As far as I am aware, Last Escape from Na Pali is mapper W3's first release, and it hits more right notes than many first packs. Three maps are presented here, including a particularly long and convoluted first map, but the planned fourth map has not yet been completed. W3 has promised to release the fourth map at some point in the future, when he has more time.
According to the backing story, the player (yet another survivor from the ISV-Kran) sets out to follow a friend of his who has heard of a Nali device that can transport people to the land of the Ancients (and presumably to safety), but on the way he runs into a Brute patrol and falls down a shaft into the depths of a Skaarj mine. This is where we join the player, as he tries to escape from the mine and find the mythical device.
There's not a lot of elaboration on the backing story, although the player does discover the device at the end of map three. However, some effort has gone into giving the maps some context via translator messages, and there are one or two nicely executed scripted events; this is where W3's pack gets its modest score for story.
To begin with, there's not a tremendous amount to recommend the architecture of Last Escape from Na Pali. The mines contain a lot of square, empty rooms - although W3 has clearly made an effort to break up the blank walls with a variety of light fixtures and there's a variety of angled beams and control panels. However, things pick up a bit later on, with some impressive industrial machinery, and a spacious design given to the temple areas. Terrain is unadventurous in design.
At first I didn't think there was a lot to the pack in terms of Conceptual Grandness, but when the convoluted, sprawling map crossed triumphantly back over itself right at the end, I decided that maybe it had been planned after all. The terrain segments didn't carry much awe, but for the third map, which is set inside a sealed temple, W3 really brought out the impressive scale for one or two areas - not to mention a mind-bending sequence involving warp zones. Overall, good work on the concept.
Unfortunately, W3's inexperience comes across in other areas of the build. Map one in particular contains a great many misaligned or simply unaligned textures, particularly noticeable on angled wooden beams and curved walls. It becomes less of a problem later on, but misalignments are still evident throughout the pack. Texture choice is also patchy in the first map, as W3 uses a few textures from the Mine package that are quite rightfully unpopular. Lighting is also on the weak side, with many areas of the mine too brightly lit, and a somewhat dull lighting style in the outdoor areas of the map (which could have conveyed a lot more atmosphere with a little more attention).
Thankfully, sound is on the up, with resonable sound use in the mine sections switching to strong sound use in the later maps, including sounds of altered pitch and even one or two new sound effects. Music is well-implemented throughout, with DigSh.umx used appropriately in all of its sections, and the plucky use of music salvaged from the Unreal 1998 beta in later levels (unless I'm much mistaken, Last Escape from Na Pali is the first pack to make use of "Unreal #12" and "Solitary Silhouette".
I chose to play Last Escape from Na Pali on Hard skill, and at times the difficulty setting certainly lived up to its name. This is primarily because of the savage use of trooper Skaarj armed with tricky weapons including the Automag, ASMD and Eightball whilst I only had comparitively weak weapons. I also became quite friendly with the Razorjack as a means of disposing of Brutes, a tactic I wouldn't normally use, but given the number of Brutes and Behemoths, razors to the head often seemed the best solution.
To begin with, the map is tough but not unreasonable; but later on, it seems that W3 forgot to provide the player with any health. There was also one particularly nasty ambush involving a SkaarjGunner and a SkaarjOfficer that really shouldn't have been staged without the prior provision of some kind of armour.
In fact, the difficulty curve of Last Escape from Na Pali is a bit off throughout, starting out hard and then becoming rather easy over the course of maps two and three. Map three, in particular, is a puzzle level, with very little combat. It was interesting, however, to see a range of imported content, including Spinners and the beta Nali Priest skin.
I found a few bugs, but many arising from the fact that I was playing an Unreal map pack under Unreal Tournament. None the less, there were a few HOM effects in map three, the standard issues revolving around WarpZones, and one unfortunate bit of geometry in map one that tried to bounce me down into the rotating blades of a death trap.
A good first attempt at a singled player pack. I would like to see it re-released with the completed map four, and maybe with a few adjustments to the difficulty curve.
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.6
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.4
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).4
SoundUse of ambient sounds and event sounds to give the level atmosphere, and the quality of any custom sounds. Appropriate use of music and silence to complement the atmosphere.7
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.6
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.7
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.4
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.3
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.6
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.4