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Operation Na Pali Map by Map Critique

Unreal Tournament single player mod Operation Na Pali has had many reviews, most of them praising it greatly, but as far as I know none of them have gone in depth on each map in the pack. This is not an overall review of the mod - that can be found here - but instead a critique of each map in the pack; what's good about it, and what lets it down. Plus, of course, purty pictures. Each map is awarded an arbitrary "star" rating - five stars for the very best maps in the pack, and one star for the maps that were the most disappointing. You can download Operation Na Pali from Team Vortex. Beware that this document contains spoilers!


Operation Na Pali - NPEntry
By Daniel "MClane" Pflugbeil

Before we get down to reviewing the maps proper, Operation Na Pali provides us with a nice flyby map that can be substituted for the standard Unreal Tournament city intro. The map is MClane's work, and so takes place in a typically atmospheric Nali setting. There's a waterfall, some trees and rocks, a stone structure plus some native animal life and a few fireflies. The backing for this setting is the mystical sounding track NP-linp.umx (Lost in Na Pali), making its only appearance in the mod. With moody lighting and ambient sounds, this map does all that a flyby map could be asked to do.


Operation Na Pali Tutorial - NPTut
By David "DavidM" Münnich and Usaar33

It's very handy that this mod includes the Operation Na Pali Tutorial as part of the package. It serves not only to introduce single player gameplay to those who have not yet experienced it, but also to enable seasoned players of Unreal to discover the new concepts and things ONP does differently from the original game. And the tutorial itself is decent enough - everything is covered. However, I felt that a lot more effort could have gone into the actual design of DavidM's tutorial arena. It's functional and serves its purpose, but lacks inspiration. Music in the form of the mysterious Unreal4.umx doesn't detract from the setting, but does little to enhance it.


Operation Na Pali Intro - NP01eVOLVE
By James 'eVOLVE' Hamer-Morton and DavidM

The story of this pack is introduced via the fully cinematic Operation Na Pali Intro, scripted by eVOLVE and built out of original Unreal locales with modifications made by DavidM. The Nali Castle and Sunspire locales are well represented by the new texturing and lighting teqhniques, but Harobed Village's appearance is impacted by some really horrible shadows that have been introduced in the re-lighting job.
For the protagonist's space ship, we have a basic but serviceable ship exterior, and a ship's bridge made out of architecture from Gateway.unr in Unreal. The lighting in this area is pretty yukky. However, what I thought really let the space sequences down was the dreadful space "skybox", which was basically a star-textured tube with no planets, larger stars, nebulas or moons to be seen.
However, the action, narrative and dialogue are decently implemented thanks to eVOLVE's efforts. The opening planet scenes, despite the problems with Harobed Village, are atmospheric thanks to the new and improved skyboxes and use of the excellent NP-ty.umx (Tyra) for backing as opposed to the equally atmospheric but less suitable NPintr8b.umx (presumably originally written as the intro).
Sadly let down by several issues that would have easily been fixed with a bit more effort.





Prisoned - NP02DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich

The gameplay proper starts with Prisoned, in which you wake up unarmed and badly injured in a cell somewhere in a Skaarj base. The workings of the installation hum all around you, and the only creature to keep you company is the prison guard, strolling past your cell.
This map by DavidM is one of the best in the pack, and gets things off to a first-class start. After a quick entry into your log, you begin searching for a way out - and fail, until a Mercenary breaks its way out of an adjacent cell and sets you free, running off with the prison guard in hot pursuit.
This map is so thick with weird and wonderful ambient sounds that it barely needs music - and, appropriately, has none except for a brief moment in which you discover the dismembered carcass of the prison guard, to the accompaniment of Crater.umx's short, mysterious song section 2 (a good choice for the map).
Architecture and lighting are typical strong metal DavidM fare, but what really completes the map is the level of sonorance mentioned above, and such little details as the Brutes suspended in tanks of goo with bubbles streaming from their mouths. The map puts the frighteners on you at regular intervals via clever scripted scenes and set pieces (such as the unexpected visit to a dark cave full of Pupae).
Gameplay is tough, but not impossible - you soon pick up some health and basic weapon supplies.





Escape from Skaarj Base - NP03Atje
By Arjan "Evil Atje" Vroegop and DavidM

Escape from Skaarj Base is a short map that sees the player piloting a Skaarj shuttle through a fairly linear series of canyons towards its ultimate destination, which is the next map. On the way, he passes a variety of Nali structures including houses and a small fortress above a lake.
It's a nice idea, but the geometry of this map is quite obviously built to small scale and thus the place doesn't feel "real" enough when passing through it. I would personally have preferred to explore a full-scaled version of this locale on foot than have passed through it at high speed.
The visuals of the map are decent despite the scale trickery, and there's an atmosphere of sorts, but the map has no music. Maybe a simple UT track like Run.umx would have added to the urgency (I think this was the approach used in the older ship map in the ONP demo, which I liked, but was eventually junked).



