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Map Title: Darkside
Darkside is more commonly known as the DNSPU series of maps by Dan "Jago" Naoumov. They were originally released individually, but Darkside brings them together into a single pack. Accordingly, the package contains DNSPU1 - The Skaarj Castle; DNSPU2 - Temple of Pain; DNSPU3 - Research Facility; DNSPU4 - The Beginning of the End (previously reviewed here); DNSPU5 - Temple of Rashig and an extra closing map that continues the theme set by the latter.
There is no establishing or linking story in Darkside. In fact, there isn't even a readme. Some maps have translator messages and some don't, and when they do appear they serve to elaborate on the setting a little, but at the ultimately Darkside is a compilation of unrelated maps that don't generally even start where the previous map left off.
Naoumov's maps have always been remarkable for taking a decent stab at architecture and texturing whilst letting themselves down with utterly terrible lighting. The screenshots on this page show two of the better lit areas; generally, the lighting is monochrome, emanating from torch flames emitting an even glow of red, green, mauve or whatever took the mapper's fancy at the time. There are few shadows and any subtlety of the otherwise well-chosen textures is lost. To add to the misery, the torch flames themselves are often so dimly illuminated as to be barely visible; it seems that in making several maps, Naoumov never discovered the "unlit" texture property that one would normally use in these situations. To make things worse, in the final map, many of the dark torch flames are masked rather than translucent, resulting in unpalatable black borders around the flames.
It's a real shame, because the architecture of Darkside is often simple but very pleasing. Interesting angles are often used, and three-dimentional decoration such as pillars, interesting torch brackets and door frames is often present. Not remarkable by modern standards perhaps, but good for the time. As mentioned, the textures are also well chosen, coming from a variety of appropriate packages, but often unaligned (this effect being particularly noticeable, as ever, on rounded pillars and stairs).
Sound is mediocre going on average. Torches sometimes crackle and standard music tracks are provided; occasionally you will hear the wind, or a few more sinister effects; but part four, The Beginning of the End, is rife with ill-chosen and seemingly unsourced sounds such as heavy pounding and that dreadful Nali chant.
Technically, the maps run extremely smoothly due to their low-poly nature. However, the general failure to handle the illumination of light sources properly throughout the pack detracts significantly from the score. I also experienced a General Protection Fault revolving around one pair of Krall that I had to bypass in invisible mode before I could complete the pack.
Gameplay I suppose is what really drives Darkside, but even that is inconsistent, not helped by the compilation format, which brings players into new maps with far more weapons and ammo than would really have been expected - furthermore, the pack dishes out Dispersion Pistol Powerups at a quite unprecendated rate! At least the enemy type is consistent, mostly Skaarj and Krall, but the difficulty swerves up and down on a regular basis, the player often gets snagged on architecture whilst backing away from Skaarj (resulting in certain death), and few of the combats are particularly imaginatively staged. Finally, the pack lacks a real final fight, with the pack's various "boss" creatures already used up in previous maps.
Given the time span over which these maps were produced, it's surprising that Naoumov didn't make more pronounced progress in key areas of his mapping. None the less, Darkside is worth a download and a play, if you can live with the poor quality lighting.
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Download darkside.zip (5.17MB) from UnrealSP.Org