Here we are dealing with something truly old. Somebody requested a review of the second Crescent Moon Squad map pack, Apocalypse Threat, and accordingly I felt I should play and review the original one first.
Crescent Moon Software are Kyle and David Pittman, with music by Blackwolf. With Shadows of Na Pali, the Pittmans have produced a sizeable map pack of twelve playable levels - but each map is so short that there is no way the pack could be called anything other than a short campaign.
In Shadows of Na Pali, the player plays a member of the elite Crescent Moon Squad who is sent to Na Pali to intercept a group of smugglers. However, once he arrives, that premise evaporates. The player travels through several short, basic maps until the action suddenly switches to the Skaarj Planet without any explanation as to how. By the end of the pack, the player seems to be among the Nali again, and returns to his home planet via ship he finds in a docking bay decorated with Ancient textures. All that redeems this shambles of a story is the inclusion of a brief but decent ending sequence using InterpolationPoints.
Architecture in Shadows of Na Pali is simple to score: there isn't any! The vast majority of the rooms in the pack are subtracted cubes, with barely a piece of furniture, light fitting or interesting angle to be seen. I kid you not when I say that the environments pictured on this page are two of the very best ones in the game. Texturing is also basic, helping to define the very abstract maps a little but often excruciatingly tiled in larger areas. Extreme repetition of textures is also seen on the pack's few curved staircases.
Lighting uses a range of colours but is almost entirely unsourced. In one or two places it's almost moody, helped by the use of volumetric fog, but it can't overcome the nonexistent architecture, and when it is sourced it is often sourced in the most inappropriate ways, such as Nali lanterns in Skaarj facilities.
Shadows of Na Pali makes decent use of event and mover sounds (including some custom voice sound effects), but there is very little ambient sound used in the pack. Each map has music, but it is often poorly chosen, and in the case of the custom music tracks, embarassingly loud and discordant (not to mention the jaunty piano tune that accompanies the first map of the pack).
In gameplay terms, Shadows of Na Pali is predictable. There are a few nice touches, such as a well-staged ambush for the first Skaarj fight, a couple of custom Skaarj skins and a nasty breed of fire-breathing Slith, but these are swallowed up by the generic and arbitrary nature of most of the monster placement (there's one too many Titans, two Warlord fights, and the random use of the whole range of Unreal creatures). Although the health is more finely balanced, the gross oversupply of weapons and ammunition becomes quite insulting towards the end of the twelve playable levels!
When I first encountered the standard of architecture and custom music in Shadows of Na Pali (as I once did in an abortive attempt to play the pack years ago), I wanted to cry. However, I soon got used to it and managed to play the pack from start to end, even enjoying it in a sub-Quake sort of way. Worth a look to remind yourself of how far Unreal level design has come since its earliest days.
*Note that only the Unreal Archive uploads are checked to be the newest and most compatible/stable download link.
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.0
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.1
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).1
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.2
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.1
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.0
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.1
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.1
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.1
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.2