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Custom Map Reviews
Map Title: Hollow
Hollow, a collection of five playable levels, is designer Paul C Roberts' first release, and given this, is a very impressive achievement, however as a single player campaign it lacks. Among other things, this could be attributed to the complete lack of story, a shortcoming to which the author freely admits in the readme. However, the build quality of many areas is good and there is some atmosphere and gameplay to be had from the pack. On your travels, you will visit a dungeon type place, some natural areas including caves and a canyon, and finally an underground base of some kind.
One thing I immediately noticed is the lack of continuity between one or two of the levels - you end a level in one position and start the next somewhere else entirely. Barring a cryptic clue and a couple of jokes, there are no translator messages, and a complete absence of scripted sequences. Coupled with the lack of a proper ending, story is all but eradicated: the one point for story that Hollow does get is for making some of the levels flow together in a logical manner. However, the maps are individually good in other respects.
The first level is definitely the best level in the pack. This dungeon or castle type place uses Nali Castle textures to create the image of some old Nali building now disused, although perhaps greater variety would have been appreciated. Architecture is reasonably impressive and suitably detailed, and lighting is effective, although a few more colours would really be appreciated; basically, two colours are used throughout the map and they don't set off the brown castle textures all that well. This level does have ambient sounds, although I personally wouldn't have used the Nali chant sound effect, and dynamic sounds of bird calls in the underground areas is a strange choice. The music, while taken from a high tech level (ISV-Kran Deck 1) still manages to work fairly well. Combat consists primarily of Krall and Pupae (with a few Skaarj thrown in). The individual combats are straightforward, but a severe lack of health can leave the player significantly weakened (in my case, fighting a SkaarjBerserker with only 17 health points after an unlucky previous fight), and ammo will become a problem unless the player makes regular use of the dispersion pistol for the weaker creatures. A couple of areas where it was possible to make a jump and either cut out a large chunk of the level or get completely stuck needed further thought.
Entering the caves, you have plainer architecture but a kind of underground dock is nicely done and the underground river cave beyond is spacious if rather simplistic in design (at least it's not square, unlike the hideoysly boxy tunnels that you visit at one point). The swaying torches above the waterway were a nice touch. There are a few ambient sounds in the caves for atmosphere, but in one outdoor stretch there were no sounds at all. Lighting suffers a little from the same problems as the first map, and combat here consists of miscellaneous critters such as Devilfish, Slith and a couple of Squid which make a change to fight. In contrast to level one, here it all becomes rather easy, as you are tooled up with guns and armour and the creatures you fight are universally weak.
The third map, a large canyon, is quite dramatic in scale. Being very deep, the pit fades into blackness as it descends beneath the wooden bridges you cross, although I tend to feel the dusky yellow lighting blacks out rather suddenly and doesn't look quite right. Within the cliffs of the canyon are a variety of tunnels and caves, but these tend to be square-ish and a little uninspiring, not to mention severely unaligned from a texturing standpoint. Stacks of crates are used for decoration. At least, though, the tunnel connecting the caves has an interesting curvature and one foggy area is momentarily cool. Combat... there isn't much, it really could have used more. One critical jump in the map depends upon the player having dodging enabled, which was a mistake: when I first played this map a few years ago, I didn't know how to dodge, and had to use Fly mode. Ambient sounds were present, but needed work.
The last two maps consist of gaining access to the underground base and the base itself. The base seems to be a large storage facility of some kind, and here it really suffers because the lack of story gives no explanation for its existence at all - it leaves you wondering what it's supposed to be. But it's here that you'll fight the final combat against a Warlord in a decently designed arena. Unfortunately, the Warlord seems to be weakened and ammo for this fight is vastly in oversupply, so if you know what you're doing the fight becomes rather easy. The further downside is that once it's dead, there's nothing else to do.
So what's the overall picture? It's not bad, but the fact that it's a first release really shouts at you sometimes - certain areas needed a lot more thought. There are also some dodgy framerates in places, and one fairly major HOM. I'm not sure that it's a keeper - the lack of story and rather uninspiring gameplay being major factors - but it's worth experiencing once. If the author had been more conistent (and a little more adventurous with his lighting) then it could really have been good, but ultimately, it's hollow.
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