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This is a review of "Part One" and is out of date. Please refer to the review of the full version for a more recent release.
Map Title: Nali Chronicles Part One
This pack is by the Nali Chronicles team, whose members can be found here. Although several mappers have contributed to the pack, only 4 or 5 have made the maps in this release (Eater contributing the most) but there are still 12 levels to go, and Ole did the Music and sound effects. Eater certainly seems very talented to have done the coding, modelling and textures while still contributing decent levels into the pack. It should be noted that although the maps are finished there will probably be some bugfixes and stuff in the forthcoming release.
Firstly, the packs main problem(s), you load the pack using a .bat file. In terms of finding it this isn't a problem, as if you can't you only have you own idiocy to blame seeing as it is mentioned in the readme, but it means you have to set up all your controls and stuff again. This wasn't much of a problem for me as all I needed to change were the strafe, duck, and jump buttons plus add the new keys for spells (which perfectly fit on the numpad). But people with more complex setups could have problems. Also, even though I had everything configured right OpenGL ran HORRIBLY no matter how much I messed with the advanced properties, so I had to play in horrible-looking and generally slower (this being the exception) D3D. luckily the architecture is good enough in most areas to make this not too much trouble. There is no quicksave key or quickload key which slows saving down a bit. All this configuring is the packs main problem. Most of this could be fixed by making it Oldskool compatible, although I'm not sure a pack with so much modding would work in it. Some may find the HUD too bulky, but I had NO troubles whatsoever with it, and you can set it to autofade anyway. The text is a very hard to read in high res though because of its squigly font, and an option to make it translucent would have been good. The text in coversation can also stay stuck down the bottom of the screen till you find another person to talk with no matter how many times you press the skip conversation/cutscene button (a nice addition, that button).
The intro shows the Skaarj landing on the Nali planet and causing destruction, and a Nali asks their prophet for advice. It then shows the destruction of the village the prophet was in and cuts to 200 years in the future, casting you as a young amateur Nali mage who starts with just a bit of Earth magic skill. Your village is soon destroyed and you are told by the elder (who soon dies) to leave via a secret entrance to the catacombs under your village. From then on you hope to get vengeance on the Skaarj, and as you get further you can literally make the Skaarj run away in fear from your arsenal of spells. The spells are mostly quite original; for instance, you can summon a pool with a squid in it at the enemy, or summon a tornado to suck the enemies into. Of course, you can still do basic things like just summon a few titan boulders to kill them with! The story progresses very well as you get further, with a talking nalirabbit (yes you read that right) providing conversation, and (essential) advice in areas of sparse Nali activity. You make rergular entries in your own diary, and another book works as the "translator". It seems to be set before Unreal itself, with the Nali not having knowledge of Humans or even Gasbags (they are an unknown creature when you meet them), plus they seem more warlike, even having their own weapons and some wear armoured leather vests.
The architecture is too simple in some areas of the pack but very detailed in others (namely the Moonspire). Generally though, even at its worst it is at least "functional" although there is a cube hallway or two every so often. Some of the Moonspire areas even actually made me go "wow". There are some good movers like a gong in a village level, and the outside of the Moonspire actually felt like a much better lit version of the white palace in Legacy, but with Titans. Perhaps some of the huge rooms could have used a bit more use other than just passing through them though. The texturing was well done in the levels and there were no blatant misalignments I noticed, and the spells were also textured very appropriately, with the mud spell having and very muddy look and the fear bolt spell being a big skull. Some of the shield spells blocked your vision a bit, making using them quite dangerous if you aren't careful. There are no reskinned monsters or anything yet, except for the armoured nali. I thought the skin of mages could look different (including the players) like they have different markings or something, it would have made your Nali feel a bit more unique when you use behindview. The skins of the weapons were also good, like the marks on the wheel of the Nali gun. Being a Nali also means you can jump higher (you seem to be able to anyway).
The lighting was generally good. There was no unsourced light, although a couple of levels like the tutorial could have been a bit more adventurous with lighting and the green lighting on the roof of the fortress in the "ghost island" level was a bit funky. There was an area or 2 that was too dark, although a new flashlight type item in the form of a lantern provides decent visibilty, and you get a (super-long-lasting) flashlight later too, plus your spells also light things up. There was a water cave in the "Dranoo Path and Village" level that was too dark though plus a hut in the starting village. A few people have reported they had quite a few lighting problems so you should be warned you may just in case.
