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Review: Tashara's Cove

Project Information

  • Title: Tashara's Cove
  • Author: Mike "Hellscrag" Wilberforce
  • Platform: Unreal Tournament
  • Category: Small Campaign
  • Review Score: 57%

Main Review

A casual Unreal experience that's solid from beginning to end

The great thing about Unreal single player is that, as a game, Unreal allows for an unlimited number of stories to be told from an unlimited number of perspectives. The mother game and its mission pack was all just one story that took place on a world called Na Pali. When Prisoner 849 broke the Na Pali atmosphere for the second time in Return to Na Pali, it was just the end of one chapter. Over the years various community mappers and mod teams have used Na Pali as a source for new chapters waiting to be told from other perspectives. Whether they were other marooned humans lost on an unusual alien world or other members of the turbulent population seeking sanctuary, freedom, or just a means to leave the planet... the fact remains that there has always been a basis for community maps about a character trapped on Na Pali. It's a rich dipping well and it has continued to be milked all the way into 2007. As long as enthusiasm for this game persists, so will the maps.

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Hellscrag's Tashara's Cove is such a story. It is one that is familiar and simple in its nature. You play as a Terran who has survived the crash landing of the ISV-Kran and after an unknown amount of time following the wreck has made his way to a modest stronghold known as Tashara's Cove. Aside from the fact that the readme suggests that your character is male, you are left with the Unreal-esque tradition of the unspoken, mysterious protagonist. Awakening in a cave after falling through a hole, you emerge from your haze injured and stripped of all your gear. You learn right away that the Nali who cared for you has been killed by a pupae and your meager supplies (a Translator and a plucky Dispersion Pistol) are all you have to fend with as you set out for the dangerous stronghold. This is about all you have to go on at the outset of the small pack and the story unfolds through the standard use of translator logs. Hellscrag does not deviate from this Unreal standard of story telling, but the progression of log entries is well written and keeps the mood persistent all the way to the closing cinematic. While the logs are solid, the tale itself is standard issue. You'll read logs from troubled Nali slaves who speak of their woes and wish for a savior and Skaarj lackeys doing their usual grunt work. It should be noted that Hellscrag does a nice job with certain enemy log entries that depict a faithful continuation of Krall frustration with their Skaarj captors, a trend that was started very carefully in latter Unreal maps and gradually intensified as more packs were made (even reaching a breaking point in some map packs, such as Déjà Vu - Gryphon Revisited). Otherwise, nothing terribly eventful or canon challenging takes place in Cove. Right off the bat you get the distinct impression you're just playing through another guy's attempt to get the hell of the planet.

And that's not a very difficult attempt. Tashara's Cove is not a hard pack to complete by any means, and your romp through interconnecting environments over a very small radius of locations will pit you against just under sixty easily beatable enemies. You'll take on Krall, Skaarj, and Slith as the main enemy populace along with the usual horde of annoying critters. The most dangerous moment is early in the game when you first emerge from your entry cave with Dispersion Pistol in hand as a few patrolling Krall catch your scent and move in for the kill. Taking on some Krall with a DP might not seem all that challenging for veterans, even with the low entry level health. In fact it isn't, since the Krall can easily be shot off the plank leading to the starting location only to die in the icy waters below. From there you just need to grab a few guns and health and you are ok to go. That's not to say Hellscrag doesn't try. The map set is wealthy with spawning and ambushing enemies that can take a surprise jab at you if you don't mind your surroundings... but overall this pack is very tame on combat and general difficulty. It can be beaten in about fifteen to twenty minutes if you take your time. Even though it is short, Hellscrag manages to stuff the entire Unreal arsenal in this one. This fact greatly increases the player's chances of making it out with full vital and armor stats. I would say that the whole weapon load may be a bit unnecessary for a pack this size. I didn't really need the Flak Cannon, Eightball, or Minigun and managed to get through it simply by relying on the lesser weapons. Some weapons, like the addition of the Rifle, were a little overly generous. I think the pack may have been more engaging from a combat perspective with weapon slots one through four as the main gun count with the Eightball being the big addition.

The best part of the pack is map progression. Speaking of intersecting locations earlier, that's what Tashara's Cove's game layout is all about. Taking a cue from RtNP's Nagomi Passage, Tashara's Cove will have you return to the entry stronghold after a visit to a Nali holy site I'll dub "Little Chizra". The temple bears the texture set and musical score of Unreal's early Nali structure and many of the water threats and section-by-section uncovering seem to be lifted directly from its predecessor. Conceptual Grandness is a high-point in Tashara's Cove. A barred perch seen from the first map is your destination in the temple and in a nice use of a backtracking layout has you leave the same way you came in only to arrive to a re-populated night time version of the first map. The final trek has you opening gates between passages in an exterior terrain zone with a final climax at a shuttle landing zone. Like I said, you really don't go a long distance in this pack and basically you're flipping switches to open a direct route to the shuttle. Still, there manages to be a couple of "leader" type fights, even if they are a little relaxed. Little Chizra's biggest fight is against a strangely placed Ice Skaarj (the stock version, not the big blue bastard from Unreal's The Darkening) and a good amount of enemies spawn in areas you have to backtrack to. The spawning baddies are the one part of a pack that is peculiar when compared to an otherwise admirable use of enemy placement. Some of them can make you ask "How? From where?" and the most obvious example is the sudden appearance of a Titan in an area that lacks any feasible explanation as to how the hell he got there. His presence is very reminiscent of the Titan fights in Spire Village where you can easily use Nali huts to keep the big guy away while at the same time thinking "how the hell did he get in here?"

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Level design is sufficient with no area being awe inspiring or overly simplistic. The weakest link in this area is the terrain segments, most directly the entry cave and the exterior canyons. They aren't primitives, mind you, but they might be a tad under the quality of Unreal's rocks and the texture misalignments really stand out in some areas. Other structures are put together in true-to-form Unreal fashion and are on par with Dasa Pass in structural design. Nothing really looks ugly, but nothing is memorable. It's generic Unreal fare all around and it serves its purpose. Sound usage is acceptable. Water flows, fire burns, and wind blows. Several Unreal music tracks are used as per usual with no custom content to make anything stand out.

Summary

Overall, Tashara's Cove is an enjoyable romp through familiar Na Pali territory with a predictable motivating plot and ending. It's a relaxed experience without the threat of any true difficulty. At the very least the conceptually grand passage of movement makes the pack stand out and on this basis alone deserves to be played. It may have been over quickly and it may not offer anything terribly exciting or new, but it's a casual Unreal experience that's solid from beginning to end.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.58% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.56%
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.5 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).5 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.5
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.6 Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.5
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: Above average
Score: 57%

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