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Review: Na Pali Odyssey - Episode One: Sky Escape

Project Information

  • Title: Na Pali Odyssey - Episode One: Sky Escape
  • Author: Nicklas "DeluxScan" Teisner
  • Platform: Unreal
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 58%

Main Review

A solid first map pack

Sky Escape is the second Unreal SP release from mapper Nicklas "DeluxScan" Teisner, who previously brought us the standalone Sky Isles. Sky Escape actually includes a slightly altered Sky Isles as the first of its four playable maps, and as such Sky Isles will be considered as part of the map pack in this review.

Much as with Sky Isles, the storyline of Sky Escape follows a familiar principle: player crash lands on Na Pali, is captured by the Skaarj, and wakes up in a prison cell. This time, however, the prison is an old Nali fortress on one of Na Pali's many floating Sky Islands. The story has very little to progress it over the course of the game, with translator messages largely serving as standard "flavour text" (the Nali in desparation... etc), or as clues to puzzles, one or two of which are slightly oblique. This time, however, DeluxScan has also provided simple intro and extro maps that introduce and wrap up this instalment of the saga quite nicely.

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After the semi-lengthy Sky Isles, I was initially surprised by the shortness of the three new maps provided in this pack, although not so much after I considered the relative brevity of the pack's development. None the less, I feel that these maps could have been edited into one and remained within engine limits. It's not so much a problem as mildly distracting when the "loading" screen comes up on a regular basis. Opportunities for backtracking are limited and there is seldom sufficient health and ammo to be left behind as "spare". However, had DeluxScan planned these canyons as a single map, there might have been opportunities for some seriously cool foreshadowing and crossing over oneself from higher vantage points that simply aren't there. Sky Isles has a greater degree of foreshadowing, since it is possible to see your destination on a couple of occasions before you can get to it. Perhaps DeluxScan could look to Skaarj Tower: Shadow and Fire to see how good foreshadowing is implemented in maps such as these.

This is of course all part of Conceptual Grandness, but thankfully Sky Escape and in particular the three new maps within it meet the requirements of Conceptual Grandness in other areas: the infamous Sky Canyons are big and spacious, with apertures open to the sky both above and below never letting the player forget that they are high in the sky whilst negotiating the precarious lifts, planks and balconies. The setting of Sky Isles is also based on a good concept, in particular the floating rocks and rickety wooden structures that provide a "bridge" from one part of the map to the next.

Architecture is a more basic than the concept, often appearing without trim, although not entirely devoid of interesting shapes, and with good use made of a waterfall in Sky Isles. It's a very good effort considering the inexperience of the mapper, and the three new maps definitely have an atmosphere. Occasionally there were architectural issues that affected gameplay, such as the flights of spiral steps that it was necessary to jump to embark upon, or the fact that in the first map one could get stuck in a hole upon overshooting a staircase and have to jump back out again. Also, on a rickety plank bridge in Sky Isles, it should have been possible to walk the tightrope of the supporting chains, but instead I fell right through them and plunged to my death. Overall, however, the architecture gave a pleasing effect. Texturing was decent but slipped occasionally, with textures visibly unaligned on staircases and metal poles, and cases such as a hanging chain that ended incongruously half way through a link.

Not so much for the lighting, which at the start of the second map was too dark. Even with the curtains closed, blocking out the daylight, the staircase I had to climb was barely perceptible. In the absence of a Flashlight freshly issued at the end of the previous map, and with not even a Dispersion Pistol at this stage (the latter is an important source of personal illumination when all else fails), fumbling around in the dark with only a couple of Flares to guide me was tiresome. This darkness continues into the three new maps, although for the most part nicely contrasting torchlight and lantern light is provided. The lighting is atmospheric, and better than the technicolour effect of Sky Isles (which retains some of the problems criticised in its original review, such as unlighted lanterns and giant lens flares), but could have done perhaps with being a little brighter (or offset by a greater provision of personal illumination for the player).

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Sound is implemented serviceably throughout the pack, with nothing standing out as incongruous, and all movers equipped with appropriate sound effects. Sky Isles uses Surface.umx (although it comes in too early), whilst the three following maps make good use of Eversmoke.umx. DeluxScan could have used different tracks for each of these, but since they are essentially the three parts of one larger map, he opted sensibly for consistency (incidentally, the three maps have the same title - confusing, perhaps. Differentiating between maps within a map pack is always adviseable).

Gameplay and technical execution are the most inconsistent area of the map pack. By and large the game is balanced, but I'm not quite sure what happened to the "very challenging" gameplay that was originally promised. The hardest part of the pack was the beginning of Sky Isles, where it was necessary to take down four Krall, one Skaarj and a Tentacle with twelve health points, a Stinger and 120 rounds of ammo (no Dispersion Pistol). Taking pot shots at a Tentacle with a Stinger just seemed wrong somehow! After that, combat was mostly against weaker foes, with the toughest opposition being a SkaarjAssassin and a couple of SkaarjSnipers, with most of the challenge that should have arisen out of the general lack of health being offset by a generous provision of Nali Fruit Seeds, and there was no real final fight. I'm not saying it was disappointing, but support should have been provided for difficulty settings other than Medium, and launch instructions in the readme offer no indication that such support exists.

I've mentioned the Dispersion Pistol a couple of times. Well, not providing one is either a very brave move or a pretty foolish move. Finding yourself in a combat situation with no ammo at all, and therefore no possible outcome besides certain death, is frustrating for the player. Generally sufficient ammo was provided (mostly for the Stinger), and I did sprout a Dispersion Pistol eventually (SkaarjTroopers started dropping them half way through the pack), but to my mind it would have been better to provide one from the moment of the player's escape from prison, especially given the darkness of the second map of the pack.

Framerates were good throughout the pack and no HOM effects were seen, but technical glitches did appear, such as a couple of badly set up triggers in Sky Isles (one lift near the end refused to move a number of times before making its eventual ascent), and one map in which I started facing the door I had just come through! Generally, though, most of the problems have been ironed out. The most obscure progression from Sky Isles has been fixed with a little help from the translator, although a new obscurity cropped up in the final map, where in a puzzle involving Nali Fruit Seeds it was unclear where exactly I should be planting them.

Summary

Sky Escape is a solid first map pack. For episode two of the saga, I would like to see gameplay made slightly more interesting and difficulty settings supported. All in all, though, the new maps in Sky Escape show that DeluxScan is making definite progress as a single player mapper.
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.7 Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.7
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.6 Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.5
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).6 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.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.7 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.4
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.6 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.6
Final Verdict: Above average
Score: 58%

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