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Map Title: Unreality Episode One: New Year Edition
I had played this pack before but, half-way through, lost any will to go on after encountering one frustrating sequence after another. Since there was a new version released that apparently fixed it up a bit I decided to see if things had changed much, they hadn't. However, I did see it through to the end this time and decided to review it, partially so nobody else had to suffer the crash course on awful gameplay shown here, but that's for later.
The build is surprising good considering the cast, the architecture throughout is pretty convincing, and the terrain throughout the pack shows good design and it is all textured convincingly. There's nothing particularly special about the lighting, but it's convincing enough and the cave areas make some good use of natural sources of light, on the other hand, certain areas suffer from making you walk through long areas of darkness and despite having an infinite light in the form of a flare it only lights an area around you, and, partially thanks to the dodgy mesh lighting, is pretty useless when you are being blasted by some bot or being chomped by a super-powered devilfish in a dark room. A few of the design choices seemed pretty odd and unconvincing, such as underwater lava (?), and your progression generally seemed kind of illogical, but that's more for the story. The build probably is one of the draws to see it through to the finish, trouble is, it's pretty much the ONLY draw.
There are a decent amount of ambient sounds throughout and they fit well, the music (including some new tracks) is generally pretty fitting, despite a few bad choices (like Isotoxin for lone battles). It does suffer from a lack of consistency though; some levels go through several changes of music throughout (generally action tracks) when a couple of consistent tracks would probably have fit far better. The biggest annoyance however is that the Human (and a couple of non-human) bots seem to constantly say "incoming!" and have no other taunts, which makes them even more irritating up close. Warlords also seemed to have random Xan taunts, which didn't fit in the slightest.
The new models are technically good looking, how they fit into gameplay is another matter...
Frankly, with the way everything comes together, using "repellent" to describe the gameplay is pretty generous. To put a little perspective on things, the first fight involves you being ambushed by a Flak Cannon-equipped enemy in a confined space with nothing but a Dispersion Pistol, and for the most part this ridiculous challenge doesn't change much throughout: even normal is basically the equivalent of a pack like Xidia on Unreal (actually, it's probably harder), don't even think about putting it up any higher unless you are a big fan of masochism. Throughout you are constantly assaulted by a random mish-mash of bot-type enemies with some (boosted) normal creatures thrown in (namely Spinners, Devilfish, Skaarj Warriors and Warlords), other than the previously mentioned uber-Devilfish-in-pitch-black-rooms and a ridiculous Warlord scenario the gameplay problems almost exclusively belong to the bots (which make up about 90% of the opposition). You start off being assaulted by Spider-like bots that come at you in hordes with a copious amount of Rippers and Flak Cannons and have a nasty habit of ambushing you, after a couple of levels you move on to Space Marines (from Warhammer I believe) that seem to use bullet based hitscan weapons a little more (suffice to say, expect to find plenty sporting Semi-Automatic Sniper Rifles) but keep the same habit of ambushing you, then things move on to more... wacky creatures. However, other than appearance they remain the same except for hitboxes (which are particularly dodgy on the shorter bots) and eventually their weapon loadout becomes more generic (basically using the most annoying weapons they can for the situation).
