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Map Title: Arachnopolis
On 20th January, 1999, the well known and respected mapper EZKeel, already appreciated by the community after the release of such classics as Xerania's Fall and Invasion, has released the small map Arachnopolis. It was a testing ground for his new Scorpion pawn, which later appeared in the third installment of Xerania trilogy, Legacy. Was it worth it though?
We begin our adventure in a small courtyard. Two towers loom in front of us, the doors behind us and in front of us are locked. The courtyard is rather small and not very detailed, but it's very well textured and lighted, as most of the level will be. Nothing to marvel over, but also nothing that'll make your eyes hurt.
After we make our way into the level's bowels, it does not improve, sadly. Most of the time you'll spend in narrow corridors, some are lighted worse than others, killing off scorpions. Granted, you'll be able to push a few buttons which will force you to backtrack and look for a new opening, but the places where such openings will appear are clearly visible, so the progress will be fast. There is a degree of non-linearity though -- depending on which tower you choose to jump down underground, a different compartment with weapons will open. It'll be either an automag with two weapon powerups for your DP, or a rifle. So, one point for a degree of non-linearity.
Don't be expecting any variation in the bestiary roaming the map. There's just scorpions, if I may call them that. Those who have played Legacy know what I mean. They jump like frogs, they have just 4 legs and they throw toxic sludge at you much like Return to Na Pali's Spinners. Perhaps they inspired Spinners, who knows. Anyhow, they can hardly be called true "scorpions", but at least they put some degree of freshness into gameplay. Not much though.
A word of warning on the technical execution. It'd be a perfect 10, lest one small bug that plagues the level. When you approach the final boss and not make your way through the center, the jewel won't break and thus the path to the exit will remain locked off. For an entire level, having a single bug, that's near perfection.
As for gameplay balance... the amount of creatures on the level is sufficient for the entire ammo to be enough, there's also enough healing items for you to remain safe during your trip into Arachnopolis. I have nothing against the balance, except one little thing. The final boss takes 3 shots from the rifle before dying. Please, a little more HP?
Atmosphere. Could've been good. The critters are making enough noise to give the feeling that the entire place is crawling with them and it actually is. But what difference does it make if they are weak enough to pose zero challenge even for new players.
The story written in the level's release notes tells you of a very precious jewel that the Nali crafted and you, like an Indiana Jones of the future, set out to retrieve it. A story so repetitive that I couldn't notice a single unique thing about it. Had it at least been properly implemented, I'd have nothing against it, but one translator message that's easy to miss unless you grab the translator first and back out at the door behind you, and two trigger messages just don't cut it. No, storyline is very badly implemented.
The level is technically correctly built, even if it does not cause any awe. No fireworks here. The gameplay is just running around, gunning down critters and pushing buttons, all in a minions-to-boss fashion. With only a modicum of challenge implemented, Arachnopolis can be finished fairly quickly without even looking at the story much, which is easy to miss. It's not bad, but I'd expect more from a mapper of such fame.
This is one of those levels I've always wanted to check out but have found completely impossible to get working, until now that is (thanks to Delacroix's modified version). The build quality is average EZKeel style, with simplistic architecture and lighting but a few more interesting shapes and effects at one or two points.
The gameplay feels closest to Invasion in EZKeel terms, with a few puzzles mixed in between the combat (I liked the room with the raising ledge in particular). Said combat unfortunately ends up being the lowest point, with the Scorpions having annoying collision detection that results in shots that should hit missing, and having only one enemy with quite simple AI leads to shallow combat. As it's only ten-twenty minutes long this might be worth checking out for a quick play, or if you have a soft-spot for EZKeel's style (although this is probably one of his weaker maps).
MMAN's score: 40%.
Download arachnopolis.zip (636KB, for Unreal build 220) from Fileplanet
Download Arachnopolis224.zip (590KB, for Unreal 224 and above) from UnrealTexture