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Unreal 227

Review: The Lava Pump

If you’re looking for a challenge that is different from the usual SP map flow and are not allergic to first person platforming, then this can prove quite refreshing

Project information

The Lava Pump
Unreal 227
Single Map

Main review

Back in 2016, a relative newcomer to the UnrealSP community released his first SP level to little fanfare. This was in part due to the author’s self-effacing demeanour, between the short technical description in the release thread emphasising “lots of pointless corridors” and a less-than-stirring project title, with even the download archive taking a no-frills approach with not so much as a ReadMe in sight. Just the map file, no BS! In lieu of a detailed backstory, upon loading the level, the player is greeted with one simple yet cryptic message: “Welcome to the factory - get ready to be factorized…” Hence begins The lava pump

Nowadays, Yrex is a well-known member of the community whose contributions rival those of the greats of yore, so it’s interesting to delve back into his first released work (for Unreal with patch 227 only): as is to be expected, there’s a raw quality to everything - or a “purity” of spirit, as the author puts it in a short retrospective piece for the map on his website. Unburdened by the weight of expectations, Yrex did as he pleased, and while the level’s overall build is unsurprisingly subpar (outside of a solid technical execution), its gameplay succeeds in entertaining from start to finish and exhibits a good deal of the author’s signature style that we have since become familiar with.

Some kind of generator. It’s also a static mesh! 227 only, baby.

But let’s first get the obvious out of the way: the build isn’t going to win any prizes. This hits you in the face right from the starting area, where lighting is especially poor and does the ugly surroundings no favours. The funny thing is, whether it’s in terms of architecture, texturing or lighting, the author clearly demonstrated at various points of the map that he can do better - whether that’s in the form of a geometrically elaborate area or a flashy laser sequence - but most of the time it seems the predominant attitude towards matters of “beautification” (never mind considerations on realism such as the sourcing of lighting) was one of “don’t care”. I recall a specific blurb used for one of Mister Prophet’s reviews of Zora’s Episodes, which stated that the author “tends to populate these maps only with the direct elements of gameplay, and all other considerations get left out”: this fits The lava pump to a T.

So be prepared to witness basic geometry - including the obvious use of editor primitives in cave sections - and unsourced (often white) lighting for the majority of the playthrough. Texturing is also often overly repetitive, a likely consequence of the usually simple geometry but which could have been helped with adequate scaling in the larger areas. Texture misalignments seem limited to some natural terrain in outdoor sections (always tricky to handle), and on the upside it should be said that the author often made the most of the mine/factory theme by not only relying on the classic Mine.utx package but also by adding some appropriate textures of his own. While the level design tends to oscillate between functional and random, there is some form of thematic progression as the second half transitions into a Skaarj base of sorts. And though there’s plenty of “noobish” rooms to gawk at, time and again you’ll witness some real technical proficiency, as besides the rare better looking area (at best rivalling Unreal’s own standards), Yrex also made extensive use of movers and occasionally smartly employed patch 227-specific capabilities (such as advanced particle emitters and static mesh support - the latter can help ease the load on the BSP tree).

Sound usage fares in much the same way as the visuals: you begin the level and can’t hear a thing until you start moving, and much of the map is devoid of ambient sound - hardly a positive; however, once again, the author proved to be more than capable of providing a bespoke soundscape when he wanted to, as the main mining facility can attest to with its whirling machinery, gurgling liquids and crackling high-powered generator. All movers have an associated sound when required, and that’s mostly true of special events as well. Most importantly perhaps is Yrex’s use of music: no stock tracks here, instead we get two new ones! And the first to kick in after you manage to exit the starting area plays for the greater part of the map: it’s pretty good as a casual old school video game track, but has nothing on Unreal’s OST and feels distinctly older… which makes total sense as it’s Yrex’s port of some music from the shoot’em up Armalyte (Amiga version, 1991)! The second track triggers in the Skaarj base after getting “ambushed” by an enemy - it basically fits the action and even when things calm down a bit further on, it continues to provide an effective sense of urgency and excitement… and yeah, this time the music comes from Base Jumpers (1995). Old school, eh? This more ancient feel is an aspect I’ll touch upon again when discussing the gameplay. While music plays, any absence of ambient sounds doesn’t really hurt (especially with the action-oriented track), but again we’re faced with an unnatural silence save for our footsteps in the level’s last major area (which doesn’t even feature any fighting).