The Betrayer's Path - NP04Hyperion
By Emil "Hyperion" Attlid, DavidM and Tonnberry

The Betrayer's Path is another of my favourite maps in ONP, not because it is particularly awesome in design, but because it evokes more of the classic Unreal feeling than many of the other maps in the pack. After crashing the Skaarj shuttle, the player stumbles out into a high-sided canyon with a view down over a small Nali village below. As he follows the trail and learns of the deceit of one of the Nali villages, the player arrives in a larger town that has been subdued by the Skaarj.
This map was originally designed by HyperioN to be a nighttime setting as seen in the demo, but DavidM and Tonnberry have done a commendable job of turning it into an early morning map with the new ONP outdoor lighting style - they also added a few details of broken buildings.
Besides the classic styled design, one of the factors contributing to the map's classic Unreal feel is the use of the sadenning Spire.umx as the map's initial accompaniment. In due course, as the player reaches the larger town, this gives way to the foreboding Wargate.umx (the action section 1 comes first and plays at the wrong speed, but this soon sorts itself out on transition to section 0).
Solid gameplay throughout with a tough group of Krall at the start and a hard fight against an evil Nali at the end being the only combats that stand out as particularly difficult. Thankfully, you get your Pulse Gun on this map.





Gore Mine Crossing Entrance - NP05Heiko
By Heiko Dreyer and DavidM

Gore Mine Crossing Entrance is a classic Unreal "Hub" level, serving as a small linker between the maps to either side of it (much like Sacred Passage in the original game). This map connects the Nali town of the previous effort with the large mining facility of the next map, and thus consists of a small outdoor area and a set of mining bunkers and underground passages. Right down to the use of Twilight.umx, this map is very conventional in theme.
However, architecture is decent with plenty to be seen in the outdoor areas. Exploring the map, the player will come across a couple of dead Mercenaries as a further indication of the role they will have to play later in the game.
Gameplay is straightforward throughout, and the Flak Cannon and Rocket Launcher are welcome additions to the player's arsenal.


Gore Mine Crossing - NP06Heiko
By Heiko Dreyer and DavidM

Gore Mine Crossing is one of the more disappointing maps in ONP. It didn't seem so bad in the demo, but whether this is due to the quality of the maps surrounding it or whether it's due to the changes made to it for this release, I am not sure.
The map started out as a concept by DavidM, which was then translated to a map by Heiko Dreyer. As seen in the demo, it was a conventional outdoor and mines Unreal map set on a series of wide ledges descending a deep valley. It was lit in the conventional style with a fairly even light level, which is far more suited to a map of such vertical design than ONP's new lighting approach later added by DavidM (which really isn't done well in this map). There are ugly shadows everywhere, especially on the top level, and a plethora of annoying small glitches.
The original atmosphere of the map remains to a certain degree. There are a few ambient sounds and some nice scripted scenes with flying ships. There is music; Neve.umx is used to accompany the outdoor areas of the map with its bright and bouncy sound, while combats introduce the action section of Twilight.umx for a matching fight theme. However, I don't think that the changes made by DavidM to bring the map into line with the others in the pack did Heiko's work any favours.





Skaarj Outpost - NP07Hourences
By Sjoerd "Hourences" De Jong

Mapping immediately moves up a gear with Skaarj Outpost Part One, which originally appeared in Team Phalanx's Xidia as Derelict Underground, and, along with the map that follows it, is a showcase for exemplary architectural level design. The structures are spacious and grandiose, with plenty of detail. Even the smallest corridor is carefully detailed and curved.
For texturing, Hourences has used heavy metal textures like those of Skaarj.utx and Richrig.utx to great effect. The maps are lit with great effect, and the ambient sound effects are all pitch-manipulated to make them sound completely new. The picture is completed by the music. In the opening area, a spacious cave with rocks, pools, dangling vines and fireflies is accompanied by the quietly sinister Fifth.umx, which then gives way to the debut appearance of NP-inside.umx, a quiet track along the lines of Opal.umx (but a lot longer and more complex).
This map was designed for Xidia, and thus doesn't entirely fit in on the classic Unreal world, but it's sufficiently spectacular that nobody is really going to complain. Also, a lot like in Xidia, combat is pretty sparse - but it's worth it for the atmosphere.





Skaarj Outpost - NP08Hourences
By Sjoerd "Hourences" De Jong

Skaarj Outpost Part Two neatly completes the setting introduced in the previous map, also coming from Xidia, in which it was named Derelict Surface. As such, you work your way through this spectacular outpost until you see the sky above you. Activating a lift, you rise to a corridor that has just been destroyed by a late lone Mercenary and is in flames.
This map is really just a continuation of the previous one, and many of the same comments apply, as does the score. For continuity, this map is also accompanied by NP-inside.umx, with no other tracks playing from start to finish.
A great pair of maps.


Lil' Spire - NP09Silver
By Silver Serpent, Tonnberry and DavidM

Lil' Spire is a fairly linear map set mostly outdoors and in caves. Escaping the Skaarj Outpost, you traverse a valley past the eponymous rock, then entering a series of ruined sacred Nali structures of some kind that last for the duration of the map.
The natural geometry of this map by Silver Serpent is pretty good, and the old stone structures have a good sense of scale. It is in this map that we first see the strange tarydium "spikes" that appear periodically in this pack, and this design is introduced via a cut scene - wherein the music, absent until this point, begins with the great track NP-FOD.umx (Fight for Destiny), providing a good beat to explore the rest of the map to.
This map is pretty classic Unreal in design and is fun to run through, although there are a few too many cut scenes. Lighting is imperfect, but given how the lighting looked from early screenshots of this map, DavidM's lighting alterations have still in this case dramatically improved things.
Gameplay is average. As mentioned above, the cut scenes interrupt things a few to many times, and this impedes the natural flow of the map.
This is an average map. There's nothing particularly exciting about it, but it's not boring either.





