When the original tri-pack of ShamuQuest appeared in January 1999, the Unreal community was shocked - at least those lucky enough to find the pack since it never showed up on Nali City. And for a good reason. Never before has there been a pack as grand as that one. Each map took at least thirty minutes to complete, sometimes longer, and the visuals were breathtaking - especially in the Temple of Soquatre, which is Chicoverde's magnum opus to this very day. How does ShamuQuest II fare in comparison to such a legacy?
It isn't clearly stated in the readme, but judging from the translator messages and the setting, the pack is most likely a prequel to the original. The player begins their journey in the Shamutanti mountain range, quite possibly straight after finding this secret route in Sacred Passage that the original's release notes preach of (word to the wise: it isn't there so don't open the map to look for one, it's purely Jean's idea). The player, while finding their dead comrades along the way and commenting accordingly, is given their assignment: to find the "Crown of Nali Kings" and prevent the Skaarj from taking control of it as it is a relic of extraordinary power. Nothing we haven't seen yet, but well constructed, both by the player's comments, Nali talk and scattered notes - this time with less typographic errors than in the original pack - and actually fitting the regular translator, for once. So, ShamuQuest II not only explains the setting of the original, adding onto it, but also does it with less issues of its own.
The visuals have improved as well. While obviously less grandiose than the previous set - Eelhandra's temple is no match for Soquatre's, not even by a long shot - the maps contain way less BSP/HOM issues, the textures are for the most part aligned properly and not stretched ad nauseum (which was abundant in the outside maps of the original). The lighting is also improved, everything that should be visible, actually is visible, but the levels aren't too bright. It's just right. The environment isn't all that varied - the first two maps take place in the Shamutanti range's similarly looking valleys, chasms and rock formations - but one can clearly see that Chicoverde certainly HAD an idea for the locales and he implemented it well. This also ties into the backstory: traces of conflict between the Krall forces and the Skaarj Kh'halan Clan are seen by absence of Skaarj in the Nak'halinra Peak area and by the Skaarj corpses and broken inventory scattered all over the Valley of Eelhandra.
As I said before, the Temple of Eelhandra is no match for the standards set by the Temple of Soquatre from the first pack. It's obviously smaller and less complex in design. While it could certainly work as a sacral area as it is realistic enough, it's obvious that unlike its competitor from the original, Eelhandra's place of worship won't be stealing the show. It's there, it's atmospheric, it's beautiful, it works - but there are no fireworks. Period.
Speaking of the atmosphere, it's being built up masterfully - not just by the visual layer, the rich (to the point of abundant) ambience is there to save the day as well. The player can truly feel that the environment around them is alive. The music is equally fitting - and while the initial track, accompanying us for the entire first map and a good portion of the next one, may come across as a bit monotonous, if you're new to ShamuQuest, you'll most likely never notice it in the first place.
The gameplay is Chico's standard from day one and that means the cream of the crop as far as classic Unreal formula goes. The enemies utilize the surroundings with deadly precision - more than once the Krall attempted to kill me with the stationary cannons, e.g. destroying the bridge I was just standing on or shooting almost right at my feet - both close calls there and if the player is unprepared, these shots might not necessarily miss. The opposition isn't all that varied though - the first level is dominated by Krall forces most of the time, assisted by brute force -- literally. In the valley, Skaarj begin to show up more often and in the temple itself it's mostly them and their aquatic cousins, the Slith.
I am however taking issue with the events that take place after the player obtains the rune which is the main objective for this prequel pack. If they don't move away from the rune altar, they'll be instantly vaporized by the Random Unannounced Killer Lightning Of Death. What follows afterwards is a battle with two completely invisible Skaarj Lords. Thanks, Jean. To add insult to injury, the same Random Unannounced Killer Lightning Of Death will repeatedly attempt to kill the player as they backtrack to the previously locked off areas. While nobody will fall into the same trap twice, that kind of learn-by-dying mechanic can prove frustrating... and needless. While it isn't abundant - it just happens pretty much in one place only - being staged in the climax of the pack makes this problem the most memorable of all the game's issues.
ShamuQuest II may not be as grand as the original ShamuQuest but there's no doubt about the fact that the pack is certainly more polished than the previous set. Everything from visuals and audio to the story and gameplay just oozes quality and professionalism. It is no wonder that Jean Rochefort has made his way to a professional career in the gaming industry as he certainly deserves a place there.
https://unrealarchive.org/mappacks/unreal/unknown/S/shamuquest2-ut_5de2dda5.html (Unreal 1 version, but should work for either)
http://www.klankaos.com/USP/shamuquest2_u1.zip (Unreal 1 version)
http://www.klankaos.com/USP/shamuquest2_ut.zip (UT version)
*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.7
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.8
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).7
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.8
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.8
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.6
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.7
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.8
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.8
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.8