Sadly I finally touched the dreaded ending point which means "it's done".
Honestly the mappack feels like close to the conclusion, wouldn't be against a short final episode 3 (3 ugh) with five/six big maps and let it go. Not necessary to cross that 30-maps mark because Xenome's length has beat any Unreal record so far. When everything is done (whenever then, be it 5 or 10 years assuming we're all still alive) then it's better to combine all episodes into one for a full experience.
Here's my assassination count and I think it makes up for almost no months of Unreal SP gaming.
So if this would've been officially reviewed (just Interloper, separately from First Day), something that ain't definitely going to happen anymore, it would be the closest contender to that universal 100% rating everyone wished to attain. I think it'd be 10s on all categories, except taking one or two points off Story Construction (the story premise is high tier but isn't anything super groundbreaking that would interest every people) and maybe one point off Gameplay Awe (at a certain point you realize the mappack doesn't go beyond the insane adrenaline rush of killing armies of Skaarj). I guess it's going to end up between 97% and 98%. If Xenome would be fully released AND rated as a whole then I can imagine the perfect 100% rating being a fucking real thing.
I'll mention first the few bad things I encountered in the mappack:
- At some point in the campaign it becomes extremely vague where you have to go. This is because there's that really dark and hidden vent shaft you have to find and go through. The last level sees a sudden and heavy return of the puzzle feel that characterized the first Xenome and goes a bit too far, I was completely clueless at first how to proceed through that room with the blue beam (you had to figure out where to jump and you had to do it quick before the blue beam would be back on) and how to destroy the generator shield in the final area of the game (I knew that I had to destroy the crystals but the crystals in question looked like lamps).
- The final boss is fought in a very awkward location. This is mostly due to the fact that there's no real safe legit way to go back down, you have to jump on certain ledges and get yourself hurt as a result. And the boss will likely won't follow you because sadly his AI always historically sucked.
- The cardboard explosion in the ending looks really bad. I think the yellow flash was good enough, maybe add a redeemer explosion (it's in a skybox so it'll probably look big) to give the idea that it was an actual boom.
This mappack is the perfect lesson of Unreal SP mapping, even though it's way too late for that stuff to be relevant now.
You don't need unique "leet coding shits" like new graphical features, new weapons or new enemies to make your mappack fully memorable. Just be great at the editor, have a great concept, great ambition and great imagination, go get some texture/sound packs when it's needed to, and there you go, you got the tools to create something that may be capable to smash everything that has been released so far.
Ok sure it still uses the extra ONP custom gametype component but IIRC it just offers an infinite DP, a very readable HUD, footstep sounds, proper crouching and cutscene actors. Seriously nothing that makes it differentiate from regular Unreal. It is mindbogglingly impressive and amazing that what I played right now is still the same game from almost 20 years ago, and the only major change between those is that I'm using UT weapons instead of U1 ones. I managed to love the UT weapons after mastering them and knowing their pro/cons.
I am truly in the idea that if mappers went for the Xenome's example (and Zephon's too), without having to go after ultra ambitious concepts that required teams or suddenly switching to one patch only, we would have likely seen much more releases in the past few years. See what came out of those speedrunning contests like TLF, VVV and Triamid. This is a personal blunt opinion of mine which hasn't anything to do with Xenome as a whole but I really had to say it. It just makes me sad.
Back to Xenome. Xenome returns like this: back in the day First Day pops up (I pretend all that scandal shit never ever happened now) and becomes a massive force of power that goes toe to toe against the likes of Zephon, Xidia and 7B. Years after of intense training, Xenome returns, transforms into its golden form, showing its true limitless potential. It's like all the old peeps of the community were sure their works took the game to the limits, then this overpowered villain suddenly comes out of the blue many years after the golden era and immediately takes those standards to a never-reached level. I'm already aware that a lot of the stuff in Xenome are inspired from games as well as old custom mappacks but if this was released back when the community was still very much alive, jazzyB would've been seen as the best Unreal mapper ever by all and who knows he'd be already scouted from a game devteam. But that's a dream.
