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Review: Unreal Zero

If you're in for a couple minutes of brainwiping slaughter of the entire Unreal zoo, this is the pack for you.

Project information

Unreal Zero
Bill "Spentron" Spencer
Small Campaign

Main review

Unreal Zero: Cats 2 was already reviewed by Mr. Prophet, however it's the final map of a set - and it is the entire set that should be reviewed as a whole rather than each map separately because they are parts of a whole. Hence I decided to write this here review which can also be treated as a re-review of Cats 2.
Unreal Zero is a "WTF pack", there is no question about that. It's in the formula - Cats 2, the final level of the pack is the nicest in terms of quality views but in terms of gameplay it's just as crazy as the levels that precede it. Basically, according to Mr. Prophet's definition, a WTF map is "any map that has no regard to the general principles of standard formula, instead taking an absurd concept and turning it into a totally unconventional map in every major aspect..." - bingo. That's Unreal Zero for you. Judging from the release notes, Spentron takes quite some pride from the "Unreal Zero" formula he devised and rightfully so - despite the largely mediocre visuals, the playthrough was one of the most unique and insane experiences ever to me.

That is one big behemoth...

The surroundings are barren. And surreal. And, they're filled with so many enemies that it's a complete chaotic spamfest without any rhyme or reason, reminiscent of the early days of Doom or Quake SP mapping. The starting area, u0exer level is a nice little tutorial that introduces the player to the Unreal Zero formula quite well. I've been pleasantly surprised how well it prepared me to the chaos embodied that is the Cat Bombs map - and quite well equipped, too. It did however look quite ugly, with the sole exception of the arches above the ground level.

Two of the numerous accursed "Cat Bombs"...

Cat Bombs doesn't get much prettier - most areas are squarefests with no rhyme or reason, however notable are the killer and fast "Cat Bombs" that need to be activated and danced around for quite some time in order to progress further into the bowels of the level. Things become bearable for the eyes with Cats 2, which features a landscape that, while still surreal, is no longer a squarefest without purpose. It's a quite nice floating island with random buildings, slith- and devilfish-filled oases and a large perimeter of rocks that stop the player from falling off the island to their death.

The island... Almost serene...

Apart from completing the tutorial, the main focus of Unreal Zero are the accursed Cat Bombs. In the first main level, they can kill you if you're not careful. In the second level, they are guarded by enough opposition to make you want to kill yourself instead. Either way, they are a curse. Supposedly dealing with the Cat Bombs can help save the Nali, but how, it's not exactly explained. The gameplay circulates between two formulae. One being a massive-scale carnage of everything in sight and the other - irritating platforming sections, particularly abundant in the first main level.

The skeletal ruin...

The audio layer is... there. That's it. While there is a myriad of tracks playing during gameplay and there might be occasional ambience here and there in the final map, let's be frank: in the chaotic carnage that lies at the core of Unreal Zero formula, you won't be hearing a damn thing. The players will either be busy rejoicing the wholesale slaughter like in the oldschool days of Doom, others will be thrown away by the visuals and shall promptly remove the pack from their hard drives. It's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of pack. And, to be frank, despite all the negative remarks I have for it, I'm in the "love-it" camp: the chaotic shootout of enemy hordes brings back memories and with them comes nostalgia. Now that's something I can be thankful for.

There is a couple technical details that I disliked though: some movers can kill you despite not looking like they're going to and sometimes the teleporters can be buggy. I've investigated the first main map in UnrealEd and it's revealed that it has three teleporters: to u0cats2 where it should lead, to Unreal flyby (?!) or to CityIntro, the UT flyby (?!). This can ruin your progress so if that happens, just type "admin switchcooplevel u0cats2" to proceed to the right level if you're stuck at the ending of the first main level. The author should've done something about it though...


Unreal Zero is chaos embodied. That's all there's to it. It looks ugly, surreal and utterly nonsensical, you can only find out how it sounds only AFTER you're done clearing the rooms, but there's the kicker: if you're in for a couple minutes of brainwiping slaughter of the entire Unreal zoo, this is the pack for you.

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Build (12%)
  • 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 (18%)
  • 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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