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Review: deCyber Duel

The definitive gladiator experience in the whole of Unreal single player mapping

Project information

deCyber Duel
Simon "EZKeel" West-Bulford
Single Map

Main review

Some years ago, in my continuous search for good custom maps to play, I came to the point of wishing for one where you could have been able to fight all the enemies of the game. Sort of like an arena level where you get weapons, enter the ring like a warrior and fight waves of Krall, or Mercenaries, or whatever else. It was possible to do something similar with the summon command at any time, and there were already minor maps doing similar things, but not in the way that I wanted. One day, though, talented mapper EZKeel, who at that time had already released the successful Xerania's Fall and – personally – the not-so-great Invasion map pack worked a miracle. Granting my wish out of the blue, deCyber Duel was created. And, wow, I didn't expect the idea to be realised so well, no matter of how actually old it is. Let's find how what it has to offer.

First and foremost, this map is gameplay/battle focused. Not an adventure, but a "Survival of the Fittest" type of game. There isn't any real storyline: you have been summoned by someone who wants to test your strength against gazillions of challenges and battles; win all the trophies and you will be able to exit from the temple you're in. Other marines were summoned to do the same thing, but obviously they're dead. You'll get hints in positions marked by Translator items that will explain how the whole map works. And you need them because there's more to do than pressing a button to fight a group of five Slith.

The main hub

The least interesting part of the map is the build, but you probably wouldn't expect much else from EZKeel. It is in the same style of Invasion, but a little better. Not so much for the architecture, which is on the average side: many rooms look just basic, filled with a few decorations such as lamps and vases and enhancements such as windows or wall lamps. At least the shape of the areas serves their purposes, especially in all of the arenas and the Heavy Weapons section. Probably the most improved aspect since his previous works is the use of textures. You'll notice an amalgamation of themes: the most prominent is the SkyTown one (which resembles The Sunspire more than anything else), then you'll get some Skaarj and Ancient sections too. It's not really a problem, since the other themes are used exclusively for the arenas and that's a good choice – for example, you'll be fighting Skaarj in a Mothership-esque structure, which is a fitting combination. Obviously there are instances in which the themes will be mixed together, but those are rather unnoticeable and they don’t damage the graphics at all; the catch is that probably you won't really care about them, since you're playing this map for the concept which the author has chosen to focus on. Continuing to speak about textures, they're generally repetitive and often misaligned – an example being a wooden plank texture being repeated for the entire ceiling.

There's not much to say about the lighting; it's fine for the most part and is fortunately all static. I would have really hated the idea of having lamps with any kind of dynamic or foggy effects inside the arenas, as that would have been annoying when trying to avoid arrays of bolts and shooting groups of monsters. Aside from the shadow effects being on the poor side, there's one big problem: almost all light actors have no source. The author completely neglected to enhance that part of the build in a "who cares" sort of way. The outdoor sections don't really match the colour of the sky, either. And speaking about the skybox, it is sort of strange. You can see its ground texture from a window placed on a floor within the playing area, and it's ugly, not to mention the fact that you feel like you're inside a floating temple. Another thing about the entirely cloudy sky is that it does instantly change colours in certain occasions. At first it's purple, then you enter the first arena and it becomes green. You enter then the third arena and it reverts back to purple, and I think you can do this cycle forever, but it's not that important anyway. I am not against this because the colour changes fit in the places when the sequence happens – in my opinion, it's just weird. Did I say that the basic architecture in this map can be treated as a gift for the gameplay? Because yes, it is. There are no moments in which you'll become trapped in certain spots by your enemies, as all the arenas are clearly designed for freedom of movement, and for that of the monsters ones; in other words, it's all balanced for everyone. There are some HOMs, but they're hardly noticeable.

I hate to say this every time, but "Now, the gameplay..."

So how does this map work? You have to complete three arenas, and you're free to choose which order you complete them in and what enemy race you want to challenge first. The easiest one contains four battles: waves of Slith, Mercenary Elites, Krall Elites and two Behemoths. Krall Elites are strong in numbers, while the Mercenary Elites have to be absolutely anticipated with some Rocket Launcher skills. Fortunately, the monsters leave themselves vulnerable (and a bit too much) when you unlock their cages, and while they run into the arena you can freely attack them. What's really nice here is that you're not supposed to fight all the four waves directly. You can beat one of them and return to the main hub, and you can do this in the other two arenas as well; how useful that is depends on a little particular chamber you have to find. For every wave you defeat, you get a small generic cup. If you defeat all the waves of an arena, you'll get the bigger trophy, and all of three look just cool. Cups and trophies are placed directly in the main Hub if you want to see them. The second arena is the classic Skaarj slaughterfest: you get to fight eight pairs of them, both Troopers and Warriors (Berserkers are in too, so anger issues ensue). The tip is to fight one wave at time, and if you have the Rifle, you'll have an easier time. The third and hardest arena is basically against the game bosses: the Giant Gasbag, a Titan, a Warlord and a stamina-charged Queen who uses her teleporting ability better than anyone else. Heavy weapons are necessary. In short it will be all up to your creativity, skills and inventory choices when you’re dealing with the bad guys. Everything has been designed for the purpose of having challenging and entertaining battles, like the boss arena, which will surely keep you on your toes.

