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Map Title: Déjà Vu - Gryphon Revisited v2.01
Déjà Vu: Gryphon Revisited V2.01 is a large campaign released in June 2004 to celebrate the third anniversary of UnrealSP.Org. Actually, an early version was released back in June 2003 and was criticized, leading to the updated re-pack I'm going to re-review here. I never played the original Déjà Vu, but the second one is basically an improved version of the first, so you don't lose anything.
Getting back onto Déjà Vu v2.01. It consists of 16 maps, done by different and skilled mappers. The old review was actually done in the map-by-map style; even if, personally, I didn't entirely agree with it, it was more appropriate - when you get almost 16 different mappers to work on a single product, it's probably going to result in inconsistencies in the quality of the maps, and Déjà Vu shows signs of that.
The premise of the story is as simple as something experienced all the time. The map pack starts with an intro which describes what's happening in a casual day of the Unreal universe. The main character is named Juan Brie, and Inuit has ordered him to retrieve a certain Artefact from Na Pali, which is strangely called Gryphon here; or maybe it's the name of the orbit, but there is no explanation for it. You're aiming to land on the planet, but guess what, you crash on it because the Skaarj are always around, shooting human vessels. And then, you'll begin the pack in the Vortex Rikers style: awakening with 12 health, no weapons, etc... But for now let's take the story aside for later.
The main objective of the authors of Déjà Vu, at least from what I see, is to emulate the Unreal atmosphere with very Na Pali-like places, and by achieving a pleasant build quality. And it does not disappoint. You won't find a single dull room; tons of detail have been included in both indoor and outdoor environments. There are too many to list, but great examples come from the whole segments of Triskaden Station (Map 12), the outdoor sections of the Palace of Chizra (Map 9) with its imposing use of brushes and decorations, Kra'Filnish Valley (Map 15) for the impressive terrain, and Location Z-14 (Map 16) for bringing a clean, unique style to complete the great architectural cycle of Déjà Vu, with an ending section that you may have seen somewhere else.
Although, inconsistency comes, and the architectural quality of the weakest maps pales in comparison to others; there are also strange choices such as hot tar pools put in the middle of an entrance area or a point of no return which is the only way to connect two places. But the "good" manages, by and large, to overcome the "average" in Déjà Vu.
I can't say that texturing and lighting are on the same level of the core build. In all of the maps, textures are chosen perfectly well and never feel out of place; several texture packages have been used, plus a bunch of custom ones. Good, but applying them with perfect alignment or scale is another story. You encounter problems like these in almost all of the maps, and they are very noticeable. Examples can be found in Map 9 for the grass texture being overstretched and Map 15 for the "zig-zag" patterned rock cliffs, also using a terrible-looking rock texture. The 3D skybox of Map 16 seems nice at first, but look at it for a few more seconds and you'll get the impression of the sky being an ugly closed box with visible corners. Lastly, why the random transition from Skaarj.utx to Hourences' lightened Skaarj texture set at the beginning of Map 5? And to be honest, the latter set always looked boring and dead to me compared to the original one – unless it is used in the right places. The rest of the issues are mostly misalignments.
In my previous playthroughs, the skyboxes of Map 14 and 15 presented a black masking bug, even without using the broken S3TC textures. They've never appeared again though, so it was probably something to do with my settings.
Lighting has its ups and downs, but the work put into it fares a little better than the use of textures. Lights are fairly colourful, always nicely sourced and give life to the environments, and so the general atmosphere. Custom Fireflies, present in some levels, complement the lighting perfectly. It's also important how shadows have been handled, as they are rather impressive in many spots. Maps such as Temple of Novana and Triskaden Station contain wonderful lighting works, and Palace of Chizra isn't any worse with the incredible use of hundreds of Light Actors, blending well with natural environment outside the palace.
Regarding those "downs"... well, they're frequent. Take for example the Cellars of E'Nara (Map 3), impressive in gameplay, not the best show in the build department. You just go into a corridor, and it is separated from the previous one with a sudden change of lighting illumination. First it was bright, then suddenly dark without any kind of transition; a common issue in the Unreal world, and Déjà Vu is no exception. Also, areas with fog (especially the blue caves in Map 3), are always ruined by decals, as they are totally visible through the fog: stains foul the beauty.
