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Map Title: Jailbreak
TheChief7 is actually the former alias of Sarevok, a mapper who has gone on to much greater things since the release of this two-map pack, but a review of Jailbreak was requested some time ago, and accordingly here it is.
Apart from a test map named Water Dungeon, which is included in the download for this pack as a curiosity, Jailbreak was Sarevok's first release. Accordingly, it has the story typical of a first SP project: the player finds themselves in an undesireable situation, and must escape. This time round, the undesireable situation is eight years' imprisonment for trespassing, but apart from that there's nothing particularly original or innovative in the story department. There are a few translator messages scattered through the pack, mostly attached to dead humans and generally giving fairly transparent gameplay hints. No scripted scenes to speak of - would you expect them from a mapper's first attempt?
Jailbreak consists of two parts: the first map is dominated by a large area of terrain, but also contains the player's prison area; and the second map, the so-called Temple of Nod, is an only semi-linear map in which the player must search for and make use of a teleporter that will allow him to escape. Sarevok is more ambitious than many first-time mappers with the terrain segment, and makes use of it well, allowing the player to see what lies ahead before he reaches it and crossing back over his path via a network of caves and a suspended cable car. However, this well-formed terrain concept is let down by the average nature of the prison area and temple interior, which are largely room-corridor-room fare in the Quake vein.
To some extent a basic layout can be compensated for by good architecture, but Jailbreak's architectural detail is fairly primitive. Most areas, including the terrain and caves, are very obviously based on a configuration of subtracted cylinders and cubes, but dressed up with a brave attempt at detail from an inexperienced mapper. In the terrain and cave areas, this consists of a configuration of cones and vertex-manipulated shapes that give it a chaotic feel but that do not entirely hide the environment's fundamental cuboid nature. In the interiors, Sarevok uses pillars, decorative wall panels, water and the occasional round window, but the architecture would not generally be described as inspiring. For the most part Sarevok avoids any really serious gaffes, although the failure of the first indoor area to have any façade, merely being cookie-cut out of the terrain walls, is a weakness.
Texturing is generally fairly poor. Where it is essential, i.e. on decorative panels, the textures are properly aligned, but the map pack as a whole is dominated by an almost complete lack of texture alignment, which manifests itself particularly on the terrain (in which the textures are also overscaled), on rounded pillars (in which the textures repeat), and on some wooden structures early in the pack where the grain points the wrong way. On the other hand, the textures are well chosen, with no texture seeming particularly out of place (with the possible exception of the terrain floor).
Lighting, to begin with, is almost exclusively white (or so close to white that the difference doesn't show). Although this improves in the second map, the atmosphere is hampered by the over-prominence of white lighting and the lack of shadows in some areas. I was also witness to a few very obvious zone lighting transitions. On the other hand, the thunder and lightning that rend the sky and the terrain in the major outdoor area are a very nice effect.
Sound, in fact, is where the build of Jailbreak is at its strongest. A variety of wind, swamp and wildlife sounds are used to enhance the atmosphere of the outdoor area, as well as the aforementioned thunder. In the temple a variety of appropriate sounds are used, although I always take issue with any map that makes use of the chronic "chant" sounds in the AmbAncient package. Generally the music for the two maps is well-chosen, although one sequence in map one in which the player is made to fight a StoneTitan begs for a shift to an action song that simply isn't there.
Given the inexperience of the mapper, I was surprised not to encounter more HOMs and other BSP errors; however, I did encounter a variety of technical glitches that impacted the game experience in other ways, including changes in level in the geometry that should have been manageable at a step but actually required a jump, glass that was only erratically breakable, and a slight framerate loss in the are pictured below that really shouldn't have happened given the simplicity of the map's general design.
This leaves gameplay, and generally speaking, it's not bad. All the Unreal weapons are eventually represented if you look hard enough (as well as at least two suitably concealed Dispersion Pistol powerups), and there is a plentiful supply of ammo. Health is thinner on the ground, adding a little to the challenge of the map pack if you're not paying attention (which, at times, I have to admit I wasn't - resulting in my death on more than one occasion!). One ambush by a SkaarjTrooper in a darkened tunnel was particularly well-staged.
However, the range of opposition is fairly arbitrary, ranging from Skaarj to Brutes, Slith, Krall and even a Mercenary. If I ever see Mercenaries and Skaarj operating together without some kind of justification in the story, it always rings alarm bells: these two races very clearly never operated together in Unreal, and such a discrepancy implies a lack of thought given to the roles of these creatures and their reasons for being there in the first place.
I also felt that, for all the generally decent balancing of creatures and supplies, more should have been provided by the way of health and ammo immediately before the two boss fights - the aforementioned StoneTitan, and the final battle with a Queen. Although I had plenty in reserve, not all players would be guaranteed to be in the same position. The final battle, when it eventually did happen, also left me cold in other respects: the arena didn't exactly inspire me with its design, and the Queen was improperly configured, prone to teleporting repeatedly on the spot and therefore a sitting duck to the onslaught of my weapons.
Jailbreak is one of those map packs that's worth running through once to experience it, but probably isn't a keeper. It is, however, most interesting to see how Sarevok, who has since produced some excellent maps (The Odyssey, E'Nara Town from Déjà Vu, and the upcoming Broken Alliance), started out at the mapping game.
None to date
Download sp-jailbreak.zip (3.96MB) from UnrealSP.Org