Over the years I’ve always typically associated ck3d’s levels to have similarities to Roch in style, going for these richly decorated urban playgrounds like Poison Heart, otherwise leaning more toward dark moodier pieces like Rural Nightmare and End of the World. Then to my surprise a speedmap made in three days is suddenly pushed out the door that shared nothing in common with prior bodies of work up until that point, perhaps one of those occasional experimental excursions before returning to familiar ground, but this mapping style eventually sticks around going forward as development on his Blast Radius episode went into full swing.
SALVAGE is a merging of urban and junk yard theming going for simpler presentation and abstraction, using scrappier texturing that relies on less to do all the talking. Intricacies then take a back seat in favour of bold shapes, strong shadows and a variety of design schemes. It almost looks as if the earliest official 3DR levels were thrown into a blender along side ck3d’s work, with an added hint of Doom for extra flavour. Visual flourishes are otherwise suitable to their locales, ruined vehicles are stacked up creating a wall around the junk yard or cars parked around a drive-thru theatre screen awaiting the film to begin, all while snow layers the outdoor surfaces, melting away closer to heat sources. SALVAGE is not quite abstract enough to lean in surreal territory but there were other components I couldn’t put my finger on what they represented at first that took some consideration, coming across as these strange contraptions in even stranger places. For starters those aforementioned cars have an unorthodox look about them that wouldn’t feel out of place in some science fiction ready to fly off on a mere whim. That large rotating door locked with a red key card combining a mish-mash of textures seems odd at a glance but then appears as if it had been constructed using random scraps of sheet metal gathered around here. Then there’s an automated train of some kind looping around a blue circuit, until it dawned on me it’s transferring crushed metal blocks between three different zones with their own methods for collecting salvage. Part of the fun was figuring out how this whole area operates.
Placing a focus on layout and action, SALVAGE is fast paced and involves a constant flow through areas looping back onto the main path forward. Combat is mostly reactionary when entering into new areas, light with numbers but typically guarding visible positions ready to be cleared out without much hassle, new threats coming out of the metalwork in response to attained milestones. Starting out is a frantic dash to swipe up nearby scraps, making do with whatever happens to be scattered around, using tripbombs, pipebombs and explosive barrels to suppress initial encounters before the usual selection of firearms become an availability. Stronger tools are otherwise tucked away in some niche asking players to be thorough in their search. The ledge fight for a yellow key card stood out for causing me a little panic without much room for dodging while Commanders are lobbing rockets from nearby rooftops. Retreating or jumping down were options but their collateral damage against incoming reinforcements flying onto the scene provided a helping hand worth savouring. There is a nice moment to moment flow as moving through areas can involve blowing up shortcuts through walls, diving underwater, ascending buildings, manipulating machinery or avoiding environmental hazards all tightly condensed within a small space. One button to snag the blue key did throw me for a loop and an intimidating crusher made me doubt if jumping head first was the right call here. SALVAGE concludes by dropping in a Cycloid to defeat which in context with the movie being played, adds a little humour to the scene like it’s a special live event for those present. I probably wasted a bunch of ammo elsewhere during my session but somehow managed to scrape by this battle with only three pipebombs remaining once he keels over.
With more levels to follow in this style, ck3d’s change to his prior formula is just another form of progression to their mapping values, shifting the attention elsewhere by focusing on other aspects of importance. In some respects there’s a simplification of combat, layout and design, squeezing out more from each facet by using less. If I were playing through every release in succession then this level could feel a little out of place, but signs of this shift can be seen in their experimental releases dotted across the years. SALVAGE is a successful entry point in this direction, its abstraction of themes provides a unique identity while doubling down on a strong design with bold shapes and raw texturing. Each segment is distinct with colourful flair helping the moment to moment flow feel good to play through.