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Review: Wanderer of Na Pali

Project Information

  • Title: Wanderer of Na Pali
  • Author: Unpunished
  • Platform: Unreal 227
  • Category: Large Campaign
  • Review Score: 39%

Main Review

A grand concept brought down by unbalanced gameplay

Wanderer of Na Pali is a recently released map pack that consists of 11 playable levels and a short ending. Unlike most multi-map endeavors these days, it uses only stock assets so the archive is quite small. The story - if you're lucky enough to find a translator, I had to summon one - is set some time after Unreal and, quite unusually, sees the Nali victorious in their attempt of freeing themselves from Skaarj occupation. The invading reptilians seem to have been beaten so badly that there's just a few isolated groups that have to be taken care of. As the player discovers, however, things are about to change since a certain Warlord has amassed quite an army and is prepared to reclaim the planet. And, perhaps due to an extreme case of bad luck, the player ends up right in the middle of this rekindled conflict.

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Who is the player, anyway? Judging from the title, they may be just another wanderer from a long list of human survivors that were forced to call the unhospitable planet their home. Corpses of others, killed by environmental hazards or the reinvading Skaarj, seem to confirm that as well. Other details are left for the players' imagination. All in all, it is the classic Unreal story of a marooned survivor - only implemented worse. The translator messages are scarce and reveal little about the world. Two new deities are introduced but their role is largely unexplored. There is one thing worth noticing though: this time around, the player gets to talk to the Nali. Some of them just deliver a casual smalltalk line, others direct you to your next destination. There is even an irritated native -- and rightfully so because he becomes displeased when the player has the nerve to enter his home uninvited. These small details give the illusion of an authentic world, reacting specifically to what you do just like the real equivalent outside the window.

This experience is hindered however by lack of non-hostile lifeforms that were abundant in the original game. Unpunished failed to replicate that feel: there is not a single rabbit or hawk, no fish schools. The only living beings - besides Nali - are all after you, all others seem to have gone extinct. And that's too bad since the jungle levels could use some of the flying or hopping critters, water reservoirs would feel more authentic with fish other than the big, hostile ones.

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The chance to observe these details in peace will not come often however. The game world, albeit not very large, is filled with LOTS of things to kill. There's titans, stone titans, various types of Skaarj as well as their brute and Krall henchmen. Apart from that, there's a wide array of pests: mantae, tentacles and devilfish. And, naturally, there's also the aforementioned Warlord whom you're pursuing like a true implacable man.

Unpunished did try to change the gameplay model a bit, by pitting the player against impossible to beat enemies (titans versus a Dispersion Pistol - RUN!), thus forcing them to flee and avoid the attackers like the plague, ofen facing close encounters, barely escaping alive. But that did come at a price. The author hasn't provided nearly enough ammo to kill everything that's charging you, often forcing the players to either circle around spamming Dispersion shots while praying "please God, don't let him hit me again..." or run away like a crazy ostrich, dying from a stray missile/Skaarj projectile/whatever. This often makes the pack an exercise in frustration.

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The gameworld is varied, that's for sure: the player begins the journey in a snow-clad mountain landscape, traverses a jungle, a cavern and an underground temple, finally ending up on a desert, complete with a mirage of an oasis that changes into a sand dune right before the player's eyes. While the texturing is most of the time proper as is the build (I've met only 3-4 situations worth criticizing, a broken skybox and invisible walls in the desert and odd texturing of one of the houses there), I can't help but be disappointed. The levels look plain. And dated. I wouldn't expect such simple architecture from a pack made in 2012 and requiring the feature-abundant 227 patch. Where are the emitters? Where are the static meshes? But even without them, this could've looked better. The lighting is primitive, save for the cavern area, where it's little above primitive. The construction also contributes for the WTF factor: the jungle is made from a series of wooden walls and round objects which probably were to be tree coronas. And at the same time we have disappearing oasis mirages, quite realistic - even if a bit empty - factory and very decent cavern construction. The visuals are varied -- but unfortunately, the cons outweigh the pros.

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The audio layer is equally uneven. Lack of almost any ambience makes the world seem lifeless. This is especially felt in the jungle. While the mountain and desert segments can be lifeless by nature, a tropical forest never stops its peculiar song of chirps, tweets and insectoidal trickling -- none of which is present here. There is a varied selection of songs including Return to Na Pali additions - so Unreal Gold patched to 227 is required to play! - but that doesn't make up for the ambience-lacking atmosphere even though the tracks mostly fit the places they're applied to.

Summary

The concept is grand, beyond the shadow of a doubt. A nameless journeyman that could be any single one of us embarks on a journey that takes them from one place to another and these are varied places which if made properly, would amaze. However the entire pack is brought down by omnipresent plainness, lackluster sound layer and most importantly: unbalanced gameplay. I played this on stock Unreal difficulty (renamed Very Hard for the 227 patch) and barely missed a shot and still I was often forced to spam Dispersion shots at two or three enemies at a time. People shouldn't be punished for selecting the highest difficulty level - it should be a challenge and not exercise in frustration. That, I think, is the most important factor. Players can be quite forgiving for low standards of visuals or soundtrack as long as the gaming experience rewards that with a balanced and interesting gameplay. It does not happen here and the pack suffers a lot due to that. Still, I'd recommend to play it at least once. Despite its drawbacks, it's clearly a labor of love, for both the classic that is the original Unreal as well as for the community that remains despite the passing of time.
Review Scores
BuildThe combined value representing the technical quality of the level's construction.34% CastThe combined value representing the imagination and reasoning behind the level's conceptualization and design.44%
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.3 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.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).3 Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.3
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.2 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.4 Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.3
Final Verdict: Below average
Score: 39%

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