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Review: Altar

The gameplay is different and unique thanks to puzzles and platforming elements.

Project information

Miki "CORWIN" Steiner
Small Campaign

Main review

Altar is a small, three levels long single player adventure made in 2001 by a Czech first-time mapper Corwin. As with many first works, this too has its share of flaws, but surprisingly, the author really did his homework and tried to minimize such issues. And it shows. What also matters is that Corwin did his best to make the gameplay different and unique by implementing logical puzzles and platforming into the pack instead of just relying on the standard run-and-gun rules of engagement.

You play the part of a crewman of a military vessel, sent with a mission to investigate an emergency distress call. Tracking down the source of this S.O.S. will lead you into a building that is part-temple, part-catacombs and part-housing. It's a typical newbie error: a dungeon with no apparent purpose. That pretty much kills the mood if you're picky but if you're not, there's quite a few nice surprises.

Your unimpressive vessel.

The architecture of the level does not impress when compared to more advanced works but given the fact it is Corwin's first mapping endeavor, it does demand some respect. The valley your ship has landed in has vertical, unimpressive walls and an occassional BSP error at the top but is otherwise quite decent. At least it's no squarefest. The main building which is composed of the later two maps is quite another matter: all areas are very basic constructs, some of them appear unrealistic, like the stone spiral staircase which would probably collapse in reality. The lighting is also unimpressive, some of the places are too dark to see a thing. I've seen no particular eyesores in terms of texturing though but it also is nothing remarkable.

The inside of the dungeon.

There is nothing particularly pleasant for ear either: practically no ambience and in places where it does appear it seems to have too big a range, like the ship's computers that are quite clearly heard quite a few steps from the vessel. The music... it is there but an hour or two after playing the level I forgot which tracks are used -- which means one thing: it is not used in a memorable manner.

A staircase to die for... or under, more like.

The pack does shine in terms of gameplay though. As I mentioned already, it isn't just about running and shooting. There's puzzles, ranging from infuriating adventure-style button search to quite inventive bridge operation mechanics and well-hidden secrets. There's also a platforming section where you need to navigate a set of moving square platforms over lava in order to reach a spot that's three floors above your starting point. You can solve this in two ways: either move a metal box over the switch to keep the platforms moving all the time or leave the switch uncovered and shoot it when you need the platforms to move. Simply put: the level allows some freedom in how to approach this particular problem. Were it used more prominently along the pack, the score would go up a big deal. But even though it's just a curiosity, it's a valuable lesson to other mappers how to get things done: allow more than one approach to the problem. And all this was done with clever use of simple triggers - which is rare for a newcomer mapper and in 2001 was even tougher to pull off, without all the helpful tutorials available today.

However, there is one gripe I have with the final boss. It's just too damn easy to beat! The author has created a series of alcoves the player can hide where the boss's attacks will rarely reach if ever. This allows you to pummel the creature mercilessly with barely any danger to yourself. Pretty much kills the suspense.

The platforming section.


Although Altar isn't a visual or atmospheric marvel, its unique gameplay approach does provide a recompensation for the level's shortcomings. It's obviously worth it to play if you're in for something new.

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Build (15%)
  • Architecture
    Imagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.
  • Texturing
    Use of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.
  • Lighting
    Lighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).
  • Sound
    Use 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.
  • Technical Execution
    Technical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.
Cast (20%)
  • Conceptual Grandness
    Scale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.
  • Story Construction
    Backing story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.
  • Story Implementation
    Progression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.
  • Gameplay Awe
    Quality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.
  • Gameplay Balance
    Balance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.
Below average

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