As 2019—and in turn this decade—winds to a close, let us consider the highs and lows of third party first-person shooter maps. It's certainly been a roller coaster of a decade, hasn't it, and the (fake) maps it (hasn't) produced are(n't) no exception.

cathedral_pre1_dm.bsp

The map's author reenvisions Quake's distinctive High Gothic hellscapes as an ancient European cathedral in a state of near-completion. Setting the "obligatory cathedral level" in its surrounding village (now a bustling city) that has grown to support its construction, asks of the player, what came before Quake's maps, and indeed this map, was compiled?

Was the world of Quake birthed whole and irredeemably evil into the universe, or was it assembled in pieces, each brick reflecting the flaws of its creators? Most diehard fans of this map eschew answering that question head-on in the deathmatch arena, in favor of congregating in an out-of-the-way wing of the map, where a bounty of health and armor spawns lend themselves to elaborate rocket jump competitions across high-flying architecture.

4 out of 5 stars. Recommended!

xv44_turnb1t.bsp

The cryptic title of this push-style Team Fortress 2 map belies a masterfully executed dissertation on map flow and pacing. Thoughtfully placed asymmetries in design nudge conflict zones into ever-shifting spots on the map as the match progresses—bringing to mind the ordered psueorandomness of cellular autonama—without ever overtly benefiting a single team.

"Turnb1t" is notable for its depth, in terms of both strategy and often-overlooked vertical space, becoming an overnight staple of tournament play. The experience is somewhat marred from every surface being textured in various low-resolution, non-tiling ahegao imagery, keeping it out of reach of a perfect score.

4 out of 5 stars. Recommended!

kfdm2019.map

Perhaps encouraged by the resurgence of "lo-fi" or "retro" gaming in popular culture, KFC, of all places, released this branded Duke Nukem 3D mod to middling fanfare and a barely noticable marketing campaign. When activating the mod, player sprites and decals become familiar fast food mascots and logos, yet the game's setting inexplicably remains unchanged.

The juxtaposition of gritty, crumbling, alien-infested Los Angeles, with the buoyent, definitely-a-former-slaveowner Colonel Sanders speaks to either a clueless or cynical design process.

Uninspired gameplay is barely worth mentioning. The map's solitary application of branding whimsy recasts the shrink ray as a chicken ray, and saves this otherwise dull map from 1-star infamy.

2 out of 5 stars. Avoid.

lazy-day.bsp

This free-form single player level sees you sitting at your desk in a crate-filled attic, subverting Half-Life's manic fever dream of crowbar ultraviolence by letting you carefully pry open each crate's lid to sort through their contents: old photos, childhood drawings, and your grandparents' letters.

Playing into the strengths of the GoldSrc engine, heavy emphasis is placed on the sounds of shuffling papers, soft lighting, and musty atmosphere. Behind you, your pet headcrab coos contentedly. The perfect balm for the anxious Millenial contemplating their place in the world.

5 out of 5 stars. A masterpiece.