Map Title: Stargate: Talisman
Map Author: Richard 'LION(LS)' Kaderabek & Stvaan Ivanhoe
Review Score: 56%
Tagline: For a solo venture, absolutely amazing.
Main Review:Stargate: Talisman
is one of the myriad of Stargate-themed modifications for the Unreal Engine, but one of the few that were actually released. Richard Kaderabek's mammoth pack, containing well over a dozen levels in multiple locations does indeed have a history. But, as with most Czech Unreal works, it's mostly forgotten by the mainstream Unreal community. The main reason for this is simple: until now it didn't have an English translation available. Another difficulty new players might face arises due to the fact that the pack, originally released in 2003, was then subsequently updated several times: in 2004, 2005 (Special Edition), 2008 and lastly, 2009 (Special Edition 2). With such a wide array of releases (some of which were lost), it's easy to become confused as to which version to play and when preparing to write the review that you may read below, I also faced this problem. Eventually, after careful examination of the releases available, I finally managed to confirm that the 2009 SE2 release is indeed the release of choice for players.The corridors of the Stargate Command.Stargate: Talisman
is most defintely a partial conversion
. It still uses some Unreal assets like the Nali for example, or multiple weapons but its setting and storyline are both separate from Unreal and there's enough new content in here to provide the feel of a Stargate game rather than an Unreal one. There are new soldier models in the Stargate Command (borrowed from Half-Life: Opposing Force
), there's a new ghastly monster appearing from level 8 onwards, modeled by Lion(LS), the player also receives two new weapons, one of which effectively replaces the dispersion pistol due to its rechargeable nature, there's also a completely new texture set, used in multiple maps like the aforementioned Stargate Command for example. All of this screams Stargate!
Therefore, one needs to be familiar with some terms in order to fully enjoy the project's setting: "stargates" are ancient fast travel devices constructed by a race known as the "Ancients" and utilized heavily by a warmongering race of the "Goa'uld System Lords", parasitical worms taking control of mainly humanesque hosts who then conquer new worlds utilizing armies of "Jaffa", soldiers with enhanced strength and reflexes thanks to the presence of said worms in a special womb-like opening in their bellies (as opposed to the hosts the Goa'uld directly control by being implanted inside their heads). When one such stargate was discovered in the original theatrical movie, a special military division has relocated it into the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain and thus the Stargate Command (the SGC) was formed, which is a group of military-controlled explorers that aim to protect the Earth against Goa'uld or other off-world dangers while at the same time exploring the space. That's Stargate if you never watched it, in a nutshell... or at least the first few seasons which inspired Lion's work.The bowels of the temple.
The storyline of the pack shall remind you of a typical Stargate SG-1
episode: SG-3 is missing off-world, so the player, a member of SG-2, is sent to investigate. What follows is to be expected: the Goa'uld are involved and more than once you'll be forced to clash with their Jaffa. In fact, during the first arc of the pack - which takes more than half of it - you'll fight almost exclusively Jaffa which can make the gameplay a bit boring after a while. The player will at first reach a Nali Brotherhood of the Three Circles where they'll find the last survivor of the missing SG-3 and they'll also be notified that there's a second stargate available if one needs to reach Earth... except you don't get to use it unless you do something for the Brotherhood first. It turns out that there is a terrible "God of the Fire River" at large. The being was sealed deep underground by a talisman that the Goa'uld have relocated into another location, thus releasing the monster from its slumber. The objective is simple: retrieve the Talisman for the Brotherhood. Of course, the Jaffa will not make it easy for the player. After completing this mission and gaining access to the emergency stargate hidden in the Brotherhood's basement (yes, they keep stargates hidden away in basements now!) the second story arc commences, which is finding the way to Earth. It probably would never take place if the player character had at least a modicum of intelligence but as it turns out, the SG-2 operative forgot how to dial Earth so they go to Abydos instead. Congratulations, soldier.The temple turns surreal.
The premise may sound simple: go in, find yourself trapped, perform a time-consuming and daunting task that is completely unrelated to your main objective, try to go back, take a detour for some poor excuse of a reason, reach the home base, done. That's all there's to it under the hood - but the way it's implemented is truly pristine: the player character often comments his surroundings and the status of the mission, non-player characters will often have something to say to you (usually via a translator message), occasional voiced lines can be heard, further detailing the story or just filling in the implementation of the Stargate universe (some still in Czech sadly, but can be figured out via context) and there's several simple flyby cutscenes. That's not all: the HUD is customized to keep you informed that you are no longer an Unreal universe character like Ash or Prisoner 849, but a member of the SG-2 team and there's a custom Stargate-themed translator provided (unfortunately it replaces the new enlarged translator of the 227 patch, forcing you to read the regular small text and that is a pain on large resolutions). The gameplay enhancements such as the new rechargeable Jaffa Staff (a pristine replacement for the DP) or the modified Krall serving as the Jaffa further give the player a nice dosage of Stargate drug, enough to make you fly really high.The Ha'tak interior.
