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Reviews: 2nd March 2003: review 2
Game - CUBE
Maps - Monster Machine (5 maps)
by - Spentron
Download - on this webpage: monmachine.zip
Overall Verdict - An excellent, complete package; everything: architecture, map design, background music and most importantly of all, challenging balanced gameplay is very well executed.
The basic concept behind this episode is that of "monster machines", these are machines (usually invisible as such, or "outside" the normal play area, so that monsters may often fall from the sky for example) dotted around the various maps which create monsters which then attack the player. They are simply spawning points for monsters (in effect). Often on hitting a carrot trigger, a new monster machine is activated and a new area of the map opened up. This simple idea brings a number of advantages, relatively small areas can (in effect) have hundreds of monsters, since the machine allow successive *waves* of monsters to spawn in, rather than all having to appear at once. It also provides a constant element of surprise and tension which enhance gameplay - you never know where a new machine is and when new monsters might suddenly appear and spawn in.
Also worthy of mention is the excellent custom music which accompanies the maps, its different for nearly every map, and is hugely effective at adding to the atmosphere of each level. Different types of music have even been made for the different styles of map. For example the surreal "space" (map 4) has excellent ambient music which goes really well with the texturing and feel of the map.
Other features are the on-screen messages which help the player and the range of custom textures used throughout the episode. Overall all these features make a very well-rounded package.
Map 1 - mm1: Monster Test Center No.6
A big (monster count approx. 170), very varied level to start the episode. Much of the landscape is deliberately surreal, but why should that be a bad thing? If its implemented well, surreal architecture can be just as effective as "realistic" architecture, and the whole point is this is a game after all. Anyway there is a hint of Shadowlands about this map, with spentron once again demonstrating a great eye for visual imagination in his ideas, concepts and map design.
The player moves through a number of distinctively different sections, from the underground water chamber at the start (fighting is tricky), to the large light brown central valley (very good natural terrain, for a Cube map) to the large reddish/lava columns and area at the end which leads steadily higher and higher to the end of the map. A Very imaginative and well designed layout. Importantly, gameplay matches the layout, challenging, tough monsters, but a very well balanced supply of heath and ammo, there are also some crucial armors tucked away (look around) which help progression through the map greatly. A wonderful map overall, great fun.
Map 2 - mm2: Stages of sickness
Now this map is *really* surreal; some of the texturing might be a bit bright for some tastes, but i thought most of it was fine, and if nothing else it shows off the excellent and vivid colors the cube engine is capable of. Most of the custom textures are quite good, although the plain white texturing near the end of the level was weak. The map itself divides into parts, the first is a small area where a chain of triggers gradually makes the area bigger and bigger, with more monsters revealed. The second area is a pentagram with lots of bauuls to start with and then other monsters spawning in later. There is a small problem with the pentagram and its teleporters, if a monster get stuck on a teleporter it makes a really loud annoying alert kind of sound, until you can shoot it.
Gameplay is again very well-balanced, and challenging. The first area gets progressively tougher and this increase in difficulty is very smooth and consistent. The second area has a good "quad power-up Vs the 8 bauuls" showdown. Overall this level does not scale the imaginative and gameplay heights of the first map, but its still good solid fun.
Map 3 - mm3: The Key
This map is not quite as big as the previous two (my monster count = 102), but its still a fun level. Again there are two clear sections, the first are the two rooms previously released as a demo for monster machine (see review here), these are packed with monsters and also a handy quad power-up. After that you actually return to the brown central valley of the first map except now your pathway to the top of the tower and the plateau of rock over a bridge is open. Gameplay is, if anything slightly easier than the first two maps. Architecture again features decent textures and some good colored lighting.
Map 4 - mm4: Space
OK...so i thought the earlier levels were abstract? This one *really* is. An excellent exercise in surreal abstraction, this map breaks new boundaries it showing us what can be done with the cube engine, if you have the skill and the imagination. From the valley you are sent into space (A Cube cutscene, noless!) Its sets in "space", but this is just the starting point for a surreal, multi-colored, dare one say it - "psychedelic trip" - that the Beatles (circa the yellow submarine period) would have been proud of. Strange moving bands on the floor of orange and yellow, whole pools, water and beaches of orange/yellow as well, this level is amazing, i thought it was very well executed and conceptualized.
The crucial point here is, just like most of the other maps in this episode, gameplay is just as good as this imaginative maps layouts and textures. Its the combination of both these things that makes this map so good. In terms of gameplay, there is a largish area to initially clear (hard) collecting the triggers opens the way to final "steps" area (very hard gameplay here), and the final triggers here open the pathway to the end of the map.
Map 5 - mm5: The final Machine
Another big map, the final level does not disappoint compared to the rest of the episode. Map Design and texturing is again good, and imaginative, where do all these ideas come from? I liked the flat metallic angled plane about half way through the map, and the rock columns that make up a significant section as well. The textures are more subdued greys and brown, a good contrast and relief from the brighter more surreal textures of previous maps. Again the map uses teleporters to divide into a number of distinct sections, with revisiting previously cleared sections (with new monsters spawning in) a feature here.
Progression is again finding triggers to open up new areas of the maps, sometimes a fair bit of exploration is required, but the balance between frustration (too well hidden) and exploration (fun looking and exploring) is for the most part remarkably well handled. Gameplay is probably just as hard as any other map in the episode, if not the hardest, befitting this being the final map. At one point there is a huge ambush of Bauuls and Knights, and goblins and rhino are everywhere, keeping a calm aim and not panicking are good tactics. Gameplay is intense; I fragged through a total of *280* monsters before finally reaching the end. This intense gameplay is a fitting climax to what is (so far) the best Cube SP Episode available.
Monster Test Center No.6 18/20
Stages of sickness 16/20
The Key 16/20
The final Machine 19/20
Overall Monster Machine: 19/20