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Review: SP2D

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User avatar Mister_Prophet
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Subject: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 28 Nov 2013, 02:00

New review, I might need second opinions on the scoring, though I am happy with my verdict
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SP2D is an oddly titled campaign for Unreal Tournment that merges the first person Unreal world we all know and love with a sidescrolling, 2D platformer. The project had a rocky development history common to ambitious projects. Members came and went, release windows delayed and at some points progress halted altogether. The original project leader, Kea, laid the foundation for the complex code required to make the project possible. Later, GTD-Carthage took control and with a handful of dedicated people brought the project to a release. The fingerprints from all these many hands are visible in every map. From talented people like Derdak2rot, UArchitect, EBD, Diamond, and others, SP2D is true testament of a group effort. Be sure to watch the flyby!

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Despite the new approach to gameplay, the story is familiar. The readme states that you are Andrew Collins, a peacekeeper on a mission to Na Pali. Ten playable levels plus intermissions grant considerable play time to what might, at first glance, seem like a gimmick project. It is not, I assure you, for this campaign has the depth of any of the other large campaigns hosted here at UnrealSP.Org and enjoyed by the masses. While the perspective and your method for attack has been changed, SP2D uses the same controls, inventory, and HUD we are all familiar with. Andrew's aim is guided by the mouse and is similar to what one might expect from your average Metroidvania or action 2D scroller. You run, jump, duck, and swim forwards and backwards through the ten levels, not always in linear fashion. Occassional changes in movement planes occur allowing you to move into or around the background, often guided by helpful red arrows. In other cases, interacting with a door along your path will access a new room. Enemies will attack with normal Unreal physics and animations, though the style in which you engage in combat has been changed. The crosshair is no longer bound to the center of the screen and will move with your mouse strokes, a laser-sighted glow helping you verify your target range. Additionally, you can even jump on your enemies heads to cause damage in Mario Brothers-esque fashion. Points will tick off every kill and calculate on your HUD using Oldskool's points marker, though they have little purpose other than bragging rights. A host of new material appears within the campaign, from new (mostly borrowed) music, sound effects, models, skins, and textures to heighten the player's impression of a 2D experience.

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The readme specifiies many level designers, though not every name popped up in the level infos. The notable mappers are Carthage, DerDak2rot, Kea, Mgo, and EBD, with additional level design help given by other members. The campaign starts and ends with its strongest levels, predominated by masterful level design by Carthage and DerDak2rot. These guys wiped the floors with our faces in Zephon and they do arguably comparable work here. The sucker punch levels are some Nali ruins that appear early and bleed seamlessly into an active mine, punctuated by astonishing backgrounds and traversable locations by Carthage, as well as the showdown levels in a high tech military facility admist a rainstorm. Particle effects, volumetric lighting, and other tricks of the trade make some of these locations truly dynamic and impressive to behold.

The Krall regulated Tarydium mine in particular is a masterpiece. The pings and pangs of the slave labor chiseling ore from the bedrock score the soundscape of an environment that feels dirty and used, but here we at last see the true reality of a Na Pali mine at work. This level and how it is crafted to use the campaign's best features make for the most memorable Unreal mine this player has experienced for this game yet. In the case of the human facility, the same approach to functional backgrounds that intersect the player's path is best represented in two jumping sequences that utilize energy grids. But the true moment of Zen for me was standing outside, where quite literally the best sky produced for a community campaign can be glimpsed during SP2D's climactic exodus.

The intermediate levels are perhaps older, I expect, and while well designed are less heavy on spectacle. As often is the case in larger campaigns with so many different level designers, some levels bloom more than others. I attribute this not only in terms of design quality but also on the approach. For instance, playing Carthage's levels I was left feeling that he, perhaps more than the other mappers, had a better understanding of the Metroidvania roots a project like this could have aspired too. His levels not only wow on a visual level but they seem built with better implemented mechanics, such as platforming puzzles, a more common use of the change in path dimensions, and non-linear level progression. His levels, with a couple joint designed with DerDak2rot, also feature the bulk the campaign's more interesting scripted events. That is not to speak ill of the other levels, as they are effective in providing a more familair Na Pali experience, albeit from a different point of view. Yet, some maps were simply weaker endeavors. While DerDak2rot provided the terrain to some of the intermediate levels, there was one I recall simply requiring me to walk forward as geography passed by in the background, occasionally forcing me to stop and shoot when a single enemy crossed my path.

