Named Rajal Castle, this is the first release – if he ever did any more afterwards - from mapper Jeffrey "Capp" Miner. It's quite funny to see that the author put information such as the amount of brushes and vectors in the readme; I don't think anybody would have cared about that stuff in 1998, let alone today. For being a really old custom-made map, it is actually enjoyable nowadays; unlike many others, the author thought about making environments that made sense, trying to add a proper story and experimenting more with the build quality. It was the first time that I got hooked to a downloadable map.
About the story, the readme says nothing about it, but the translator messages do. Basically, you've landed in a cave after falling from a hole. You don't know who you are except being one of the many aliases of Prisoner 849, but a Nali castle has been overrun by the Skaarj who kidnapped its master. Now, at the end there's a prison with a Nali in it, but if he's the master or not it is just speculation. He'll take you to a dark exit and that is it; it doesn't seem there should have been a sequel, so I think that Nali was the master. In other words, you needn't think about it, as it's not worth your time. Except how the usual sequence of a Nali opening a door was handled: completely automatic, mouth shut, and with no need to stay near the four armed alien to make his work continue. It's much better do it in this way if you ask me, aside from the fact that you may lost him in his tracks. Overall, the story factor is almost nonexistent.
The build is interesting, at least. The map has a castle and an outside segment. Regarding the terrain, I appreciate the author's efforts to make it reasonably good to look at, but now an experienced eye won't probably like it any more. Not only for the ugly shapes, but for the Dirt texture used everywhere, on both ground and mountains (the only exception being the bottom of the lake), generally appearing really stretched too. Another thing I have to say is that the skybox should have been less visible. The castle itself looks slightly better than the work on the terrain, despite being low-poly and a bit empty. It is Nali Castle themed, with an atmosphere which recalls Dark Arena and the old Id Software FPS games. It contains a bit of exploration, and the architecture of the rooms is enhanced with decorations and other brushes such as wells, tables and squares. They do the job. There's a lava lake which feels out of place, and there are some medieval-styled NaliC textures that just don't fit at all with the most common ones, not to mention then the small Ancient.utx pieces such as Vandora's picture. Overall I would have liked having more distinct chambers, because there are too many long corridors that play the filler part too much, but the castle is still pretty memorable.
The lighting is not that bad overall. The courtyard is illuminated by lightning effects and do a good job at setting the dark atmosphere; Rajal Castle was one of the first custom maps to have them, if not the first one. Although, looking up the sky it doesn't feel like a rainy day, and there is no thunder in sight. If you're playing this map in any post-224 versions of Unreal and also in Unreal Tournament, you'll be really annoyed by the bug of torches appearing on a higher height compared to their default positions. On the technical side, the lighting they set off in the castle doesn't feel right, as it's all white/grey instead of orange, and the lights have a rather insane radius. There's also a section with a badly set fog, as it covers the place until specific positions (like if the fog would stop against an invisible wall). Sound is slightly more than primitive. While the author didn't use dynamic actors, you'll already hear (and maybe a bit too much) thunder roars, wind and the flames from the torches. The music used is Fifth, which is probably the best choice, but the action songsection should have been in when fighting the Titan.
Yeah, the map has a Titan. The Nali at the beginning weren't able to enter the castle due to the beast hurling rocks everywhere. Due to the limited ammo, you're not supposed to fight it but to escape. Otherwise, if you have patience with the Dispersion Pistol, you can take it down. The way you enter the structure is interesting; the main area is guarded by Skaarj (you'll find members of the Trooper and Warrior castes), but you can also take a secret passage inside the lake that's only protected by a tame Slith. And speaking about that Slith, he drops a Dispersion Pistol Power Up. Why he has one is beyond the limits of my comprehension; it's like saying that killing a bird would magically open something. Oh wait, that happened too somewhere else. Back to the gameplay... it is not that tough. Other than Skaarj you'll fight some easy Lesser Brutes and Tentacles. There's a great amount of health spread around but weapons and ammo are limited, no matter of what difficulty you choose. The hardest battle is the final one, where you'll fight a group of Skaarj Officers, and their blades may cut your head at the most unexpected moment.
Rajal Castle, while being extremely old, still remains one of the best releases from the first year of Unreal custom mapping. The atmosphere is pretty unique and nostalgic, and there are some nice gameplay ideas. Unfortunately, it’s really short.
*Note that only the Unreal Archive uploads are checked to be the newest and most compatible/stable download link.
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.3
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.3
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).2
SoundUse of ambient sounds and event sounds to give the level atmosphere, and the quality of any custom sounds. Appropriate use of music and silence to complement the atmosphere.2
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.4
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.3
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.1
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.0
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.4
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.3