Entering the Mercenary Base - NP10Tonnberry
By Paul "Tonnberry" Fahss

Entering the Mercenary Base is another "Hub" style linking map, but I felt this one could have used more thought. In it, the player navigates a twisting, empty canyon and steps out into a large, open plain occupied by a sprawling Mercenary base. There are some nice touches; various windows look in on the rooms within (which are part of the next map), and the Mercenaries looking back out gesture at you in response to your attention. However, nice touches aside, some more basic design was needed.
The winding canyon in which the player begins is too long to be empty except for Nali rabbits. This canyon would have been a lot more interesting if it had contained a few plants and rocks scattered about. The plain itself is okay, but the outside of the Mercenary base is too uniform - some light gantries or other details would have been appreciated from certain angles.
Technically, though, the map is solid, and lighting has been done decently in the ONP style. There are a few ambient sounds, and the player's arrival in the plain is accompanied by Surface.umx to give the location a greater sense of expansiveness. Unfortunately, it doesn't really fit with the map.
This map is okay, but it's a little under-designed. Something that is at least remedied in part by the map that follows. At the end of the map, the player gains entry to the Mercenary base, which is clearly more interesting on the inside.





NP10 Cutscene - NP10inter
By Paul "Tonnberry" Fahss and DavidM

NP10 Cutscene links the maps to either side with the commencement of a Skaarj attack on the Mercenary base - needless to say, the player finds himself in the thick of it. There's not a lot to say about this map, and thus it's exempt from rating.


Mercenary Base - NP11Tonnberry
By Paul "Tonnberry" Fahss

In Mercenary Base, you explore a friendly Mercenary outpost as it is repeatedly attacked by parties of Skaarj. Helping the Mercenaries to fight off their opponents, you must find the entrance to a tunnel that heads to a Skaarj outpost through the mountains.
The map is set mostly within the base, but also includes the entire outdoor area of the previous level, and you must traverse this outdoor are again before you can leave the map. As it is a Mercenary base, one would expect its interior to be decorated with the DecayedS texture set, but instead, Tonnberry has used a new set of textures for the task and it's a vast improvement. However, this texture set seems to be limited, as most walls are decorated with the same light grey ribbed effect.
Architecture could have ended up dull as the floorplan is mainly right-angles, but Tonnberry provided plenty of interestingly shaped corridor gantries and details to make things more interesting, along with a few interesting custom light fixtures. The lighting that these fixtures prodice is well done too, giving the base a very bright, colourful and clean feel. There are ample scripted attack sequences to keep you busy, and the whole game is accompanied by the bombastic K_vision.umx. For some reason, the song sections are used the "wrong way round", with section 1 for ambient and section 0 for combat. I would have preferred the more diverse section 0 for ambient music.
However, where the map really lets itself down is in the navigation. This base has a very confusing up and down, round and about layout. You are often so busy pursuing attacking groups of Skaarj that you don't learn the layout very effectively - this isn't helped by at least three identical looking lift rooms that you must visit. Had there been a little more distinction between these areas, navigation might have been easier. But unfortunately, as you complete various objectives and things open up elsewhere in the map, finding them again can be a problem - particularly when you go outside again. If you leave by the wrong exit, it takes forever to reach your goal.
From a mapping perspective, very good, but can be annoying for a first time player.








Ride with Me - NP12Tonnberry
By Paul "Tonnberry" Fahss

Ride with Me is my favourite of Tonnberry's maps for ONP, since it features the stronger design of Mercenary Base mised with the simpler flow of the previous map. In this map, the player leaves the Mercenary Base and explores its outlying areas, hitching a very fast train ride and then escaping into a canyon after deactivating a laser fence. This map is another typical "Hub" map, linking the Mercenary setting of the previous map with the Skaarj setting of the next.
Natural architecture is pretty good and while parts of the canyons are again under-designed, there are more interesting areas later in the map. The one area I thought wasn't so good was the area of the second lift, in which the lighting was a bit yucky (this long lift ride through a canyon plays out as a slightly shaky cut scene with Skaarj bombers). Gameplay is fairly tame for most of the map, with a few tougher Skaarj battles at the end of the map to give a sense of entering hostile territory.


Sharuk Crossing - NP13DrPest
By Jannis "DrPest" Borgers and DavidM With Sharuk Crossing, DrPest shows himself as an imaginative and skilled mapper. But there are a few key issues that really let the show down. In this map, the player enters a Skaarj installation and learns of the "Sharuk assimilation project" by which the Skaarj are producing their "Evil Nali" fighters. However, access to this project is denied, so the player leaves by an alternate exit in the direction of Thra Fortress.
This map has a mixture of very well done natural and Skaarj architecture. The texturing is good, as is the lighting, and there are stacks of ambient sounds accompanying the level, as well as a good balance of combat. If this were all there was to say, the map would get four or five stars, however, other things must be taken into consideration.
Someone along the line is inexperienced. At the beginning of the map, several large loops of cable are suspended from a girder - these are provided by a masked texture. However, although the surface has been set as masked, the texture was not itself imported as masked. This means that on certain renderers, such as OpenGL, the surface does not appear masked at all and there are two huge black sheets destroying the visuals of the first area.
The second issue, and most serious, is the music - the music track chances far too often to achieve any kind of atmosphere and themic consistency: As the player enters the map, we get a brief stint from NPresurrect.umx (its only appearance in the mod) as the theme for the first battle, but on going up a lift it changes at once to the totally different sound of Vortex.umx. Going through a door, it changes to NP-intruder.umx for the next room, then switches to the totally unsuitable Seti.umx (which stops and starts again half way through its run). We stick with Seti for a while, before going back to the conflicting NP-intruder (of which one pattern is triggered repeatedly) for the next big fight. We return to Seti for duration, until near the end we have a random spell of NP-ty.umx for good measure.
These music errors unfortunately rob the map of a lot of its credibility. If DrPest had stayed with NPResurrect, perhaps giving way to silence eventually, the map would have felt a lot more cohesive.








