- Title: Operation: Na Pali
- Author: Team Vortex
- Platform: Unreal Tournament
- Category: Large Campaign
- Review Score: 83%
Let down by an excess of silly jokes and a lack of a throught-provoking storylineWhen Operation Na Pali (or ONP) was originally reviewed on the old review schema, it was given UnrealSP.Org's first and only perfect 10/10. At the time it was well deserved - nobody had to date come near to releasing such a long, professionaly built and down right fun map pack (its nearest competitor was Xidia, which rivalled ONP for build quality but lacked the length and diversity that ONP had to offer).
However, that was over three years ago. ONP wasn't the last gasp of grand mapping projects despite suspicions to the contrary, and there has arguably been no more active a period in SP Unreal history than today (which, for those of you who've just joined us, is late 2005). As such new projects have challenged ONP's reign and the bar has been raised a few times already. Now, then, is the perfect time to take a fresh look at ONP with a more critical eye.
Operation Na Pali is a monster of a map pack, clocking in at 36 playable levels, plus cinematics and a playable credits map that is downright surreal. The maps are mainly by the crowd of "leet" mappers that dominated the UT multiplayer scene for a while (DavidM being the project leader, aided by long-term collaborators Tonnberry, DrPest and Strogg), with extensive contributions also by Atje, MClane, Hourences and Chicoverde and "guest" maps by Kew, Heiko Dreyer, Silver Serpent and Hyperion (all suitably modified by the hand of DavidM, of course). Other significant members of the team included UsAar33 (code), eVOLVE (cinematics), Toxeen (music) and Chrome (voice acting - we'll come to that later!).
According to the ONP story, you, a rebellious marine, are sent alone to Na Pali to recover survivors from the crash of the Vortex Rikers. However, on landing in Harobed Village you are soon captured and taken to a Skaarj prison, stripped of your inventory. Aided by a Mercenary, you escape from the prison, and then must travel across the surface of Na Pali in a bid to escape (for which you will need to complete your mission and find the old Vortex Rikers). Along the way, you are aided regularly by Mercenaries and rebellious Nali fighters who make their home in the mountains.
There's not much elaboration of the story after that. ONP is unashamedly a combat / arcade pack rather than a thoughtful pack or story-driven pack. Granted, there are subplots and more thought-provoking elements such as the eruption of the volcano or the Sharuk Assimmilation Project (turning Nali into gun-toting zombies), but the story lacks the depth and imagination of that in Unreal (which was largely implied by the clever use of locations and translator messages).
To compensate, perhaps, Team Vortex decided to give the player a voice. Not a bad idea you might say, but the script is truly awful! The player veers between cracking bad jokes, spouting Duke Nukem clichés, cursing needlessly and simply talking like an idiot (often in "leet speak"). How somebody so inane could possibly survive on the brutal world of Skaarj-dominated Na Pali I have no idea. The delivery of the lines falters from time to time, with Chrome tripping up from time to time and constantly bludgeoning the player with the most upsetting and down right silly pronunciation of "Skaarj" imaginable.
Unfortunately the translator messages don't escape this butchery either, with often garbled sentences reminding the player that most of the pack's contributors aren't native English speakers. Perhaps getting a British or American player to proof-read the script wouldn't have been a bad idea. ONP also contains an excess of self-referential jokes and stunts, to the significant detriment of the pack's credibility as a whole.
Some people claim to "hate" ONP for the above reasons. In my opinion, such a sentiment is extraordinary - for with Operation Na Pali, Team Vortex provided us with a campaign that rivalled Unreal in length for absolutely no charge! Not only that, but the build quality of most of the pack is superb.
The architecture of much of Operation Na Pali is excellent. All the mappers on the team know what they are doing, but the true highlights of the pack in terms of architectural quality and conceptual design are the contributions by Chicoverde, Hourences and MClane. Hourences creates some inspiring high-tech facilities, whilst Chicoverde takes us right back to Unreal with his excellent temple, The Lost Sanctuary of Kalish'ra. MClane's Nali ruins are designed to a very high standard. The first map by DavidM, Prisoned, is an example of the high quality we have come to expect from Münnich, and Atje's sky island maps are also worth a mention.
In all these cases, the texturing and lighting add greatly to the atmosphere. ONP was the pioneer of "realistic" outdoor lighting in single player level design, in which sunlight streams over the clifftops and casts shadows over the terrain and Nali structures below. By and large it is well done, although from time to time it doesn't work as well as it should (midday with the Nali Mountain Fighters, or the ugly shadows in Harobed Village in the intro). Within the maps, the temples are softly lit by torches and the bases have ample contrast (and, of course, small red lights).
