Skip to main content

Review: The Demon's Keep

It has aged really badly, but its atmosphere can still be felt

Project information

The Demon's Keep
Jeroen "CoBoDeRa" Breukels
Small Campaign

Main review

The Demon's Keep is a very old mappack released for Unreal. It does work perfectly with Oldskool, aside from the famous bug of torch flames found a little far from their bases. It consists of two maps: the first one inside a prison, and the second one in a Nali town. As the readme says, you have been captured on a planet invaded by the Skaarj and you have to escape. Not original, obviously; the author even jokes about it in the readme.

For the general atmosphere, the author makes no use of music, leaving the sounds to do their work alone. He manages to stay true to the "place like hell" theme, as he takes a Satanic, oppressive approach on the build. Most of the help comes from the sounds themselves – screams, hellish Nali chants and the continuous noise of low-pitched wind. Although, some of the sounds seem to be just here to scare you, like the chants coming from invisible sources. While the mood is set, they can become annoying, and sometimes (as in the second map), you'll mostly hear complete silence.

One of the foggy rooms of the prison

Now onto the build. As stated, the first map is a prison built on a cliff, over an enormous lake of lava, from where you can also see part of the Nali town. The main thing you notice about this level is how extremely cramped it is. So cramped that it's almost impossible to strafe, that you feel like a giant compared to surrounding environment, and that the enemies aren't really able to move through rooms at all. This is mostly done to achieve an oppressive feel, the author's main objective.

Architecture is basic, helped by a bunch of decorations (flags and candles). More work has been put into the outdoor sections. Textures, most of the time, are applied well. NaliCast.utx is the most prominent one. Or it seems so. Suddenly, the Ancient and DecayedS texture packages make their appearance, and this leads to a messy mix of themes that just speaks for itself. Even some dirt textures made it indoors for floors and walls, and the entire cliff on which the prison sits seems to be just made by soil instead of pure rock.

Regarding the lighting, one aspect is the crazy use of fog. Most of the fog is yellow-green coloured and, other than in the rooms with lava, has no source and has dynamic effects added seemingly just for fun. To avoid further explanations, the same could be said for all the other normal light actors.

The second map seems more interesting. Starting from the cliff of the prison, you'll see the entire landscape made for the mappack, and be able to make a little flight to the Nali town thanks to a random hang-glider.

Architecture here isn't cramped any more, and looks are improved from the previous level, but it remains mostly basic and on certain occasions ugly. One funny thing that you can see the prison, but it misses all the details that were present in Map 1, probably because the old rigs weren't able to run all of them (already if you look the Nali town from said cliff, the FPS decreases, and that's using a moderately powerful rig).

There's a little nitpicky thing. The huts of the Nali town have been seen before. Good guess: the author did actually copy the brushes from Nyleve, Harobed, Noork and Spire Village. And there aren't any credits or warnings in the Readme. A bit of shame indeed.

Regarding the textures, NaliCast.utx is still being used, with a single one from SkyTown.utx which doesn't seem to hurt the theme, unlike what happened in the prison. For the rest, there are numerous weird choices and misalignments.

Lighting is still very weak. No more fog, but there are colourful and dynamic light actors put here and here without sources. Plus, the mountains surrounding the landscape are so much dark that you may confuse them for some black masking bugs on the skybox.

There's nothing to expect from the story either. The author did develop a bit of it in the second map. Basically, you discover that one Nali managed to open a portal to hell and demons came out. Well, whether that tale is true or whether our good old Sky Demons did something themselves to arrive in the town, there's nothing else which will interest you, and you only have to escape. Some scripted events are present, like a Skaarj being killed by some rocks in the beginning, another pointles Vortex Rikers-ambush scene, the hang-glider flight (you have no control over it, you just have to avoid falling down) and the last escape with the Skaarj shuttle.

Be ready for a flight to the town

The gameplay poses some challenges. I played straight away on Unreal difficulty; the more you proceed, the more it becomes hard, due to the amount of Health available constantly decreasing, especially on higher difficulties. The Nali town is more of a survival trip than anything else. Fortunately, opposition is limited, and with weapons such as the RazorJack, Rifle and Automag, you shouldn't have any difficulties. For the cramped environments of the prison, you'll have to fight some small and weaker Skaarj capable of entering any room, while the rest of the normal enemies won't be able to move anywhere. You'll be a victim too, as you're screwed if someone manages to corner you somewhere (and it's common).

Enemies are mostly Ice Skaarj, helped by Krall (who mostly jump into the lava), Flies, Mantas, Slith, Gasbags and a Behemoth. Many of their placements don't make much sense, and there're no scripted events, aside from the Behemoth destroying an entire cartwheel system (even if you managed to kill him before).

There are various HOMs and spots in which you will be stuck, but nothing that will cause harm. You aren't safe when using the hang-glider, and nothing happens if you wait long enough during the FlyBy loop after the escape.


Demon's Keep is a nice ride which is worth a try, and it was great back then during its release. It has aged really badly, but its atmosphere can still be felt, and it will be probably the only thing about these two maps that you won't forget.

download links:*

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

Build (13%)
  • 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 (12%)
  • 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.

Other reviews