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Review: New Alcatraz

Project Information

  • Title: New Alcatraz
  • Author: Tomas "Drevlin" Lidström
  • Platform: Unreal Tournament
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 63%

Main Review

New Alcatraz gets the thumbs up

New Alcatraz is one of those packs that deserves more recognition than it gets. Quite why it is so often forgotten I do not know, as generally speaking Drevlin has done a good job in creating it. His more recent work has been more promising, but none of it has seen an official release as a map pack, and so New Alcatraz stands as the most complete work produced by Drevlin to date.

New Alcatraz casts you as a Skaarj who is being held prisoner in a dismal prison facility on an unknown planet by a rival faction. Aided by messages from the mysterious El'Kondor (delivered via the Universal Translator), the player breaks out of the facility and strikes out for freedom. A nicely done intro sequence sets the scene in one of the earliest uses of the UMS cinematic system, but after that the storyline trundles along in a fairly average way, with little in terms of scripted sequences but a reasonable mix of translator messages. The final battle is logical in the context of the storyline, even if it's not the most original of its kind.

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When it comes down to it, New Alcatraz is a combat pack like any other, but in some ways it's a cut above its competitors: the combat is well-staged, and creatures are often to be found taking cover behind stacks of crates or lying in wait to ambush the player. Pupae are found in uncomfortably tight spaces, which makes for a more unnerving experience, and it's refreshing to see a prominent role being given to the GES Biorifle as the weapon of choice in the early stages of the pack. Generally the flow is clear, with one exception at the start of the third and final map; I would also criticise, from a thematic perspective, the use of Mercenaries operating together with Skaarj; but generally the gameplay is well done.

So what about the build? Well, it's a typical grungy high-tech theme, with a combination of well-designed hallways and sewers, but with a few more impressive areas thrown in to enhance the concept, such as the outdoor area pictured above and the general environment of level three. Architecture is solid, with few noticeable build problems, although I did encounter a rather obvious BSP collision error in a corner of the ice caves (the ice caves are, in fact, the one area of the pack where the build is below average, right down to the completely unaligned nature of many of the textured surfaces). Apart from the aforementioned, texturing is done with some care, with textures chosen well from an unusual combination of DecayedS.utx and Skaarj.utx.

Lighting is unbeautiful, but probably intentionally so. Apart from a weak start where some apparently illuminated lights are themselves only dimly lit, the lighting conveys the mood well and has a variety of intensities. A variety of colours are used too, right down to the "taboo" colours of pink and green, but it never feels inappropriate. In parts of the sewers, suble fog enhances the effect of the already decent lighting. However, better has been done since.

Sound is also solidly done, but using older techniques. The sound pitch properties are left untouched in the ambient sound, which relies upon standard looping AmbModern sounds to set an atmosphere. It works, but I would have liked to hear more dynamic ambient sounds and a greater experimentation with pitch. The pack gets through a variety of traditional Unreal music cues over the course of its three maps, and all are generally appropriate - my only complaint would be that Drevlin should have faded the previous tracks out rather than cutting them off abruptly; this is particularly apparent when switching from the loud beat of Isotoxin.umx to the subtlety of Crater.umx.

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I found New Alcatraz to contain an above-average number of bugs. Aside from the aforementioned BSP error, the intro movie seemed unrealiable, and one particular case that sticks in my mind is one of an inconsistency of approach: it is necessary at one point to shatter a turning fan to progress, but later on a similar fan when shattered seems to remain a deathtrap, with the player actually being required to take a less obvious alternative route. Little things like this can easily detract from a gameplay experience and should have been weeded out. I also recall the framerate in New Alcatraz being an issue on older machines, perhaps implying a need for better zoning.

Summary

New Alcatraz has a decent although not groundbreaking build. There's also a solid progression of gameplay and a decently implemented final fight. The only real weaknesses are technical issues and a somewhat average story. Overall, New Alcatraz gets the thumbs up.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.64% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.62%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.7 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.7
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.7 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.5
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).7 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.5
SoundUse of ambient sounds and event sounds to give the level atmosphere, and the quality of any custom sounds. Appropriate use of music and silence to complement the atmosphere.6 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.7
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.5 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.7
Final Verdict: Fair
Score: 63%

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