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[u1] Custom Map Review: "Redeem Your Space" by Mr. Paci

Posted: 19 Mar 2021, 01:45
by Semfry
Redeem Your Space has become somewhat infamous over the time it's been out; as both a mainstay of Co-op servers, and being a Czech set that never got any "official" English translation, which is a major barrier to access given the amount of text in it. However, it has had at least one full translation, which is the version I used for this review. It's also massive and one of the largest sets out there. As it was originally an episodic release putting it all together can also be an obstacle, but the translated version I used was an all-in-one release.

The intro sets up the world this pack is in (which is clearly a different one to Unreal's own); future Earth is under the totalitarian control of a 1984-style government, and your character is a lucky citizen given the chance to take a space trip away from their watch as essentially a PR stunt. The Earth situation isn't overtly relevant until much later, and the actual start is waking up from cyrosleep with your spaceship under attack from an unknown threat. The player character has translator-conveyed thoughts throughout the set, (and even some text dialogue interactions at times) which helps give some sense of what the next goal is. As well as the player's thoughts, there is a lot of lore in the set; it almost seems overwhelming at first, but it does get a little less constant as you progress. This is where the translated nature of the set becomes an issue with rating it though, as there as some strange inconsistencies, and it's hard to tell how much of that was always there and how much is a translation mistake/misinterpretation. In the version I used one level also isn't translated, but it's a tiny transition map with a few lines of text so that's not really an issue.


One of multiple large-scale town levels

Initially you are just trying survive after your escape to an alien planet, but soon the basic episode formula sets in; it essentially casts you as a sort of intergalactic assassin planet-hopping via stargates (with the set apparently taking a lot of inspiration from the titular show/movie, but I haven't seen them so don't know the extent of this) to take out the leaders of the various hostile Unreal factions, and destabilise their planned invasion of both other peaceful factions and Earth itself (with this inevitably working towards a bigger goal in the end). There's also a subplot of running into strange demonic forces in the less travelled areas of each planet you visit. The overall mood is a little hard to ascertain though, as this serious story also has multiple in-jokes and references to the author and their likes, namely in heavy metal and punk references. The author themselves even shows up occasionally. Also the Hellraiser movies are seemingly canon (I can't say this is a spoiler, when, after finishing, I'm just as confused by this as anyone reading this will be). Despite all the mood swings and sheer strangeness there's an obvious ambition behind the story and worldbuilding that few other sets have matched, although actual scripted sequences to convey it in-game are somewhat sparodic, but they show up a bit more consistently towards the end.

Each of the seven planets you go to has quite a distinct style and feels different, but the actual visual quality is only semi-consistent. In general there's a pattern of large outdoors and exteriors (sometimes almost stunningly so) contrasted with somewhat cubic and basic interiors. There's also a lot of long, repetitive looking corridors, although they do tend to at least have some detail to them. However, it actually does some very interesting things geometrically at times, and makes use of rarely-used assets to create things that feel new out of mostly vanilla materials. The lighting does veer towards being flat and repetitive a bit too often (and brighter areas get greenings somewhat often), but then it also makes some great use of fog and some nice atmospheric lighting in the spookier sections. The texturing makes use of a lot of textures in creative ways, and notable misalignments are quite rare given how huge the set is and some of the more experimental stuff it does, so this is probably the strongest part of the visuals.

The sound design is also relatively strong, with well-used ambient sounds (again especially in the horror-based parts) and consistent implementation in things like event scripting. Music also pulls from various sources (though it's mostly vanilla) and generally fits in well with appropriate songsection shifts. The only notable issue I noticed is that the sounds of the demon enemies varies between levels, which seems to be an oversight. There are only sparodic stand-outs but this is another area that's consistently good. For the set's massive size the build is relatively consistent; I think things do improve as it goes but it's quite gradual, and even the earlier parts have some standouts.


Spooky tunnels...

The gameplay is quite consistent, unfortunately that's an issue as the main type of encounter here is confined room clearing, which means you spend a lot of time spamming indirect weapons to clear rooms. Each planet has a specific enemy theme, which also results in only a small roster of enemy types in each section, so there are frequently enemy variety issues with spending a whole section only fighting a few types of enemy. These two issues especially compound in the "Brutes" section, where you are dealing with constant splash damage spam in confined areas by spongy enemies. The confinment also leads to a lot of doors, which inevitably leads to more awkward scuffles (although they are also your best friend a lot of the time). It also just feels like there are way too many enemies, and it ups the tedium of the weakest aspects; some levels could have had half or less of the enemies they have and not be much different except more fun to explore. Despite all those issues I played on Unreal (actually "Very Hard" in 227's current version) and felt there was enough ammo and equipment to get by, and you accumulate a ton of power-ups over the course of the mod to throw at something if all else fails. On that note, it took me a while to realise, but the jump-boots have been replaced by a cloaking device that makes you invisible on top of jumping much higher. It also has a funny bug where you can spam it on and off to stack it and jump as fast and high as you want, but I'm not sure if that's a built-in bug or a product of the version I'm using. The normal invisibility is also still there, allowing for a lot of invisibility time, which I found a massive help at times and seems designed to be used for things like areas where Titans start getting numerous. Boss fights are also lacking as they're mostly just bigger versions of normal enemies with massive sponge levels of health, but you do a least tend to get plenty of ammo for them (it also seems oddly inconsistent whether you can backtrack during them, so a lot of the time you can just retreat if you need to). Towards the end there are also a lot of RTNP Marines, with standard bot-type issues, although you at least get plenty of ammo off them. On that note RTNP assets, along with the Quadshot, are used here, and generally fit in pretty well.

