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Delacroix' Reviews - Collective Thread

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User avatar Delacroix
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Subject: Delacroix' Reviews - Collective Thread

Post Posted: 14 Jan 2014, 16:48

Hey. This thread will serve as a repository for the reviews I've written but as per ivy-chan's orders, did not post in public. This startpost will contain a full list of the reviews in question, each reply will be a single review.

Reviews contained in this thread (in order of date posted):

- "Camelot: In Memory of Guinevere" by Robert Wey, Stalker_3000 & DJ Skaarj (single level)
- "The Ghost of Alin'Gar" by Tim 'Kew' Jervis (single level)
- "Stargate: Talisman" by Richard 'LION(LS)' Kaderabek & Stvaan Ivanhoe (large campaign)
Last edited by Delacroix on 06 Feb 2014, 18:20, edited 2 times in total.
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User avatar Delacroix
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Subject: [u1] Custom Map Review: "Camelot: In Memory of Guinevere"

Post Posted: 14 Jan 2014, 16:49

Map Information:

Map Title: Camelot: In Memory of Guinevere
Map Author: Robert Wey, Stalker 3000 & DJ_Skaarj
Reviewer: Delacroix
Review Score: 45%
Tagline: The infiltration of the keep is a challenging task, but doable and rewarding.

Main Review:

As Project Zephon's case has showed us, multiplayer arenas if constructed properly may translate to single player quite efficiently. Camelot: In Memory of Guinevere, originally a deathmatch map from 1999, revisited nine years later by the author and two individuals by the names of Stalker 3000 & DJ_Skaarj, just might be one such map. Is it?

Wey's original design technique certainly helps in that regard. As the author himself acknowledges in the release notes, he aimed not for a typical fragfest arena, but for a setting and this, just as in the case of Konosus, made it easier to turn the level into a single player endeavor which turned out quite neat.


A bridge seen from below

Camelot is a large, several stories tall castle dedicated to the memory of Queen Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur - or so the story goes. While it can be seen that this is the author's first map, subsequent revisions have upgraded the visuals to a decent level. While oldschool and somewhat simplistic, the construction is proper and varied. The castle makes actual sense, there's a storage compartment, a small crypt, a courtyard, a drawbridge... all the characteristics are there and they work well to ensure the level feels authentic. The area isn't just about indoors either: the rock formation the castle is built on is surrounded by water and further rock formations that can be explored once the opposition's been dealt with. The impression can be somewhat spoiled by the occasional visual glitches, especially the skybox in one spot, but they aren't plentiful, nor big.

As far as the audio layer is concerned, there are certain flaws. While the use of ambience is scarce, it is proper and the environment feels more lively with all those chirps, running water and other SFX out and about - but the music while initially fitting the map (Nali Chant track) grows tiring in time, especially given the level takes a lot of time to complete. The action section of the track is left unused despite many situations warranting its use.


Keep interior.

The gameplay factor is the toughest part to pull off when dealing with MP-to-SP porting, as I already mentioned with Konosus. As a solo adventure usually revolves around searching for a way to unlock the next portion of a location by doing something in the previous area, leaving too many routes open might prove problematic. Luckily Camelot manages to avoid that fate. The level is fairly linear: your task is to reach the top of the castle and unlock the large sewage system on the other side of the level. How you do it, it's up to you... theoretically. I've found three five ways into the castle, but three converge into one so they can be counted as such and the remaining two are defended heavily enough for the players to skip them outright. Especially the frontal assault is utter idiocy, with the almost immortal titan wraith around. The game essentially forces the player to improvise. Storming the main gate with just a dispersion pistol, when there's two snipers on the ledges above, several krall, a Skaarj and the aforementioned titan on the drawbridge - that sounds like suicide and it essentially is. The only way is from below and even that is dangerous enough to make the approach hard. Almost gruelling. Things improve once the player finds the dispersion pistol power-ups and grabs the first weapons located on the lower levels. There's just about enough health and armor to keep the player going... if they know what they're doing and they're not rushing into the unexplored areas like a mad bull. Trust me: if you're a mad bull type, there's more than enough toreadors in there that are perfectly capable of putting you down. Play it safe.

Lack of any translator messages is a waste of potential, but the level's setting and release notes do introduce a feel of exploring an ancient castle taken by the enemy. While this isn't much, it can't be written off as nothing at all. This isn't a big problem though: with such a setting and inventive gameplay, the level's already pretty good.

Summary:

Camelot works much better as a single-player endeavor than for deathmatch and that is true even without an actual storyline implemented into the level. The gameplay can prove punishing for players that tend to rush through the level without thinking twice, but if you choose to use your gray matter, you'll be pleasantly surprised - the infiltration of the keep is challenging but doable and rewarding. Strongly recommended.