Thra Fortress - NP14MClaneDrPest
By Daniel "MClane" Pflugbeil and DrPest

Thra Fortress is a joint effort by MClane and DrPest, and shows the best sides of both mappers. Leaving the Skaarj installation, the player descends a valley and arrives at an old stone fortress where he is ambushed by Skaarj. Once he gets inside the fortress, it leads him back into the Sharuk assimilation project labs though an alternate route, and the rest of the map plays out therein.
Both mappers' parts of the map are designed very well in terms of architecture, texturing and lighting, with the Sharuk area featuring all the strengths but none of the weaknesses of the previous map. In the fortress, small aspects of the high-tech area are apparent before the he reaches it - and the observant player standing outside the fortress may see in the distance the volcano which he will eventually reach (explaining the lava river running in front of the castle). Sound is very atmospherically done, with plenty of pitch-modified sounds, especially in the Sharuk labs.
Music changes quite often here too, but in this map it works. Things are silent at first, but as the player reaches the castle and the Skaarj attack craft descends, we get a unique appearance by NP-cg.umx (Castle Gate) for the duration of combat. Later, after a musicless spell, the fight with the first evil Nali is accompanied by NP-intruder.umx, which gives way to the regretful and mysterious sound of NPintr8b.umx for the navigation of some nasty lasers in a room full of steam. There is another interlude of silence, then once the player is within the base, we get a return of the quiet NP-inside.umx until the final battle against the levil's boss, accompanied by a slightly dubious but acceptable choice of Isotoxin.umx.
So, a very solid and atmospheric map with music transitions that work and a lack of any noticeable errors.





The Lost Sanctuary of Kalishr'a - NP15Chico
By Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort

The Lost Sanctuary of Kalishr'a is a classic El Chicoverde temple map, using Unreal's Ancient.utx to great effect as he always does. The temple spans two maps, of which this is the first. With both, the temple interiors are spacious in design with Chico's typical "broken down" architecture. There's a reason for it this time, though - lava from the nearby volcano is undermining the temple, causing it to collapse in several places.
Lighting is sourced with cold yellow torches indoors, and of course DavidM's new lighting style on the outside highlighting the tall exterior structures of this crumbling temple. Sound is pretty atmospherically done, with decent ambient sounds and consistent use of UTemple.umx (ocasionally giving way to its own action section). There is one bug - after some fights it comes back in on the wrong pattern of the ambient song with temporarily cacophonous results - but it's not a major issue. Gameplay is solid, with Skaarj and Krall all happily together in the mix providing a decent level of challenge - Skaarj are often found in advantageous positions, but not with overpowering weapons.
There is one irritating issue - a few BSP errors mean that all torch flames wink out from certain viewing angles. This alone is enough to stop the map getting five stars, but it's overall a very good level.





The Lost Sanctuary of Kalishr'a - NP16Chico
By Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort and DavidM

The Lost Sanctuary of Kalishr'a Part 2 starts off in the courtyards of the temple and heads out towards the structure's more outlying areas as the player approaches the Dagopa Mountain Pass. It's essentially the second half of the same map, and many of the comments above still apply - including the torch flames, which are still winking out (some can never be seen at all). This time, the choice of music is Fourth.umx, starting out in action mode for an ambush, but after another period of silence later being replaced by the good ambient section.
Gameplay continues to be solid, with lots of scripted scenes with collapsing geometry and Skaarj attacks keeping things tense.


Nali Mountain Fighters - NP17Chico
By Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort and DavidM

Nali Mountain Fighters begins what is essentially another two-map level, although this time round the second level is somewhat different. In this first map, the setting seems to be midday, with the sunlight coming over the cliffs at its strongest while the player traverses the Dagopa Mountain Pass. The ruins and caves in this area are the home of the Nali mountain fighters, and the player finds himself aiding them as they are attacked by wave after wave of Skaarj.
Set at least 80% in natural settings of canyons and caves, this map is strong in many ways but has a few issues that weaken it. Architecture is convincingly natural, but the outdoor lighting applied by DavidM isn't always at its best, seeming sometimes on the ugly side. There are a few technical glitches as well, which is probably to be expected from an ambitious map like this using the old Unreal engine. On the texturing front, most of the map is done in the standard ONP natural textures, but where there are Nali ruins we see a new texture set that looks reasonable except for the black "windows" that pervade many of the structures.
This map is actually as much of an interactive movie as a map. Action is repeatedly interrupted by cutscenes in which the player reaches more scenes of Nale / Skaarj combat. Unfortunately, the music changes for each of these major cutscenes and the mix doesn't always work; the map begins with Spire.umx section 0 but gives way immediately to Newmca16.umx for the first combat scene round the next corner. After that part of the map is resolved, we go to Spire section 1 for a while, until a cut scene switches to Fifth.umx section 1, until the map concludes with Spire section 2. This creates a few too many contrasting phases - if Chico had stuck with the three sections of Spire, for example, a more consistent atmosphere would have been created.





