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Review: Star 861

One of the best first maps released by anyone

Project information

Star 861
Grayson Edge
Single Map

Main review

This smaller map was a first release for Grayson Edge, in ’99. This classic mapper later released Hexephet, which could be considered a benchmark for custom mapmakers since. Grayson Edge joined Legend Entertainment and worked on Unreal II a few years after the release of Hexephet. Star 861 is a single map made for the original Unreal, but it works well in the OldSkool mod for UT.

Very little information is provided about the setting of Star 861, but we are told in the readme file that it takes place in a “Skaarj hunting station”. A brief mission is also given to us in the readme, along with a tiny bit of background information. This map takes place before the author’s greater work, Hexephet.

For a first map, Star 861 has great visuals. You start out in a space station that immediately gives you the impression that this mapper is experienced. There is very little evidence that this is Grayson’s first map. There really aren’t any complex prefabs or brushes, but this map shows how well basic shapes can give a professional look if used right. The mapper obviously put some thought into how each room should be built.

A ride on a vessel

The preponderant textures used in Star 861 are from the Skaarj texture set – also used in the Mothership levels of the original Unreal episode. One reason the detail works so well is that the textures seem to be carefully chosen. There are a few alignment problems, but unless you actually look for them, they aren’t noticeable. Considerable time seems to have been put into the texturing to convince you that you really are in a Skaarj station.

The lighting is used very well in this map. The Skaarj texture set requires a greater deal of ambient glow to look realistic – and Grayson Edge accomplishes this well. Green, orange, blue, red, and purple are all used along with the appropriate light sources. The saturation might be a bit too high in some of the colored lights, and the divide between two colors is visible at times, but overall, these colorful lights add atmosphere to the map. Subtle hints of fog can also be seen in a few rooms in this space station; this made the lights more intense.

The sound usage is excellent in Star 861. Plenty of unique sounds can be heard that obviously have tweaked properties, such as the pitch. Every little space and corner gives off some sort of sound, and sometimes they are even creepy. The best touch would be the sounds given off by various light sources; they get louder as you walk up close to the light.

An eerie orange-lit hallway

Now that the great visuals have been discussed abundantly, it’s time to go over the weaker portion of the map – the gameplay. First of all, this map is very short and doesn’t have much background story. All we are given is a small amount of information in the readme. There aren’t a whole lot of translator messages to keep the story going in the map itself, either.

The starting room in this map is entertaining. Grayson Edge created a small vessel that you get to ride from one part of the station to the next. The combination of great visuals and sound lead you to believe that this will be an epic adventure. Once you get moving, you collect a few heavier weapons than the dispersion pistol and plenty of ammo to take out the Brutes and Skaarj you meet along the way. It should be mentioned that there was a little bit too much ammo in this map for Unreal skill. Anyway, before you are drawn into any kind of story and plot, the map is over. The end boss is a little disappointing, and the only guards that keep you from entering the escape ship at the end are two Mercenaries. The ending gives you a nice view in the cockpit of your ship as it takes off, but this doesn’t quite make up for the lack of good battles and story. Scripted events were pretty much absent in this map, and the monsters were all in static positions.

There wasn’t much wrong with the technical structure of this map other than a few HOM effects that can only be seen by looking in one direction (they never cover more than a tiny side of the screen).


One of the best first maps released by anyone, Star 861 has great visuals, but takes a hit in the gameplay department. Perhaps this map should have been bundled with Hexephet rather than released on its own. By itself, this map is much too short and lacks a good strong story. Nevertheless, this map will entertain most people who want to play something by a classic author.

download links:*

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

Build (39%)
  • 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 (15%)
  • 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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