BUILD (50%)
Architecture 4
Texturing 6
Lighting 4
Sound 4
Technical Execution 5

CAST (50%)
Conceptual Grandness 7
Story Construction 1
Story Implementation 2
Gameplay Awe 7
Gameplay Balance 5

Total Score: 45%

Download links:

CamelotCF.zip - Dropbox
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User avatar Delacroix
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Subject: Re: Delacroix' Reviews - Collective Thread

Post Posted: 21 Jan 2014, 05:01

Map Information:

Map Title: The Ghost of Alin'Gar
Map Author: Tim 'Kew' Jervis
Reviewer: Delacroix
Review Score: 42%
Tagline: Has a lot of promise.

Main Review:

The Ghost of Alin'Gar is an ancient in both theme and age level from the notorious Wheel of Time and Heretic II mapper Kew, released in October 1998. One could say it's among the first quality custom levels for Unreal. And this statement would be true.

Alin'Gar, the titular ghost was a lord of the monastery-reminiscent residence the player is about to explore. He was betrayed by an evil monk, captured by the Devil Guards and murdered. He requests that you avenge him and rescue his imprisoned son - which, from the looks of it, is a Nali. That's about the gist of the story - and while this does not sound big, for a single, small map it certainly is. The said storyline is well implemented, as Alin contacts you repeatedly during the course of your quest and provides instructions as well as background information on the area and its inhabitants, both past and present. All of this builds suspense, especially that all the translator messages have a custom notification attached to them, or more techy: the "M_NewMessage" variable that changes the initial notifications from "New Translator Message" to "Alin calls you" or "Fear not, I am with you" and so on. It builds up the adventure's unique mood...


The starting area.

...only for it to be shattered to pieces when you pass through the translator message spots again. You'll see: "Translator Message". Pretty much breaks the suspension of disbelief right there on the spot. There are more faults, too: while the initial message from Alin has a ghastly sound set for notification, others invoke the regular translator beep. The sixth translator event has no content whatsoever - but after you pass through its spot again, you'll discover that the contents of Alin's message show up as a notification instead - and they're cut off, to boot. However even with those faults considered, the haunted monastery feel is there, and the storyline plays a big role in that regard.

The visuals are pretty good, given the level's age - the castle's architecture is quite detailed and moody, with lots of archways, spiral starcases, dungeons and the like. The place doesn't seem to have a genuine purpose though. The corridors that are supposed to lead to a place where Alin was slain, in fact lead to all sorts of other areas, like a chapel or a sewer. Lack of any housing area or kitchen breaks the authenticity of the location as well. It's a dungeon, nothing else. I've not seen BSP errors in my playthrough, the lighting looks all right as well but that's pretty much it. Another question is the torches: without TorchFlameFix I'm seeing ridiculously big torch flames, sometimes misaligned, sometimes aligned properly to the torchstands, but still - too big and obviously unfitting. However with this mutator active all torch flames are of proper size, but the situation with their alignment reverses. Those that were placed properly are now below their respective torchstands, and the hovering-above-torchstands ones are, for a change, placed properly now. As the alingar2 (or Alin'Gar version 2) readme clearly states it's been upgraded to support Unreal version 224, I assume the reason for updating was the torch issue. It's too bad that it hasn't been fully fixed and one way or another the level remains broken in that regard.


A grandiose hallway.

As for the audio layer, it's really average. The various ambient sounds are mostly screams and ghastly howls and while initially adding to the level's feel, eventually they grow old to the player. The only musical track used in the level is Nali Chant and only the peaceful, ambient section is played, with no switches to the action theme. But on the other hand, there is no reason to, as the level doesn't have any climax situation it could be used in.

