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Review: Untitled

When it comes to merit, the level certainly captured my attention.

Project information

Title
Untitled
Author
TheIronKnuckle
Platform
Unreal
Scale
Single Map

Main review

I am about to say a whole lot about a map that will be, for most of you, completed in less time than it takes to read about it. The Tenth Anniversary Speed Mapping Contest conducted here at UnrealSP.Org in 2010 produced several interesting levels. Some of which have been reviewed separately on the main site to notable acclaim, such as Turboman’s Triamid Ruins. One map in particular I will talk about now. Officially called Untitled, The Iron Knuckle contributed a strange submission to the contest that (at the time) polarized the contest’s selected judges. Ranking quite high on the list of submitted levels (an impressive 3rd place), Iron’s Untitled has more in common with visual novels or the more fleshed out Firetruck enabled Unreal projects that would follow in the years after the contest.

The idea is quite minimalist, which was a popular approach with some of the other submissions for that contest. Your unnamed MC begins inside a makeshift (though well lived-in) room set in the middle of what appears to be a endless hallway. Darkness boxes in this abode from both directions, though we learn through our protagonist’s own musings that one of these directions is known to them as being the path once taken to reach this far. But why are we in this hallway? How long have we been here? What happens if we try to leave?

Your play time will consist of trying to ponder these questions. As you walk about your “room” and look over your furniture and belongings, random thoughts and notions will come to you in the form of message events (given a different sound effect to convey the fact that these are not actually Translator messages). You of course need to acquire the single Universal Translator to actually begin reading, and from here players will typically approach the map in one of two ways. If the judge reviews made for the contest’s original rankings prove anything it is that even then players did not know quite what to make of the level. It accrued both rave scores and confused WTFs. You will be one of these two people. Either you will take your time, looking over every spot in the room and pausing to read the player character’s thoughts…or you will run past everything with a frown on your face, perplexed about why there are no Skaarj to fight.

In terms of the praise, the messages and general story are very well written and are quite intriguing. I can spot influences in the approach to storytelling that might remind one of David Lynch (a particular message even reads verbatim from a line in Lost Highway). There is also an element to “building horror” that taps into that human fear of strange locations. Think something along the lines of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. To complete this unconventional approach to Unreal Level making, players will either love or hate the way the map reaches its “climax.”

Summary

My boring point assessment will appear to you to be a kind of middle ground selection (or a Cop Out) that finds a comfortable place between the praise and dislike seen in the original contest’s rankings. Compared to the full catalogue of single Unreal maps made for the mother game, Iron’s Untitled is certainly one of the weirder entries. As my reviews of Illhaven will show, I do believe there needs to be mention of a map that is intended to be played one way but can be approached (and by consequence, broken) by players that don’t get it, have no intention of getting it, and just bypass the intended mystique by pressing the other buttons on the keyboard. In this case, the forward key. But, when it comes to merit, the level certainly captured my attention. If you like stories with unreliable narrators and ones that that provoke water cooler discussion, you might find yourself smiling playing through Iron Knuckle’s Untitled. I see some potential, however. Having gone through some levels and packs recently that have made use of ebd’s Firetruck’s story utilities, I would be interested to see something similar to this attempted with the proper tools to convey the weirdness to an audience better. The materials are there and they have been proven to work quite well with an imaginative author.

download link:

https://unrealarchive.org/maps/unreal/single-player/E/speedmap2_c3bed3e4.html

Score
Build (26%)
  • Architecture
    Imagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.
    4
  • Texturing
    Use of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.
    4
  • 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).
    5
  • 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.
    6
  • Technical Execution
    Technical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.
    7
Cast (24%)
  • Conceptual Grandness
    Scale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.
    5
  • Story Construction
    Backing story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.
    8
  • Story Implementation
    Progression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.
    7
  • Gameplay Awe
    Quality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.
    2
  • Gameplay Balance
    Balance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.
    2
Rating
Average
Score
50%

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