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The story is presented mainly through text read from translator logs, blue font screen sentences, and overhead cues. Andrew muses (or speaks, it is not clear) throughout the adventure, his quips giving the player hints as well as also tying the player to the events that unfold. Logs are presented as both translated messages and spoken dialogue from NPCs. Several Nali and even humans appear to pass this dialogue and have interactive story moments. Early sequences detail well written material depicting cruelties inflicted on Nali by a force of Krall that serve as your primary antagonist for the beginning of the campaign. Later, the Skaarj take over as the main enemy and Andrew is tasked with liberating a Terran compound in the spirit of Xidia and Zephon. Boss fights appear at integral points, though personified villains simply appear as they come. This isn't the most richly inspired Unreal storyline, but most of what you will read is interesting, at times humorous, and worded in clever exposition. There are some flat logs to be gleaned towards the end when you are presented with some computer screens, though these are typically rare. A few logs in the middle are less interesting, sometimes awkwardly construed in a few fringe instances, but generally this is not the case. Most everything you read is dialogue or journal based. I did notice some logs popping over the borders of the trans window, but other notable campaigns have done this also. There might have been some log headings that were difficult to read and messages can sometimes be glitchy, requiring you to step back from the "message zone" to pop a window open.


Speaking of glitches, we may as well get to the negative stuff. It seems that whenever a project attempts new and interesting things that are not native to Unreal there is a high probability that bugs and other undesirable events may hinder the more ambitious stuff. Nali Chronicles comes to mind, and SP2D has its own hurtles to overcome. I mentioned the translator log window issue, and it will persist throughout the campaign. You can cope with it easily enough once you know how to get around it, though having a faulty translator promt within five seconds of playing will stop some players dead in their tracks. Considering how many messages actually make up the experience I imagine some players will tire of the story quickly, which is unfortunate. A key bind enables you to access doors and path entrances and while onscreen prompts do appear the transition is not always flawless. The was a moment after the first boss fight where I thought I was unable to leave the buildling I had entered. I had to back out of the game to eyeball a forum bug report to know that sometimes spamming the keybind at certain trigger points may be necessary. This was perhaps a case of me not trying all methods at my disposal before seeking reference rather than a situation that would normally require a patch or a quick implementation of cheats (which you are unable to do in SP2D), but the quirkiness in a couple of these trig zones ought to be addressed and prepared for.

In regards to the plane changes (usually directed by the helpful arrows I mentioned), the game prevents you from attacking or interacting with targets on a different plane. While this is fine for the most part, since enemies typically won't notice you until you move to the part of the foreground or background they occupy, some combat sequences are a little too close to the transition points. The player can't actually do anything until they finish moving to the new perspective, though enemies will notice you as you arrive to them. In some cases you transition right into combat with well armed enemies. This gripe is perhaps better suited as a gameplay concern and is noted in my scoring, though I mention it amongst bugs since it is an example of a new gameplay mechanic at odds with poorly thought out enemy placement. In other cases, the transition point is so small that the instant panic of trying to pull your trigger might make you go back to the previous perspective phase, as happened to me a couple of times. Not always so smooth. Also, some enemies (I only really noticed this with tentacles) might shoot at you while you are in a different plane then them and have no way to reciprocate.

In other instances of the game you have to jump to reorient the camera, which can be annoying during a platforming segment set inside a dark room where you can't see where the floor ends (there is a background sequence early in the game that caused me to fall to my demise since I couldn't see the gap I was walking into). In general, I could have done for better warnings at some sequences where the path boundary wasn't always so clear. In other fringe moments, some enemies would attack from way off camera before I had even seen them. But more common than anything else was the appearance of an enemy along my path that had its back to me. This happened a lot in the Krall segments and levels where I ran along a linear path with enemies stationed at different points. It seemed as if a lot of the time they would sense combat in a previous area and move to a position where I would get the drop on them. Unreal A.I. is either too quick or too easily alerted to unintended stimuli in SP2D. This happens a little too frequently I'm afraid and while the campaign is certainly fun regardless, the overall gameplay impressions I had suffer for it. Difficulty could smarten your enemies up, however...