And this brings us to the last aspect of the level, which is the gameplay it provides. The formula is standard dungeon romp fare, as in: all the player must do is explore the surroundings, kill everything in sight and complete the objective which as detailed in Alin's messages is to destroy the statue of the black monk. Properly executed, it could be fun - especially that the author has given the thought of tweaking some of the enemies' properties to enhance the experience, for example decreasing the size of the fish to make them harder to hit or providing a lesser brute the ability to throw boulders instead of shooting missiles. However in this case, the concept isn't executed properly. First off, there is a complete lack of proper gameplay balance. Even on the toughest stock difficulty setting (Unreal in stock game versions, renamed Very Hard in the 227 patch), the level is a cakewalk. The player is provided with the dispersion pistol, stinger, eightball, razorjack and rifle, several kinetic barrier belts, plenty ammo packs (including QuadShot shells for some mysterious reason - given that the weapon, unworking in stock Unreal builds, isn't even in the level, I was surprised by the presence of a shell pack) and healing items sounds like a lot - and trust me, it is. Given the small size of the locations, most enemies won't stand a chance against a barrage of razor blades, be it various Skaarj (some are even imprisoned behind bars, quite easy to pick off), Krall (some legless), mercenaries or brutes, in fact the only things that can become a challenge are the shrinked fish which can chew you out while being extra-hard to hit due to their small size. In fact, I recommend to try outrunning, or should I say, outswimming them as eliminating them can become an exercise in frustration. However, aside from those fish, none of the enemies present has managed to take away any significant portion of my health and I assume that most players would feel the same. Given this lack of any real challenge, combat will prove monotonous. That is even more truthful with lack of any real climax. No rise in terms of difficulty curve, no boss that'd protect the statue that is your target. Your mission to destroy the statue is just as simple as it sounds.

Summary:

Being one of Kew's earlier works for Unreal, The Ghost of Alin'Gar does promise a lot, but those promises are kept in the author's later works, rather than in here. The architecture and storyline has some similarities to Nali'Pente and Illhaven but is nowhere near their level. It does provide some enjoyment though and were it not for a bland audio layer, uninspiring gameplay and the few, but clearly visible, technical issues, this could be considered very good. Playing this at least once is recommended.

BUILD (50%)
Architecture 3
Texturing 6
Lighting 4
Sound 3
Technical Execution 4

CAST (50%)
Conceptual Grandness 5
Story Construction 7
Story Implementation 4
Gameplay Awe 3
Gameplay Balance 3

Total Score: 42%

Download links:

alingar2.zip - Gameaholic
Last edited by Delacroix on 21 Jan 2014, 21:44, edited 1 time in total.
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I am the Unreal archivist and historian. If you have something from the past of Unreal that I don't have, do tell.

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Subject: Re: Delacroix' Reviews - Collective Thread

Post Posted: 21 Jan 2014, 21:32

The first word that comes to mind when I read these is, "fair." And then "balanced." You don't linger too long on points and dissect the levels cleanly for the paragraph space, but they are not boring. I especially like that you always try to inject some history into the levels so that we know some details about the situation of their making, who did it, and when. Always very careful to cite sources and put perspective on the author. This is true for Kew's level, and I like that you take the time to mention recurring tropes of his (like boulder shooting brutes).

Like I said, clean. And they are done in a way that gives people a taste of exactly what they are getting into. That's really the most important thing. I'd like to see you review more above average-to high tier level packs. :tup: :tup:
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Subject: Re: Delacroix' Reviews - Collective Thread

Post Posted: 06 Feb 2014, 18:18

Map Information:

Map Title: Stargate: Talisman
Map Author: Richard 'LION(LS)' Kaderabek & Stvaan Ivanhoe
Reviewer: Delacroix
Review Score: 56%
Tagline: For a solo venture, absolutely amazing.

Main Review:

Stargate: Talisman is one of the myriad of Stargate-themed modifications for the Unreal Engine, but one of the few that were actually released. Richard Kaderabek's mammoth pack, containing well over a dozen levels in multiple locations does indeed have a history. But, as with most Czech Unreal works, it's mostly forgotten by the mainstream Unreal community. The main reason for this is simple: until now it didn't have an English translation available. Another difficulty new players might face arises due to the fact that the pack, originally released in 2003, was then subsequently updated several times: in 2004, 2005 (Special Edition), 2008 and lastly, 2009 (Special Edition 2). With such a wide array of releases (some of which were lost), it's easy to become confused as to which version to play and when preparing to write the review that you may read below, I also faced this problem. Eventually, after careful examination of the releases available, I finally managed to confirm that the 2009 SE2 release is indeed the release of choice for players.


The corridors of the Stargate Command.

Stargate: Talisman is most defintely a partial conversion. It still uses some Unreal assets like the Nali for example, or multiple weapons but its setting and storyline are both separate from Unreal and there's enough new content in here to provide the feel of a Stargate game rather than an Unreal one. There are new soldier models in the Stargate Command (borrowed from Half-Life: Opposing Force), there's a new ghastly monster appearing from level 8 onwards, modeled by Lion(LS), the player also receives two new weapons, one of which effectively replaces the dispersion pistol due to its rechargeable nature, there's also a completely new texture set, used in multiple maps like the aforementioned Stargate Command for example. All of this screams Stargate!