While some effort is shown with enemy placement with them spawning in after certain events the set pieces tend to invoke frustration rather than than fun, in particular a ridiculous section where you are ambushed on a tight ledge by a Warlord while being sniped at by turrets (with acid waiting below of course) you are presumably supposed to run, but even that is difficult with the annoying splash damage of the Warlord rockets. Though no other sequences are quite that unbalanced they still tend to give you almost no choice but to die until you work out where your enemies come from. Things do level out slightly later when the pack starts giving you liberal amounts of Semi-Automatic Sniper Rifle ammo, which due to its one shot kill ability AND decent firing speed becomes a mainstay melee and ranged weapon, however whenever I thought I might finally be getting a break some annoying assault or enemy quickly brought me down to earth (such as the super-tough Xan bots that take multiple auto rifle headshots and are loaded up on Flak Cannons half the time). There was the odd boss fight or two and funnily enough they were generally the fairest and most fun battles of pack, the exception being the final boss who was loaded out with an Instagib Rifle, however I can't really say he was that annoying to me as he could be knocked around pretty easily (which stuns him) and was basically just a case of loading until you got lucky, plus at that point I wasn't the slightest bit surprised to see an enemy with such an overpowered weapon. I don't even want to imagine it on unreal or even hard, but that applies to almost every battle in the pack which makes it kind of moot, it's pretty much par for course. In between the tedium gameplay generally involves hunting for switches hidden in strange locations like dark corners or about half a mile (literally) from the door in question. There is a puzzle or two that shows some small signs of sophistication, such as shooting a switch to let you get across a lava pit, however these are very badly signposted and almost had me going for UnrealED to work out what I had to do. There is also an annoying amount of backtracking in some areas; opening some shortcuts as you go could have fixed this (or simply not having switches so far from doors), but, of course, that would be being nice.
Story seems like it will be a strong point when you start off, with an intro (that is decent enough, despite the odd mistake such as "nalis") where you are told that you are a guard of the Nali's power source, which, of course, is stolen right away and becomes your main goal, beyond that, well, "falls apart" is an understatement. You have no translator and absolutely no story is given until the last couple of levels so you are strung along by nothing other than the path itself (which, due to the story, gives you absolutely nothing to aim for), therefore you do little other than stumble from one random location to the next. This would be just about ok, but the pack seems to do everything it can to make even this as nonsensical as possible. The pack gives the pretense of a serious atmosphere, but the first enemies you meet are far too cartoony to give this feeling, things feel a little more serious when you reach the Marines (even if they are from a different universe), but just when you think it at least somewhat makes sense you get attacked by Squirrel enemies called "Mr Nutz" that succeed in removing any pretense of the pack being serious. You then move in to more normal regions again with the odd Squirrel ambush among the Marines and "Xans", however, just when you yet again think the pack has established some sense of consistency in its weirdness you are ambushed by Nali Warcows (no, I'm not making this up!). The pack seems horribly confused in what it wants to be; it's sci-fi yet you have contempory weapons like the AK, it seems comedic yet you have serious enemies like the Marines and Spinners, the whole thing seems to be a juxtaposition of ill-fitting opposites. Even switches seem out of place (wooden levers that look ancient opening high-tech force fields). Your progression through the pack is pretty strange too, the whole first half of the pack apparently revolves around flooding the Caves area so you can reach a high area, this seems to involve accessing some underwater tomb (marked LENIN for some reason) which floods that area somehow. Despite having no motivation to do this returning to an earlier flooded area did at least give a feeling of progression and is part of why the pack even gets a 1 in story implementation at all. The second half descends into random wandering again, though the gritty base areas did feel a little more atmospheric than the earlier generic terrain (after I stopped trying to make sense of things).
The standout set piece is the tomb area I mentioned earlier, entering the area in a submarine, then draining it and walking back through areas you just watched before was pretty cool and the last few levels manage to pull off some interesting looking mixes of terrain and base areas and manage to be quite memorable looking if you don't force yourself to forget due to the torture of the gameplay, since it's consistently bad in that regard I can at least say it improves as you approach the end due to the more interesting settings.
I didn't see any HOMs or other BSP errors, and it generally seemed pretty sound technically, the only issue I had was that the end trigger of the penultimate level seemed a little dodgy (due to a cutscene). Be warned that the zip contains a new OpenGL file and Oldskool as well so make sure you don't extract them or have backups of your own to replace them.
To be honest, I'd recommend you run, there's no excuse for gameplay this awful, was this even playtested? The bot fights bring up every bad cliche of such battles and somehow make them 10x worse. Still, it might be worth playing on easy or god-mode so you can just enjoy the more interesting areas and set-pieces without being slaughtered by some annoying ambush or other. The author shows shows a lot of potential with the build, but based on the gameplay it would be nice if they tried it ingame first.
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