SP-Exploring, or more accurately called “The Installation”, is a small map developed by mapper Diamond, who’s already known for Plateau of Na’Bpah, a released single level which is part of a bigger project. The Installation is actually Diamond’s first real single-player effort, apparently made before SP-Plateau; the author decided to make it available to the public, but with a warning about its unfinished status. And that’s where the problem lies. SP-Exploring is very short, is riddled with various design problems and most of all, it has no story. You’ll quickly get a Translator, but you won’t find messages. The only thing I could understand is that you’re trying to escape from the place you’re in by using a certain shuttle; unfortunately, the exit teleporter doesn’t work too, and so the level doesn’t have a proper ending.
Let’s go in order. The map is rather nostalgic, taking you to the times of playing the earliest custom maps ever made for the game (which is somewhat common when trying one mapper’s first created level); it somehow gives an enjoyable feel. Theme-wise, The Installation recalls old Deathmatch maps from Unreal, such as Radikus and Twilight; the place itself doesn’t make much sense as what it’s really supposed to be. It’s still Na Pali if Nali are here, but it looks like a man-made villa. The architecture may be pretty much what you would expect from a beginner author: not much details, lacks of any grand areas and some illogical choices regarding how movers work. But it does look fine for the most part. Many of the corridors are cramped; while they’re free of enemies most of the time, you’ll have to deal with the opposite thing too, and unfortunately those moments will never be nice (more of this in the gameplay paragraphs). There are some uncompleted sections, like a certain black mini-hole where you can do nothing with it or a pool where you can’t jump out of it legally, leaving you to an angry Biterfish school who bites you to death. Lastly, there are some weird, small shuttles that stay in one position in the air; the final one which is supposed to let you escape is okay but the others? Again, I have to pick up the “map isn’t finished” sign, but in reality those shuttles left some items for you. On the positive side, I haven’t experienced geometry bugs (HOMs/invisible brushes).
Work on the sound it’s also weak. You’ll simply hear water drips, the wind and blazing torches, all as normal ambient sounds. Everything will be drained by Neve.umx which will accompany you until the end. Given the context of the map, I just can’t say if the music track fits or not in it, but at least it sounds always good.
This leaves me to talk about the gameplay. According to Diamond, this was the least finished field of SP-Exploring (unless he was talking about the entire level). To me, it seems to be okay/average, just not remarkable or memorable. There’s filtering, and on the highest difficulty you’ll fight every enemy present in the map, leading sometimes the player to be overwhelmed by them. The first battle is an egregious example: you’ll be able to get the Automag and a Flak Cannon, but you have to be fast, otherwise you’ll be assaulted by two Skaarj Troopers and a group of Krall. Not much room to escape, and if you try, you’ll probably end up in the already mentioned Biterfish pool, or in a tunnel full of Pupae. Once you’ll pass it, the level will become easier as you progress due to the amount of boxes of Flak Shells that you’ll find, high enough to kill all the enemies. Automag and Stinger are also available. Health packs become increasingly common, and you’ll become unstoppable once you get the Super Health Pack. You still have to watch out though, especially for sudden Pupae ambushes. Having six of them in front of you, inside a very small area by entering it throughout a small pool, isn’t a nice situation. Regarding the matter of cramped environments, monsters do generally behave correctly, but often, a bunch of Nali will block your way if you inevitably shoot them.
There are some nice ideas, such as the non-linearity of the layout and pushing boxes to reveal passages. Sometimes you may get lost and you won’t know what certain buttons do (buttons that feel clunky to press). There are many shortcuts to avoid or confuse enemies, and there’s a bit of exploration for optional areas. The map is nicknamed “Exploring”, but yeah, do not expect too much in that regard, because it ends really quickly... or not, because in all of my playthroughs I wasn’t able to activate the teleporter actor.
Overall a short map, but it’s always nice to play something new. Diamond is now a much more experienced mapper, especially after the release of the well-received SP-Plateau; the complete version of which is still in progress!
*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.2
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.2
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.3
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.3
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.2
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.0
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.0
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.2
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.3