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Review: Valley of Alshar

Project Information

  • Title: Valley of Alshar
  • Author: Mick "VerMoorD" Beard
  • Platform: Unreal
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 58%

Main Review

Has to be judged by modern standards

Valley of Alshar, originally built when Unreal SP mapping was in its infancy and recently revived from the corrupted file graveyard, is a classic. There's no doubt about that, as with this three-map pack VerMoorD created something quite remarkable: a set of maps that rivalled the quality of the original game, within mere months of the game's release - but what would you expect from a mapper who has since worked professionally on Unreal: Return to Na Pali, Deep Space Nine: The Fallen and Rune? These days, however, Valley of Alshar has to be judged by modern standards, and it's not quite the pack leader it used to be.

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As with many early maps, Valley of Alshar is let down by its basic story. You fall into a valley that you recognise as the mystic Valley of Alshar, your comerade is killed, and you must make your way out. That's about it for premise, and the story isn't exactly furthered, with minimal translator messages and few major scripted scenes, although one event in the third map involving a chain of waterfalls does cause a slight "ooooh" moment, and a Nali pulling down a dead tree to form a bridge in map one is a nice touch.

No, Valley of Alshar is more about the build and gameplay, and the build is pretty nice. I'd describe the architecture as "good", and conceptually pretty interesting, which is high praise for a map of this vintage. There are curves and plenty of little details, along with decently designed furniture and a generally good exploitation of the Nali theme. This is supported by adept texturing with the NaliCast and GenEarth texture sets. The texturing is varied enough to be interesting and I barely saw a misalignment in the place.

Lighting and sound, unfortunately, aren't as strong. Maps one and three are moderaturely adventurous with colour, but map two is lit almost entirely with white light, which is odd as the torches are yellow. Although the flickering lightning in the sky and outdoor areas was a nice touch, I was left unconvinced by the rest of the lighting work, especially as the flame textures weren't set to "unlit", causing many of the flames in question to appear dull or barely visible - additionally, few of the torches make any form of ambient sound. Ambient sounds weren't completely absent elsewhere, but much greater use has been made of their potential in various authors' more recent works. Music, on the other hand, is well chosen from start to finish, with decent use of the songs' combat sections. The map pack ran without a trace of framerate loss.

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I suppose it's gameplay that's really the burning issue with this map pack. The progression of combat over the course of the pack is good, with Krall in the first map, Skaarj in the second and an interesting if predictable boss fight at the end, although the map lacks a particularly impressive ending after the final fight is over. The gameplay is occasionally challenging but not unreasonable from an ammo standpoint, and some fights (such as the first encounter with a Skaarj in map two) were very well staged. A couple of Slith in an unexpected location were a nice touch, and the reward of a Flak Cannon to the player who shows a compassionate streak got a firm thumbs up from me. However, all this hard work on VerMoorD's part is undermined by a recurring problem: progression in this pack is sometimes oblique to the point of insanity, and an unlucky player can be left running around for an age whilst he tries to figure out what to do next. Particularly in map one, progression can depend on observations that in most maps would be limited to the unveiling of secret areas.

Summary

An old school pack with a true "Unreal" atmosphere, as testified by the 9/10 it originally scored on Nali City. However, severe progression problems and the lack of substantial storyline let it down in this modern age.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.68% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.48%
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.8 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.3
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).6 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.2
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.5 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.8 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.5
Final Verdict: Above average
Score: 58%

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