Other things that can occur are cutscene glitches reverting the difficulty to medium if you are on a higher setting. Mid-way through the campaign there is a sequence where a cutscene leads you in to the next story arc. It is during this transition where I believe the glitch occurs and reverts the difficulty to medium. More fringe concerns are strange moments when an NPC or an enemy will spontaneousy gib out of a scripted event, though this only happened to me once (an early scene where a Nali goes through a portal and explodes was followed by a message from Andrew, indicating he might as well give it a shot too. I laughed pretty good there, swear to baby Jesus).

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For the most part this stuff is manageable, so long as you know what to do and remember your keybind. The difficulty reversal bug might annoy some, though I found the campaign more enjoyable on that setting. On the harder difficulties, enemy filtering is a bit bunk, reaction times can often be better but not to the balance of gameplay all the time, and some of the harder fights can really make the aforementioned bugs difficult to bear. Also, some level designers seemed to have the good graces to put thought into making structures that obscure the camera translucent, yet strangely most playable maps do not employ this tactic. Other weird but minor instances were things like a translator log found near a body implying that the recently deceased was in possession of a flak cannon, but on his persons I found a pulse gun instead. Later, I swore I read a dialogue directed at my player character calling him by a different last name than the one stipulated in the read me. Yet nothing actually breaks and the game is not in some way impassable due to some error, though some instances may make you think otherwise. The last battle is particularly tough, given that your chances of survival depend on what weapon you use. I would advise frequent saving and also that players get comfortable learning from their mistakes.

Overall, SP2D is different for Unreal players. The campaign starts strong, ends strong, and is worth the price of admission, bugs and hiccups be damned. The style should not dismiss the blockbuster experience of the final product, as it rates at the top for its highlights. No COOP might dismay some, but you can't always expect miracles. At its best, SP2D is one of the most creative campaigns available.


BUILD (50%)

CAST (50%)

Architecture 9 Conceptual Grandness 9
Texturing 9 Story Construction 8
Lighting 10 Story Implementation 8
Sound 9 Gameplay Awe 7
Technical Execution 7 Gameplay Balance 6

Rating=82%

Changes made 11/30
Last edited by Mister_Prophet on 14 Dec 2013, 07:33, edited 22 times in total.
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User avatar UBerserker
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Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 28 Nov 2013, 10:46

Oh so reviews can be posted here.
Ok since USP3 is going to take a lot of time I'm taking all my time with the Ehactora review.
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User avatar Mister_Prophet
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Location: Long Island, New York

Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 28 Nov 2013, 17:54

Any thoughts on this one UB or do you think it's good to go? I didn't know if I should have made more of a stink about the difficulty reset bug.
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User avatar Jigoku
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Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 28 Nov 2013, 20:12

I'm doing a review too, Prisons of the Unforchers, because I have nothing else to do.
Life sucks.

User avatar UBerserker
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Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 29 Nov 2013, 14:31

Mister_Prophet wrote:Any thoughts on this one UB or do you think it's good to go? I didn't know if I should have made more of a stink about the difficulty reset bug.


1. Found a typo in the 5th paragraph "For instance, playging Carthage's levels".

2. The glitches paragraph is too much of a long wall of text, you'd better separate it in two parts. Also "Nali Chronicles comes to mind, and 2DSP has its own hurtles to overcome." You meant SP2D or that was intentional?

3. Exclusively nitpicking here but I wouldn't really call SP2D a "Metroidvania"-style game, there's no proper free-roam. Or has it become the term for every space-themed 2D games now? :P

4. Difficulty bug should be mentioned and HOW, since it still happens to this day (i.e. Zenith) and is horribly overlooked. The last part of SP2D is very tame difficulty-wise when it comes to combat (you get Rocket Launchers, Skaarj already die so quickly in comparison to Krall and aren't that numerous) and the jump from Unreal difficulty to Medium difficulty is not subtle. I quickly realized something was up because prior to the bug I had to put some effort into fights but after that I was literally speedrunning through.
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User avatar ividyon
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Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 30 Nov 2013, 05:35

Sorry for coming around to reading this so late;

The first thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of spelling mistakes that could've been solved by a short run through a spell checker. I've corrected the mistakes and posted the corrected version on pastebin here:

http://pastebin.com/5kbVAtYv

Beyond that, I didn't actually notice any issues anymore! UB may be right with the Metroidvania and difficulty things. If difficulty and technical bugs are really notable and prevalent, SP2D may not deserve "above average" ratings in those departments. Remember that we're operating off a 1-10 scale, not an IGN 7-10 scale! 5 is the truly average.

