This was the debut map of an author more commonly known as Evil Atje, who went on to release various highly regarded Unreal Tournament maps and a few other SP maps, including multiple levels for Operation Na Pali. This map has various signs of his emerging talent, and is much better than most debut levels manage to be.
In standard Unreal fashion, this map starts with you on a crashed ship. There is a plot and some degree of a goal given but it doesn't develop too much and the majority of the messages are comedy ones that don't really add to the storyline (although some are quite amusing). What makes up for this a little is the good sense of progression throughout; you start in a terrain area with sporadic Nali elements, move onto a cave, then a town and finally a small Skaarj base, it's almost like two-three maps in one. The map also does a good job with foreshadowing and interlinking; the main areas of the map are visible very soon after the start, and, combined with large scale, this also lends your first views after leaving the ship a certain grandness that captures some of the inital wonder of leaving the Vortex Rikers for the first time despite the relatively average visuals.
The architecture is good most of the time, it generally remains slightly below the level of the original Unreal, but occasionally matches or surpasses it, the Nali architecture in particular has several features (along with buildings of very varied design) that lends it an original atmosphere and style that feels quite refreshing and isn't just a rehash of things from Unreal itself. The lower points are the Skaarj base at the end, which feels quite cubic and rushed in its second half (including a lack of trim), and certain aspects of the terrain, which feel a little low-poly and sloppy (especially many of the tops, which just cut off), but it's mostly fine, including a somewhat interesting rock structure that partially wraps around the Church. The interiors also feel a bit too cramped. Texturing is convincing throughout, and manages to carry through despite the large number of separate themes, although there are a few odd choices and some dodgy alignment on the terrain and curves. I liked the use of nebula type textures in the skybox. Lighting relies a bit too much on white lighting and could have done with a few more shadows at times, which makes a few areas feel unnaturally lit. However it also makes some good use of coloured lighting at times and is functional enough, the Skaarj section overdoes coloured lighting though, which further adds to the rushed feeling of that section. Sound is mediocre; sound is used at various points but there are also areas that are completely silent, and the only music is "Isotoxin" at the very end.
Gameplay-wise there are too many items, you get handed a shield belt right at the start and the map continues to liberally hand out power-ups and weapons. The only slightly challenging encounters are Skaarj - including a couple of gunners - in confined areas of the town (I found a Skaarj that ambushes from behind on a staircase quite memorable in particular), but you have enough items to be able to destroy them easily enough, then you get a flak cannon which trivialises everything else (including a boss-like encounter at one point). There's also one Gasbag who is placed very randomly in an Inn. The map would have been better off sticking with lower grade weapons. What picks up the gameplay is the use of non-conventional progression throughout; you have to climb on walls, jump across a few platforms and keep an eye out for the occasional slightly hidden switch or doorway. The layout of the level means there's quite a bit of optional content and exploration, which also keeps up interest and shows a degree of conceptual planning on the part of the author.
There are some technical problems: firstly, no translator is provided, so you have to summon one if you want to get any of the story. Second, there's a very blatant invisible collision boundary at one point around a notebook which doesn't allow you to walk in that section (although ghosting reveals the book has no message, so this doesn't affect the gameplay at all). There's also the floating torch bug, but as this is an early map there's not much the author could have done about it. Finally, there's a message that cuts off part-way through, and I'm not sure if it's intentional or not. I had no issues beyond those though.
Worth a try; while it's relatively basic in design it has an impressive scale and decent integration of multiple themes that put it way above most beginner maps.
*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.5
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.6
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).5
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.4
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.3
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.4
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