There are also instances where absent dynamic lights are needed, while the outdoor section of Map 15 consists only of a single, repetitive white light only improved with the use of a single dark one caused by the shadows. Good lighting could also have saved Map 16's sky "box" by giving to it some eye-candy.
What I find impressive is the use of sounds, and music especially. You're not going to hear the unmatched sound usage done by Hourences in Xidia, but enjoy what's here. Sounds are here where necessary, together with the best dynamic ones capable always of boosting the atmosphere and the immersion.
The choice of music could never be any better. Where it is used, it fits with the map that you're playing. Many of the original Unreal music tracks make their appearance (plus the custom BlackDawn.umx which sets up the chilling beginning of Map 16); different songsections are used according to what's happening. The same can be said of the use of silence, enhanced by different pitched sounds. Very nice is the use of chants in the church of Map 2, fitting perfectly with its moody atmosphere.
And now, let's go back to the story. Where we have left it? Oh yeah, you're Juan Brie and you have to find a certain Artefact and get the hell out of Na Pali (or Gryphon, in this case). Did the authors consider it during the development of their maps? Let's make a quick comparison regarding the plot between Déjà Vu and the experience it wants to emulate, the original Unreal. Both started with a crash on Na Pali, okay. In Unreal, there was a bigger focus on the main plot, with messages that gave you information about the planet, meeting what's in it and a way for the escape; subplots were rare but developed well. Déjà Vu, instead, focuses more on the subplots than anything. As for more focus, I mean more subplots. The main story? Obviously an Unreal player already knows Na Pali, so Déjà Vu starts with this disadvantage of a lack of novelty, but this shouldn't be considered, as story is rated for what is done and only done in the pack. The problem is, there's no real development in the main plot. Juan Brie ends up being another clone of the almighty Prisoner 849 from the very first second of Map 1 (if you don't get it: no real personality). The Artefact lands in the dumpster of the forgotten stuff, as there's only a bunch of mentions on it after the intro; zero info about what it really was.
So you're basically doing a journey without any real objective aside from escape (whose importance feels almost nonexistent as you continue throughout the pack), and you're only saved by a bunch of teleports throwing you in the right position (a la Return to Na Pali). And regarding the ending... all I can say that it is as bad as it is hilarious. And pretty unexpected too.
Luckily, the authors cared about something else and added subplots. Some are good, while some end up as disappointments. The story of Carpathus and the search for Caruthers are, in my opinion, the best offerings in Déjà Vu in the story department, done with detailed messages regarding what's going on with them. Worth a mention is also the Krall rebellion in Map 3, but unfortunately it was quickly dropped.
The rest is all about the tales of many dead humans you find on your way. It's just a tradition of seeing bodies around in Na Pali, and honestly I'm still confused why they are all here this time. Translator messages (a bigger screen for them has been scripted in Déjà Vu) are all well-written, although in various later maps there's a lack of quality, going more in the comedic field.
To help the immersion, frequent scripted events have been created, and they have their own merits. Although, as many others have wanted, I expected something more on Carpathus after the death of its big pet, while the Rikers-esque scene in Map 5 is predictable and extremely weak: repeating the same magic isn't the smartest idea, especially when you know what to expect from the other side. Good is the foreshadowing between maps, and also the geographical connectivity between some of the locations; it gives more personality to them. Lastly, props to the imagination on the names, being also so hard to write!
Last showdown: the gameplay. Déjà Vu gameplay, surprisingly, is engaging and it's one of the high points of the pack. First, get to know it in Medium difficulty, since two maps are going to get your rear kicked. Then you can proceed to Unreal difficulty, where Déjà Vu offer its best experiences, much more rewarding than the ones of other projects such as Operation Na Pali.