I can really say it was an enjoyable read though, and it's always nice to have a positive, recommending tone for a project like this which just doesn't get enough attention. Good work!
UnrealSP.org webmaster & administrator

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User avatar Mister_Prophet
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Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 30 Nov 2013, 15:53

Thanks for the feedback guys! Some points you made...


UBerserker wrote:
1. Found a typo in the 5th paragraph "For instance, playging Carthage's levels".


Got it, thanks.

UBerserker wrote:
2. The glitches paragraph is too much of a long wall of text, you'd better separate it in two parts. Also "Nali Chronicles comes to mind, and 2DSP has its own hurtles to overcome." You meant SP2D or that was intentional?


Nope, but I got it. Thanks.

UBerserker wrote:
3. Exclusively nitpicking here but I wouldn't really call SP2D a "Metroidvania"-style game, there's no proper free-roam. Or has it become the term for every space-themed 2D games now? :P


I wouldn't either. I don't actually say that the campaign is Metroidvania, but rather that some styles employed by Carthage and the better maps draw inspirations from Metroidvania. I reworded one sentence to make this clearer.

UBerserker wrote:
4. Difficulty bug should be mentioned and HOW, since it still happens to this day (i.e. Zenith) and is horribly overlooked. The last part of SP2D is very tame difficulty-wise when it comes to combat (you get Rocket Launchers, Skaarj already die so quickly in comparison to Krall and aren't that numerous) and the jump from Unreal difficulty to Medium difficulty is not subtle. I quickly realized something was up because prior to the bug I had to put some effort into fights but after that I was literally speedrunning through.


See my experience was more or less progressive all the way through when I first played on medium, and when I replayed and noticed the spike when the glitch occurs. I will make a more direct point on this though.

Sana wrote:Sorry for coming around to reading this so late;

The first thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of spelling mistakes that could've been solved by a short run through a spell checker. I've corrected the mistakes and posted the corrected version on pastebin here:

http://pastebin.com/5kbVAtYv


I'll read pastebin but I'd rather make all the edits on the actual first post. Is there a way you can point direct errors my way like UB did so I can nab them in the title post?

Sana wrote:
Beyond that, I didn't actually notice any issues anymore! UB may be right with the Metroidvania and difficulty things. If difficulty and technical bugs are really notable and prevalent, SP2D may not deserve "above average" ratings in those departments. Remember that we're operating off a 1-10 scale, not an IGN 7-10 scale! 5 is the truly average.


I chose the scoring there mostly since other packs with issues comparable to these have been rated about the same, worse if the bugs are game breaking. In my experience the bugs fell more into the "needs to be finely combed in a few places" and not so much, "game breaking," as is what I would call some bugs that may pop up in Nali Chronicles or other examples. I also thought the unique style of gameplay warranted a better examination of the technical score, given that I had to apply reasoning that I could not apply to more traditional packs. We all know very well what is right, wrong, and technically playable in a standard Unreal adventure, but SP2D is the only campaign really like this. I'm also very lenient on the technical score in general and only really apply certain considerations to it if technique is truly interesting or truly flaed. My general rule of thumb is to start with a ten in every category and deduct based on my experiences. For the most part my experience was above average to really fun, the bugs sometimes being an annoyance but not game stoppers. Still, I can see in retrospect that 7 out of 10 might seem high, so I'm open to relooking at the scores if more people agree I'm off by a point or two.

Sana wrote:
I can really say it was an enjoyable read though, and it's always nice to have a positive, recommending tone for a project like this which just doesn't get enough attention. Good work!


Thanks :tup:

EDIT: I made the first major tweak. The bugs section of the review has most of my corrections and new notations. I did find a couple of spelling errors.

EDIT2: Score adjusted for technical. Needs feedback.
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Doublez-Down
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Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 16 Dec 2013, 16:39

Thanks for doing these MP. It's nice to have something to read while I pass the time at work!
I swear to god this forum isn't going to evaporate into ether within the next hour or so. - Bug Horse

User avatar Mister_Prophet
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Subject: Re: Review: SP2D

Post Posted: 17 Dec 2013, 06:01

Yep! I'll try to get some more done.
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