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Map Title: Nak'halinra Peak (Sbegin)
Nak'halinra Peak, more commonly known just as Sbegin, is a bit of a classic to my mind. Originally made for Unreal but later re-released for Unreal Tournament, Sbegin was the first map of noted level designer Chicoverde's second attempt at the Shamu Quest saga. Shamu Quest was always intended to span several map packs, but since the original pack was never followed up directly, it is unclear whether the new saga was meant to be the second episode, or a replacement first episode, of the saga. Sadly, due presumably to Chicoverde's work on TeamVortex's Operation Na Pali and his later commercial work, Shamu Quest never has been and never will be completed. As it stands, this map and its following instalments Valley of Eelhandra and Temple of Eelhandra were released and are reviewed individually on this site, as well as the original Shamu Quest pack for Unreal.
The story of the Shamu Quest saga is roughly as follows: the player is on a mission to recover several magical artefacts, with one artefact to collect per map pack. Since this map is only the first of a series, the story is not resolved here, but the subplot of the Skaarj / Krall clan war that plays out in Valley of Eelhandra is introduced nicely, as is a subplot involving a captured Nali priest. Unfortunately Chicoverde neglected to include a readme with this version of the map, so if there is any further backing story than that, we do not know it.
Either way, the story is an ongoing thread in the level, and is designed into the gameplay and architecture. The story is reinforced primarily by translator messages (including the player's own musings), but there is also a cool sequence involving a hot air balloon that, if you're not concentrating and allow yourself to get distracted by Krall, is very easy to miss. None the less, it's a memorable moment in a high-quality map that possesses a definite grandness of concept.
On entering Sbegin, the thing that always strikes me is the elaborate terrain. I don't think I've ever seen such imaginative terrain as is on offer here, where ledges and crags overlook deep bodies of water, wooden bridges span ravines and cliffs and waterfalls tower over the player as he wanders, antlike, from canyon to plateau. Given the complex shapes, Chicoverde applies and aligns the rock textures remarkably well, and slight misalignments here and there can largely be forgiven. Slightly more odd is the use of the grass fringe textures of GenTerra.utx on parts of the ground, generating a distracting stripy effect. Although one can see what Chicoverde was trying to achieve here, it doesn't really work.
This very organic environment, decorated with large plants and trees and enhanced in some spots with the use of large Nali torches, is interspersed with scattered Nali structures. The rickety bridges I have already mentioned, and these are relatively nicely done, spanning the larger ravines with an interesting curved design; one moment when part of a bridge collapses during an attack by a Brute is a nice touch. Later, more substantial structures include a stone tower, an inventive lift system and a few underground structures including a mine and armoury. All are nicely lit and textured, if straightforwardly done.
Lighting in the natural environment is moody but occasionally too dark for the sky; warm Nali torches and bonfires serve to break up the even, natural lighting. Good use is made of sound, featuring the usual array of natural sounds such as wind, water and crickets, and the use of altered sound pitch adds to the dense atmosphere. The soundtrack, Fifth.umx, is a suitable accompaniment to the slightly mysterious feel of the environment presented by the map.
The gameplay of the map is solid. One of the map's strengths is its layout: several areas are optional, including a series of jumps to reach a shield belt and a visit to the well-defended tower. Whilst the map is not entirely linear, the player is also unlikely to get lost, thanks to the use of landmarks and limiters on backtracking.
The opposition consists predominantly of Brutes and Krall. Both classes are used well, with the Krall usually attacking in pairs or teams, and one fight against an enhanced KrallElite adding diversity. I did, however, witness at one point a Krall running on the spot, as if following a path of AlarmPoints that was somehow obstructed. One ambush by Mantas is well-staged and unexpected, one of the many little flourishes add to the interactivity of the map, such as the collapsing bridge mentioned earlier and the use of a cannon to gain access to the armoury.
If I had one complaint about the gameplay of Sbegin, it would be that it has too much ammo. This is not uncommon with Chicoverde's Shamu Quest maps, and it takes the edge off the game experience, although thankfully the provision health seemed to be balanced about correctly.
Given its complexity and the fact that it was built before the days of UnrealEd 2.0 and tesselated cubes, Sbegin's BSP is remarkably sound. However, one small HOM was observed, along with other minor errors such as misaligned sconces and torch flames.
Nak'halinra Peak is the first of a trio of very atmospheric maps with a relatively involving story. It is definitely not a map to be missed, and for its full effect should be played in conjunction with the following instalments, Valley of Eelhandra and Temple of Eelhandra.
Second Opinions - Naveed
The original review, based on the old review schema:
This is one of few single player maps made for Unreal Tournament and is one of the best. I recommend downloading Oldskool to play it as gives you a save game feature.
If you like the feel of the original Unreal SP levels, then this map is for you. It has good atmosphere (always important in SP maps), good architecture, and nice lighting. It also keeps the same smooth play rate of the original maps if not better, because of the simple yet good architecture.
The story line is as follows: You have been traveling through Na Pali (I'm assuming it's on Na Pali because the story line gives off that idea do to your dead friends laying around.) and have been sent to retrieve the crown of a Nali king or something along those lines. Along the way you learn of two warring clans of Krall and Skaarj and one of them have captured a Nali priest. This then gives you another goal of rescuing him. That's basically the gist of it, however you don't complete any of the goals due to the fact this is the first map of a series. A review of the second map will be coming soon.
I didn't notice many sounds besides some animals on occasion and I think near the water falls. Music however is well chosen and from Unreal1. (You don' need Unreal one to play the music file is included in the zip.)
The map is mainly a outdoor unit similar to those in Unreal, but with more variation in the shape of the rock walls. Some slant down, others slant up at the top and form a shape similar to the side of a mushroom but flat on top.
Occasionally throughout the map you run into some medieval style structures (Primarily towards the end.) which have really nice architecture. Especially the tower.
Another section of the map has some uniquely styled bridges made of wood, connecting parts of a small rocky canyon created by a lake or river (can't really tell what it is.) that was formed by a excellently mad water fall.
One thing I noticed was in the small water areas there are no plants, but this doesn't really matter because the are not necessary to go into (Unless you like to swim.).
The texturing is well done in most spots and I only noticed one or two miss aligned textures. This didn't take away from the feel though because it was on a rock wall which actually makes it look a bit more rock like to me. The buildings had no apparent misalignments and followed a consistently with the medieval scheme. Some visual glitches on the water falls, but they aren't really noticeable.
The lighting was done nicely through out, and was exceptional in some places. It can be bit repetitive in the outdoor areas appearing to be the same brightness throughout, but it still gives it a the feel of late midday/evening and doesn't take away from the atmosphere. So it was excellent, but could have been done a bit better.
The game play is excellent. The majority of the enemies you face will be Krall, except for the few Brutes and one Skaarj. Weapons 1-4 make appear giving you a decent little arsenal that works well with the number of enemies you're going to face. I think there was room for the 8 ball though. The one complaint I had though was health and ammo are rather scarce at the beginning and can be a problem due to some of the tight spots you will be fighting in.
Overall the map is excellent and worth the download time.