Once again, inconsistency pops out, but not so much. The difficulty progression bounces up and down. In a map, you fight a few weak Krall, and suddenly you get ambushed by Skaarj Lords or the game's main big bastards, Skaarj Troopers; more on this later. The first few maps are pretty easy, as the opposition is minor and not as threatening; if you start to get bored, at least be sure to arrive at Map 3 to find a cure. Now check the other eight maps, and you'll go suddenly nuts. Palace of Chizra and Kra'Filnish Valley will put your skills to a serious test, as you pretty much have to conquer territories invaded by the enemies until you get all the advantage to make the final run to the main objective/exit. Especially the latter one, you're going to die a lot. This is due to number of Skaarj Troopers that end up being always the strongest enemies. This is particularly true in Déjà Vu since they got one crazy weapon, the ASMD: if you don't kill them quickly, you'll get slaughtered by their flawless accuracy. And it's not very fun when you can't do anything to protect yourself from the shots, especially if they come in large groups armed with weapons of all sort. Not to mention the semi-invisible Snipers.
It seems there isn't always much thought put for a balanced enemy opposition. For example, Map 14 has a seemingly empty area, and once you enter in it... (see pic below)
Even if some segments are just remotely frustrating, there's nothing impossible, so save often. Worth a mention are Map 3 for the various scripted sequences, and Map 16 for bringing out some solid 1 vs 1 fights against a stronger opposition (reminiscent of Xidia). Oh, and it's nice seeing the Flies being dangerous for once. Thumbs up for the variety.
Gameplay events are also very common. You get to pass traps, see battles between Skaarj and Mercenaries, sneak through patrolling enemies, and... bosses. Déjà Vu does something new with this, as you have to fight tough enemies before you can continue your journey. They only differ from your normal pawns to the extent that they have altered properties and power, but they are all good fun, maybe except the Giant Gasbag and the giant Squid that can be killed even without moving. The last boss has no development at all and mostly serves as the random big bad to be killed before you finish the game. One dude though, Caruthers, found in the toughest map of Déjà Vu, is none other than a human bot with a hitscan Minigun put on Godlike difficulty, who represents the kind of enemy which should never be encountered in a SP map pack. It's funny when a single enemy human is actually tougher than any alien in Unreal, and it never makes sense.
At least, the best thing the bosses do is provide something fresh to break the repetitive opposition you encounter, which plagues most of the other released SP packs.
Other maps instead feature mostly generic battles, all of them having their own set of entertainment. There are issues, regarding enemies being almost all the time stuck in certain positions and others such as being forcedly damaged by a broken wire in Map 12 (including a Skaarj Gunner on the other side!) and Mantas deciding to fly up to the sky instead of attacking, even if I think this is more of an Epic bug than anything.
To conclude, the general difficulty is moderate, with some challenging or frustrating sections. You can easily exploit the AI by getting them stuck somewhere, and the amount of ammo and health offered is most of the time pretty high; for example, Palace of Chizra has so many Flak Shells that it will lead you to run around by tearing anything evil apart with the cheap Flak Cannon.
Technical Execution seems good. Yeah, Déjà Vu requires a today average rig if you want to run all the maps flawlessly, almost. There's lots to see in a single view, and you will frequently run into decreases of FPS caused by either bugs or complex build. Most notably, Palace of Chizra will certainly be an annoyance at the beginning because of the fairly low FPS. You'll get over it though. On the other hand, I also experienced HOMs here and here; nothing troublesome, but you're going to have some of them in the face when you're looking at the environment. There are also other minor issues such as doors opening in the wrong way or disappearing ones, monsters attacking other monsters without you doing something or their battles not going in the best way, and a bit of lack of polishing on some scripted sequences.
It's easily acknowledgeable that Déjà Vu's main weakness is the undeveloped main story, which is only held together by the high amount of subplots; more like, it's a collection of impressive maps pieced together. At least, if the main objective was the recreation of the Na Pali feel, they did it, and it mustn't be overlooked by those who loved the original Unreal. Players won't be disappointed by the great work put into the variety of build and gameplay. It's a great start for the USP team, if the sequel they're working on, Battle for Na Pali, will ever see the light of the day.
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