Therefore, one needs to be familiar with some terms in order to fully enjoy the project's setting: "stargates" are ancient fast travel devices constructed by a race known as the "Ancients" and utilized heavily by a warmongering race of the "Goa'uld System Lords", parasitical worms taking control of mainly humanesque hosts who then conquer new worlds utilizing armies of "Jaffa", soldiers with enhanced strength and reflexes thanks to the presence of said worms in a special womb-like opening in their bellies (as opposed to the hosts the Goa'uld directly control by being implanted inside their heads). When one such stargate was discovered in the original theatrical movie, a special military division has relocated it into the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain and thus the Stargate Command (the SGC) was formed, which is a group of military-controlled explorers that aim to protect the Earth against Goa'uld or other off-world dangers while at the same time exploring the space. That's Stargate if you never watched it, in a nutshell... or at least the first few seasons which inspired Lion's work.


The bowels of the temple.

The storyline of the pack shall remind you of a typical Stargate SG-1 episode: SG-3 is missing off-world, so the player, a member of SG-2, is sent to investigate. What follows is to be expected: the Goa'uld are involved and more than once you'll be forced to clash with their Jaffa. In fact, during the first arc of the pack - which takes more than half of it - you'll fight almost exclusively Jaffa which can make the gameplay a bit boring after a while. The player will at first reach a Nali Brotherhood of the Three Circles where they'll find the last survivor of the missing SG-3 and they'll also be notified that there's a second stargate available if one needs to reach Earth... except you don't get to use it unless you do something for the Brotherhood first. It turns out that there is a terrible "God of the Fire River" at large. The being was sealed deep underground by a talisman that the Goa'uld have relocated into another location, thus releasing the monster from its slumber. The objective is simple: retrieve the Talisman for the Brotherhood. Of course, the Jaffa will not make it easy for the player. After completing this mission and gaining access to the emergency stargate hidden in the Brotherhood's basement (yes, they keep stargates hidden away in basements now!) the second story arc commences, which is finding the way to Earth. It probably would never take place if the player character had at least a modicum of intelligence but as it turns out, the SG-2 operative forgot how to dial Earth so they go to Abydos instead. Congratulations, soldier.


The temple turns surreal.

The premise may sound simple: go in, find yourself trapped, perform a time-consuming and daunting task that is completely unrelated to your main objective, try to go back, take a detour for some poor excuse of a reason, reach the home base, done. That's all there's to it under the hood - but the way it's implemented is truly pristine: the player character often comments his surroundings and the status of the mission, non-player characters will often have something to say to you (usually via a translator message), occasional voiced lines can be heard, further detailing the story or just filling in the implementation of the Stargate universe (some still in Czech sadly, but can be figured out via context) and there's several simple flyby cutscenes. That's not all: the HUD is customized to keep you informed that you are no longer an Unreal universe character like Ash or Prisoner 849, but a member of the SG-2 team and there's a custom Stargate-themed translator provided (unfortunately it replaces the new enlarged translator of the 227 patch, forcing you to read the regular small text and that is a pain on large resolutions). The gameplay enhancements such as the new rechargeable Jaffa Staff (a pristine replacement for the DP) or the modified Krall serving as the Jaffa further give the player a nice dosage of Stargate drug, enough to make you fly really high.


The Ha'tak interior.

The maps themselves are numerous. 15 out of 22 are properly playable, with the remainder serving as cutscenes... and, quite frankly, if there's anything that can serve as the weak point of the pack, it's them. While initially the player might tolerate the low-poly feel and simple shapes of the surroundings (for example, in the protagonist's house or in the SGC), they'll soon grow tired of the linearity of the areas (Level 6 being one of the few standing out as far as this is concerned) and the basic visuals - not to mention occasional BSP issues here and there. The new texturing does provide a decent illusion of actual Stargate universe locations such as the Ha'tak or the SGC, whereas the regular assets work well in the Temple area (Levels 7-8), but the basic construction does bring the pack down and it hits the ground hard. The absolute rock bottom is Level 11, or Abydos - the desert can end quickly and when looking down you can see the sky below as if this was a Sky Island. Then there's the difficulty in finding the teleporter. Overall there's plenty squares, simple circles, spiral staircases so nothing remarkable, but it's used in a manner that won't make your eyes hurt, most of the time. The lighting gets the job done and adds to the authenticity of the locations - which, despite the low-poly feel, actually is there most of the time, as I've already mentioned - heck, remember those colored stick items that serve as keys and elements of machinery on the Ha'tak ships and other Goa'uld vessels? They're there, all right. It really is too bad that the locales are constructed so simply - because they're really varied. An alien planet, complete with exotic shrooms? Check. Ha'tak? Check. Stargate Command? Check. Suburban house? Check. Temple? Check. Catacombs? Check. Chapel? Check. Desert? Check. Ancient city? Let's see... yes, it's there too! It's just that the construction is really simplistic. Lion would do better if he chose to recruit a more skilled mapper while concentrating fully on the other aspects of the project. One can only dream how fantastic it would turn out.


