Map Review of area-zero

Map review of Area Zero

by dunkelschwamm | June 12, 2022 | 6427 characters

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Area Zero is an old pair of maps by The fox. The first is Black Mesa themed, the second Xen themed. The genre is straight-forward run-n-gun action and the brushwork is mediocre. Let's go over it.

First off, the presentation. Players will be struck right away by the flat, boring lighting, the bland brushwork and blocky architecture. Some rooms are outclassed by Wolfenstein 3D in atmosphere. The environment feels unbelievable, a series of Doom-like corridors which vaguely imply function. Effects are lazily and haphazardly thrown around with little fanfare. Some environments, especially in the first map, do manage to be effective- some corridors evoke office environments, and a room full of green alien slime walls was an interesting visual. Most of it delivered so flatly, so blandly, conformed to long hallways or boxy rooms. There was even z-fighting on the door of an elevator. I think with some time and effort this could all be salvaged, but as it is it mostly feels uninspired, and every point of interest feels like a disembodied nothing with little meaning.

The whole first map may be uninspired corridors, but the second map feels like a moment where The fox started running out of steam. The xen environment is incredibly block, feels half-finished, includes a death pit in the beginning which does not cause death and reveals a liquid fa├žade when players jump down. A tentacle blips into existence for just long enough to play the cinematic from the beginning blast pit before disappearing from the world once again. Cube-like rooms are interconnected by rectangular prism walkways. There are interesting things to see here and there, but the environments do not feel natural or cohesive and barely fit together. There's places where I can see where skybox brush meets a normal wall brush, I can see straight through. It's just really sloppy work.

The gameplay itself, though, almost has something. It starts you early with pipe wrenches, and does so very fun by making enemies insta-gib with a fully charged wrench swing. The fact that enemies mostly come in in short bursts and are very easy to take down with the pipe wrenches made early co-op very fun, especially when we first got the shotgun but didn't get any extra ammo, and thus had to barter when we'd use the pipe wrench and when we'd spring to use the shotgun. As the map progresses, Alien Grunts become more and more common, and use of the shotgun becomes more necessary. An MP5 is dropped into the mix at one point.

But after falling down into a hole and reaching a checkpoint, everything changes. If you die from this point, you can only get a shotgun as a weapon. I should clarify now- you get no crowbar, no medkit- when we got the pipe wrench earlier, it was a pickup. Players start with nothing but their uncharged suit. So, from this point onward, after the checkpoint, if you respawn all you get is a shotgun with 12 shells and then you are useless until you die. There aren't ammo pickups, and it's the only weapon you have- from the point that you run out of ammo onwards, all you can do is useless dry fire. All that time, headcrabs, zombies, gonomes, bullsquids, vortigaunts, and alien grunts harry the player.

The second map makes up for this a bit by supplying the players early in with a gauss gun with respawning ammo pickups beside it, and soon after an MP5 and some underbarrel grenades which result in an automatic M16 pickup. Even soon after that, some hand grenades are given to the player. There's not a whole lot to the second map in terms of combat anyway- a few alien grunts, a vort or two, some alien controllers, a voltigore and a bullsquid. It's a weirdly paced mess, where the hardest bit comes up with the alien grunts, and then the voltigore acts as a bit of a boss, but then everything just kinda tapers off.

I think with a bunch of players this map would work fine. The low ammo thing isn't a huge problem if you got no problem killing yourself to replenish ammo, and with an avalanche of bodies each contributing their own 12 shells per life I'm sure things could feel almost balanced. That said, I can't imagine an avalanche of bodies fitting in the tight corridors of the first map. This map does feel really good early on when we're smashing our way through enemies, but eventually it becomes a slog as alien grunts absorb damage while outputting unavoidable danger in coverless corridors. It's a shame.

I'm being pretty hard on it, but I get the impression a lot of this was beginner's mistakes. This was over 15 years ago, and The fox seems to still be an active mapper, so I'm sure much of this criticism would be preaching to the choir now for The fox. Still, it's how I felt playing the maps, and thus is how I review them.

If you're looking for an action mapset to play with a friend, I think you could do a lot better, but you could also do a lot worse. When you run out of good maps to try, give this one a go. If you're looking for some bullshit to fill your server rotation with, this could be some filler.

Pros:

  • Some ambitious ideas for battle damaged setpieces using lots of effects
  • A checkpoint in the first map
  • Quite a bit of action
  • The early stuff where we were fighting our way to the top with the pipe wrenches was tons of fun
  • I like gunning down enemies with the gauss gun in the second map

Cons:

  • The quality of the brushwork, lighting, and texture useage are all very novice and mediocre, to put it charitably
  • The combat is mostly just throwing enemies at the players at an increasing escalation, and after a while it's just a lot of alien grunts and once it stops being that the intensity just kinda fritters out. Just a weird, weird difficulty curve
  • No ammo, so you gotta kill your character to get more
  • No melee weapon or medkit, so every loss of any resource is a permanent scar on your character that brings them inevitably closer to death
  • Full of glitchy mistakes, like the disappearing and reappearing tentacle, the crappy bottomless pit early in Xen, the z-fighting with the elevator door, etc
  • Despite some ambitious ideas, most of them are really just forgettable
Score: 4.5 / 10
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