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Map Title: Shinigami Level Pack 1
Escaping from the crashed ISV-Kran, the player locates an escape pod and boards it, hoping to escape from the planet. Soon the escape pod is attacked by an alien vessel, and crashes into a tract of land on the planet's surface. The player is roaming alone once more.
Such is the backing story of Shinigami Level Pack One, as set up by the text file and a decently implemented if basic opening cinematic. However, Shinigami Level Pack One is a truly old school map pack and, true to form, that's about as much development as the storyline gets. After the initial cinematic, the player is cut loose to explore, encountering a few logs containing nothing of particular consequence. The logs help to set the scene and, in some cases, provide slightly heavy-handed clues to progression and hidden items, but no effort is made to tell the story through the actual events of the map - there are no scripted scenes.
Shinigami set out with this pack to recreate the look, feel and atmosphere of the original game. In Shinigami's exploration of the Unreal theme, after the opening cinematic, the player explores the crash site, a large pirate galleon and an inverted castle suspended in the sky. The pack ends at the entrance to the castle, and attempts to link to the first map of an intended Shinigami Level Pack 2, which despite occasional gestures of intent by the mapper has, over the intervening years, sadly never materialised.
It is clear that Shinigami aimed to create some visual drama with his designs, and as such the pack contains a number of memorable images including the Nali galleon resting in a spacious lake and, of course, the famous inverted sky castle. By the standards of the time in which the map pack was made, the conceptual design of these areas is impressive indeed. The first map, however, is rather more mundane, including a lot of wasted space and set in very flat terrain. Within these settings, the built structures are generally low poly with primitive shapes clearly visible. The interior of the ship is particularly disappointing, as although there are a number of nicely designed prefabs including cannons, stacks of planks and wheeled carts, they are generally inserted into plain, unadorned rooms. A small range of caves also suffers from the same problem of the primitive shapes being clearly visible.
Texturing is technically proficient, with few visible misalignments, but lacks variety within the Nali galleon, with the same wooden texture being used throughout. A custom texture would appear to have been used for the ship's rigging and this is done with good effect, but texturing is primarily from the stock GenEarth / NaliCast texture sets. Lighting is also proficient by the standards of the time, using a variety of colours to good effect, but classic newbie mistakes such as poorly illuminated (and therefore barely visible) torch flames can be found. Shinigami also made the questionable decision of adding a circling spotlight effect to a lighthouse containing a static flame which, whilst atmospheric, flies in the face of common sense.
Shinigami's use of sound is so-so. Ambient sounds are used in the usual way, but there is a lack of dynamic, one-shot sound effects. This pack is also somewhat famous for its egregious use of custom music, specifically a fast-paced techno track for the first map, which largely robs the map of any atmosphere that it might have had.
There is one further criticism to be levelled at the design of the map, which also keys into the issue of gameplay. The interior of the galleon is incredibly cramped. It is cramped to the point that a Nali would have trouble standing up inside, and as a result combat is difficult and many of the creatures that are faced within appear massively cumbersome and oversized. The main challenge of combat within the ship then becomes the avoidance of splash damage from firefights in the cramped corridors, whilst also trying to escape becoming snagged on the architecture. The interiors would have needed to be increased in size by at least 50% to create an effective and convincing environment with fluid gameplay - a matter that Shinigami seems to have failed to grasp, perhaps as it would have entailed increasing the size of the ship's exterior to match the internal alterations.
Combat in general is not particularly imaginatively staged, with many of the creatures simply lying in wait for the player. Apart from one or two sleeping Krall and Skaarj, no use is made of the advanced features of Unreal's AI such as PatrolPoints, AlarmPoints and PathNodes. In the absence of scripted sequences, Shinigami loses points for gameplay awe in this respect. The balance of gameplay is also mediocre, given the physical constraints of the galleon's interior and a shortage of ammo occuring in the first map of the pack.
Notwithstanding the above criticisms, the maps would appear to have been executed to a reasonably high technical standard, with no evidence of HOMs or other BSP errors. However, the second map of the pack is known to chug badly on lower-end machines, perhaps due to poor optimisation. It is likely that this is a matter that could have been improved with a little further work.
Shinigami Level Pack One is an inventive release that is let down primarily by its age (the Unreal mapping community was in its infancy at the time these maps were made) and the lack of a sequel. Worth a play if you have an hour or so to spare.
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