Nali Mountain Fighters - NP18Chico
By Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort and DavidM

Nali Mountain Fighters Part 2 differs from its parent map in that much of it takes place within a kind of citadel at the heart of the Dagopa Mountain Pass. As the player traverses this area, he must lead his gang of Nali through traps, Skaarj attacks and Mercenary bombing raids. Eventually, the map passes back into natural areas.
These ruins use the same Nali texture set as the previous map did to good effect, but the textures are sometimes over-stretched, and the black windows are still unsightly. Lighting remains inconsistent, with a few pretty ugly shadows. Music still changes a lot but is more reasonable this time round; an opening of Spire.umx section 1 gives way to NP-intruder.umx, which lasts for the duration of the citadel. On leaving the citadel, Fifth.umx plays out until Mission.umx accompanies the final Titan fight. Overall, the changing music is not destructive to the map.
Probably a more consistent map than Part 1, with some taxing gameplay to keep it interesting.


The Volcano - NP19Part1Chico
By Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort

The three-map suite that is NP19 is the game's most consistently good stretch of three maps. It opens with The Volcano, which is an imposing map with great sense of foreboding and some seriously sinister ambient sounds, as well as a couple of good cut scenes to enhance the location. In this map, the player arrives at the volcano he saw back at Thra Fortress, and finds that even in such an inhospitable location the Skaarj can still establish an outpost (which he will enter at the end of the map).
Architecture is very strong, with a high-sided canyon dominating the player as he heads towards the outpost, and the volcano looming at one end. Towards the outpost, the Skaarj base is built imaginatively around an interesting terrain with plenty to see and do, and nice details such as pipes gushing lava. Lighting is more subtle than many of the outdoor locales in ONP and it enhances the map.
Sounds I have already mentioned. Music is consistent too, with the sinister presence of Wargate staying strong until it subsides in favour of the ambient sounds at the Skaarj base. Gameplay is slow but with challenging moments to keep the player on his toes. Overall, a great map with few causes for complaint.





Inside the Outpost - NP19Part2Chico
By Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort

Inside the Outpost is another of ONP's best high-tech maps. Continuing the theme of imposing locales dominated by their exotic ambient sounds, this facility seems to be a Pupae breeding and hatching facility that takes advantage of the volcano's natural heat and energy to supply its power.
Architecture, texturing and lighting are great, with large corridors festooned with a kind of webbing that shields the Pupae hatching area. The area itself is a huge underground cave that the player rides through on a lift, although there's also another smaller area much like the one seen in Prisoned.
Audibly, the sounds are key, but there are bursts of music too - as the player is shut in a depressurising chamber, we have NP-intruder.umx to give it a sense of urgency. UT's Seeker.umx keeps things going for a while later, until the arrival in the big cave is signified by the mysterious Unreal4.umx. Thereafter we have silence on the music front, until UT's Course.umx fades in as the player searches for an escape shuttle (foreshadowing the next map).
Gameplay is balanced, with plenty of Skaarj and Pupae to fight but nothing too difficult. Another excellent map.





Wipeout - NP19Part3ChicoHour
By Jean "El Chicoverde" Rochefort and Hourences

Wipeout concludes NP19 with a killer joint effort between El Chicoverde and Hourences. This map is a lot like the shuttle flying map from much earlier in the pack, but bigger and better in every way. An extraordinary amount of effort has gone into the design for individual areas that the player will be flying through in seconds - this place is huge. Be it tunnels, huge underground bunkers, caves or even a huge cavern with an outlandish structure in the centre - down which you must fly vertically - no effort has been spared. For a sense of speed, the action is accompanied by UT's Course.umx.
Awesome, jaw-dropping stuff. ONP's finest map.


Entry to the Fire God Temple - NP20DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich and Hourences

Entry to the Fire God temple is a "Hub" linker map, connecting NP19 with the temple map to follow it. However, after so many prolonged outdoor maps through Nali Mountain Fighters and The Volcano, it feels like a cheat to have such a short map as this shoved into the mix. Starting in a cave, the player goes outside, solves a puzzle and enters the temple. A few more puzzles follow - involving water, not fire, one notices, and then the map ends. There's one combat.
The outdoor visuals of this map have been improved since the demo, but the map has gained little in terms of sense of purpose. Given that ONP left the "hub-locale-hub" style behind round about Sharuk Crossing, to return to it now seems strange. There's no music, but it's a short map anyway. After a special intro like this, one is left thinking that the temple should be a large and complex map, but as it turns out, it's not...


Fire God Temple - NP21Atje
By Arjan "Evil Atje" Vroegop and DavidM

The Fire God temple, far from being the grand and spectacular temple one would hope for, is the second most disappointing map in ONP, better only than DavidM's old Skaarj Mines of Rrajigar map. This map is short, uninspired and completely lacking in atmosphere - Atje's sky island maps at the end of ONP are far more representative of his abilities than this. While the lighting is solid, the architexture is plain with no life to it (such as dangling creepers or visual flourishes), and there are next to no ambient sounds. Chizra1.umx is appropriate, but the normally great track has nothing really to work with. Combat is steady but not especially interesting, with a few enhanced Slith adding little to a lacklustre map.
There are much better temples around. This map is too short and is hardly a temple - it just happens to have temple textures. I suspect it was built in a rush - I think it would have been an improvement if ONP had gone from the excellent Wipeout straight to the next map, Lands of Rostivelt.


