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Map Title: Morene
As I understand it, Morene is a first time release by a first time mapper. And it shows. I'll preface this review by stating that, like most first attempt maps, Morene will likely leave a lot to be desired amongst the casual gaming populace. Without being incendiary, I will make it clear from the get go that Morene is a quick play with only a handful of enemies and items, and comprises of a mostly linear path to an exit point. From a gameplay perspective there is little to speak of, other than the fact that this brief experience actually sports one or two nasty combat situations due to the minimal provision of items. You'll be fighting some Skaarj and some Brutes, and you'll only have a few guns and some bandages to do the job.
Okay. Now that we're clear with what we're dealing with, please allow me to focus on the finer points that I'm obligated to speak of. I don't necessarily understand why this map received an average rating of five for the story category in the old site review. I found two logs that I can remember off the top of my head, and they were both essentially "I'm dead" messages next to some bodies. Otherwise, you're only left to go on what you see.
You start in a box. Well, a hallway. And when you exit this room you immediately enter a corridor flooded with toxic coolant. It's clear from the fallen walkway and damaged structures that you're in a place that's seen better days. After a quick Half-Life-esque game of hop-across-the-acid, you'll face your first combat situation against a Skaarj Trooper (who has the advantage, since you're standing with your back to toxic waste). Not long after that, you proceed to another room and a lift, and eventually a big cargo hold of some sort. Only at the end, when you face off against a single Skaarj Gunner and prompt a button, do you realize that you've been on a spaceship the whole time.
The reason it's hard to tell largely has to do with the texture choices. While I did find it interesting that the author used predominantly uncommon Unreal Tournament texture sets like Extortion and some of the slummier sets, they still aren't particularly great choices. Primarily for the fact that they are so non-specific. Was that concrete I saw in a spaceship? While the texture choices are a little uneven, the build itself is rather crude. Now, the author does show some resourcefulness in UED by employing the 2D Shape Editor for many of the curved halls that appear in this pack, as well as for some of the rare architectural pieces. But we're talking about a very basic usage here. There are pipes in the start of the map that are basically revolved rings that go through the wall without any sense of proper plumbing. Rooms are connected without transitional archways (direct subtraction sync-up in places) and use of doors is very unconvincing. Besides one segment with a multi-keyed lift, doors are very heinous.
This is because of texture misalignments and general instances of poor hindsight. I've heard some gamers scoff whenever a reviewer mentions something like "texture misalignment". Well my friends, this map is a perfect example of why it's necessary. Many of the doors don't even look like doors. They look like awkward shapes with oddly chosen floor and trim textures. In the instances where the author DID use proper door textures, they aren't scaled at all. We're talking doors with tiling texture syndrome. And this problem permeates with other areas of the map. One snaking hallway is cut up by abrupt seams and unmerged surfaces. At its worst parts, the map looks very sloppy. Many spots look fresh from their additive or subtractive forms.
I don't have much to say about lighting because it's essentially basic. There is music, and the author made use of custom action tracks for combat sequences. I won't comment on the music selected because it's a matter of taste, but the gesture was appreciated. There are some instances in the pack where some stranger ideas present themselves. Things that are obviously the fruit of an ambitious first timer's experiments with enemy properties. We get an encounter with the Surprise Brute, which is what I call it when a mapper adds a Brute to a level that fires something other than rockets (in this case, he lobs grenades at you). There's a particularly effective Skaarj Berserker that marks one of the first times in a long time where I've been fooled by a feigner. I also found it interesting that this map's most daunting combat situations were orchestrated by Skaarj Trooper classes. It's a testament to this enemy class's longevity as an adversary and how important the presence of resources can be in a map. Lastly, given the nature of how few items you have to go on it was a nice touch to have some enemies drop them when killed.
Overall, it's the kind of map that's better left appreciated for its effort rather than its product. It's a novel attempt, but I don't think itís quite something that should have been released in its current state. There is an ending fly-away sequence included at the exit, and it is probably the most interesting moment. Just know that if you play it with oldskool (as seems intended by the presence of the texture sets) just know that you'll get the ever-popular flying gun effect. For the author's sake, I will say that weaker maps have been released from more seasoned mappers in more complete forms. Unfocused ambition might cost you downloads, but the nature of ambition exists only to climb higher. So there's hope. If he's still around doing his thing, that is.
Second Opinions - Hellscrag
The original review, based on the old review schema:
"Morene", while short, is great work for a first-time mapper. For his first map, community member ThickAsABrick decided to build a short map set on a cargo ship that has been partly destroyed by a Skaarj attack. With a basic premise, the player's goal is to escape, and what follows is a nicely built but short journey through a Skaarj-infested high-tech map.
What's most impressive about Morene as a first-time map is the architecture. Although a lot of the areas are based ultimately on subtracted cubes, ThickAsABrick has taken pains to introduce angles and details, and it's only in certain areas that the map shows a real lack of detail - in the curved corridors, for instance, which show good use of UnrealEd's 2D Shape Editor but not a lot else. Elsewhere, such as in the ruined areas at the start of the map, details are very nicely introduced into the environment (and the coolant leak is a good addition, even if I did fall into it twice and had a difficult time trying to find somewhere to climb out).
Texture-wise, ThickAsABrick took the unusual step of using the Xtortion texture set - which gives the map a freshness to it, even if it's a set that I really don't much like. Unfortunately, the textures are pretty plain, and don't take all that well to the pinkish light used by ThickAsABrick in the larger cargo holds. These areas could really have benefited, in fact, from a good use of contrasting but complimentary colours (such as the well tried-and-tested blue and gold used in many high-tech maps). For the most part, though, the lighting was good work for a first-time mapper - even if it did look somewhat unsourced in the larger areas.
I found that sound was used well throughout the map, and ThickAsABrick even composed a custom action segment for the soundtrack, which is very effective when suddenly erupting from the quiet of opal.umx - however, I felt that after the relevant fights were concluded, the action music should have faded out rather than cutting suddenly back to opal.umx or silence.
There's not a lot more to say other than to comment on gameplay and technical execution. ThickAsABrick balanced gameplay pretty well, making the combats moderately challenging even on Medium skill, and even added a few innovative touches such as a long-range Stinger attack and a Brute with grenades. Technically the map was fair, but a misaligned light texture was very noticeable at the start of the map, and an unnecessary slowdown just before a key combat suggested that further optimisation would have been beneficial. I also saw a number of classic newbie errors, such as lens flares floating some way away from their light sources above the cargo holds, but nothing disastrous - and ThickAsABrick even included an extro cut-scene for completeness.
A very sound map from ThickAsABrick. I look forward to seeing what the mapper produces in the future.
Download Morene.zip (3.3MB) from OldUnreal