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Review: WTF Series 1 v1.1

Project Information

  • Title: WTF Series 1 v1.1
  • Author: Shivaxi and LOL_PEANUTS
  • Platform: Unreal
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 56%

Main Review

Something very strange is happening

WTF Series 1 comprises four playable maps plus two intro cinematics and a credits map. The mod is really the first part of a longer saga, but Shivaxi opted to release it in instalments due to the time the longer saga was taking to develop. It was probably the right decision, too, as the first version of this release was beset with a substantial number of serious bugs - the mod has since been updated to address some of those issues, and this review relates to the revised version.

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WTF Series 1 is Shivaxi's first release, and as such displays some of the build shakiness common to maps from inexperienced mappers - most notably, the terrain in the first playable map, designed using the TerraEdit height-mapping tool and occupying largely cubic surroundings in which the outer cliffs are all the same height. Texturing and lighting in these initial outdoor areas give a general impression of drab greyness.

However, once the action switches to indoor locations in the second map, the build gets progressively more interesting: the architecture is still basic, but the maps are well planned to a decent concept and the spaces are generously proportioned. Lighting remains on the flat side in a lot of the second map, with light textures often looking dull even though they are meant to be brightly illuminated, but there are pockets of much more interesting coloured lighting (and special effects), particularly in the main generator area. The lighting is generally sourced throughout, whether from electric lights or openings in the roof.

The third map plunges the player into complete darkness, forcing him to navigate with a modified Flashlight. It is here that the emphasis of the gameplay switches from combat to suspense (more on that later), and within the "suspense" context patches of light and fog are used to good effect.

The fourth map is the most bizarrely designed of the lot, and parts of it resemble a bad acid trip - but in a manner that is appropriate to the story, and is done well. Lighting by this point is definitely more vivid and makes better use of contrast than in previous levels.

The use of general ambient sound is adequate and the music, including a few custom tracks of miscellaneous origin, is decently utilised and well chosen. The lack of Dynamic Ambient Sounds, particularly in the outdoor areas, is disappointing - but the mod deserves credit for its use of triggered sounds at a number of key "WTF" moments in the later maps.

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The story of WTF Series 1 seems rather mundane at first: the player is dispatched to the planet Learnu to find out what happened to a previous team, which has gone missing, but is shot down on arrival at the planet. This basic premise is well realised, however, by the two intro cinematics, which even include a bit of relatively professional (if slightly bored-sounding) voice acting.

The strength of WTF Series 1, however, is in the way it takes this basic story forwards: as the player navigates the first three maps, it becomes increasingly clear that something very strange is happening around the Skaarj portal shipment facility that the player has infiltrated, and by the end of the third map the player is beginning to experience this weirdness first-hand: WTF Series 1 features some of the most imaginative and creepy scripted moments that I have come across. Where this is all heading is difficult to gauge, as the emerging story is cut off in its prime by the truncated nature of the WTF Series 1 release - but if Shivaxi and his partner in crime LOL_PEANUTS can keep upping the ante in future instalments, there is the potential for a very memorable single player experience here. Shivaxi and co. should, however, beware of introducing "learn by dying" moments, of which there are at least two significant examples in WTF Series 1 (the most puzzling of which being a tumble down into a seemingly infinite red void in the middle of a Skaarj storage facility).

To keep the rest of the gameplay feeling fresh, Shivaxi replaces parts of the player's arsenal with weapons from custom sources, including Infiltration and U4E. Weapons available include the standard Unreal Dispersion Pistol, Stinger, Eightball Gun, Razorjack, Rifle and Minigun; but also Frag Grenades, the Mag (a faster Automag), the M-16 (a standard dual fire machine gun / grenade launcher), a very powerful Quadshot and the U4E Howitzer (a powerful, double-barreled, long-range Flak Cannon with a rapid firing rate). The custom weapons are fun, but make defeating the standard Unreal creature classes rather easy, particularly as the Mag, M-16 and Quadshot are all headshot enabled (and there's no shortage of ammo). The game seems to acknowledge the overpowered nature of its arsenal, however, during one key moment in which the player is attacked by a huge army of Skaarj. It's all good fun, but it's also unfortunate that the inclusion of so many custom weapons requires the inclusion with the mod of the much of the code for Infiltration and U4E, which significantly increases the download size.

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The fixes undertaken since the first release of this pack have fixed some of the more serious bugs. Thankfully, the most painful bug from the first release, which made it impossible to reload saved games from the third map onwards, has now gone.

There remain, however, a variety of visual glitches: for example, the background of the second intro cinematic vanishes into the OpenGL draw distance, causing a HOM; and there's also a selection of other minor HOMs and visible BSP cuts. I experienced some trouble with the scripted opening scene of the first playable map on one occasion, and the end credits were unreadable. When I played the fixed release, the modifications that were supposed to enable "real crouching" to get into airvents and such didn't work, and I had to ghost through parts of the pack; other users, however, have reported more success with this aspect of the mod, so it may just have been me. One final, minor niggle: the big energy lift that begins the fourth map of the pack starts to go back upwards almost immediately after it lands and, if the player is still engaged in combat when he arrives at the bottom, he is likely to be swept back up with it - rather undermining the essential WTF-ness of this otherwise clever and memorable part of the pack.

Summary

WTF Series 1 is the work of a creative mapper with tremendous potential to create memorable gaming experience; it remains slightly bug-ridden, but has now been fixed enough that I feel comfortable in recommending that you take a look - it won't take a hugely long time to play through.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.48% 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.5 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.6
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.5 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.6
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).4 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.6 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.8
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.4 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.4
Final Verdict: Above average
Score: 56%

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