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Review: ArchSub

ArchSub is a campaign without personality

Project information

Steve Long
Small Campaign

Main review

Let me start this review by asking a question; do you actually want to play some old Unreal Single Player maps called HotFoot, Sky, Archwork, Fishbait, Boiler, Sub, Subway and DYNAMO?  Well, you can’t expect something to be good or not just by reading the title.  Remember One Day and its maps with characterless names?  That was indeed an enjoyable adventure.  Meanwhile, Ballad of Ash sounded so interesting but in reality turned out to be one of the most weird and forgettable experiences ever, except for its infamous ice lake.  ArchSub for Unreal, made by mapper Steve Long, doesn’t come as a full package as the maps were released standalone.  An UnrealSP forum user repackaged them and had the good idea to add a readme – useful if you want to know the order of the levels you have to play since they're not numbered.  Whether you care about it or not, the “ArchSub” name is official too; apparently the original author did release all the content in two packs and he did use that title.  However, they didn’t come with notes, so basically you had no way to know which map was the first one.  No official notes and readmes, therefore no story.  ArchSub appears as a collection of short maps chained together; similar to what has been done to Dark Side although here the levels are connected to each other.  The problem is that you don’t know the whys of your mission or what the hell you’re really doing at all.  You go around killing baddies in Skaarj industrial buildings, temples and docks.  You won’t have a Translator until the fourth map 'Fishbait'.  All the messages have no use with the exception of certain translations of Skaarj signs.  More on that later.  So no, zero information about the plot.  Let’s just say that you’re running amok, creating troubles to the aliens who slaughtered your dead friends.

The overall atmosphere feels similar to Quake 2.  You’ll go through many brown-coloured, mine-themed settlements, and sometimes in human and Skaarj structures too.  To be honest, it’s all indescribable confusion.  You start in some kind of iron-built temple of fire, then you go outside in a land which recalls the planet Mars.  After that you’ll be running inside mines that seem to be made by everyone; Humans, Skaarj, and Mercenaries.  The use of textures is really crazy and mostly illogical.  There’s a combination of Mine.utx, Skaarj.utx, Starship.utx, Decayed.utx and so on.  The structures have almost no personality; probably the most successful creation is the dock in Map 6 – it did look like one at least.  Beyond that, there’s not much sense lying around.

Brown industrial structure

The build is surprisingly not as poor as you might expect. The second and the sixth level contain very large outdoor areas, and look slightly detailed; especially the desert in the second map ‘Sky’ has a charm to it. The rest is generally below average, and most of all, extraordinarily cramped.  The submarine in particular is a pain to have to go through chambers fighting enemies all at the same time; and this experience repeats over and over almost everywhere.  Fortunately, at the same time you’ll be inside really large and overscaled rooms.  The architecture quality is simply inconsistent; a bunch of places look polished while others are empty – many of the corridors, for example. The lighting is a better scenario; it’s very colourful and bright but sometimes way too overdone; or too much brown, or even complete darkness. Not everything is sourced, and the fifth map contains terrible use of fog.  Just to avoid talking about any other remaining ugly light actors, I’ll note that there is a rather interesting use of shadows in the last room of the game. Also the red skyboxes are beautiful to look at.

As already stated, texturing promises nothing good.  You’ll see a lot of stuff from the Vortex Rikers, Terraniux and ISV-Kran slapped together in many chambers.  All the too common technical errors such as repetition, bad scaling and misalignments are present and in big quantities too. I have never seen a Skaarj sign texture being used for doors, but that could be a godsend when playing ArchSub. With its weird layout, it’s possible that you’ll get stuck because you don’t know where to go.  You run around searching buttons to open random doors; half of the time you won’t realize what you have opened, but fortunately you’ll get a bit of help in some maps by simple Translator messages.  It’s hard to get lost and the levels are pretty short, but there are cases where you’ll lose your head – Fishbait being the worst offender in this regard. You’ll be wasting time by running everywhere until you realize there’s a window which you can open and pass through. 

This leads to another problem: the movers.  The buttons are weirdly placed and barely visible.  You don’t press them, but instead pull them away.  You’ll be tricked because it feels like you haven’t activated anything.  It gets worse when these buttons come from panels – unrecognizable and the glasses won’t help.  Your best bet is to go around, touching every computer you see until you hear a set of beeps.  Strangely enough, you’ll be hearing more than one noise coming from them which can be rather annoying and also adds to that feeling of having missed something.  Nothing good can be said for the doors.  Some of them, like in the first map, are always opened toward your side making them bounce back instantly.  Cases of monsters blocking these openings can happen too.  Other doors move slowly and are activated only for a small interval of time.  You won’t have much time to escape, especially in maps where everything is so small and cramped.  There are some intricate movers though, like a set of gears, floor traps, and a moving ceiling.  There’s a bit of vehicle action too.  You’ll be using some kind of cart, a fast train, a mini boat that’s impossible to stay on and a hang-glider.  The flight of the hang-glider probably being one of the best moments of ArchSub, as it happens in Sky, the second map and the best one of the pack.  But a warning: if you break the hard-to-find rope which holds the hang-glider while staying on the ground, the flying thing will go away and you can’t complete the map legally anymore without cheating.