But now for some more of the bad. DavidM has clearly exerted a high standard of quality control over other team members' maps, to ensure that they are up to scratch and render ONP a consistently impressive experience. However, for whatever reason, perhaps because they are "essential" to the plot, several much older maps by DavidM make it in at a late stage of the game, and I'm sorry to say that they stand out like a sore thumb. Not only that, but DavidM has the cheek to bring it deliberately to our attention, displaying promimently on the screen the message "The following maps show what my n00b crap looks like 0_o".
As a player who just wants to be immersed in the game, I could have done without that facetious message smacking me in the face. And, sadly, some of the maps that fall into that bracket are genuinely disappointing. The arrival at the new sections of Rrajigar Mines, which should have been a highlight of the game, feels like entering a mediocre UT deathmatch level, complete with cinder block textures from the UTTech series. On entering the mines proper, the theme doesn't really improve, as the new areas seem largely to be a compilation of meaningless rooms, and DavidM's retexturing job does very little for those elements of Cliff Blezinski's original Rrajigar maps that are included. It is largely the inclusion of these "noob" maps that prevents ONP from getting the tens in architecture, texturing and lighting that it might perhaps otherwise have deserved (the reduxxed versions of NyLeve's Falls and Vortex Rikers, on the other hand, are fantastic).
Conceptually most of the maps are decent (with some verging on "excellent" or "awesome"), but another popular complaint laid at ONP's door is the linearity of most of the experience - the maps lack the exploration that typified the best maps of Unreal such as Bluff Eversmoking - and there is a general lack of foreshadowing (apart from in and around the excellent volcano sequence, probably the conceptual, architectural and atmospheric highlight of the pack).
To tie up the loose ends of the build scores, sound design is usually to a high standard, with many maps making atmospheric use of pitch-altered ambient sounds, giving even Skaarj bases an eerie, moody quality. Toxeen's new music is immersive, even if some tracks lose their way towards the end; "Fight for Destiny", "Tyra" and "Intro" are particularly excellent tracks that the pack makes regular and effective use of. However, the sound design of the pack also undermines itself from time to time, with some maps decidedly lacking in ambient sounds and one map (by DrPest) making such schizofrenic and generally poor use of music as to lose its atmosphere almost completely.
Given the scope of the pack, one can't be too critical of a few bugs; but there are a few more HOMs than I would have liked, particularly in maps by Atje and Chicoverde, and the sidekick AI is dodgy (but better than in some games I have played). Overall the technical execution is resonable (subject to the application of the post-release patches - if you get stuck in the very first room of the very first map, then that's one thing you've forgotten to do!).
So, finally, the gameplay! Well, Operation Na Pali is a classic Unreal experience in terms of the level and type of opposition, featuring all the main Unreal creatures. The use of Unreal Tournament weapons, however, coupled with the colourful lighting of the maps, gives the pack a somewhat arcade-like feel that the original game lacked and was therefore better for. Suffice it to say that there aren't many moments for quiet reflection in ONP.
And how... because this pack is packed full of scripted sequences of every kind, from bombing runs by scout ships, collapsing architecture and pretty cool cinematics! There are also two maps in which you fly a scout ship yourself, and although the first one isn't that special, the second is really something. All this stuff gives the pack a pretty high score for Story Implementation even if the background story itself isn't much to conjure with (note that the aforementioned voice acting, in all its horror, takes the edge off the story scores).
To accompany the visual excitement of the pack, the maps provide ample Skaarj opposition to crunch and it certainly keeps things entertaining (there's always an exception, and this time it's Tonnberry's confusing and illegible Mercenary Base map). However, with hindsight, I think the team should have provided less ammo (I seldom if ever ran out for any weapon) to make the game a slower and less mindless experience. The provision of slightly more health would have compensated for this adjustment to the challenge.
SummaryGenerally excellent build quality let down by the inclusion of DavidM's older maps towards the end of the pack. Dramatic scripted scenes and enertaining gameplay let down by an excess of silly jokes and a lack of a throught-provoking storyline.
|BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.||88%||CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.||78%|
|ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.||9||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.||9||Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.||6|
|LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).||9||Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.||8|
|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.||8||Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.||9|
|Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.||9||Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.||8|
Final Verdict: Exceptional