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Review: Hard Crash

Project Information

  • Title: Hard Crash
  • Author: Silver-Serpent
  • Platforms: Unreal, Unreal Gold / RTNP, Unreal 227, Unreal Tournament
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 58%

Main Review

Successfully builds up a descent into darkness

Hard Crash (no relation to the Unreal novel with the same name as far as I can tell) has had somewhat of a turbulent history; Silver-Serpent disappeared for an extended period after announcing the mod, but a version of the mod was leaked onto the Internet during that time, there were various rumours about the absence, up to and including rumours of the author's demise (which were thankfully untrue) and a lot of drama about whether it's appropriate to review an unfinished set. However, those with the newest version of the set eventually uploaded it, and confirmed that Silver-Serpent gave permission for that to be released and that a full release was very unlikely.

There's little backstory established, but you start on a Skaarj-besieged ship and end up heading into the deepest depths of Na Pali. Translator messages do some work building things up, but there's also some slightly ill-fitting comedy messages, and the last level has fourth-wall breaking messages from the designer about unfinished sections that could have been handled better. This pack really shines in the atmosphere department though; with the arguable exception of the relatively lush third level there's a sense of brooding menace in every map that builds up as you descend deeper into the depths. As things go on there's the increasing feeling that this is building up into some sort of horror story. That's unfortunately dashed by the unfinished nature of the set, but more on that later.

The starting level, "The Outer Limits", tasks you with finding a way off your spaceship down to Na Pali. The environment is a familiar ISV-Kran type style and relatively cramped, but there's still some flourish that hints at what's to come, like a cafeteria lit by a moody brownish-red light, and a general feeling that anything could be lurking in the shadows. Playing on Unreal, while I wouldn't say it's unfair (outside of some ridiculously cramped Skaarj gunner fights), the opposition feels a bit much for how cramped the map is and how little you have; the first fight is against a few Skaarj Scouts in a small area when all you have is a Dispersion Pistol and an Automag. Things do ease up once you get a Razorjack, but you have to take it from the hands of a dead trooper first (and the small size of the place makes Razorblades more deadly than usual).

The dead cafeteria


Map two, "The Great Escarpment", is set on a doomed Human base in a coastal area. Unfortunately it's the low-point of the pack visually; the attempts at more realistic Human structures, such as windmills, are nice, but the exterior is mostly lit with drab ambient light (although it does give the map a somewhat dark atmosphere), and some of the rock textures are pretty ugly. There's a somewhat menacing looking lookout building on a hill, but it feels lacking beyond that. It feels like it was a much earlier map by the author. The fence blocking the exit also doesn't actually block your movement, so you can just walk through and skip the level tasks altogether. Combat is a bit easier here outside of a Skaarj Scout horde set-piece fight, but the cramped interiors combined with giant exteriors does lead to some nice contrast in gameplay styles.

Looking over part of the base


You then head inland for "The Wooded Village". this is a traditional Nali village/terrain map in concept, but Silver-Serpent's creative design gives it some flair. The houses vary in design, and there are interesting looking Skytown-styled structures at points. It all climaxes at a giant Skytown styled Tavern/interior town that pulls off an overall style I don't think I've seen before in a set. This is perhaps the best looking map in the pack and there's some very interesting geometry for a Nali-styled level. The mood feels a bit lighter here, with the bright Skytown textures and lush exteriors. Gameplay is mostly alright again, however there's a near-invincible Stone-Titan with no warning that it apparently needs to be evaded, so it's easy to waste all your ammo without realising you can't kill the Titan. There's also some weird boosted flies that need five level two DP shots to die.

The Tavern complex


Map four "The Station" is where your descent truly begins. You find a Mercenary outpost being built underneath the Nali town and a skirmish between the Skaarj and Mercenaries there. Despite the shift in opposition this is a relatively short map and seems like somewhat of a transition level, but the underground Merc base feels appropriately moody and, like the previous level, it puts a twist on a familiar theme. The gameplay unfortunately gets consistently awkward again here, with a fight against a horde of Skaarj Scouts that feels like it's supposed to involve the Mercenaries but is unlikely to, and a boss-fight against an irritatingly boosted Mercenary Elite while other Mercenaries attack you. Your health and ammo starts to feel a bit stretched here.

Mercenary Tunnels


The final map "Caverns of the Forgotten" has you ending up further underground, and uncovering a lost Nali (or maybe not...) ruin. The creepy new texture set and lighting does a great job making the map feel very oppressive, and there also some surprise twists on the theme along the way. Unfortunately this is where the unfinished nature of the set kicks in, and after a couple of boss-fights you are stopped by a dead-end wall. Given the drama and mystery surrounding the mod itself it almost feels fitting; there's a dark mystery waiting in the depths of Na Pali, but you're (probably) never going to find out what it is. In the end though it just results in the story frustratingly hanging. The gameplay also reaches a low-point here; the individual fights mostly aren't too bad, but health is almost non-existant and ammo starts getting rare too. I had to do a significant part of the end with less than fifty health, and even the boss fights didn't provide any healing.

I've got a bad feeling about this...


As I hinted at above the gameplay has some major issues; there's a strange habit of throwing a bunch of Skaarj Scouts at you at points, and, while it's perfectly doable, the difficulty continuously leans on being just deadly enough to be irritating (as well as being dragged down by the lack of equipment at the end). Fights tend to involve repetitive packs of enemies rather than encounters tailored to the environment. There's also a bunch of boosted monsters with no visual clues they are any different, that extends to the Scouts, who sometimes take far more punishment than normal with no indication/warning. There are also areas where you press switches and have to backtrack with no clue as to what they actually opened (sometimes going past multiple other doors on the way), usually it's clear though. On the positive side there's various bits of gameplay beyond just shooting, and some of those combat situations have interesting set-ups.

Despite the great atmosphere built up by the other visual aspects, the sound design is lacking; there's no music, and ambient sounds are rare (although there are a couple of great sound uses during set-pieces) which is unfortunate as proper sound design would really elevate the atmosphere here.

Technically it also has some issues; while I didn't come across anything fatal or game-breaking, there are quite a few BSP issues at points, especially in the last level or two, which takes away from immersion a bit. There's also the fence problem in map 2 that lets you skip the map.

Summary

With a full release unlikely at this point, the current version of Hard Crash is very much worth playing through, and, despite several unfinished elements, it successfully builds up a descent into darkness, despite not reaching the bottom. If you're not so skilled you should probably stick to Easy though.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.64% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.52%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.8 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.8
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.8 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.2
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).8 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.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.3 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.6
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.5 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.3
Final Verdict: Above average
Score: 58%

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