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Review: The Tower of Shrakith'a

Project Information

  • Title: The Tower of Shrakith'a
  • Author: Geoffrey "MadMartigan" Field
  • Platform: Unreal
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 90%

Main Review

Arguably the best single player map pack released prior to UT

The Tower of Shrakith'a has always been a highly regarded map pack and is arguably the best single player map pack released prior to Unreal Tournament. The pack was created by Geoffrey "MadMartigan" Field, who also promised to release a sequel that sadly never materialised. None the less, The Tower of Shrakith'a stands the test of time and remains head and shoulders above many of its competitors.

The Tower of Shrakith'a succeeds because of its blend of atmospheric design and dynamic, heavily scripted gameplay. Ask any seasoned Unreal SP player where their favourite custom map moments have occurred and it is likely that one or two will have come from this map pack. One particular incident involving a Nali and a tray of drinks springs to mind!

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From its backing story and the design of its first couple of rooms, you might not have expected The Tower of Shrakith'a to be anything particularly special. The story in the readme is the standard "suddenly alone in an alien world" set-up, although presented with a slightly more imaginative twist than usual. However, the context of this alien world (which may or may not be intended to be Na Pali) is explored through translator messages as the game progresses, more effectively than in many similar sized map packs. We never get all the answers and the big picture is always somehow out of reach, but the storyline is none the less effective in leading the player towards his final showdown with the Guardian.

As stated, the first few rooms are nothing special; the game begins within a Nali house, and it is equipped with all the standard furnishings that you might expect to find, with a fairly even level of lighting. However, MadMartigan already begins to distinguish himself as a mapper by avoiding an over-reliance on Unreal's decorative mesh prefabs.

One the player gets outside into the Nali village in which the first map takes place, the imagination present in MadMartigan's designs begins to become apparent. This village is not just an array of boxes with smoking chimneys: each building is different, and the spaces between them are well-defined. Burning torches keep at bay a sinister, killer fog that is threatening to swamp the town. The lighting is dark, there is the occasional toll of a mournful bell and the atmosphere is foreboding. To add to the authenticity of the scene, MadMartigan also includes non-playing areas that are only visible through windows. The oppressed Nali of the town are seen to be coping any way that they can. The build of these first areas really cannot be faulted, barring a small number of poorly aligned textures and a few lanterns that appear darker than they should be.

But it is in and around the tower that MadMartigan's imagination really kicks off. The looming entrance to the the tower, topped with snipers, foreshadows the richly crafted environment that is to follow. Within, the tower is extensively furnished and, as the player climbs the interior of the building, views and forays into the rain-lashed ledges outside the building really convey a sense of altitude. The lighting of the building makes rich use of colour, light and shadow, and MadMartigan never seems to run out of ideas for imaginative light fixtures. The rooms of the interior vary in scale and decoration in a manner appropriate to the importance of their function.

The third playable map ventures into a more abstract form of design but does so very effectively, whilst the expansive and detailed extro map shows the hard work and time spent on crafting this creation. The dropship prefab is particularly impressive. Sound and music are well utilised throughout.

All of this design comes at no great cost: there was no noticeable drop in performance, and very few visual glitches were encountered.

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Not content with just creating strong designs, MadMartigan ensures that his maps have a long playing time and that they continue to surprise and excite the player. As well as using scripted scenes to further the story and the player's physical progress through the game, MadMartigan is continuously placing the player into new combat situations, whether it be the snipers at the tower gates, sudden ambushes from dark corners, or noteworthy glass and pottery-shattering incidents. The mapper is also unafraid to make the player use his brain: the player sometimes has to jump from ledge to ledge to progress and, in the third map, a series of innovative mental challenges precedes the final showdown (which is itself far from conventional). The Nali also get up to some interesting things in this map pack, helping the locations to feel real. The ending sequence is, of course, excellent.

Amidst the dynamic environment of the map pack, MadMartigan introduces challenging but generally reasonable gameplay. Saving your game regularly is advisable as the individual situations can prove difficult, but adequate supplies are provided that they never become impossible. Unlike some map packs, it is impossible to rely heavily on the Flak Cannon, as it doesn't put in an appearance until a late stage of the game. Overall the gameplay is well balanced, never too difficult and never dull.

Summary

The Tower of Shrakith'a is a map pack of enduring quality that is well deserving of its reputation as a classic. If you have yet to play it then now's the time - it will be an hour or two well-spent.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.90% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.90%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.10 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.10
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.9 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.7
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).8 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.9
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.9 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.10
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.9 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.9
Final Verdict: Near perfect
Score: 90%

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