Lands of Rostivelt - NP22DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich

Lands of Rostivelt is far from an excellent map, but is an improvement over the Fire God Temple. The map begins in a natural area but over the course of gameplay becomes a small Skaarj installation. The player fights his way through the facility and learns of the existence of a "Translocator" tool at a research lab not far away.
Natural architecture abounds and is as usual decently constructed, but is also pretty plain. The same goes for the base, which is solid, but could have used some more eye candy. Lighting is done decently, and there are a few ambient sounds in Team Vortex's typical proficient style. Musically, we start with Vortex.umx, until a fight with a Giant Manta changes things to Crater.umx's action section 1 - section 2 takes over afterwards, leading back into section 0. For the closing stage of the map, we have a pretty inexplicable and prolonged use of the "heartbeat" of Vortex section 1. The two music files used don't really complement each other, but neither are glaringly inappropriate. Gameplay keeps up a respectable pace throughout the map with nothing remarkable except for a fight against a fairly easily destroyed gun turret to spice things up.
A solidly constructed map. What it lacks in intense atmosphere, it makes up for in design soundness.





Forgotten Gods - NP23Kew
By Tim "Kew" Jarvis, DavidM, Strogg and MClane

ONP moves upmarket again with Forgotten Gods, a map by Kew of Illhaven fame that has been heavily re-worked by DavidM, Strogg and MClane. In this map, the player traverses a winding canyon filled with Nali ruins and observes the large green asteroid in the sky crash to earth not so far away.
The architecture of this map makes great use of curves and angles to keep the player moving through its pretty linear layout. Strogg's new Nali texture set looks very good when cladding these ruined structures. Sound is as strong as usual, with the bonus of a consistent presence of Wargate.umx for a moody atmosphere. The only thing that is questionable is the lighting; while the dusk effect coming over the cliffs in typical ONP style looks good, the dim blue lighting below the line of the dusk is a little too even. It's not just zone lit, although it looks it sometimes. In some areas, torches give off yellow light for much-needed variety.
Combat is fairly sparse, but there are a few good ambushes. I thought the use of IceSkaarj was a particularly nice touch given the cool blue lighting of much of the map. I was also entertained by the Nali Cows that kept trying to walk on their babies' heads at the start of the map, although this was technically a bug.
A good prelude to the map that follows it.





The Old Nali Ruins - NP24MClane
By Daniel "MClane" Pflugbeil

The Old Nali Ruins, despite its new texture set, feels like one of ONP's more traditional styled Nali maps. However, the architecture is more detailed, and being a MClane map it is more atmospherically lit than a lot of the pack. There are also plenty of ambient sounds.
In this map, the player works his way through these ruins, eventually coming across the big green asteroid that crashed during the course of the previous map. Surrounding this asteroid are a few transparent green Skaarj that have had the misfortune to touch the rock - they're quite tough opponents, being harder to target, especially in the vicinity of the asteroid itself. Combat is decently spread for the rest of the map's duration, although it gets perhaps a little too hard at the end compared to the rest of the pack. However, there's rarely a dull moment overall.
Music changes, but not to excesses. There's no music for a long time, except for Warlord.umx accompanying a Warlord battle, but as the player jumps down a well about half way into the map, it cues Fourth.umx. This accompanies things for some time and is fairly fitting. The choice of Isotoxin.umx for one particular combat is very questionable - I would have used Fourth's own section 1, especially as it reverts to section 0 afterwards. We have the inconspicuous NP-inside.umx for a while, until eventually, in the closing stages, we get NP-ty.umx for a good final atmospheric section.
Overall, an exemplary map. There isn't even too much of that annoying voice acting.





Transport Failed - NP25DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich

Transport Failed was originally designed to be the map in which the player would get to drive a jeep. However, this plan fell through due to coding problems, and a lot of the map was cut out, and the exit presumably moved to its present location (which appears to be the garage where the jeep would have been found). What remains, however, is still a very solid map with decent on-foot gameplay. Only the wide roads are testament to the original purpose of the map.
Amid the terrain, architecture is very "military" and remeniscent of certain areas of Half-Life and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, with its bunkers, tunnels and watch tower. It's a bit different from your typical Unreal map but not in a bad way. Lighting is pretty good, but I wasn't so keen on the visuals of the "grassy" bit near the end of the map.
Sounds are decently done, with plenty of ambient sounds as usual, and the excellent NP-FOD.umx present for the duration of the map. There are also plenty of scripted scenes with bombers, big Skaarj / Mercenary battles, and a troop of Mercenaries being fried by the Skaarj tesla coil defenses. I also enjoyed the chance to control a large static cannon a la Strange World.
With solid combat and decent visuals, this is a good map, it's just a shame about the jeep.





Rostivelt Lake - NP26DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich

Rostivelt Lake is one of DavidM's self-proclaimed "Newbie maps" that still remain in the pack. And, as DavidM himself says, they are not all that impressive. I really feel that since DavidM felt responsible for the quality control of everybody else's maps, he should have spent some more time reworking - or even completely rebuilding - his oldest maps in the pack.
Although Rostivelt Lake is one of these maps, it actually holds up somewhat better than the others. It is set mainly in a canyon, and with ONP's new outdoor lighting style, it doesn't differ that much from the outdoor maps. However, where the age of the map really becomes clear is in the last area, where a research facility built mostly of untrimmed cubes stands in a large empty space, with a rather boxily designed ship docked beyond it. This is the first area in the pack that confronts you as being ugly, and the pink dusk lighting really doesn't help. Gameplay, however, is pretty even, and the music is inconspicuous. The curious choice of Newmca9 opens the map at the start, but soon passes on to silence.
Overall one of the better of DavidM's oldest maps.





Cutscene - NP26Inter
By David "DavidM" Münnich

Cutscene is a short movie that shows the crate you stowed away in being lifted onto a truck and carried into the Skaarj research facility. Darkness appears to have fallen whilst the player waited. Since it is only a short intermission map, it is excempt from rating.


