Station H2S04 by Serge Jaeken was released back in 2018 and is one of those small scale SP singles that reminds me of the old Unreal demo discs I used to get bundled with gaming mags that had collections of user made content (before the stability of SP centric Unreal sites were formed, and sadly a lot of these levels are perhaps lost to time because of it). These were typically short lived affairs, usually a level loaded with Unreal creatures to fight with a bare bones plot to guide you. Others were better structured. In some ways, many of these were similar to what eventually became the Assault gametype in Unreal Tournament.
Station H2S04 is one of these right down to its mission based pretense. With a loose paragraph to lead us in that is given by a quick Readme study, during interstellar wars with the Skaarj the human military began using small team operations to dispatch upon known enemy bases. The intention being that of infiltration and sabotage. Yours is such a mission. The target? A corrosive chemical plant stationed on a Na Pali moon. Your team members were sent in before you to handle things while you stayed back to coordinate. After they all get themselves into trouble with the Skaarj defenses, you must go in alone to finish the job.
That is really all there is to it. Your job is to essentially handle a welcoming party of Skaarj Warriors, Troopers, Brutes, and a few pesky tentacles while looking for two red buttons to press. Doing so will summon in a drop ship to pick you up, and done! There are a nice compliment of Unreal weapons to help you tidy up the job, including an early automag and also a Stinger, ASMD, and a Rifle. A Flak cannon is provided at one point, which might be overkill, and at the end of the level the player can find a glorious and fitting GES Bio Rifle which seems like the choice weapon for a base built around toxic waste. At one point I do recall running into a Skaarj Gunner, but I never seemed to acquire an Eightball so it could have been my mistake (some Brutes appear alongside Troopers, which could have led to the confusion).
Thematically, the base in question pairs the (typically) Mercenary themed Decayed set with some elements from Skaarj textures, though the Skaarj sets do not predominate. It is an interesting mashup but not necessarily one that resonates. I had the impression of textures being used in some cases more for how they look. The soundscape also did not really make much of an impact on me. The Terraniux music plays during the majority of the level, hinting at more Mercenary collusion than what appears. Perhaps a base that was appropriated? You will not be here long enough to ask. But, it should be stated that the music selection dominates. While some factory sounds could be heard in some places, I never got much over the song track. That the facility is loaded with a combo of sludge and explosive barrels adds a high frequency of hazards to use at one’s disposal. Other decorative interactions include using crates to reach hard to reach inventory. There’s also a section with an air shaft that requires the player to pull a Charlie Bucket in order to reach a high platform (don’t get diced).
I perhaps spent longer than necessary trying to find all the hidden items that were put in my field of view but were not immediately accessible (earning Conceptual points there, Serge). Of these were at least two powerups for the Dispersion Pistol and an Amplifier that I saved for a large boss fight that never actually happened. Also unused was a majority of the flak ammo, as I took care of the last enemies on my backtrack to the shuttle with the Bio Rifle. Higher difficulties might necessitate the use of these extra armaments and I would implore experienced players to consider higher difficulties.
There were a little less than a handful of translator messages to read to go along with the readme’s plot. Mostly these were logs written by the protagonist’s late compatriots moments before their demise. No deeper lore is present. That is about it folks, just a snappy little classic Unreal level! Not much else to say other than that I hope Serge makes more. Station HS204 is quite simple, sure, but the design is very clean and there were no technical issues to speak of. The layout was structured very well and side stuff like inventory secrets and vertical movement was notable so nothing was ever boring. Enemy appearances are grouped and generally fun to fight, and late game spawns do occur.
It’s just very short, and overall the experience might come off as very vanilla (or average) to those of you that have been around the block. What I like about Serge’s level here is that it is structurally very sound. Nothing really punches, true, but there are no design mistakes either. It does what it is supposed to do and everything works. There is a sense of variance to how to approach certain rooms, so standard as it all is nobody can accuse the level of playing it linear. There is merit here. With a little reworking this could have been a stock UT Assault level. I would like to see Serge take some more chances with another one of these!
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.6
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.5
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).5
SoundUse 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.4
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.6
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.6
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.3
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.3
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.6
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.6