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Custom Map Reviews
Map Title: Temple of Eelhandra (STemple)
Note: This map follows on from Nak'halinra Peak and Valley of Eelhandra, and you will require weapons there acquired. I have reviewed this map as from the perspective of having played both of these seperately released maps first. I have also assumed that you have popped into UnrealEd and fixed the linking error existing at the end of Valley of Eelhandra, and are therefore able to play all three maps as a sequence. :P
Temple of Eelhandra follows on the storyline and theme of Nak'halinra Peak and Valley of Eelhandra (reviewed seperately on this site). On your quest for the sacred stone you pass through the ancient temple of Eelhandra. The storyline of the warring Skaarj / Krall clans that made Valley of Eelhandra so interesting is largely missing, and this detracts considerably from the experience of the map; at the end of the map the story is also left unresolved, as it tries to link to a map that was never released. Shame, I know, but let's move on to the build...
Where Nak'halinra Peak and Valley of Eelhandra were mostly outdoors, Temple of Eelhandra is mostly indoors, but has one or two outdoor areas to bookend the setting and make it more convincing. The outdoor areas, as with all Shamuquest maps, are well done with plenty of angles, rocks and plants, of a similar standard to the previous maps. However, indoors the architecture is very varied. There's a mixture of large, grand chambers and small, cramped corridors and the whole thing changes style frequently on the way - the theme does not seem so consistent on this map as in the previous two. I feel that the level would have benefitted from knowing a little more clearly what it was going to be before construction began.
Texturing is more satisfactory, and more adeptly done than in the previous two maps - Chicoverde uses the Ancient texture set well, although one or two misalignments were observed. While the texture theme still varies along with the architecture, the use of primarily just the one set helps to tie the various areas together a little more effectively. The outdoor areas are textured using the same methods as Nak'halinra Peak and Valley of Eelhandra, but better aligned. Some natural caves are well done in standard ways using the GenEarth texture set. On the whole, texturing gets the thumbs up.
Lighting is fair. I have seen better lighting. But it's pretty good and sets the architecture off well enough. The outdoor areas maintain the familiar dusky theme (albeit a little darker due to the progression of the evening), and the indoor areas vary between gloom and light (again, a little more consistency might have been appreciated). In one or two places, the lighting doesn't look quite right if you look hard, but it achieves the overall effect.
On the technical side of things, I saw a couple of geometry misalignments and several HOM effects. One major irritation is that Chicoverde screws up very obviously with some of his fire effects, having duplicated brushes but forgotten to adjust the vertical position to fit the sconces. Throughout, Chicoverde uses decoration items with the drawscale increased too far so that they look blurry and light badly - this further detracts from the realism of the setting.
Chicoverde always fills his levels with sound effects. The over-emphasised dynamic ambient sounds of the previous two maps are largely absent, leaving mainly the well used ambient sounds to set the mood - torches rumble, water croaks with swamp life and so on. Music from Unreal is used and fits the level fairly well, although there are other choices for settings such as these that might have been more appropriate.
It's the gameplay of Temple of Eelhandra that's the most disappointing aspect of the design. Creatures attack in pairs or multiples - good on paper, but in more than one area the structures are cramped and cluttered, making it difficult to move around and dodge. Scripted sequences, so much a feature of Valley of Eelhandra, offer little to enhance the combat, merely causing lag (such as the "collapsing" ceilings that spawn sufficient quantities of debris to bring even a more powerful computer to a halt for a second or two). To add insult to injury, Chicoverde stocks the map up with more than one situation that down right unreasonable: the fight with two completely invisible SkaarjLords being one example, and the unsolicited "lightning bolts of death" that occur without warning to either side of the latter sequence. Bad design, Chico, bad design...
On the other hand, Tentacles are well used in groups so as to be ocasionally quite menacing. Exploration will reward the player with a Minigun to add to the existing supplies, which can be useful in some later areas (other supplies can also be found in out of the way places). However, no weaponry will help protect the player from the more crass moments of the map as described above. Generally, while it may be Unreal, the gameplay of this level just doesn't flow.
Technically the level is pretty sound, but there is some framerate drop on slower machines and the score must be marked down for messing up with those fire effects and for failing to fix a few HOMs.
On the whole, disappointing after the other Shamuquest maps, but probably worth getting to continue (if not complete) the saga.
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