It took a while to get there. I remember the times when I was rough on Xenome before the big patch, I complained because I felt like there were issues and because the mappack could have been even better. I was probably unconsciously aware of the mapping potential jazzyB ever had; after the patch, I became a big fan and backed him off the fact that I was extremely sure episode 2 was going to easily top the first one and decimate other custom mappacks and boy I was fucking right. And I always felt like that it was going to happen and that jazzy wouldn't disappear forever, felt like the timing was close and this was the ultimate reason why I chose Xenome as the "Thing of the Month" thread in the MOTW section. The miracle happened.
The green Skaarj has to be the Unreal villain with the most and non personality. You don't know shit about this guy (except the fact that you get an explanation regarding his visual appearance), you never hear him talk but you see him act and retreat, and this goes on for 24 maps, right into episode 3 whichever it will be. You have the desire to beat the fucker down and yet you're never able to have the chance. It's a drive to reach the end of the mappack that works really well for me.
I finally learnt to use the Pulse Gun against Unreal enemies. It has become some sort of meme weapon against Troopers because of how valuable it is - Troopers can't seem to use their shields constantly against the Pulse Gun's primary fire and due to this they don't even attempt to dodge (the AI literally doesn't read constant Pulse Gun's primary fire as a threat). So keep shooting orbs at them and they'll go eventually down.
I didn't play UT/Unreal in months but I still feel good at it. I can't say how difficult Interloper really is but I think it's definitely harder than First Day (look at the fucking Skaarj killcount!). Can't make direct comparisons because I'm finally done with my greedyness of not using other weapons and sticking to DP only. Here I just used any weapon that felt right within the situation and there are way more fights where the DP can't do much than viceversa. The Ripper is definitely the weapon of the pack: is fast, offers enemy pushing through secondary fire, can decapitate for a lot of bonus damage and enemies can't dodge blades; weapon was never dull in any situation but still requires some mastery. The UT BioRifle is also still broken, and can insta-kill all non-Lord Skaarj with a fully charged blog, especially when these Skaarj are busy pressing panels (they don't hear the charge sound).
Other than that, even if the enemy variety is on the low mark, destroying waves of Skaarj is just super satisfying. It fully brings the old FPS concept where you are a one man army against hundreds of super advanced hostile aliens, it feels amazing. Back in the day one or two Troopers were way too much, here we're dealing with waves that average 5-6 Skaarj, be it all Troopers or Warriors or a mix. What an adrenaline rush.
The maps are so huge and vast, and so different from each other in content, that you can spend hours to talk about them. The themes are used to their highest possible potential and there are some areas that are downright incredible for this engine.
It's like this is "that mappack", the nextgen mappack that UT would have eventually got in its late life just to remind everyone what this old game was capable of, taking old build ideas and tricks and evolve them... how some standards can still be surpassed. Even more amazing is that I hardly found any HOMs, I have no idea how these levels didn't explode.
There isn't a dull map, there isn't one single dull room. Jesus. No pack comes close to this level of consistence - maybe only Firestorm would be the closest contender.
The fact also that the atmosphere remains overly menacing even if you know you aren't going to fight surprising enemies is a great feat.
The music was also spot-on, used perfectly, tho it's amusing how Warlord.umx was the only classic song to pop up. That track that plays in the green Skaarj ambush scenes made me crack up for some reasons and there was that one song from Xenome 1 which plays in that snowy village that made me nostalgic.
Somehow, somewhere, I feel like that I was actually missing the industrial theme because it's the staple of Xenome. I think it'd be amazing if Xenome's true ending would actually occur in the industrial complex, again.
Seriously really great stuff jazz, I lost a lot of hopes on Unreal SP's life still continuing but when the best mappack just gets released in 2017 I am simply a very happy man again.