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Review: Strange World

Project Information

  • Title: Strange World
  • Author: David "DavidM" Münnich
  • Platform: Unreal
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 61%

Main Review

What Strange World was rich with was ideas.... Other packs may have used them better, but Strange World had them first

David M’s Strange World is a true-to-form classic that centers around a conflict between the Skaarj and the cybernetic Mercenaries. While the pack opens as a standard issue "Unreal pack" with a shipwrecked player who learns early on that he has to get off Na Pali, the recurring theme keeps the storyline going and prevents the game from just feeling like a fight through one Unreal environment after another. The design of the pack is certainly of its age and although Strange World keeps in check with the visual standard of Unreal (often falling below Unreal and RTNP in this regard), David M’s engaging gameplay and well used scripted events make up for most of the short comings.

Clocking in at around eight maps (pretty large for a small campaign), the game opens with a scripted movie that shows us shots of the Na Pali surface. Then a shuttle, which looks like a smaller version of the Vortex Rikers, crashes into the side of a ridge. Ash and Kurgan, two of your buddies, pile out and make a run for it…only to be cut down by a Skaarj warrior. It doesn’t take long before you assume control of your character and you soon learn that you awoke sometime after your friends, avoiding their fate. Right away you’ll find some weapons (including the Rifle) and after a brief hike you’ll be fighting creatures along your way.

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To put it bluntly, the first few minutes of gameplay seem pretty traditional as you progress in a Nagomi-styled terrain zone that eventually leads to some Nali huts. However, before long you’ll begin to see that Strange World has more to offer than the casual pack. As the game involves you deeper and deeper into a vicious turf war between the Skaarj and the Mercenaries, you’ll obtain some new weapons and utilize other new scripts included with the mod. For starters, this was one of the earliest packs to include usable turrets and there’s a particularly cool segment where you can carpet bomb Skaarj sentries with a barrage of rockets and grenades.

The story is driven very close to the way plot lines played out in Unreal and RTNP; You have a sense of what is happening at the start and the rest is filled in either through messages or by scripted events. Messages in Strange World are a bit on the poor side. There aren’t a lot of them for starters. The spelling and grammar are pretty weak, though the messages are understandable. What mainly keeps the story going is the sequences themselves. As the player, you are basically fighting through both sides of warring species as they carry out a sort of trench warfare with each other. And that’s exactly the best way to explain how the maps in Strange World are played. After the first few maps you begin to retread your steps as your path takes you in circles. The situation with the Skaarj and Mercs change as such and they exchange their occupation of certain areas as you find yourself doubling back and forth. This really gives off the feeling that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and that this whole war has nothing to do with you whatsoever, something that is often not the case with Unreal packs. Usually you are the center of attention, but with Strange World you really get the sense that events are happening all around you, oblivious of your existence amongst the mayhem. Still, that doesn’t stop the game’s main enemies from attacking you on sight, assuming they aren’t fighting each other first.

This is where Strange World really shines. The entire game takes place in and around the area of a few miles near the crash site, with the exception of the Sky Village segment. It’s similar to a section of RTNP where you go in a circle somewhere in the middle of the game, only with Strange World it is more drawn out. Day and Night is also a factor if you pay attention to the sky, a nice touch by David to really weigh the passage of time. At the center of all this, the conflict ensues. Prior to Strange World the rivalry between the Skaarj and the Mercs was really just suggested, barely even noted upon in both Unreal and its mission Pack RTNP. After Strange World, more and more packs seemed to follow suit with this pattern, which was expanded on in fuller detail with Operation Na Pali and continued in most major packs since (Déjà Vu and Seven Bullets for example). Now it is generally accepted canon and it has become expected when Mercs and Skaarj are involved in the same pack together.