The Research Lab - NP27DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich

The Research Lab is another of DavidM's old maps, and it's not bad, but it really lacks anything special. The player, accompanied by a couple of Mercenaries, works his way through the reasearch lab, picking up a Translocator and Minigun on the way. Using the Translocator, he is able to return to the locale of Rostivelt Lake and make his way towards the Skaarj mines of Rrajigar.
The lab is built in a fairly boxy but detailed way, using Unreal Tournament industrial textures mixed with Skaarj.utx. This combination doesn't exactly work, leaving the map with a pretty inconsistent theme. Lighting is on the dodgy side too, with a lot of pretty plain white-ish colours and the odd moment of vile green.
Gameplay is more solid than the visuals. We also get a few ambient sounds, and Unreal4.umx once in the depth of the lab. Outside the lab, if the player witnesses the ship leaving the dock, NP-FOD.umx plays out to the end of the map.


Entry to Rrajigar - NP28DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich

Entry to Rrajigar is yet another old map, and takes place in the "crew section" of Rrajigar mines. That it is a different part of the complex is DavidM's excuse for using the UTTech1 texture set to decorate this map, supposedly part of the same facility as a place done in the Mine texture set - sorry, that just doesn't work. The UTTech / DavidMTech look is too different, leaving this place feeling like it was built by humans. I think I mentioned this to DavidM when I first played it in the demo.
However, get past that and we can find a respectable map here. The outdoor area is quite nice, although the interior is on the plain side (light fixtures nicked from DM-Stalwart make it feel all the more like an Earth design). There are a few ambient sounds. What puzzled me the most is the music - after silence, a fight suddenly brings in UT's Cannon.umx - far too bombastic for an SP map. After that the (very abrupt) switch to the quiet Crater.umx makes the map feel more at home. Thereafter, all three sections of Crater are used surrounding certain fights in DavidM's typical 0 - 1 - 2 sequence.
Disappointing in theme but solid in construction, paves the way to Rrajigar mines quite effectively in the end.


Skaarj Mines of Rrajigar - NP29DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich and Cliff Bleszinski

Skaarj Mines of Rrajigar is one of ONP's oldest maps, and overall the one I find the worst map of the lot. The player visits some "new sections" of Rrajigar Mines, eventually emerging in the first areas of Cliff Bleszinski's original Rrajigar Mine map, although slightly modified. My main complaint is that, in aid of making the map Translocator intensive, the new areas do not flow together well at all. Plus, the theme on the whole is more Foundry than Rrajigar. Basically, Skaarj Mines of Rrajigar feels like a bunch of disparate rooms vaguely slapped together in pretense of making a map. Cliff Bleszinski's original section of the map is nicest in design, but doesn't look that great with DavidM's texture and lighting changes.
Overall, this map is far from a success story, and is the one map that really should have been completely rebuilt with DavidM's more recent and improved skills. Still, at least appropriate use was made of DigSh.umx sections 0 and 2 as music for the map.


NyLeve's Falls - NP30DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich and Pancho Eekels

Given how well NyLeve's Falls has been reworked for ONP, it's a shame that the same could not be said for the Rrajigar map that preceeded it. Really, the changes have worked magic on this map. It's dark this time round, and the place seems to shake itself apart as you explore it. An overall spooky ambience of sound is broken only by strange creaking and noises from some unknown source. Additionally, one of the crystal spikes seems to have sprung up out of nowhere.
As the player continues through the map, he reaches the Vortex Rikers. The falls have changed. It's not a waterfall any more - the huge canyon is full to the brim with lava, and more still is coming out from the cave from which the water used to pour. This is a blasted land, and it is pulled off very effectively. Music of the moment is QueenSong.umx, with its slow overture opening the map and giving way pretty soon to section 1 for tension. After the immediate battles are over, it subsides to silence, leaving us with the ambient sounds.
This map is great - it's just a shame that a huge error causes the lava in the ravine to wink out to blackness from most angles.





Vortex Rikers - NP31DavidM
By David "DavidM" Münnich and Cliff Bleszinski

Vortex Rikers is the best revisited location in the game. The Skaarj are rife in this place and have been for some time, and as such the place seems to have undergone a Skaarj conversion. Most of the bulkheads are festooned with Pupae webbing, and most of the computers are smashed. The player enters the ship looking for a working communication station, eventually finding one and fighting his way back out again with an Instagib Shockrifle. Unfortunately, his mission to escape fails, and he finds himself captured again.
This map is seriously spooky. It's dark, and you have no flashlight. Creepy ambient sounds are everywhere, enhanced by NP-inside.umx, and scripted set pieces have Skaarj and Pupae jumping out of bulkheads all around you. On the way out, after the Skaarj have detected your signal, there seem to be impossible numbers of Skaarj about - so you run as fast as you can, instagibbing away, hoping to escape.
Great map.


Prisoned Again - NP32Strogg
By Florian "Strogg" Oswald, DavidM and Hourences

Prisoned Again sees the player awake on a Skaarj ship somewhere in orbit of the planet. From his cell, he witnesses as something goes wrong and the power is cut. With the force field down, he steps unarmed out into the hall lit only by red emergency blinkers, and tries to free himself once more.
This is a very strong map by Strogg, with later improvements made by Hourences. There's heavy use of dynamic lighting against the heavy metal textures, plus a high level of ambient sound that really enhances the sense of place. There are various nice gameplay touches; at one point, the player is aided by an IceSkaarj he releases from a cell. He finds his weapons stockpiled on the bridge (and to his relief still has all his ammo), and eventually must translocate through a hull breach onto the low gravity roof of the ship to proceed. This map is no cakewalk to complete; strong Skaarj are everywhere. However, once the player finds his weapons, the odds aren't stacked so badly against him.
Newmca9.umx accompanies the map at first and is barely audible against the ambient sound level. Later, we get Warlord.umx giving a sense of urgency to the progress. Eventually, the player manages to escape the Skaarj ship via an escape pod. But is this the end of the pack? No, I think not...





