The Ghost of Alin'Gar is an ancient in both theme and age level from the notorious Wheel of Time and Heretic II mapper Kew, released in October 1998. One could say it's among the first quality custom levels for Unreal. And this statement would be true.
Alin'Gar, the titular ghost was a lord of the monastery-reminiscent residence the player is about to explore. He was betrayed by an evil monk, captured by the Devil Guards and murdered. He requests that you avenge him and rescue his imprisoned son - which, from the looks of it, is a Nali. That's about the gist of the story - and while this does not sound big, for a single, small map it certainly is. The said storyline is well implemented, as Alin contacts you repeatedly during the course of your quest and provides instructions as well as background information on the area and its inhabitants, both past and present. All of this builds suspense, especially that all the translator messages have a custom notification attached to them, or more techy: the "M_NewMessage" variable that changes the initial notifications from "New Translator Message" to "Alin calls you" or "Fear not, I am with you" and so on. It builds up the adventure's unique mood...
...only for it to be shattered to pieces when you pass through the translator message spots again. You'll see: "Translator Message". Pretty much breaks the suspension of disbelief right there on the spot. There are more faults, too: while the initial message from Alin has a ghastly sound set for notification, others invoke the regular translator beep. The sixth translator event has no content whatsoever - but after you pass through its spot again, you'll discover that the contents of Alin's message show up as a notification instead - and they're cut off, to boot. However even with those faults considered, the haunted monastery feel is there, and the storyline plays a big role in that regard.
The visuals are pretty good, given the level's age - the castle's architecture is quite detailed and moody, with lots of archways, spiral starcases, dungeons and the like. The place doesn't seem to have a genuine purpose though. The corridors that are supposed to lead to a place where Alin was slain, in fact lead to all sorts of other areas, like a chapel or a sewer. Lack of any housing area or kitchen breaks the authenticity of the location as well. It's a dungeon, nothing else. I've not seen BSP errors in my playthrough, the lighting looks all right as well but that's pretty much it. Another question is the torches: without TorchFlameFix I'm seeing ridiculously big torch flames, sometimes misaligned, sometimes aligned properly to the torchstands, but still - too big and obviously unfitting. However with this mutator active all torch flames are of proper size, but the situation with their alignment reverses. Those that were placed properly are now below their respective torchstands, and the hovering-above-torchstands ones are, for a change, placed properly now. As the alingar2 (or Alin'Gar version 2) readme clearly states it's been upgraded to support Unreal version 224, I assume the reason for updating was the torch issue. It's too bad that it hasn't been fully fixed and one way or another the level remains broken in that regard.
As for the audio layer, it's really average. The various ambient sounds are mostly screams and ghastly howls and while initially adding to the level's feel, eventually they grow old to the player. The only musical track used in the level is Nali Chant and only the peaceful, ambient section is played, with no switches to the action theme. But on the other hand, there is no reason to, as the level doesn't have any climax situation it could be used in.
And this brings us to the last aspect of the level, which is the gameplay it provides. The formula is standard dungeon romp fare, as in: all the player must do is explore the surroundings, kill everything in sight and complete the objective which as detailed in Alin's messages is to destroy the statue of the black monk. Properly executed, it could be fun - especially that the author has given the thought of tweaking some of the enemies' properties to enhance the experience, for example decreasing the size of the fish to make them harder to hit or providing a lesser brute the ability to throw boulders instead of shooting missiles. However in this case, the concept isn't executed properly. First off, there is a complete lack of proper gameplay balance. Even on the toughest stock difficulty setting (Unreal in stock game versions, renamed Very Hard in the 227 patch), the level is a cakewalk. The player is provided with the dispersion pistol, stinger, eightball, razorjack and rifle, several kinetic barrier belts, plenty ammo packs (including QuadShot shells for some mysterious reason - given that the weapon, unworking in stock Unreal builds, isn't even in the level, I was surprised by the presence of a shell pack) and healing items sounds like a lot - and trust me, it is. Given the small size of the locations, most enemies won't stand a chance against a barrage of razor blades, be it various Skaarj (some are even imprisoned behind bars, quite easy to pick off), Krall (some legless), mercenaries or brutes, in fact the only things that can become a challenge are the shrinked fish which can chew you out while being extra-hard to hit due to their small size. In fact, I recommend to try outrunning, or should I say, outswimming them as eliminating them can become an exercise in frustration. However, aside from those fish, none of the enemies present has managed to take away any significant portion of my health and I assume that most players would feel the same. Given this lack of any real challenge, combat will prove monotonous. That is even more truthful with lack of any real climax. No rise in terms of difficulty curve, no boss that'd protect the statue that is your target. Your mission to destroy the statue is just as simple as it sounds.
Being one of Kew's earlier works for Unreal, The Ghost of Alin'Gar does promise a lot, but those promises are kept in the author's later works, rather than in here. The architecture and storyline has some similarities to Nali'Pente and Illhaven but is nowhere near their level. It does provide some enjoyment though and were it not for a bland audio layer, uninspiring gameplay and the few, but clearly visible, technical issues, this could be considered very good. Playing this at least once is recommended.
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.6
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).4
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.3
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.5
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.4
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.3
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.3