The sound use was very good with appropriatly mixed sounds and pitch used to good effect. The way Nali "talk" making noises was a nice touch, and how you chant the spells as you do them (in Nali of course), and the sound spells made was nice like the noise when you hit stuff with the fear bolt spell. The new music was another excellent point in the map pack, all of the new tracks are excellent and fit well. Some of the existing music used is VERY suspect though, for instant "utend" is used in the beginning cutscene showing Nali being killed and tortured, and "utend" feels a bit too happy for that, although it gives a good "just starting" feel - and when your village is attacked "ending" from UT is used which doesn't fit AT ALL. The music suffers from the bug where if you load game it resets because this pack doesn't use oldskool, and Eaters levels don't have a default track set on them so it goes silent when you load game. The later levels have a default track though, and at least there are plenty of ambientsounds to listen to when it's silent.
The creatures are mainly "pests" like Mantas, Pupae, Tentacles and modified Slith (changed size). Luckily your spells deal with these well enough without them becoming too much of a nuisance and I presume the pests are just fodder to level up your spells for the later levels where tougher enemies will come - as such, the later stages are going to need some seriously tough fights to be a challenge for your spells and weapons. Some of the creature placement is very suspect like the pupae and flies that were underwater, The end even leaves things open for a mage vs mage fight which would be VERY cool if their magic AI was good enough and I can only hope there will be some in the finished pack! There is one part of the pack with literally about 8 Titans, you can face them 1-by-1 though and there aren't many packs where you can come out of a multi-Titan fight with no ammo drainage at all. There were maybe too many potions and stuff lying around though and the healing fruits, Skaarj stimpacks (healing items found in Skaarj areas) and shield spells gave MORE than enough health to finish it on Hellish (the replacement for Unreal difficulty), I didn't need to touch alchemy (mixing items for new ones) once in the whole pack, and there was lots of ammo even though you used spells about 85% of the time. As for the weapons themselves they seemed meaty enough and had good animation, especially on the Naligun, and all the guns had a use, even though they had no secondary fire (that was for spells, and you can shoot and spell cast the same time, like Clive Barker's Undying). The short sword looked more like a dagger though, and the hands holding the weapons looked too human; Nali hands look a bit more masculine and they could have been darker, although the markings on them were a good touch. Your spells level up FAR too quickly if there are 12 more levels to go in the pack-at the end of the levels I had ALL my spell books except light (because there are no offensive light spells) at level 4 (the max). This could be fixed with more spell levels or maybe catargories in each book (like more powerful spells in a book level up separatly). On the UnrealSP forums Hellscrag said there were too many items for 1 inventory and the inventory could be split into 3 catagories (useable items, potion ingredients and completed potions). I think this would be a lot better too. The levels themselves have some good non-linearity to them, especially in the early levels like the Temple of Gazra where sevral tasks need to be done and a few can be done in a any order.
The technical execution is the pack's main weakness because of the things I mentioned at the start about the .bat file and setting up. Also the trees had a tendancy to appear out of nowhere - I know you are a mage but dissapearing trees is a bit TOO Harry Potter ;) . There was only one blatant BSP hole I noticed although I had the odd glimpse or two of some in a couple of areas when I looked around - luckily, none of them seemed to be fatal and I never suddenly died or anything. I also got some strange performance decreases but I'll put this down to the fact I'm using D3D until I play the finished pack with hopefully working OpenGL. Also there is some ammo grouped together that is not even in this pack (Razorjack and quadbow ammo, the quadbow being a weapon later on). There was a boat that blocked the entrance to the Moonspire if you jumped off the wrong side, and in the moonspire there was a switch that resets if you get in the way (quite easy) and never moves again (both bugs making you trapped).
I believe this pack may become one of those "love it or hate it" packs with little middle ground, but if you don't like the first impressions then at least play till Dranoo Path and Village - you might start to like it by then! If alchemy and stuff confuses you then don't worry, you don't have to touch it anywhere in the pack if you don't want to. Nali Chronicles' style means you must at least try it, and the download is only 40mb-not bad for a pack that is practically a TC, even my 56k was happy!
Overall Score: 8
I think MMAN UGITU raises a lot of very valid points about the pack here, and after some discussion on the forums over the last few days this review covers a lot of the thoughts that people have had about this release. I don't really have a lot to add, except to say that even if its architecture and lighting aren't always up with the best, the pack's ingenuity and fluid gameplay easily rank Nali Chronicles as being among the "essential" list. I look forward to part two, when the adventure will be complete.
UnrealSP.Org does not offer a download of this superseded release.