That's a lot of issues, but it has some engaging aspects too. While the overuse of enemies takes away from it the exploration is generally the strongest aspect, and this has some of the largest and most fully realised areas I've seen in Unreal 1. While it leads to repetition, the way that almost every building has a full interior and exterior adds to the sense of place and worldbuilding and it's frequently on a massive scale, including some interesting skyboxes. There are also the larger target areas to infiltrate, and, while how engaging their interior is varies, vistas like seeing the castle in the asian-themed planet evoked wonder like seeing some of the larger maps in Unreal 1 for the first time. The quality of the exploration does vary somewhat; the town levels in particular tend to suffer from not pointing out "important" buildings at all, which results in you having to just fumble through every home until you find something important. The most enjoyable levels make the important parts relatively obvious, but provide lots of room for the player to explore for it's own sake.

The Brute's Egypt-themed planet has levels I feel exemplify both the best and worst of this. The second level of that section has a really nice exterior, with a fully realised town, but the gameplay is the absolute nadir; what you have to do is find a few switches across the many buildings to open the exit, but there are absolutely no clues beyond messages hinting at their existence, so you have to go through a ton of repetitive buildings dealing with Brutes in confined spaces (with all the issues mentioned earlier) to find the switches. A couple of levels later is another "find stuff in a huge area" map, but this time noteworthy areas are clearly delineated visually, so it's quite obvious what's important and what's exploration for the sake of it, and they all have unique approaches and challenges. The level has some of the same issues with Brute combat, but it was still much more fun and probably one of my favourites in the set.


The exterior looks quite nice, but this town will be your nemesis

Sometimes I even think the more confusing areas work, in particular one of the first underground "horror" levels sprawls on in several directions with only a few clear "chokes", but it worked for me in context as it added to the feeling of being lost in giant buried complex while hunted by unknown enemies. From some of the visual clues in the level and a couple of the secret levels (of which I only found one, but went through the rest after finishing) it's clear that the Thief series was an inspiration for levels like this, and this level in particular really captured that feeling of levels like The Bonehoard where you are lost in a giant hostile area with only a vague idea of your destination. Though I don't feel some of the later takes on this style did it as well. It's a bit obscure at times, and, while I managed to finish the whole set without looking up anything, I came close a couple of times. In particular there's a level where you have to find a key somewhere in a bunch of ruined buildings while evading many Titans, and I basically found it by accident, although it is located at the top of one of the highest buildings, so, not completely random. As mentioned, a lot of levels have issues with not clearly making out which things are important, so you just have to look around until you find something.

As mentioned there's also a secret level in each "episode", and most of them are quite different to the rest, with things like a level where you are shrunk in a giant room (also containing a somewhat tasteless 9/11 reference for some reason), a VR simulation going through partly built recreations of earlier planets with a giant computer sky, some sort of wild psychological horror Hellraiser map, and a big reference to the Thief 1 level The Sword which has some of the most creative geometry I've seen in an Unreal 1 map. These are worth playing in themselves.


The set frequently elevates more basic builds with sheer scale

If I went through everything this set has to offer, both good and bad, this would be a novel, and, in the end, I feel a lot of the good is strongest when comes as a surprise. There are some exceptions with more engaging large-scale fights, but it's shame the combat tends to be the weaker part of things compared to the more exploration and puzzle focused part. Along with just soaking up the atmosphere in the better looking levels. While a few too many levels have too much walking through repetitive corridors, the conceptual design is frequently great, and even some of the weaker levels at least attempt to do things in terms of world building and lore.

Outside of the Cloaking Device thing I didn't encounter too many technical issues given how massive the pack is. Doors vary in how irritating they are but they generally only get in the way occasionally despite how many there are. There was also one open boss level where you could get eaten by BSP holes quite easily, although you can just keep the central part to avoid them. There's also a tree mesh used throughout that looks nice but has a very irritating hitbox that blocks things that don't contact the actual visual mesh at all. The Quadshot was bugged for me, although still functional, but this seems to be a 227 issue and not a specific issue with the set, so it doesn't affect my technical score.

Summary:

This is one of largest packs out there and, given it's mostly by one person, very much an "auteur" work, with the designer's influences and preferences constantly showing through both overtly (in particular the constant paintings and other images) and more subtly. It's almost inevitably heavily flawed as a result, but I think there's more good than bad outside of the issues with combat design. It's just a shame the combat is probably the least enjoyable part of the gameplay given how present it is, and this feels it's just a few steps away from being a true classic with a little more restraint in that regard, some better conveyance to the player, and maybe a little more coherence in general. It's probably worth keeping the difficulty setting down to enjoy the other aspects, as it tends towards being tedious more than actually difficult. On the other hand, it's frequently an explorers paradise, despite some sections being too repetitive.

BUILD (50%)
Architecture: 6
Texturing: 7
Lighting: 5
Sound: 7
Technical Execution: 7

CAST (50%)
Conceptual Grandness: 8
Story Construction: 6
Story Implementation: 7
Gameplay Awe: 5
Gameplay Balance: 4

Total Score: 62%

Download: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=3502&start=45
(pcgames30's newest upload of the translated version for Unreal and UT in this thread)

Re: [u1] Custom Map Review: "Redeem Your Space" by Mr. Paci

Posted: 19 Mar 2021, 03:09
by Mister_Prophet
I'm glad someone finally took the time to do this. Good stuff Semfry, professional as always :tup: