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Map Title: Shamu Quest
Shamu Quest is a three-map pack released by El Chicoverde in January of 1998. It was made for Unreal but works in the Unreal Tournament Oldskool mod as usual. According to the readme file, you are a Vortex Rikers escapee who takes refuge in a small Nali Village in the “Shamutanti Mountains”. Your quest begins after waking up to some noises outside the Nali village. This pack was supposed to be accompanied by several more map packs to continue the story, but discouragingly, Chicoverde never made them. He did make another “Shamu Quest”, but it was more of a remake and did not continue the story of this one.
Shamu Quest is a hard pack to review in terms of visuals. The positives are abounding, as are the negatives. Chicoverde is a mapper that is well known for his gloriously grand architecture. Nearly everything you see in Shamu Quest is immensely scaled. The second map in this quest is an ancient ruined temple with a magnificent grandiose aura. Plenty of imagination and effort seems to have gone into the making of the massive ruined temple (seen in the second screenshot below). The large scale looks marvelous on building exteriors, outside terrains, and ancient themes, but it does make the interiors of certain buildings seem overscaled and plain. The end of the third map suffered the most, with a blocky appearance and overly prodigious scale, even for the tall Nali that inhabit the planet. Many of the caves in Shamu Quest were “noob” style – taking basic circular shapes and cutouts and making them into formations. If you stare at most of the terrain and detail long enough, you can spot problems in the connectivity. Lots of the outside details look above standard from a distance, but sub-par close up.
Usage and choice of textures in Shamu Quest vary from average to poor. Some textures on exteriors of buildings are chosen wisely, while others are out of place or overscaled. Textures on beams and details in the ancient temple of map two tend to repeat themselves. There are many alignment problems with those same beams; in fact, there were alignment problems on just about every detail in this pack. The outside areas contained the largest quantity of alignment problems – especially the cliffs and rocks (a problem often observed in new mappers). Textures were scaled most poorly in the last part of the third map, where the rooms and hallways are oversized; this results in numerous blurry textures that have been stretched to fit the large architecture.
Shamu Quest was built adequately for its scale. There aren’t many BSP issues in maps one and two, which is amazing considering the size and complexity of the detail (especially in map two). Regardless, map three does have some major issues. A few hallways were engulfed in massive BSP holes, and semi-large invisible collision hulls were in the way. People might encounter a crash toward the end of the third map, which is mentioned as a “badly placed pathnode” in the readme file. This developer mistake could have been easily fixed.
Lighting was a little too dark and excessively saturated in parts of Shamu Quest. A slight magical feeling was given off by this method of lighting, but it does tend to spout unprofessionalism. Many doors and walls were black that should have been lit. With a subtle hint of zone lighting, Shamu Quest could have looked better.
The sound field could have used more work in Shamu Quest. Some normal sources of sound – torches, wind, water, etc. – don’t have any sound at times. A few ambient sounds were placed, like crickets chirping outside along with waterfall noise, but ambient sounds were generally seldom used. Music is too repetitive for maps as large as these. The same track could be heard from start to finish in each map. No action music is used whatsoever, which might have the average player yawning during the repetitive battle sequences. Strangely, the track “Unreal4” does suit the large ruined temple of the second map well.
Action is a-plenty in Shamu Quest, but it does tend to be repetitive. Prepare to fight innumerable Skaarj warriors and troopers. The monster placement is done with spawn points in some areas, so the battles are random; however, there is a lack of surprise encounters throughout the quest. The biggest fun factor is in the sightseeing and exploration, rather than scripted events or strategic encounters. Weapon progression is done well – each new weapon you get is evenly spaced from the last. There was a major surplus of ammo in all three Shamu Quest maps. Despite the many encounters with Skaarj and Krall, ammo is far too generous. Shamu Quest won’t be too challenging for the most experienced players, but a few unfair fights against Skaarj snipers high up on towers are annoying. This wouldn’t be a problem if you got a sniper rifle beforehand, but unfortunately, you have to frag a few Skaarj to get one. The most boring part of Shamu Quest was at the end of the third map. Here, the sightseeing ends and the battles are dull. There are lifts that take dreadfully long to get you anywhere, and the interiors become a maze that isn’t remarkably fun to explore. Gameplay isn’t too shabby in this pack overall, but could have been spruced up in the third map.
Shamu Quest had great possibility for story, but unfortunately was let down by the deprivation of translator events and scripted sequences. There isn’t much to be learned in your quest after the beginning of the first map. The lack of story progression is probably in part due to Chicoverde’s limited knowledge of English. He is French, and the readme file included with Shamu Quest has quite a bit of grammar problems. Shamu Quest is also deprived of a complete story since it was never completed like Chicoverde had originally planned.
The gameplay is a bit boring at times, the story is questionable, the lighting could have used work, and the sound was amiss. Nevertheless, Shamu Quest is unquestionably worth a play for its legendary grandiose appearance, despite all those other problems. Shamu Quest is a good example of extravagant conceptual grandness if there ever was one. Each of the three maps in this quest display different skills of build, but the temple map is worth the entire pack. It might be safe to say that Chicoverde is the master of complex large-scale architecture, even in his earlier works such as this.
Second Opinions - Hellscrag
The original review, based on the old review schema:
El Chicoverde's Shamu Quest project was to be a set of single player packs with a connected storyline. This set, released some time before newer Shamu Quest maps Sbegin, Sbegin2 and STemple, made up the first pack in the set and never met much recognition (they never found their way to Nali City).
Playing this old pack comes with a warning. Some areas, the first map's Nali Village in particular, can run with a very bad framerate, a problem for example when you are fighting a pair of SkaarjOfficers, each armed with ASMDs. Play it if you think you and your CPU can take the strain.
These maps are a damned hard set to review. While they show the beginnings of the imagination and quality typical to Chicoverde's maps, there are also several issues that bring the score down. The outdoor areas run with a very low framerate, as mentioned above. Also, throughout the pack, gameplay is quite inordinately hard. It's not lack of health and ammo, there's plenty of that, it's that throughout the game you meet monsters in large numbers or sniping from advantageous positions with challenging weapons. I recommend that, should you play it, you take the skill down a notch or two to make the individual creatures easier to kill. Since it is so tough, and since it runs slowly (often the two factors combine), scores for Technical Execution and Creatures & Items have to be brought down a step or two.
The pack consists of three maps, but it's no "short and sweet" adventure. The three maps took me a grueling three and a half hours to complete, in one long Unreal session. But was it worth it? Yes, I'd say so, if even for the second map alone.
The first map in the pack begins with you waking in a castle in a large valley. You are summoned by a Nali who is hiding on the roof to escape the Skaarj who are overunning the place. As you ascend the castle, you meet the first of the many Skaarj you will fight in this pack. On meeting the Nali, you will be delivered the story line, which basically revolves around finding the Nali's sacred crown before the Skaarj can get their hands on it. Your immediate task is to escape the village. The interiors of the castle are cramped, making the combat tricky. While boxy, the texturing is respectable, but lighting could have done with some work. I saw a few black walls where they should have been lit. Here you will notice a distinct absense of ambient sounds. Unfortunately, this map has none. Its only audio ambience is a fairly arbitrarily selected piece of music that doesn't really fit.
Outside, the valley is a complex, duskily lit hilly structure with buildings dotted around the slopes. It's certainly impressively complex, but this does result in the terrible framerates mentioned above. But there is no doubt that the architecture here is impressive. Texturing is respectable but could have used more work. But what lets the scene down in visuals is the lighting, which is patchy and multicoloured. Dusky or night-time scenes always benefit from a more pronounced ambient level of light to even the scene out a bit. With some further work, this first map could really have looked special.
The second map is the gem in the bunch. It casts off the problems of the first map and sets out to inspire. This ancient temple has to be seen to be believed - it has awesome, vast architecture and the player is dwarfed by the complexity and scale of the structures around him. The temple is partly ruined, and Chicoverde builds the temple as such with finesse. Crumbling walkways and staircases are suspended above the lower levels on huge, towering pillars. Part of the temple is completely destroyed, with the ground collapsed into the underground lake below. It's a huge, rambling complex with dramatic styling at every turn. Texturing is as dramatic as the architecture on the whole, although I noticed sloppy alignment in some places, particularly on movers. The lighting, too, is implemented masterfully, and is all sourced. Best of all, with this level come the ambient sounds and they are used effectively. However, once again I'm not convinced about the choice of music that Chicoverde made. But this map carries the pack, and is very much worth seeing if you can get this far.
The third map begins with another valley, and has the same lighting and framerate problems as the first map. However, soon the player enters and underground complex that is a mixture of a Mediaeval cellar complex of some kind and the upper levels of a higher-tech mining complex. However, this section is a bit of an anticlimax after the detailed temple, because the cellar complex and mines all have a very boxy construction with a lot of empty space. Texturing is appropriate but poorly aligned in places. Lighting is somewhat dull. But I believe that the third map may have been the first in the set to be made, since it is named svalley1 when the first map in the pack is svalley2. So perhaps it can be forgiven. Again, I'm not convinced about the choice of music made. At the end of the pack, it tries to link to a map that has not yet been built.
Time for me to bring this ramble to a close. It's a pack with a reasonable beginning, and a slightly disappointing ending, but a truly excellent middle (at least in terms of the build quality). Throughout the pack, gameplay is very tough, and the swarms of Krall in the third map are irritating. But it's certainly worth a look.
