be hardly prevented to touch you in some way. Luckily, there are always lots of equipments, but don’t neglect the “save game” function. You’ll need it.
There are more surprising battles. One of these pits you against a Titan found inside a box in the storage area who -unfortunately - is next to the safest path to the Mothership (which is also protected by Skaarj Troopers). The beast will probably stop you from re-entering the storage room if you escape, but he may be stupid enough not to attack you beyond the doors, enabling you to dish out all the damage you need even with a Dispersion Pistol. Speaking about doors, they are small enough to cause problems with enemies who try to pass through them. Another problem is how they work: it’s in the same way as packs such as Project Xenome and Project Zephon, meaning that the movers will quickly open and close, depending on your position. You can trick many enemies in this way, who generally aren’t able to open them. It is very annoying if you’re facing Troopers though, as their reaction time is very good. Probably the most threatening battle is against the Warlord, because of the cramped environments – this generates clipping problems, i.e. he becomes visible beyond the geometry. Fortunately he has less health than normal, he doesn’t move around that much and sometimes he even fights his Skaarj allies out of anger. Overall, the gameplay is either too easy or too hard; I played the map on Unreal difficulty, and the battles were the least of my problems, as opposed to my continuous search for the exit. The scripted sequences were pretty convincing. There’s an alternate version of the Skaarj ambush from Rrajigar Mine, which did work due to it happening suddenly, although the battle can be annoying due to no possibility to escape until you kill the rather powerful enemy. Just guess who is it. Seeing also the Krall being sucked in the space due to a broken glass was also very hilarious. You’ll also fight a team of Bloblets (almost never used in custom products) placed in a very intelligent way.
I have mentioned several times that the UMS Solaris is generally cramped, sometimes even a bit claustrophobic. Some people already know my slight dislike for small sized places, because (personally) they hurt the gameplay of Unreal, which revolves about mobility, aim and quick reflexes. I know this is a human-made vessel, and building large areas isn’t necessary for them; let’s take two big examples: the ISV-Kran from the original Unreal and the UMS Prometheus from Return To Na Pali. The ISV-Kran, the classic human star ship we all grown up with, was large in size, and in a really exaggerate way for human beings. The downside? The placement of the rooms wasn’t one of the best and it probably took more space than what you would see when looking the ISV-Kran from the Trench and the Spire Village. The Prometheus, on the other hand, was one of the first locations that had the indoor section being accessible in the same map. Obviously, the disproportioned issues between indoor and outdoor that plagued the original Unreal were solved, but with the cost of making the interior chambers generally small, sometimes without much space to escape. At least it had a layout which made more sense than the ISV Kran or even the Vortex Rikers. UMS Solaris is like a hybrid which, to be honest, I find more convincing than the human-made locations found in the retail games. The feel is more similar to the one of the Prometheus, while the layout may be a bit off due to the insane amount of unnecessary corridors – but the author did put a lot of thought while creating the Solaris. The problem about cramped environments is slightly solved by said corridors: they’re narrow, but you can run backward like forever, and that can be pretty useful if you like using hitscan weapons. Sure, avoiding Pupae will be a pain and the enemies tend to get stuck or assault different factions too much; nothing really bothers you at the end of the journey.
As I said, the theme of UMS Solaris is based on the Prometheus formula; not only in the design choices and architecture, but also in the textures used. The exterior walls of the ship follow the same style of the crashed vessel from Return to Na Pali, and same thing can be said for what’s inside. Custom textures are also used and they fit the environments. On the technical side, texturing isn’t always that great. There’s a lot of repetition, especially in the lower floors that are basic in architecture. There are also cases of bad choices, for example the ceiling texture used for floors, and the sky box would have been perfect if the author didn’t put a gigantic planet mesh - its low resolution skin is painful to look at. The lighting is mostly average. When you fly in the space, you’ll see that the Solaris is illuminated by a Zone Info, which looks bland. Indoor there isn’t enough variety: all steady and mostly white, but sources are present and there’s a clever use of dynamic lighting. The shadow effects are sub-par and a certain corridor becomes illuminated by a red light due to the enormous radius set in its actor – and at the same time you have to stand an annoyingly strong corona.
Unfortunately, the map seems filled to the point of exploding. I did get some serious slowdowns in many areas, which can be annoying when you are fighting Skaarj (I had the luck to have one with the ASMD in front of me). You’ll also notice a lot of HOM/BSP bugs, especially when you go outside and look at the vessel. Fortunately they are all harmless. There was also one room (the Survey one) where the walls mysteriously vanished and all I saw was the vast space. And at first I thought it was an intentional effect. Nope. This is Swordtail’s first creation, so I understand his inexperience with the engine limitations. On the other hand, the scripted sequences work perfectly.
The work on the sound is barely interesting, the most common things you’ll hear are computer beeps. What dominates UMS Solaris is the full version of Isotoxin, which contains the intro to the song. It plays until the end of the map, which is a freaking lot. It’s surely an energetic track but it wasn’t a good choice sticking always to it. Isotoxin pretty much describes the atmosphere of the entire map anyway, the oldskool feel of controlling that badass, lucky and powerful super-dude who goes around killing every possible aliens without itching, where others have miserably failed. Your enemies are presented here as a semi-intelligent threat. They sure took control of the ship, but from the messages the Skaarj act like having anger issues and being nervous about your presence and your way to refuse to die. The Krall instead, are so unfortunate: falling in the void, getting crushed, etc... It’s all on the comical and unserious side. An effect done well, in my opinion. As I already said, the author put a lot of effort on the background story, although there’s not much development when you progress, and sometimes you’ll be asking what are you actually doing now. Killing everyone or destroying in some way the Mothership? You’ll know it during the ending map, which contains a rather great and satisfying scripted sequence. Only one thing has annoyed me; call me stupid or what else you have in mind, but I do care for living beings. I felt bad for having no way to take the cat with me.
SummaryIntense, wonderful and full of unexpected surprises. For a first release, Swordtail put an insane amount of work into Solaris. He took a hundred things into consideration, and he successfully developed them all to create an interesting map. There’s supposed to be a sequel in the works, but unfortunately there is no information about it so far. Hopefully, if it ever comes out, it won’t be another hidden treasure. If you’re playing this, just don’t give up early if you get lost.
|BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.||54%||CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.||64%|
|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.||9|
|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.||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).||5||Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.||4|
|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.||4||Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.||7|
|Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.||6||Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.||5|
Final Verdict: Above average