The maps themselves are numerous. 15 out of 22 are properly playable, with the remainder serving as cutscenes... and, quite frankly, if there's anything that can serve as the weak point of the pack, it's them. While initially the player might tolerate the low-poly feel and simple shapes of the surroundings (for example, in the protagonist's house or in the SGC), they'll soon grow tired of the linearity of the areas (Level 6 being one of the few standing out as far as this is concerned) and the basic visuals - not to mention occasional BSP issues here and there. The new texturing does provide a decent illusion of actual Stargate universe locations such as the Ha'tak or the SGC, whereas the regular assets work well in the Temple area (Levels 7-8), but the basic construction does bring the pack down and it hits the ground hard. The absolute rock bottom is Level 11, or Abydos - the desert can end quickly and when looking down you can see the sky below as if this was a Sky Island. Then there's the difficulty in finding the teleporter. Overall there's plenty squares, simple circles, spiral staircases so nothing remarkable, but it's used in a manner that won't make your eyes hurt, most of the time. The lighting gets the job done and adds to the authenticity of the locations - which, despite the low-poly feel, actually is there most of the time, as I've already mentioned - heck, remember those colored stick items that serve as keys and elements of machinery on the Ha'tak ships and other Goa'uld vessels? They're there, all right. It really is too bad that the locales are constructed so simply - because they're really varied. An alien planet, complete with exotic shrooms? Check. Ha'tak? Check. Stargate Command? Check. Suburban house? Check. Temple? Check. Catacombs? Check. Chapel? Check. Desert? Check. Ancient city? Let's see... yes, it's there too! It's just that the construction is really simplistic. Lion would do better if he chose to recruit a more skilled mapper while concentrating fully on the other aspects of the project. One can only dream how fantastic it would turn out.The Ha'tak and the Stargate.
As far as the audio layer goes, Stargate: Talisman could've used a lot more work. While there is music present and the tracks fit the situation (including the custom ones), its usage is scarce and there often is no justification for the lack of music (such as the intention to make the player feel uneasy or something). The ambience is a bit richer and properly made but there are no fireworks. It gets the job done and that's it.
The gameplay is really uneven. While some maps serve as mere cutscenes or intermissions and as such they don't provide any combat, they let the player immerse in the pack's micro-universe and that role must be respected. What does break the suspension of disbelief is... arrows. Pointers, if you will. Basically, on every level there's pointers indicating that something must be done in a location. While they make it easier not to lose oneself in the SGC or in the Brotherhood stronghold, they do break the aforementioned suspension of disbelief and thus may ruin the fun. As far as the combat-oriented levels go, they face another problem which is good old-fashioned boredom. For the majority of the pack you'll fight solely the Jaffa. Nothing else. Additional enemies show up for a level or two but quickly disappear afterwards, leaving you to slaughtering legions of Goa'uld footsoldiers. At least the gameplay is somewhat balanced - there's enough health, weapon and ammo provisions to survive (including new items such as Phoenix Eggs, various pouches and the like), there's never too much of that. The problem in the gameplay balance however is that Lion and Stvaan couldn't really decide on the right amount of enemies, leading to the situation where there's not enough enemies to provide a decent challenge (most of the time) or pit the player against seemingly impossible odds with an army of enemies in the vicinity (I've encountered four such situations). The new guns are a nice addition, but let's face it: the MP-5 is a really poor replacement for the minigun. At least the Jaffa Staff works and it must be underlined yet one more time - it works admirably well. It's good enough to replace the DP as your last resort weapon and unlike the unpowered DP, the Staff does make an excellent regular
weapon too. As it can be obtained very early in the game if you decide to perform a heist on the Ha'tak at the very beginning of your mission, you might find yourself in the situation that you won't be able to pick up the ammo provisions available for the other guns because the Staff is that good. It does have a drawback that its charge depletes quite fast, but on the other hand it recharges just as fast and making do with the other guns while the Staff regains its power isn't really an issue.
It's really a shame that Stargate: Talisman, while often available on cooperative servers, is barely known to the mainstream Unreal community as it is a large, varied and quite well made partial conversion for Unreal and it is worth playing. Several factors have contributed to the situation - the multitude of releases that makes it difficult to track down the proper one as well as lack of an English language version, making the storyline a complete mystery which for a heavy-on-story pack is unacceptable. It is 2014 and it's been eleven years since the pack's first beta release and nine years since the first Special Edition became available - and lastly, five years since the SE2 revision's release - and it's about time Stargate: Talisman received some recognition. While many packs have done things better, all of them were team-based efforts and SG:T is mostly Lion's work. Others have only patched it. For a solo venture, this is something absolutely amazing. Play. Now.
Technical Execution 5
Conceptual Grandness 8
Story Construction 5
Story Implementation 9
Gameplay Awe 4
Gameplay Balance 6
Total Score: 56%