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Map Title: The Ruins of Nali'Pente
The Ruins of Nali'Pente is, to my knowledge, Kew's last release to the Unreal SP community, apart from his substantially doctored entry into Operation Na Pali. After the dizzy heights of the Illhaven Saga, it's something of a tame release: one map long, with the advice in the readme that it was created as more as an exercise in atmosphere than as a gaming experience, and no real story.
So how does Nali'Pente shape up? Well, the theme is of an old Nali penal colony in the jungle, and Kew nails the penal colony part pretty well, if not so much the jungle theme. The architecture is old and decayed, well textured using the Nali Castle texture set and gloomily lit in a moist green colour. Subtle fog helps to thicken the atmosphere that is established by the presence of a constant undertone of appropriate ambient sound, backed up by the reliable UTemple.umx for music and enhanced by the presence of swarms of Horseflies. Unfortunately, this good work with sound effects is undermined by the frequent use of "One Shot" sounds as looping sound effects. It's a known fact of level design that creaking metal and distant screams work best if occurring sporadically and randomly rather than playing on a constant loop.
The architecture is just what it needs to be: mostly simple, built out of stone blocks, but with the occasional curved arch or loose bricks. The architecture and texturing can get repetitive but the presence of an exterior, visible from the start of the map, gives the player hope for freedom that is eventually paid off, adding to the conceptual design. Unfortunately, when the player steps over the threshold at the end of the day, the map cuts straight to the Unreal castle flyby, bringing the adventure to a rather abrupt end.
The lack of a substantial story has already been mentioned. However, as with the Illhaven Saga, the player regularly receives translator messages representing the player's musings on what he sees and how he feels. This helps to create an atmosphere, even if it feels more contrived than in the Illhaven Saga (where, at least, the player had a tie to the place and was on a mission to liberate it). Half way through the map Kew tires of writing these messages, and his feigned destruction of the Universal Translator would be a neat trick if, due to the player crossing his own path, he didn't immediately run into and translate one of his own thoughts from some time previously!
As regards gameplay, Kew uses largely "pest" creatures that are appropriate to the theme, including Tentacles, Flies, Pupae and one or two Slith. Some of these creatures are modified for size and projectile class, with varying degrees of success; the presence of Brutes firing boulders just felt wrong, as there are no Skaarj (the Pupae, however, can be forgiven if, for the purposes of this map, they are being treated as generic spiders - there are ample cobwebs to be found, after all). The Tentacles are placed particularly well, including behind ceiling grates, behind hanging roots and in "pincer movements" where two Tentacles attack simultaneously from completely different angles. Also present is a new breed of small, fast Fly; however, they are problematic, since the collision cylinder seems to be off-centre and the melee range of the creatures has not been modified.
I would describe the flow of the gameplay as reasonable. There is sufficient ammunition, with the Razorjack being given a refreshingly prominent role, and health is normally present when needed. However, it doesn't exactly break any ground, and at one or two points the way to progress is unclear. I also encountered bugs: one lever opened a hatch that I accidentally blocked, causing it to close again - after which the lever could not be reactivated. Also, at the end of the map, I was needlessly crushed by the closure of a pair of doors. Darned annoying!
The Ruins of Nali'Pente is a nice atmospheric work, if nothing else. Worth an explore if you don't mind occasionally being mauled by Flies and Tentacles - I speak from experience!
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