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Map Title: Skaarj Tower - The Fall of Seethe
"Wait a minute," you're probably asking, "doesn't the Skaarj Tower name belong to Drew?" - and you'd be right. However, this sequel to Skaarj Tower - Shadow and Fire is fully authorised and was originally meant to be a collaborative effort between Drew and Cardiologist. Drew had to pull out at a late stage, with the result that Cardiologist has tied up and released the pack by himself, and it works pretty well given that it ought to seem fragmented.
Story-wise, there's not a huge amount to say about The Fall of Seethe, and this is probably the pack's biggest weakness. The premise is simple enough; after leaving Skaarj Castle you seek to return to your friends, but between you and your escape lies a Skaarj base that has been taken over by a band of Krall led by the powerful Lord Seethe. Throw into the mix a force of antagonistic Mercenaries, and you have a familiar pattern of SP adventure in levels populated by two warring factions. Accordingly, as the game progresses, one sees a few explosions, battle scenes and heavy border fortifications. Nothing ground-breaking, but all nicely done, giving the pack greater story credibility than its predecessor, Shadow and Fire.
In terms of architecture, Cardiologist has done a good job here. Occasionally, the more cavernous Skaarj interiors have a slightly bare feel, but this is largely outweighed by the mapper's considerable attention to detail in other areas. In particular, there's not a single dull corridor in this pack. All corridors either have an interesting curvature or are choc-a-bloc with interesting detail, such as the interesting two-level corridor pictured above, or some deep indigo-lit hallways that make an interesting use of UT's StudMetal decorations to represent the light sources. In the second map, the action moves to the landscape, where the familiar sight of a Terraniux-class Mercenary ship looming over the cliff tops still impresses seven years after it was first seen in Unreal. Points for Conceptual Grandness, as the interior of this facility (which is based on Inoxx's original Terraniux map) is visited in the following map, creating some effective foreshadowing. Finally, the coda of map four offers an interesting break from the high-tech theme.
Texturing is an odd one. Throughout The Fall of Seethe, Cardiologist chooses his textures very well (with the exception of some odd blips in the first map: earth textures for the cliffs, and grass textures for the walls of a deep pool). The Skaarj base uses a wide range of the textures from the set, and levels two and three make you realise just how under-exposed the DecayedS texture set really is. The maps look particularly good in S3TC, with a large number of wall textures having high-detail replacements. However, a lot of this effort is undone by the presence of obvious errors: almost none of the rock textures in the pack are properly aligned, and on several clearly 2D shape-edited objects there has been a failure to merge coplanar polys, resulting in lighting errors and texture misalignments that are apparent even though base textures have often been used.
Lighting is good. Occasionally more contrast would have been beneficial, but by and large Cardiologist makes good use of various colours (including green lighting in a pretty creepy Pupae habitat).
In terms of sound, The Fall of Seethe really does everything I could have wanted it to do. Various sounds are used to add atmosphere to the maps, including some with altered pitch. Few seem out of place and there are dynamic ambient sounds present as well. Where the pack really excels to my mind, though, is in its use of music. An entirely original (for Unreal) soundtrack is used, including tracks by Sandman, Timo Petmanson and Christian Krieger. Sandman, to the uninitiated, composed "Night Vision", the soundtrack to Terraniux in Unreal; but the music in The Fall of Seethe isn't bombastic like that. Rather, map one starts out with a sense of gloomy foreboding, but in one of the map's more impressive combat scenes gives way to an action song that deftly uses the same themes. After that, a theme of progress takes over. Map two's music suited the theme perfectly, and for a while as I prowled the gloomy valley I was reminded of what it felt like to play Unreal for the first time - not a common experience these days! Music and sound use goes a little downhill after that, with map four's sounds and events somewhat competing with the chosen track, but overall the impression is positive.
The gameplay of The Fall of Seethe is enjoyable, dosed with just enough scripted action and well-staged combats to keep things exciting. The ambush in map one (you'll know it when you play it) is particularly frantic, but not in a bad way, let down only by some sticking points on the floor that can block your retreat (this problem does recur in other parts of the pack). Although using Krall as the main opposition might make the pack sound dull, the presence of new Krall classes with a couple of mean new skins prevents any boredom. The only disappointment was that Lord Seethe lacked a distinctive skin of his own, and as was the case with my own pack The Landing, it's always refreshing to play an Unreal episode that is completely free of Skaarj.
The gameplay of The Fall of Seethe is decently balanced, my only reservation being that more health should perhaps have been provided either side of the larger combats (with an appropriate increase in the level of opposition in the intermediate stages). Maybe that's just me, but it's the line I choose to take on the pack.
Maybe I was just in the right mood, but I really enjoyed playing The Fall of Seethe. I would have liked it if the pack could have been a little longer (where were you, Drew?) and the lack of an ending sequence was disappointing, but I thoroughly recommend giving Skaarj Tower - The Fall of Seethe a whirl.
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Download skaarjtower-tfos.zip (13.2MB) from BeyondUnreal