The bosses eat the dust

You may have noticed that I wrote "Inventory choices" and also "Rocket Launcher", "Rifle" and "Heavy Weapons". Yeah. Why? The main rule of the game is that you have to choose an amount of inventory items from the armoury before conquering an arena. You can go back to the beginning when you exit from the arena, but the armoury is locked. Before you can re-enter it again you have to complete an entire arena. Plus, only a few items can be picked up at a time, as they're placed in positions that can only be reached in specific spots. In the first line there are weapons, in the second line there are items and various kinds of protective vests. You have to choose carefully, even though the whole system doesn't suffer from the Trial and Error gimmick: you're able to freely explore any areas, including the three battle stages, so you know what enemies lie ahead. There's also a secret passage which leads to the armoury even when it is blocked, but the hints and the readme say that doing so will cost one golden cup, which equals to a random wave of monsters. I actually don't know if this is true or not, but I recommend never to do it; not to mention, the secret passage is flooded and here you'll fight Devilfish and Squids that will appear from nowhere.

The map still has more tricks. Not even the main Hub is safe; some of the hints are inside vases and one of them warns you of traps (here's a hint from me: read 'em), like a few hidden Pupae and a dark area full of infinite Tentacles which contains an useful amount of ammo, at cost of your health obviously. Now back to the armoury; remember the Rocket Launcher, the Rifle and the other heavy weapons? You will find that they aren't in it, but are inside another section of the map, and probably the toughest one here. It contains three challenges to get the mentioned weapons, including a Flak Cannon and a Minigun which proves once again how it's worthless at best. These appear imposing; one of them is to pass through five movers that will splat you to the wall, and you'll likely say "no thanks, I won't go there". Another challenge is to hit eight holes while you're on a fast moving column; seems easy but I hope you have the patience to withstand the assault of Mantas and Flies that will bother you to no end. The last challenge is walking in a room full of mines. Now you're set and... huuuh, are you supposed to lose your sanity by doing all of this? Well, that depends on the difficulty you choose. There are no differences between them, except the monsters being stronger. Now, on lower difficulties, at least one powerful weapon is necessary, but on Unreal, you need them ALL! There's no real way to complete the boss arena without a heavy inventory. Either you can do the three challenges, or you can give up or cheat. The Mercenary Elites become a walking God Mode tank if you don't stop them before they exit their cage, Skaarj Snipers with Automags act like bigger bots and lastly, the Warlord and the Queen are simply insane, especially the Queen herself. The problem lies in the ammo quantity, as it is limited. You have the Dispersion Pistol for a reason, and you'll be almost forced to use it in all the possible instances, including the Titan and Giant Gasbag battles, otherwise you won't make it, permanently. This can be annoying, but only on higher difficulties and the readme states clearly that deCyber Duel won't forgive players in any possible way: you have to be hardcore! There's good news though: the map is friendly regarding health items. Aside from the help you can get from the armoury, all the arenas have Bandages and Health Packs to support you. That isn't enough? The map also hints about the presence of a chamber, which is the most important reason why you can return to the Hub every time you want: the Chapel of Healing. Oh yeah, a Chapel in an EZKeel map if you have forgotten the author's nick already. Anyway, it replenishes your health to 100 points and you can do this always. But how you get into it is another story; once you know the secret you have to go in the right corridor too, otherwise something else happens: you're dead.

That trap will make you nervous

And with that I pretty much covered anything, and I'll leave the real fun to the players. Another aspect of the map is the use of sounds. The Spire Village music seems a fairly good choice for the hub, while Unreal4 in the Heavy Weapons section feels out of place. All of the arenas make use of action music, including a custom techno track for the Skaarj arena. Regarding the sound effects, you'll hear in the stages continuous cheers coming from the spectators; where they are exactly is a big question. You'll also notice some amusing voices coming from something... that you'll see in the ending, which honestly I can't really explain. Aside from the fact that there should have been a sequel, but it was never made. I haven't noticed any bugs, but the readme warns that it doesn't work well in Coop.


The definitive gladiator experience in the whole of Unreal single player mapping. An unique map designed for balanced and splendid gameplay and EZKeel hit the concept right in the spot, going in great detail on every aspect possible. It's also very nice how you can customize your experience due to the armoury system. The map's greatness depends on the player's tastes; do you want to squash your enemies? Try this absolutely. You prefer the Unreal formula? You won't enjoy it as much. Either way, it's really fun, and honestly it is the most successful project by EZKeel.

download links:*

*Note that only the Unreal Archive uploads are checked to be the newest and most compatible/stable download link.

Build (28%)
  • 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 (29%)
  • 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.
Above average

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