In each chapter of On The Level, Andy Kelly celebrated a great map, level, or location from a classic PC game. This week it's legendary Unreal Tournament map Facing Worlds.
Under the name Inoxx, former Epic developer Cedric Fiorentino designed some of the best multiplayer maps in the Unreal series. His most famous creation is Facing Worlds, a CTF map set on a spinning asteroid that anyone who played the original Unreal Tournament in 1999 will have fond memories of. I'm listening to Foregone Destruction by composer Michiel Van Den Bos as I type this—the map's soundtrack—and getting hazy flashbacks to playing UT on my 56k modem, spamming the “My house!” taunt and launching Redeemer missiles at the opposing team's tower.
The towers are what define the map. There are two—one for both teams—and each contains a flag room and several floors for snipers to lurk on. Between the two towers there's a rocky bridge, cleverly raised in the middle so you can't see over to the other side of the map. You never know what's on the other side as you make a mad dash for the flag, dancing between sniper fire and brawling with other players as they come over the crest of the hill. Because of its small size, there's never a quiet moment in Facing Worlds. You're always engaging the enemy, either up close or from afar.
It's the perfect sniper map. From the top of each tower you get a clean view of the other, and I spent many hours popping heads and hearing the announcer boom “Headshot!” But I never lasted long up there, because the genius of Facing Worlds is its symmetry. This creates a natural balance, and any advantage you have, the enemy has too. You'd have to expose yourself to get a good shot on the players wrestling for the flag below, which would make you an easy target for counter-snipers.
And let's not forget the Redeemer. This portable thermonuclear warhead launcher is Unreal Tournament's most devastating weapon. Both towers in Facing Worlds have one, spawning in the midsection, and you'd regularly see missiles whooshing across the map, detonating with a miniature mushroom cloud and taking out groups of players. Of course, using it leaves you defenceless and a prime target for snipers, which is another example of the map's clever balance.
I've always enjoyed the pace of small maps—a recent example being Safehouse from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's Demolition mode. When you die in Facing Worlds, which happens a lot, you respawn and find yourself back in the action seconds later. It's a breakneck, messy war of attrition, and I still remember the first time I managed to charge through it all with the enemy flag and score a point. Facing Worlds has been remade a number of times—and not just in the Unreal series—but I've never had as much fun on any of them as I have with the Inoxx's original 1999 version.
Asymmetry in multiplayer is becoming increasingly fashionable, but I'll always prefer the elegant, balanced simplicity of Facing Worlds' two towers.
Here's PC Gamer writer Omri Pettite on why he loves Facing Worlds.