Still, as consistent as the story is throughout the pack, there have been better plot lines in community SP packs and after eight maps on Na Pali it would seem that the entirety of your stay is intercepted by either hordes of Mercs or hordes of Skaarj (and their lackeys the Krall and some brutes toward the beginning). Besides those enemy types, there were a few rare pupae and manta sightings and a single Titan (whose appearance seems to come out of nowhere, in the tradition of Unreal’s Spire Valley and Trench). Otherwise, there are no other enemy types and the only other Na Pali creatures to appear are some dead Nali, some cows, and some rabbits. The plot simply intends to dwell on the whole turf war concept and doesn’t move beyond that. Never do you feel as if you are in peril. The pack plays like one big action-packed detour. You enter and exit the game with no real resolution, other than the personal satisfaction that comes with knowing you kicked a lot of alien ass. Towards the end the on screen messages begin to come from David himself, including things like a frame rate gag and a joke about the final enemy. Although humorous, it kind of takes you out of the game (nowhere near the caliber of ONP’s joke ridden plot line). The end is a little unorthodox and maybe a little anti-climactic (the toughest single enemy you cross paths with is the Titan at the end of the first map) but the end cutscene is refreshing.

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As for new weapons, which I should mention was something of a rarity at the time Strange World was released, there’s a rather Quake-esque Rail Gun and a missile launching weapon that fires controllable projectiles with a camera view in the style of UT’s redeemer. The guided rocket weapon, unlike the Rail Gun, doesn’t have its own model and David made the weird choice of using Unreal’s Bio Rifle as the gun to shoot these missiles. While it doesn’t make sense visually, the weapon is fun to use and some gameplay elements rely on your piloting skills. Unfortunately for those seeking a challenge, the new guns are way stronger than any of the other Unreal weapons, and throughout the course of the game you’ll get more ammo than you’ll ever need to use. The Railgun uses the same ammo as the ASMD, the same way the minigun uses the auto-mag ammo. So basically, once you have the Rail Gun and the minigun, the mag and ASMD become dead weights. The Railgun eats the shock core ammo at the same rate, but you can kill just about any normal enemy with two…maybe three instant beams of light. The slow moving alternate blast is even stronger at the same expenditure of ammo. This brings me to Strange World’s chief faults...

The combat is a tad on the easy side. Although there are moments where the fighting is too close for comfort, for the most part Strange World is considerably easier than Unreal and RTNP. The hardest parts lie with the some of the game’s puzzles, most specifically the crystal hunt in the Sky Village map. But overall, there is plenty of health, armor, and ammo within the eight maps to ensure you’re never much less than a walking army with great vital stats. After I nabbed my first super health I never needed to grab another health pack again.

Apart from combat the pack is a little crude at times with the level design, sometimes with some very visible BSP errors. There are also some gnarly bugs when you touch certain things. Specifically, there is a normal looking ladder in the Sky Village map (the center of the pack’s chief errors) that causes you to die instantly when touched the wrong way. This was the first moment I died in the pack and it scared the living shit out of me. Suddenly my character screamed and exploded and my mouse hit me in the eye. Ouch baby. There’s also a rock you can fall through and stuff like that, but that kind of junk is limited to the Sky Village map for the most part. The pack also suffers from texture problems for those using OpenGL with S3TC enabled. If you are one of those people, prepare for some ugly texture segments in places. Also, in some areas (most especially in the Skaarj areas) the lighting can be all over the place (clearly Strange World precedes the advent of David M’s lighting mastery, which was a style that single handedly changed how Unreal maps were lit forever). Some of these bugs convey an unpolished feel for the pack, and there were times when I was walking on eggshells hoping not to get caught in a BSP glitch.

Lastly, the sound useage was average to say the least. Nothing particularly good or bad. I will say that the music consisted of all Unreal tracks, sometimes the same song was played several times. More often than not, song segments were played for short, meaningless fights and sometimes the transition was a little rough.

Summary

For story that doesn’t amount to anything really epic in nature, for what it is…it’s interesting and fun. David relied on smart gameplay elements, new scripts, and an unconventional game path to sell this one. Playing this again, in 2007, it’s a bit nostalgic to see how this pack stands the test of time. Some standards have changed obviously, and Strange World manages to stand admirably. Playing this you get a real sense of where a lot of ONP was coming from. What Strange World lacked was real memorable moments, like those that can be found in Hexephet, Tower of Shrakith'a, Illhaven, and other classic map packs. What Strange World was rich with was ideas. Ideas that have managed to resurface over and over in other future packs all the way up to the present date. Other packs may have used them better, but Strange World had them first.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.60% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.62%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.6 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.6 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).6 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.6
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.5 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.7 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.5
Final Verdict: Fair
Score: 61%

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