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Custom Map Reviews
Map Title: The Elder
Jaspos' two-map pack "The Elder" sees you on a quest to save a Nali priest from a Skaarj invading party. It's a backing story you're not really in a position to miss, since it's staring you in the face - literally - when you first launch the intro map. Also present in this starting room are a large number of supplies including weapons, ammo, armour and inventory that are expected to last for almost the entire course of the map pack.
The setting of the pack is a standard one: a Nali temple of uncertain origin, with a Skaarj dropship at the end. Over the course of the two maps we really learn no more about the origins of this structure, which is disappointing, but we do at least get to read the diaries of a few departed souls that bemoan the arrival of the Skaarj, the imprisonment of the Elder and warn in advance of a swarm of flies that guard a vital key. What story there is to the pack is implemented decently, with a couple of nice scripted moments and a brief flyby / summation of the story at the end of the adventure. I have seen much worse in packs of this size.
The Elder originally scored eight out of ten in its first UnrealSP.Org review. Looking at the pack now, with greater reviewing experience and a stronger critical eye, I find it amazing that I saw fit to rate this map as highly as I did; but perhaps I was duped by the Conceptual Grandness evident in Jaspos' designs. In actual fact, the detail of the architecture is very low, verging in places on the ugly with some extremely empty spaces; but on the other hand, Jaspos has used low poly counts to create architecture in broad, simple strokes, creating in the process one or two impressive and expansive scenes such as those illustrated on this page. The Elder is a classic example of how a well designed concept can make a low-poly map more memorable than it would otherwise have been.
Jaspos chooses his textures well, picking on an unusual range of white textures not commonly seen in Unreal temple maps (which tend to be dark and gloomy), and it gives the vaults of The Elder a refreshing airy quality. To emphasise the stronger elements of his otherwise basic architecture, Jaspos uses detailed pillar textures for his cylindrical shapes, which strengthen the effect of the architecture even if they do perhaps repeat a few too many times. It is also refreshing to see a range of rarely used masked plant textures deployed in the simple terrain sections. Elsewhere, however, multiple texture misalignments can be found: this generally occurs in arched hallways where the nature of the texture covers it up, but a large number of wooden structures in which the grain points at right angles to how it should do drag the overall effect of Jaspos' texturing down.
Also of mixed quality is the lighting. Jaspos uses a great deal of ambient zone lighting in his maps, meaning that there is not a dark corner to be found, rendering the player's Searchlight largely useless. However, the maps are not totally washed-out (unlike many zonelit maps) due to Jaspos' use of strong, warm colours from torches, lanterns, tarydium crystals and windows. This boldness with color goes some way to compensate for the basic techniques used, but does not save the overall lighting score, which is further let down by some smaller chambers in which the lighting is downright ugly.
Sound is disappointing. Torches crackle and outdoor areas have appropriate wind sounds, but there is no music and some areas are completely silent. Technically speaking, on the other hand, the pack is robust, with very smooth framerates throughout, creature pathnoding that shows, and few bugs (although I did see one Tentacle that was unable to fire properly until the window behind it had been smashed).
Creature and weapon placement is solidly done. Providing almost all the inventory from the outset is a dangerous route to take, but there's plenty to be getting on with, although I was disappointed that the Stinger and Razorjack were omitted (the Stinger, at least, one can pick up later on). Killing enemies yields supplies enough to tide the player over, including Nali fruit seeds dropped by some of the map pack's many Flies.
Combat is slow at first, although a series of automated defenses is a nice touch. The gameplay soon picks up, though, with a few Brutes giving way to a series of SkaarjTroopers and SkaarjInfantry lying in wait to ambush the player. The game is full of nicely laid out little moments involving the aforementioned SkaarjTroopers, as well as Pupae and one nasty SkaarjSniper. The presence of a couple of Mercenaries late in the game is inappropriate, however, and a misguided dive into one water pool leads to a pair of "Inescapable giant Squids of Death". One moment, when the player enters a hallway full of dormant Flies, is genuinely chilling due to the omnipresent buzzing - and the fight, when they eventually do swarm, has its moments too!
The Elder runs well and plays well, even if these days its looks are pretty dated.
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