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Map Title: Bad Cargo
Mr. Blowtatoes' Bad Cargo is actually a demo of his upcoming UT SP pack The Last Queen. As such it is little more than an early beta of the first map, and the mapper freely admits via a translator message at the beginning of the map that the storyline has not yet been implemented.
Normally I would not review a map at this stage of its development, but this review was actually requested by Mr. Blowtatoes himself. As such, I would encourage the mapper to look at this review as more of a beta test than a serious critical commentary on his work. From the score I have given, you might think the map was a lost cause, but far from it: I saw some very neat ideas at work here. Where it suffers is in the implementation, for Bad Cargo is very obviously the work of a first-time mapper.
I've already mentioned the story, but it would be worth pointing out at this point that Bad Cargo loses nearly twenty points from the very outset because the story has not yet been implemented. The Last Queen looks actually to have quite an interesting premise, but in this beta version of Bad Cargo there is nothing bearing any relation to that storyline. A couple of translator messages appear at an early stage of the map on computer consoles, but they are largely inconsequential and don't offer any explanation for the player's presence in this high-tech facility, and there are no scripted sequences. There is also no real ending due to this map being the first of many, and in its present form the exit just links to NyLeve's Falls from Unreal. No doubt this deficiency will be firmly addressed in the larger construction of the project.
Aside from the storyline, architecture is where Bad Cargo most greatly suffers. It exhibits all the classic signs of the first-time mapper: empty, square rooms; a lack of trim; simplistic light fixtures; vertical cliff walls; no proper skybox, and a large number of crates. Even so, the architecture shows some improvement as the map goes on, with one moderately interesting outdoor area that the player visits more than once containing an overhead bridge, a crane and an interestingly designed entrance. There are the seeds of a decent conceptual design in place here, and I'm sure that if he perseveres, Mr. Blowtatoes will eventually be able to do his ideas justice. One crazily rotating gyroscopic power core was also an interesting touch.
Texturing is basically functional, with UTTech being the texture theme of choice (unusual for a single player map). It's admittedly unclear what purpose this facility exactly serves, but it seems to be some kind of storage depot, oddly staffed by Krall and further populated by a boatload of Pupae. I did, however, see a few texture misalignments and bad texture applications: some rectangular lights in an early corridor, for example, had the light texture on the sides as well as on the front, leading to a seriously messy effect when only one or two of the lights were meant to be working. Doors moved as one object when they were meant to part in the middle, terrain textures were not given the attention they deserved and the map's many lifts were textured in an almost entirely arbitrary fashion. A little more care would have improved the map considerably in these areas.
Lighting is one of Bad Cargo's stronger suits, and Mr. Blowtatoes uses a variety of colours, primarily a decent mix of blue and white / beige. There is no ambient zone light, and so parts of the map recede completely into darkness, resulting in some atmospheric wandering by the glow of a Searchlight. Later on, fog makes an appearance in one deserted chamber, and it would have been very effective had Mr. Blowtatoes enabled the fog underwater as well as on the surface. As it happens, however, the fog flickers on and off as the player enters and leaves the water zone, and as the player travels around in the light blue fog the water zone remains consistently dark.
Sound is also promising. Mr. Blowtatoes makes good use of ambient sounds to liven up his otherwise basic environment, and it makes a lot of difference to the atmosphere (I don't recall any part of the map being silent). However, the mapper lets himself down severely by not assigning any sound effects to his switches and lifts, dynamic ambient sounds in the outdoor areas are lacking, and the music vanished at a very early stage of the level. There's still work to be done here.
Unfortunately, the inexperience of the mapper is also mirrored in the technical execution. Some bugs, such as the intermittent fog, have already been mentioned, but there's more. Within the first room of the alien base, there's a door that seems to be constantly trying to activate even though it is sealed. The result is a cacophony of interrupted sound effects that really starts to grate whilst the player is attempting to build a stack of crates, a feat made no easier by the fact that stacking crates in Unreal is hugely unreliable due to the poor collision code. There is an opportunity here for the player to get completely stuck whilst attempting this tiresome exercise. One water pool in the first room, made out of half a subtracted sphere, consisted of far more polys than was necessary to achieve the desired effect - Mr. Blowtatoes should have turned down his sphere extrapolation. At one point I also saw a couple of lens flares standing a good ten centimetres away from the lights to which they were meant to be attached.
If these technical errors (which could have been identified with greater testing) can be forgiven, then the gameplay of Bad Cargo is actually quite enjoyable. This is primarily because of Mr. Blowtatoes' tricky creature placement: one Brute that comes lumbering out of the darkened interior of a hollow crate is a particularly surprising touch. The map also occasionally confronts the player with hordes of Pupae that come creeping out from between the many crates. Needless to say, facing about ten Pupae simultaneously is an intimidating situation to be in.
To fight these various foes, Mr. Blowtatoes provides the Enforcer and Pulse Gun from Unreal Tournament as the weapons of choice. However, when facing the hordes of Pupae, I found the chargeable, splash-damaging secondary attack of the Dispersion Pistol to be as effective as anything. Elsewhere, the map rewards exploration: as the game proceeds, almost all the key supplies of health and ammo are stashed in the corners behind large crates. The same is often true of the means to progress, which for the most part is all well and good: but why Mr. Blowtatoes thought the player would enjoy drowning is another matter entirely. In one particularly bad case, the player must locate a vent hidden behind a pair of crates deep inside an underwater chamber, and then make a long swim for freedom. Would a set of SCUBA Gear have been too much to ask? (further investigation in UnrealEd reveals a set, but very well concealed and much further back in the level).
A map with some decent concepts and interestingly staged combats, set severely back by a novice's implementation and the complete lack of story. Keep working at it, Mr. Blowtatoes, you can only get better - and I would really like to see what you could produce with greater mapping experience under your belt.
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