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Map Title: Nali Grail
Nali Grail is a debut single player outing from Alain "SAM" Savarese and is a very typical first SP map pack. As such it contains very little story, but some cool ideas and a few attempts at interesting architecture amidst a fairly average whole.
Translator interaction is limited primarily to the first of the pack's three maps, a short intro map in which the player arrives at an island and gains access to a small castle (a castle whose external dimensions correspond in no way to the size or context of the maps that are to follow). After this, ample opportunities are provided to explore the setting using translator messages thanks to Savarese's use of book decorations and inscription textures, but these opportunities never seem to be taken. As such, the player must simply use his eyes and ears to follow the map pack through from start to finish.
The high point of the pack in design terms is probably the second map, set inside the Nali fortress, where Savarese makes extensive use of the 2D shape editor to liven up a series of basically square rooms and corridors with interesting pillars and barrel vaults. Efforts are also made to create unique light fixtures, only occasionally let down by the use of flames that are masked rather than translucent (resulting in black borders).
Textures are largely well chosen but are aligned very badly or not at all, particularly on the detailed pillars and decorative brushes and on the pack's limited terrain (slightly jagged terrain that has very obviously been created using TerraEdit). There are also one or two abrupt texture transitions that should have been trimmed. It is the texturing that shows up Savarese's inexperience more than anything else, although the widespread use of white lighting (sometimes flickering, sometimes not) and a general lack of light / dark contrast is also something of a giveaway. Sound varies, but is limited primarily to the crackling of torches and a selection of largely well-chosen stock Unreal / UT music tracks.
There's no overall thematic progression between the maps, with the castle interior being so much larger than the exterior, and the third map changing theme completely. Technical execution is also fairly poor, with a number of obvious newbie errors such the aforementioned black-rimmed torch flames, geometry that the player can get stuck in and has to cheat or weapon jump to get out of, dodgy BSP that winks out when the player gets too close, and poorly textured or completely untextured movers.
Despite his inexperience, Savarese tries to make the gameplay moderately interesting, with the first map requiring a moment's thought to complete, a couple of trap sequences, and general creature activities such as Krall playing dice, Skaarj sleeping or feigning death, and Nali that the player must follow to gain extra items. There's also a boss fight, albeit a poorly staged and somewhat predictable one. Savarese provides a fairly wide range of weaponry but isn't particularly generous with the ammo; since much of the combat is with Krall, this doesn't make the pack particularly challenging, but it does give rise to rather a lot of somewhat tedious Dispersion Pistol combat as the player attempts to conserve his limited ammo for the tougher Skaarj enemies. There's also a potentially serious dead-end moment where the player appears to be trapped in a crypt with nowhere to go, and only running around the walls at random opens a hidden door that provides the way forward.
An obvious newbie map pack, suffering from a lot of the pitfalls that are common among maps released by inexperienced mappers. As a playing experience it's perfectly playable, although not particularly involving.
Based on original schema score of 4½:
I just didn't find it fun at all to play. It seemed like there was an attempt at a cool idea, but it was as if the mapper was relying on the player to be totally impressed with the Nali culture and religious beliefs prior to playing. The story I found weak, and while the designs were not totally n00bish, there was nothing redeeming about playing it. The Prophet has had better.