Ah, Yrex throws down the gauntlet with a laser sequence! Things are beginning to make sense…

Onto gameplay, which is what this map is really all about. Yrex implements a style of adventure that’s very different from the mother game, de-emphasising combat and centring the proceedings on platforming and exploration. Of course, this is not, in itself, a new approach: if anything, this reminded me of Montezuma’s Return! (1997), which can best be described as a psychedelic FPP (First Person Platformer). Now, don’t get me wrong: you do not literally spend most of your time platforming here, unlike the aforementioned FPP you actually have guns in this level so, not only does the fighting feel better when it does occur, but also you don’t always need to haul your ass all the way up to every single switch. A casual onlooker may refer to some of the obstacles here as “puzzles” but, truly, it’s just about exploration/switch hunting and movement/traversal challenges. It’s actually challenging, too: you will die on your first playthrough (it borders on “learn by dying” in a couple of instances), so remember to make saves from time to time.

And this is where we can recognise some of the author’s hallmarks: there’s a characteristic playfulness in how several of these sequences are designed, from the platform which comes down to you but needs to be jumped on after it dips into the lava below, to the use of high pressure steam bursting out of a broken pipe as a means of propelling oneself to an upper floor. And of course, a Yrex staple: laser traps! And since the level is focussed on traversal challenges, the author made sure we would have to make use of the full movement set at our disposal. Remember: crouching is a thing, folks!

There’s collapsing floors of course, and there’s timed platforming over acidic slime (tarydium sludge?). You’ll have to jump onto a moving crane hook to reach some switches. There’s a tram which is really more like a hyperloop system. You’ll have a ride on a Serpent Canyon-style wooden boat… floating on corrosive slime. It’s all pretty surreal, without narrative justification, and a big part of the reason for why I feel this level harkens back to older video gaming trends than Unreal itself: a time when action games had mostly abstract level design (influenced by technical limitations), where it was primarily about the gameplay and the joy of movement in 3D space.

Even with how abstract it can get, the map is not without any sense of foreshadowing, and the main mining facility does feature good interconnectivity between areas. Some degree of awe can be felt from the extensive use of movers as well. The level also successfully conveys a serious sense of scale at times: I remember thinking that boat ride would be the end of it, but I was quite wrong… that’s another thing Yrex is good at, surprising the player!

As for combat: it’s mostly there to provide some variety in-between the more involved platforming sequences. There’s a handful of fights towards the end, including as a result of a couple of simple scripted sequences.

As you probably gathered by now, there is no story. There are a few translator messages which at best exhibit only a whiff of flavour: their main purpose is to guide the player. The Krall with the “weird shield on them” are a highlight with their custom skin, but don’t go looking for lore. To be completely fair, while I don’t think there’s a real beginning, there is the aforementioned thematic progression from mining area to Skaarj base and there is an ending: echoing Unreal, you find a spaceship and take off (in complete silence…), hopefully never to return (when was the last time that didn’t work out, heh). It’s basically the equivalent of the game’s default “Exit” sign at this point.


The lava pump is different from the typical experience found in Unreal with its focus on traversal challenges rather than combat. Visuals and sound are below average, but the technical execution is actually really solid. Despite the absence of a real story, there’s a basic sense of thematic progression and while the level design can feel random at first, eventually there’s some awe to be had and the conceptual design isn’t bad. The gameplay is consistently entertaining and sometimes genuinely surprising. Yrex’s first map is not a must-play, but if you’re looking for a challenge that is different from the usual SP map flow and are not allergic to first person platforming, then this can prove quite refreshing and is worth playing through at least once… you’ll even encounter some Amiga tunes!


Build (24%)
  • 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 (19%)
  • 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.

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