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Map Title: Gothic Resurrection
The briefing provided via Read Me and the opening line of text lay the scenario down for you. A gothic monastery has recently been under review by "scientists," but aliens show up to wreck the party and a rag-tag security crew moves in to take it back. Unfortunately the would be heroes do not have luck on their side. Enter the silent protagonist with a mission. You!
In this late age of Unreal SP fandom it seems that most eyes are on those "Upcoming" large projects we all hope will reinvigorate our appreciate of the game. Though, it is nice when a mapper comes along and releases a single level out of the blue. It reminds me of a time when this sort of thing was more common. The Unreal SP review log for single maps is quite long, and it's hard not to notice that so many of them were released when we were all ten years younger and the world was less depressing (but the music was still going in such a wrong direction, it seemed). Rob Collins...or under the handle we know him as on the forum, Doublez-Down...has gone back to the basics and published another lone level to help bridge the wait for epics like Firestorm and The Chosen One.
Gothic Resurrection is the title, and just like the UT deathmatch level with half of the same name the locale takes place in a similar looking gothic monastery, with all the bells, whistles and purple lanterns. Those aliens you were excepting? The Skaarj. All motivations for your antagonist's actions are left out, leaving us with the age old explanation that the Skaarj are just dicks. There is also no clarification as to why the back up for that lost security team consists only of Private Todd (I like to give myself names in these kinds of maps, where that info is left out) and his trusty dispersion pistol. Yeah, send in one guy with a gun meant to jolt convicts just enough to keep them from shanking each other in the shower. Oh, yes it's pointless to deconstruct the novelty of the standard Unreal SP storyline, but I highlight the logic here because I was left asking myself these questions as I played. Am I fine with just shooting monsters in a series of nice looking rooms? Well...yes. Yes I am. And I won't begrudge an attempt at story, any attempt. Even if it doesn't quite make sense to me why a technologically sophisticated race of imperial space warriors would descend upon planet Earth (or wherever) only to hang out in the dark corners of an empty monastery on the off chance a lone solider with an inefficient arsenal might wander in and look around. I mean, what? Do the Skaarj hate art? Is there Tarydium beneath the monastery? Or are they just...well, dicks? The "To Be Continued..." ending might allude to that later.
The story is adequate, which is more than I can say for four whole episodes of Zora's maps. You will find some dead people and you will witness the deaths of a couple of others, NyLeve style at the most exciting. Log books will sit nearby their owner's corpse and you will read the enlightening final thoughts of Security Team A. I've read some atrocious spelling errors in my time with the Unreal community, but everything reads fine in this one. There's an unsurprising mention of some inept commander's sense of leadership and a couple of digs at "the girl" character who of course cannot be allowed to live either, this is Unreal dammit! Everyone is dead! I did notice one sentence that made me laugh out loud that went along the lines (I'm paraphrasing here) something like, "...The monastery has been taken over by what appears to be lifeforms." For the most part it was the purpose of the game that made me raise my eyebrow here. It's a short play-through, even on Unreal difficulty where every shot is going to count. And how it all ends is also pretty formula (Hey good job, see you next time! Cue canoe ride, load to Start-up Flyby). I mean...why? Why a monastery and how did I get here? Why am I leaving by way of water? If you propose a story you have to follow it through. At no point in Gothic Resurrection will you particularly care for the whys and the whos, but the translator logs are enough to paint a clear picture without revealing anything we may not have heard before in a Unreal SP map. At the very least I did not run into any of the "I'm dying of ___" logs that people so often fall into the trap of littering around their maps, and while the soldiers themselves may be a bunch of misfits they are at least entertaining misfits. Still, it was hard to ignore the fact that my place in the map was sort of random.