Second Opinions - MMAN
Each level in Shamu Quest is sufficiently huge and different that I've decided to cover each one separately:
svalley2: Yes, "2" comes before "1" in this pack. This level takes place in a village built in front of a lava-filled ravine. You start in a large house, but various breakable windows and your inital trip to the rooftop shows off the packs trademark immense scale. After getting out of the starting house the layout is quite non-linear, with various optional houses to explore with unique designs. However, the translator messages give enough of a goal that it's not too hard to work out the route (although the lifts towards the end can be a bit confusing due to having no switches). Unfortunately it's let down by a multitude of issues. For a start, the technical ones; on most versions of Unreal the game crashes when looking at the starting house from outside (although the Unreal 227 patch seems to have resolved this), and, it's easy to stumble into a few BSP issues, although they don't really affect the gameplay too much. While the design looks great at a distance sloppy architecture flaws and stretched textures tend to show up when you take a closer look. Most damning however is the combat design; it starts off okay, but once you get down into the village you frequently run into things like getting sniped at by multiple ASMD Skaarj and opening doors to immediately get a Stinger volley in the face, and there are random spawns thrown around too (although it thankfully seems to only be the Warriors who get them), the map is quite dark too, which means you're shot at from darkness at times (although a Flashlight is provided) even on normal it can be brutal, let alone when you put it up to the higher settings. If you can get around that issue though the scale and overall design shines through, although this isn't the peak of that...
sancient1: This second map takes place in the temple of an evil Nali god. For good reasons, of all his Single Player maps, this is the one known as Chicoverde's magnum opus. While there are still flaws when you take a closer look (like ruined pillars unconvincingly overlapping into each other, and the occasional odd texture), the visual design is much more solid than the first map. This is arguably the most convincing ruined temple made in Unreal 1 ever; the massively scaled rooms full of decayed details and things such as underground rivers flowing through the ruined floors of the lowerlevel all work to make it interesting. Then there's the atmosphere; this is the domain of a malevolent being, and the level truly manages to make you feel as if you aren't welcome in the slightest. Between the various traps, gloomy lighting, tricky gameplay, music use (the use of Unreal4 as the soundtrack of this level is somewhat divisive, but I think it works perfectly for pulling off an alien, unwelcoming atmosphere), and macabre details like blood-soaked rooms, screams and tortured Nali this level almost feels draining to play through; and this is the combination of elements that truly brings it together into a masterpiece for me.
The layout is interesting too; it can be very confusing the first time through due to it's scale, and could do with a few more hints of where to go and what to do, but once you get how it comes together it's actually only comprised of a few main areas, and makes makes great use of space to feel far bigger than it actually is. Gameplay is still on the difficult side and feels a little cheap at times (it's very easy to wonder into brutal fights with little warning, which is not helped by Chicoverde being very trigger happy with the placement of ASMD and Sniper Skaarj), but the lack of spawning makes it less irritating than the first map. There's also a much greater general variety in the gameplay, with traps to avoid, a lot of exploration to do and a puzzle or two. The traps are a bit haphazard; they rely on crushing the player against the ceiling, and it's basically impossible to get caught if you stay on the move, but they do at least keep you on edge. Technically the map is much better than the first; I did miss a trigger at one point, and have to fly out of a room because this resulted in me getting trapped, but that's the only issue I came across; with the geometry here it's a miracle it's as solid as it is. This is the map to play Shamu Quest for.
svalley1: The initial view when you first see the outside again is an impressive sight, unfortunately the level fails to live up to that first impression. The majority of this map is spent inside a maze-like complex infested with Krall, along with some areas around it. Once you know where the important things are it's not as complex as it first appears, but progression is pretty obscure if you don't know what you're looking for; not helped by some doors failing to work in my playthrough for this review (although I think it may be a 227 issue). The middle part of this level is actually one of the easier parts of the pack, due to being pure Krall. To it's credit it has some interesting AI uses, for instance, there's a part where a Krall runs away and opens a door that sends a horde of other Krall at you. You also meet some Mercenaries here, who are completely out of place. There are also many technical issues, including a tunnel full of BSP issues, objects you can get stuck behind, and a broken pathnode that can make the level unplayable unless you modify it in UnrealED. There is one nice bit of subtle storytelling which hints that the Krall complex was some sort of ancient Nali structure at some point, but nothing is made of it outside of one or two rooms. Unfortuntely, as the pack was supposed to continue on when Chico released more maps, it just ends at with no send-off. This is easily the weakest map in the pack, and it's quite heavily flawed, although it has a few good moments.
Conclusion: Some of the above gameplay issues are apparently semi-intentional according to the readme, as it suggests to use the Amplifier and Invisibility power-ups that are provided. Item usage helps, but the problem is that it's impossible to tell what's waiting for you (and keeping invisbility on will make you lose it fast), so it essentially comes down to learn by dying to work out when to optimally use your items. Even despite the engrish translator messages, between the gloomy atmophere of the pack in general and the various bits of environmental storytelling (even if it's mostly confined to the second map) it manages to paint it's own picture of Na Pali that's oddly evocative compared to it's contempories; the relatively recent community effort to revive the set and complete it is testamount to that. Shamu Quest is frequently a technical mess that has variable design quality, unbalanced gameplay and some oblique progression. It's also a classic that's a must-play, while that's mainly due to the merits of the second map, the other two have their moments.