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Map Title: Thrall Village
Thrall Village is a four map Unreal SP pack by Daniel Norton, and the only release I know of by the author. While there are four separate maps, they are short enough and integrated enough that I can see no real reason why they couldn't have been one single, larger map.
The story goes that your damaged shuttle has been forced to land on a small planet inhabited by the Nali and the Krall. You wake up with your injuries being tended to by one of the natives. You must then get back to your shuttle and signal for help. But the Krall, subduing the village, are between you and your goal.
A few translator messages explore the storyline in a little more detail, but that's about it. To begin with it seems that Norton is going to do something a bit different and create a map pack that doesn't feature Skaarj, but that turns out not to be the case. In order to create a tougher gameplay challenge SkaarjWarriors are soon brought in, but no explanation is offered as to why they are here or why the Krall, rather than the Skaarj, are seen by the Nali of the village as the principal threat.
The build of Thrall Village is difficult to rate because, while it looks respectable, the vast majority of its architecture is ripped wholesale from Unreal, from various maps including Harobed Village, Spire Village, Na Pali Haven, Bluff Eversmoking and Serpent Canyon. Although the author credits this content to the original game in his readme, it's hard to applaud Thrall Village with a great deal of Conceptual Grandness due to the lack of imagination involved in its design. The terrain is created using TerraEdit, and while the classic jagged appearance and flat ground of a poorly modified TerraEdit brush can be observed (the cliffs are particularly jagged in the final map), it creates a surprisingly effective sense of enclosure to the game area as a whole.
Textures are appropriately selected but some misalignments can be seen on the parts of the map created by Norton himself. The lighting in the outdoor areas tends to be overly bright and garish, with a high level of zone lighting and a general lack of shadows. In general the visuals of Thrall Village fail to achieve a lot in terms of atmosphere, with the possible exception of the area around the church, which manages a slightly moodier ambience.
Sound use is average. A sensible selection of stock Unreal music is used, and the ambient and one-shot sounds that one would expect to hear in a Nali village are all present, and the movers (such as there are) are equipped with appropriate sound effects. Technically, the build is less effective: several of the trees are surmounted by strange, white inverted cones that float in the canopy. It looks like a collision enhancement measure gone horribly wrong!
Gameplay is, in many ways, Thrall Village's most interesting component (difficulty settings are implemented, along with creature placement that varies slightly from play to play). From the earliest stages of the game, Norton puts the player in ambush situations as fast, miniature Pupae drop out of trees or appear from behind the map's many Nali huts. The maps also feature the interesting concept of Tentacles lurking in trees. These early combat situations are not overly challenging, but the low health that the player starts with gives the fights an extra edge (one good bite from a miniature Pupae can finish off a careless player). Overall, Unreal's various "pest" creature classes are put to good use in these first combat scenarios.
After a tame middle phase as the player explores the town square, things really kick off. Within small area of terrain the player, armed with limited ammo and with no health pickups to speak of (plus an uncertain arsenal - see below), faces a SkaarjBerserker, a series of Flies and, in one particularly disturbing moment, a group of up to three GiantMantas. Shortly after that, Norton's faces the player with a Warlord, in a particularly unlikely location and with no justification in terms of the storyline of the map pack. This is made worse by the fact that this supposed "boss" fight is in fact entirely optional.
Throughout, Norton makes the player hunt for his weapons, which I have mixed feelings about, as certain key tools such as the Dispersion Pistol are easy to miss. I never found the Flak Cannon.
The ending of the game is somewhat disappointing. The fourth map seems to be designed as a setting for a cool cinematic ending sequence, but after the player returns to his ship and calls for help, nothing happens. A look at the map in UnrealEd indicates that something impressive IS meant to happen here: however, I've played Thrall Village four times now and have yet to be stunned, so it may be that the ending sequence was never completed. On the other hand, Triggers are very unreliable throughout Thrall Village (on one play-through the Warlord failed to spawn at all), so it could simply be a matter of poor technical execution.
A somewhat lazy creation that offers very little original material. Worth a look for its occasionally edgy gameplay.
None to date