What works is the gameplay, and Collins doesn't pull any punches on this one. I've played through the map a few times prior to writing this, and can say that the Unreal difficulty will be fun for you veterans (I got pinched once by an ASMD wielding Gunner). This map is all about enemy ambushes and scripted attacks that turn into ambushes. I will commend the author for the effort, as of the final patch which fixed some breakable flee sequences. With such paltry provisions to go with for the first half of the map you'll be on your toes. While health and ammo are in short supply, it is possible to acquire the first six Unreal weapons before the end. That might seem like too many since it's a short play with only 28 enemies (17 of which are pupae), but because ammo is so rare you'll be starved the whole way through. I do not think my Flak Cannon or Eightball were ever not in the red digits, and the sudden appearance of a Stinger is good for possibly one or two enemies. Besides the pupae, the bestiary consists only of Skaarj and a single Behemoth. A duo of Eightball wielding Gunners do make an appearance, but they are easily thwarted by a helpful door. In fact, that is perhaps my only real technical criticism; doors. They all look fine here, they just suck when it comes to open/close times. There are also instances where a door will close behind you but there is no mechanism to backtrack through it, which is perhaps a potential layout/gameplay tactic...but here, it was more annoying since I could just take the long way back around and no new scripted events or enemy spawns seemed to pop up as penalties. This leaves me to think it was simply an oversight. But really, in regards to those doors that have the open/close issues, any instance where a stubborn door gets in the way of combat clocks pretty high on my list of faults that cannot be ignored and this map has at least one of these, at the most climactic moment no less! This is unusual to me since I know that the author comes from a DM mapping background, and this is the area of expertise where these kinds of mistakes are more often weeded out because the flow of deathmatch mapping makes it necessary not to obstruct the player. But just the same; be better with your doors people!
The layout is really smart here, including hidden spots that are off the beaten path and are completely optional. The location free flows back into itself, with the main mechanic being a key collection spree and a switch hunt that connects all the principle sections together. Use of level interaction is high, including deformable walls and decoration placement tailored with firefights in mind. And it's always cool to have a shoot out in a room where stray shots can shatter pretty glass.
My experience was served well by the audio here. On one hand the use of Wargate for the music was fitting and the author certainly had plenty of sounds at his disposal, both ambient and dynamic. In a map full of ambushes, hearing that metallic schnnct! of Skaarj talons emanating somewhere in a quiet room will make anyone pan the room with their sights. What didn't work for me were the random female screams that played over and over again, or so it seemed. I understood the atmospheric aspect, but hearing the same soundbyte more than twice from a character I thought was already dead was odd, and also because the scream selected was...you know, like the kinda scream a woman makes when they are being killed...or maybe also the sound a thirteen year old girl might make at Roman Polanski's house.
I mentioned the UT level inspiration earlier because Collins makes a choice that only a few SP mappers have wagered on; the prolific use of Shane Caudle's ShaneChurch texture scheme. That's not to say that Gothic Resurrection looks or feels too much like a deathmatch level. This has classic Unreal written all over it, served fresh for your playing pleasure. I only mention it because it's hard to represent any map that uses the set in promotion shots without instantly bringing the stigma of "UT Deathmatch" to the he or she who sees them. In fact, I myself found it hard selecting which screenshots to show for the review and settled on more atmospheric scenes. Collins manages the theme very nicely without ever really going above and beyond with the set. No, it isn't the defining map that's going to "bring back" the ShaneChurch set. But the theme is used well for what is there to be played. Notable elements I can mention are two gargoyle statues seen high above you early on (though they look flat from certain angles when you are allowed to get closer to them), nice placement of fireflies you might remember from Xidia, and custom portraits flaunting dark faeries (all of which are inscribed by the artist's name; an aesthetic choice, but it's too awkward fitting to think that your vaguely-military trained character is reading those little plaques with his infiltration mission going on and everything, bringing to mind a fourth-wall breaking interface more than anything else). Beyond that I can't speak much more of the level design, other than that it uses its source theme well and makes the most of all the available textures. Getting to the highest level above the courtyard gives the player too much of a look at the "roof," I felt, as Collins doesn't exactly avoid the feeling of the map being an enclosure cut off from any outer environment. On this note, yes, it feels like a Deathmatch level, and only in this regard. I notice it more because, probably, I was a deathmatch mapper too once and I know how DM mappers tend to think.
I do not feel as if Collins has completely gotten over that hurtle yet, where layout has to exist beyond the functional game space. It's a hard habit to shake, I know. With SP you have to learn how to not think of your level as a series of interconnected rooms, balconies, and lifts...but as an alien planet, a water treatment facility, a starship. And this case, monastery. The author should not despair here, though, as this venture is very convincing. There is purpose to these rooms. We see libraries here, a chapel, and various parlors. Grand staircases make their appearance, as does a dock. I think the lingering scent of a DM mapper's mindset is most evident when I think of these locations without the functional obstruction of pews and tables and pottery. And when I do that I see what could have easily began as a Deathmatch level...or more directly, what could easily be converted into one. This is not necessarily a bad thing either. It's true that some maps can cross gametypes, and have. The real trick is bringing that other element.
It's a solid map, and certainly deserves above average appraisal from a technical standpoint. My only advice to Collins is that players don't always see value in what is technically well-structured as opposed to what feels new to them.
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