Na Pali Heaven - NP33Atje
By Arjan "Evil Atje" Vroegop and DavidM

I haven't figured out whether Na Pali Heaven is a joke on the original Na Pali Haven or just a misread copy of the title. Either way, this map introduces the sky island setting on which the story of ONP will ultimately conclude. Having fled the Skaarj ship in an escape pod, the player crashes, and wakes up on a floating sky island akin to the one visited in the original game. This map is set on the fringes of the island; the main town is not reached until the map that follows. It all begins on a small plateau, where the player's weapons lie scattered between the houses. Collecting them once again, he sets off to find the way across to the main town.
The architecture is quite simple, but the natural geometry is effective. Outdoor lighting, which was pretty bad in the demo, has been reworked pretty effectively by DavidM. While it's not perfect throughout the map, it looks a lot better than it did before. Texturing is sound, with a mixture of new and old textures cladding the structures. Gameplay is pretty easy, mostly Krall and a couple of Skaarj.
What the map suffers most from is minor glitches. You'd be led to believe that one underwater passage towards a secret was impassable due to an invisible barrier that isn't actually meant to be there, but a small hole in the corner of this blockage can be passed through as long as you don't drown. Another bug near one of the moving rocks you ride upon can result in falling to one's death unexpectedly.
Music is one area that has no problems. At the beginning of the map, we have the relaxing refrain of Hub2.umx, but this subsides to silence after a while. That is until the epic NP-main.umx kicks in for the first time in the pack, accompanying the player's departure on a hot air balloon. Overall, it's not a bad map.





Na Pali Heaven Part 2 - NP34Atje
By Arjan "Evil Atje" Vroegop and DavidM

Na Pali Heaven Part 2 is the "better half" of Atje's two sky island maps. In a very E.T. moment, the player arrives with his Nali guide, flying in front of the distant moon in the hot air balloon. On landing, he finds himself in the heart of a small Nali sky town, and sets out to explore. Eventually, he finds the remaining survivor from the old Vortex Rikers, a woman named Chryss.
The architecture is pretty classic styled, sometimes plain, but generally decent, and the textures are mostly Skycity / GenIn with a few new ones thrown in. Lighting is the most inconsistent aspect of the map, but it's all pretty respectable looking. The overall visuals combined with a decent audio atmosphere through NP-FOD.umx, make this map an enjoyable romp even though there are plenty of BSP errors (including an annoying disappearing waterfall). Gameplay keeps going at a decent pace, with Chryss providing backup in the closing stages.
It's not the most beautiful map in Operation Na Pali, but Na Pali Heaven Part 2 has a good dose of classic Unreal atmosphere to make up for it.





Escape from Na Pali - NP35MClane
By Daniel "MClane" Pflugbeil and Evil Atje

Escape from Na Pali sees the player and Chryss fight their final battles as they head for the escape pod just across the sky island. The design is pretty much of the same standard as the previous two maps, but with some slightly more detailed architecture and smoother lighting courtesy of mapper MClane. Overall, it's a fitting setting for the final battles of the map pack and brings things to a nice close. There's no music, except for the sudden violent sound of Unreal4.umx section 2 for the final battle. After that, the player simply steps up to the escape shuttle to complete his journey...


Escape from Na Pali - NP36eVOLVE
By Daniel "MClane" Pflugbeil, Evil Atje and eVOLVE

Escape from Na Pali also dubs as the name for the final extro sequence. Slowly, the shuttle takes off and flies into orbit, as the player makes his final log entry over the speakers. The map leaves things on a humorous note, a fairly fitting ending for a pack that has contained quite a few "little jokes".
As far as the cinematics go, they are decent, although not a lot happens. The black background of the nebula seen in the closing shots is painfully obvious on some renderers, for the same reason as the cables in Sharuk Crossing, a testament to a map pack that, while great, is far from technically perfect.


Credits - NPCredits2
By Team Vortex

No critique would be complete without a look at the Credits map. With segments by DavidM, MClane, Hourences, Tonnberry, Strogg, eVOLVE, Usaar33 and DrPest, this map is a crazy hotch-potch of jokes, gimmicks, great visuals and craziness. From DavidM's lego world and Drugz, through Tonnberry's Super Mario Land, Usaar33's Pong and Strogg's Matrixed Morbias, everything is covered. But perhaps the map's finest moment is "Teh Lazy Room", one of the ugliest bits of mapping you'll ever see, with pictures of those team members who failed to contribute their own segments for one reason or another.
As the map goes through all its moods, so does it go through several music tracks - including the great Catchtha.umx, also known as Catch That Goblin. Goodness knows where the Team Vortex crew found that one.
The map may have the same OpenGL masking bug as several other maps in the pack - but of course I have to give it five stars. What else could I rightfully do?


Well, there you go. I hope you enjoyed reading my critique, and I hope it raised some valid points. As I have made pretty clear, Operation Na Pali is far from perfect, but I still wouldn't change the score I gave it in my review - this pack is as ambitious, grandiose and lengthy a release as we are ever likely to see from the Unreal community - so let the Team Vortex crew enjoy a little recognition for it!

==Hellscrag==

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