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Review: Valley of Eelhandra

Project Information

  • Title: Valley of Eelhandra
  • Author: Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort
  • Platform: Unreal Tournament
  • Category: Single Map
  • Review Score: 67%

Main Review

Chicoverde uses clever scripted sequences to surprise the player at every turn

Note: This map follows on from Nak'halinra Peak and you will require weapons there acquired. I have reviewed this map as from the perspective of having played the seperately released Nak'halinra Peak first.

Valley of Eelhandra follows the storyline and theme of Nak'halinra Peak. As dusk begins to fall, you continue your quest for the sacred stone of the Nali and on the way encounter two warring clans of Krall and Skaarj who are trying to get to it first. This release comes with no readme, but the story from Nak'halinra Peak is elaborated decently through the translator via diaries and your own thoughts as the level progresses.

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Valley of Eelhandra largely maintains the architectural quality of Nak'halinra Peak. The cliffs of the undulating terrain are built of basic shapes, but they come together well to good overall effect with a great variation in height. The ground slopes up and down as you pass through valleys and tunnels, adding to the realism. You'll find among the rocks a few standard Nali huts, and other well built details such as cannons and carts; the Temple of Eelhandra, nestled in a huge basin, also makes for an impressive finale.

But it's not all perfect - the actual terrain of the map is much less innovative in design than in its predecessor. It has good scale and variation to it, but it doesn't cross over itself or twist and turn nearly so much as in the previous map, suggesting a less elaborate conceptual design. The temple at the end looks low-poly in this day and age. Still, at least the whole level runs at a good framerate.

The texturing around you is done in a typical outdoor Unreal way, but rather than just using solid grass, Chicoverde uses the GenTerra texture set much as he did in Nak'halinra Peak. As indicated in the review of that map, the resulting stripy look doesn't bear close inspection because you can see obvious seams. For the Nali structures, on the other hand, Chicoverde makes good use of the Ancient and Nali Castle texture sets. The temple at the end is very well decorated from a texturing standpoint.

Lighting is competent, with a dim, dusky look out of doors broken up with lanterns, torches, fires and anything else Chicoverde cared to include. Much of the outdoor lighting, however, comes from an ambient light level that on some computers will appear too dark. It could maybe have done with being a bit brighter or less even. Valley of Eelhandra predates the arrival of the more realistic outdoor lighting techniques used in Operation Na Pali, and therefore can at times look a little flat when there are none of Chicoverde's colourful red and orange torches on the screen.

Sound is of a standard outdoor theme. A bit of wind, running water, and so on, but with pitch modifications included, giving the map something of an edge over many of its contemporaries. Chicoverde includes some dynamic ambient sounds of bird calls and animals, but they are too loud; this area perhaps needed a bit more work. Music files used are from Unreal, and for the most part are well chosen, but the strident Guardian.umx continues for far too long after the relevant scene has finished, and the eventual arrival of the well-chosen UTemple.umx is most welcome.

But the atmosphere of the level isn't just carried by the architexture, lighting and sound. To complete the picture, Chicoverde uses scripted sequences and clever creature placement to surprise the player at every turn. In one area, a StoneTitan attacks a mob of Krall as you turn a corner. The warring clans come to blows as you approach a captured village. And, on reaching the temple, Skaarj pour out of the entrance. These scripted sequences lead the player into a variety of relatively tough combats involving several Krall or several Skaarj at once. And while it's tricky at times, it makes things very interesting.

Unfortunately the scripting of these events is not totally robust: when I ran through the map before writing this review, the second of the above major scenes failed to operate, and the Skaarj and Krall in the area never attacked each other at all.

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Between these scripted scenes, the gameplay of the map is rather quiet and it falls a bit flat. It's a shame, as to have a greater level of combat in between these major scenes might have livened up the experience slightly. But this is largely compensated for by the attempts made by Chicoverde to create a vibrant dynamic between the two warring factions as the story of the level progresses.

Summary

A good map that continues the Shamuquest story very effectively.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.66% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.68%
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).6 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.8
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.7 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.8
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.6 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.6
Final Verdict: Fair
Score: 67%

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