The lighting of ArchSub at its worst

Yeah, there are instances where you’ll be permanently stuck unless you cheat.  The worst example is in the 5th Map, Boiler.  In the next paragraph, I will explain how to get past Boiler without cheating:

You’re in a chamber of two floors filled with Nitrogen water and you have to move two sets of bridges in order to cross the gap.  Problem is, the button which moves it is on the lower floor and if you drop down you have no way to get back up as all the other doors are locked.  The trick is that the button has to be shot from above.  Would you have guessed that?   No, especially when the button is barely visible by itself and covered by an annoying bank of violet fog (the same one I deemed “terrible” some paragraphs above). 

Other bugs are the insta-kill BSP holes in the small submarine of Map 6 and a door which doesn’t open in Map 7 (unavoidable).  There are more bugs, albeit non-game breaking ones – like being unable to get items because brushes or even an exit teleporter actor will get in the way.  Other bugs include unlimited appearances of Stingers in one spot (if you want to pick them up, turn your volume down first), elevators built in a way that can easily screw up by players falling down shafts instead, and electric doorways disguised as portals.

One thing I’ll recommend if you want to play ArchSub, is to turn down the music volume.  Silence is much better than hearing minutes and minutes of the tracks Guardian and Warlord.  I have no idea why someone would put boss battle music for ambient purposes; it’s totally out of place.  Similar things can be said for Opal, which is heard for almost two full levels.  In the later maps you’ll hear QueenSong, but the songsections keep changing crazily without any reason.  Ambient sounds?  Sometimes you’ll hear them (nothing wrong with that) and sometimes you won’t.  Multiple beeps that go off when you press buttons are a constant annoyance.  Also, hearing the sound samples of DM-Fith are strange and I simply do not understand their purpose in the context used.  Well, that is if I ever manage to understand anything from this pack.

If you do, just tell me.

One of the aspects you won’t forget much about ArchSub is the gameplay, which is more akin to the old FPS games such as Duke Nukem 3D and Quake.  Its fun at first, but from the third map on it becomes increasingly repetitive.  There are simply too many items and enemies for maps which are generally small in size.  That, and not enough thought process was put in regarding the placement of enemies.  For instance, you’ll be fighting different types of monster species in the same areas.  The enemies will include Skaarj, Mercenaries, Krall and Brutes all potentially at the same time.  Just be ready to expect things like Gasbags and Mantas found indoors and most of all, dozens and dozens of Tentacles. These critters are practically everywhere, in any kind of place, including the submarine and a super technological alien compound.  I’m not joking about their quantity either; you’ll even end up fighting different flavours of them such as flying Tentacles, mini Tentacles or two Tentacles placed in one spot.  It’s ridiculous.  Pupae are present too, and they’ll be probably your biggest nightmare as you can’t move too much in the cramped hallways in which they are located.  Even with all of these fights, it’s almost impossible to die.  Aside the common Health Packs, the enemies will usually drop Assault Vests and Super Health Packs.  The campaign is even friendlier about ammo, especially for the Rifle and the RazorJack (bouncing blades will take care of anything).  Since you run through narrow rooms and many of the enemies are found inside, half of the time you’ll have to watch scenes such as Mercenary and Krall beating each other. There’s a heavy and illogical use of creature factories which adds nothing to the fun factor. You’re too oversupplied, and not even on Unreal difficulty do you come to the point of almost dying (apparently there’s filtering).  Sure, maybe with all of the bad guys you may potentially screw up and then still become overwhelmed by them.  Although there aren’t Skaarj with hitscan weapons, Mercenaries will still step in with their machineguns.  All in all, no one is really that tough.  By the end of the day, you’ll be fighting monster after monster always breaking the flow of your journey throughout various cramped structures.  You go back to an area after pressing a button and you have to stay alert because Mercenaries keep popping out of nowhere.  You’re having fun with the cart ride and then suddenly Krall and Tentacles appear in front of your face.  You swim in a lake and you’re assaulted by Slith coming from behind.  Zero seconds for a little rest.  Aside the gimmick of reappearing enemies searching for you, there are some scripted sequences like activating a trap floor which only purpose is to catch Krall who just end up falling into it.  There aren’t bosses, except two Giant Gasbags that as you know, are always less threatening than a single Pupae.

The main enemy of the pack

ArchSub is short. You may think there’s still more to do after having to restart DYNAMO via the teleporter, but this simply signals that you’ve finished the pack.  It’s hard to remember the levels you have beaten because they’re untitled in-game, and there’s not much relation between the titles of the maps and their content.  The first level is named ‘HotFoot’ because of a hot lava pool, the second ‘Sky’ because you have the best sight of sky compared to the others, the sixth ‘Sub’ because there’s a submarine, and the eight ‘DYNAMO’ because (according to the subtitle) you’re preparing for an electrifying experience.  The rest I simply do not comprehend.  In the last room of ‘DYNAMO’ there’s an invisible teleporter which will take you to the starting point of the map.  You kill a Krall and then nothing else happens. 

The pack ends abruptly.


ArchSub is a campaign without personality, but possibly more enjoyable than Ballad of Ash due to being slightly longer, graphically better, and having constant action.  If you are a fan of playing ArchSub, I’d also invite you to play a more suitable classic FPS game such as Quake 2.

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Build (10%)
  • 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 (8%)
  • 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.
Very poor

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