The Ha'tak and the Stargate.

As far as the audio layer goes, Stargate: Talisman could've used a lot more work. While there is music present and the tracks fit the situation (including the custom ones), its usage is scarce and there often is no justification for the lack of music (such as the intention to make the player feel uneasy or something). The ambience is a bit richer and properly made but there are no fireworks. It gets the job done and that's it.

The gameplay is really uneven. While some maps serve as mere cutscenes or intermissions and as such they don't provide any combat, they let the player immerse in the pack's micro-universe and that role must be respected. What does break the suspension of disbelief is... arrows. Pointers, if you will. Basically, on every level there's pointers indicating that something must be done in a location. While they make it easier not to lose oneself in the SGC or in the Brotherhood stronghold, they do break the aforementioned suspension of disbelief and thus may ruin the fun. As far as the combat-oriented levels go, they face another problem which is good old-fashioned boredom. For the majority of the pack you'll fight solely the Jaffa. Nothing else. Additional enemies show up for a level or two but quickly disappear afterwards, leaving you to slaughtering legions of Goa'uld footsoldiers. At least the gameplay is somewhat balanced - there's enough health, weapon and ammo provisions to survive (including new items such as Phoenix Eggs, various pouches and the like), there's never too much of that. The problem in the gameplay balance however is that Lion and Stvaan couldn't really decide on the right amount of enemies, leading to the situation where there's not enough enemies to provide a decent challenge (most of the time) or pit the player against seemingly impossible odds with an army of enemies in the vicinity (I've encountered four such situations). The new guns are a nice addition, but let's face it: the MP-5 is a really poor replacement for the minigun. At least the Jaffa Staff works and it must be underlined yet one more time - it works admirably well. It's good enough to replace the DP as your last resort weapon and unlike the unpowered DP, the Staff does make an excellent regular weapon too. As it can be obtained very early in the game if you decide to perform a heist on the Ha'tak at the very beginning of your mission, you might find yourself in the situation that you won't be able to pick up the ammo provisions available for the other guns because the Staff is that good. It does have a drawback that its charge depletes quite fast, but on the other hand it recharges just as fast and making do with the other guns while the Staff regains its power isn't really an issue.

Summary:

It's really a shame that Stargate: Talisman, while often available on cooperative servers, is barely known to the mainstream Unreal community as it is a large, varied and quite well made partial conversion for Unreal and it is worth playing. Several factors have contributed to the situation - the multitude of releases that makes it difficult to track down the proper one as well as lack of an English language version, making the storyline a complete mystery which for a heavy-on-story pack is unacceptable. It is 2014 and it's been eleven years since the pack's first beta release and nine years since the first Special Edition became available - and lastly, five years since the SE2 revision's release - and it's about time Stargate: Talisman received some recognition. While many packs have done things better, all of them were team-based efforts and SG:T is mostly Lion's work. Others have only patched it. For a solo venture, this is something absolutely amazing. Play. Now.

BUILD (50%)
Architecture 3
Texturing 7
Lighting 6
Sound 3
Technical Execution 5

CAST (50%)
Conceptual Grandness 8
Story Construction 5
Story Implementation 9
Gameplay Awe 4
Gameplay Balance 6

Total Score: 56%

Download links:

SGT_SE2_2009_ENG.zip - Dropbox
Last edited by Delacroix on 07 Feb 2014, 01:08, edited 1 time in total.
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I am the Unreal archivist and historian. If you have something from the past of Unreal that I don't have, do tell.

User avatar Mister_Prophet
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Subject: Re: Delacroix' Reviews - Collective Thread

Post Posted: 06 Feb 2014, 22:19

This one was cool to see. Glad to see some of the Stargate maps I've been seeing about these community sidestreets for years get some notice here on UnrealSP. The only real issue I have with this review is that it assumes the reader is familiar with Stargate lore. Not saying you should add a small paragraph in the beginning for people not keen to the terms used in the show and movie, but I can imagine someone will get confused.
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User avatar Delacroix
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Posts: 827
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Location: Poland.ut3

Subject: Re: Delacroix' Reviews - Collective Thread

Post Posted: 07 Feb 2014, 01:13

Issue rectified, added an explaining paragraph. Thanks for pointing that out!
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