This may not be of any interest at all, so please let me know if I'm wasting everyone's time. I did actually attempt something like this on the old forum, but I never completed it and it was much less detailed.
It's time for one of my occasional Unreal
play-throughs, and I thought I might produce a travelogue on this forum where I talk about the experience, sometimes nostalgically and sometimes looking at the game with a more critical eye. My plan is to start with Unreal
, then play RtNP, and then to move onto custom maps for as long as my interest sustains me. I'll play the retail games on Unreal skill and any custom content on Hard skill.
To give this exercise a bit of context, my most recent SP gaming experiences have been Doom
, followed by Doom II
, then Quake
and its mission packs - so I'm definitely moving up in the world!
So, without further ado, let it begin...
The first two maps of Unreal
are tremendously important. Undoubtedly, without these maps' atmospheric design, clever gameplay set-pieces, dramatic contrasts in design, subtle use of backing story delivered through the Universal Translator and their clever showing off of most of the engine's most innovative features, many of us wouldn't have been nearly so captivated by this game.
- by Cliff Bleszinski
You have to love the way the game starts. You regain consciousness in a devastated cell block, staring at the ceiling, damaged and unarmed. The lack of an intro sequence or in-game explanation for your presence here gives the player a disorientated, slightly amnesiac feeling that suits the game well.
Sound is very effectively used here, too, with silence except for the bleeping alarm, punctuated by the occasional sounds of distant explosions or announcements from the clearly damaged ship's computer.
Exploring the cell block is a sobering experience. You are surrounded by death and the desparation felt by the inmates prior to your arrival here is palpable. Small details like the bloody toilet with the bandage predominate (a very effective way to introduce that inventory item, by the way...), and the collapse of the lighting gantry is a genuinely shocking moment.
The shocks continue if the player accidentally triggers the electric chair in the execution chamber - a spectacular display of pyrotechnics!
Travelling through the shaking vents filled with green steam (and catching the briefest glimpse of a Skaarj) is a head-tripping experience, and is shortly followed by one of Unreal
's truly immortal moments as the player steps out onto the bridge and the music starts.
It is here that the player starts to piece together where he is and what has taken place to leave the ship in such a state of devastation. At this point the player starts to feel sadness (not for the last time in Unreal
) for the victims of the crash. The screaming corpse at the navigator's station is another nice little shock moment. Piecing together the demise of the Rikers is a theme that continues for the rest of the map.
From here onwards the map is primarily an atmospheric exercise in exploration, but, of course, no travelogue of Unreal
would be complete without a mention of the infamous jammed door sequence, since echoed but never outdone: a great exercise in the use of light and sound, and a great example of the "less is more" approach to frightening the player. When the door finally opens to a shower of body parts, the first full-body view of a Skaarj is a fantastic moment.
As the first of Unreal
's annoying little bugs, however, it's a pity that, when the music re-starts, it plays at the wrong speed.
- by Juan Pancho Eekels
In case Vortex Rikers
wasn't impressive enough, NyLeve's Falls
brings us the first of Unreal
's true awe-moments: stepping out of the close confines of the ship and into a verdant natural environment replete with the sights and sounds of nature... and then, of course, there's the powerful, mystical and uplifting music.
It may not look that impressive nowadays, but one has to remember that, when Unreal
first came out, the mucky beiges/browns and blurry skins of Quake II
were the cutting edge of 3D game graphics. This was arguably the first time that a game had immersed the player fully in a living, breathing and inspiring natural environment. The presence of the Nali Rabbit that hops across the ground in front of you, palm trees, birds in the sky and fish in the pool all add to the effect.
The story of the Vortex Rikers crew is effectively continued by the logs of the dead bodies scattered around the first Nali hut. Said logs also make reference to the ISV-Kran in Unreal
's first example of textual foreshadowing: this kind of thing helps the game to feel like one continuous world.
The first Tentacle:
This fight takes the form of an unexpected attack from behind as the player enters the hut. A low-key ambush but an effective way to introduce the first of Unreal
's "pest" classes.
As the player heads back towards the crashed ship, he gets a nicely composed view of the heat-scored vessel with its flickering ident panel: another iconic image.
But it's when the player reaches the cliff edge that NyLeve's Falls
' awe factor is at its highest. The fact that the game can not only convincingly portray a canyon of this sheer size but also include playable areas at both the top and bottom of it says a lot about the game's sense of Conceptual Grandness. The combination of visuals and sound effects leave a lasting impression.
It's not long before the player enters a gloomy alien outpost, in yet another effective exercise in stark contrast.
The first LesserBrutes:
The LesserBrute is introduced as the game's first challenging opponent in an exceptionally well designed combat sequence. From the first LesserBrute flinging a human body against the wall before rounding the corner and charging at the player, accompanied by a dramatic change in the pace of the music, to the second LesserBrute which emerges from the doors to the right as the player retreats, this is another sequence that makes an impression on the first-time player.
At this point, the player who explores is rewarded with a visit to the bottom of the canyon. However, here we enounter the second of Unreal
's annoying little bugs, namely the lift down to the bottom of the canyon, which can get incredibly confused if the player touches the controls located inside the lift itself. The music after the fight sequence is also clumsily handled: after the fight, it should have been configured to fade to silence rather than continuing to play the combat music until the player either exits the outpost at the top or kills the LesserBrute at the bottom.
The first Manta:
The attack at the bottom of the canyon by a single Manta is well handled, as the creature generally attacks from off-screen. It can take a tense few seconds to locate the creature, and first time players might take its calls to be part of the natural environment and be surprised to find themselves being attacked at all (the alternate first Manta fight, at the top of the outpost, is also well handled, being referenced by the log of a nearby dead human which also introduces the player to the Nali Healing Fruit).
On lower difficulty settings this is also the player's first chance to meet a live Nali. It's a nice touch for replay value, although rather sad, that he appears as a dead body on higher difficulty settings. There's another example of effective textual foreshadowing here, with a reference to Chizra's temple.
Visiting this part of the map also allows the player to appreciate the minor subplot of the Van Wely brothers, who become separated when one leaves his injured brother in search of help but ends up dead himself.
Moving on to the last part of the map, we encounter the first of many impressive building frontages, namely the entrance to Rrajigar Mine. This bold and uncompromising design very clearly announces that a change in location is imminent. The alien structures are also a sharp contrast to the simple stone huts of the natives, making clear that something is very wrong on this planet.
For the explorer, however, the map isn't over yet, and the optional detour to the storage facility is a worthwhile addition to the map that helps it to feel like a complete environment. The storage facility also makes good use of black shadows to provide an effective LesserBrute ambush. The use of darkness adds to environments like these, and with so many Flashlights and Flares around, the player is seldom ill-equipped to cope with it.
To be continued...! Commentary on later maps will, inevitably, not be as detailed as this, as a lot of the above deals with the player's first impressions of the game.