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Map Title: Plateau of Na'Bpah
Plateau of Na'Bpah, or SP-Plateau for short, is a hard map to review. Why? Because it doesn't seem to know what it is. Is it a technically innovative and creative map, or is it basically a well-lit newbie map? And does it have a story, or doesn't it? It is also in theory the first map of a series, with SP-Plateau2 already on the way, and as such it doesn't come to any particular end, but just "stops".
This is probably the only map in the SP-Plateau series that I shall review as a single entity. The series is planned to be several maps long, and when and if it is finished, I shall probably then review it as a whole. Maybe then the story will make sense. Although there are two playable maps in the download, one set on the player's ship and one on the surface of Na Pali, I have also chosen to classify SP-Plateau as a Single Map, since the first map is essentially an interactive intro.
A story for the series is alluded to by messages delivered via interactive computer panel on the player's ship (in a very impressive debut by Kea's UsableScreen script). It seems to involve carrying out surveys on the planet, on which no threats have been identified (ha ha!) - and, accordingly, the player travels through his ship and is dropped off on the surface in a nice scripted scene at the start of the second map. However, once the player gets going, all that there seems to be story-wise are a few translator messages from dead humans written in rather bad English, and a bunch of creatures to kill. For future instalments in the series, I would recommend that Diamond give more thought to the broader storyline of his pack, and get his translator messages checked and edited by a native English speaker.
Architecture is a mixed bag. At times, Diamond creates some interesting shapes and elaborate structures. Particularly fine are some of his moving doors, and the carved floor seen in the second picture on this page. Also impressive are the views you get when looking out of the windows of the player's ship, which reveal a variety of gubbins such as solar sails and scanning equipment. However, SP-Plateau also seems to deliver unadorned hallways and primitive rooms in equal measure to counteract the effect.
Texturing is also a mix. To Diamond's credit, this is the first time I have seen a single player map make use of UT's Crypt textures without it appearing incongruous, an effect Diamond achieves in part by leaving out the more Satanic motifs. However, these textures are also mixed in with a great deal of NaliCast, Ancient and other sets too... it's just not entirely clear what's what in this map, whose interiors seem to sprawl on endlessly with no particular conceptual design. And although most are well aligned, sometimes the map lets itself down seriously, such as with the poor choice of a wooden texture with a prominent grain for the elaborate carved floor seen below, which simply looks messy.
I would say that lighting is the strongest aspect of SP-Plateau's build. The colours are warm and the radii are limited to add contrast. Most of the lighting is well-sourced, and never over-saturated with ambient light. Lens flares are widely used, although I found them to be over the top in the first outdoor area. Sound, meanwhile, is average, with a decent range of ambient sound effects used, but the music (principally the jaunty Neve.umx) seemed poorly chosen to me in what could have been a much moodier level.
The use of the UsableScreen script and other unusual touches, such as a kickable lantern that held onto its lens flare, really added to the techical execution of the level. In other ways, the technical execution was on the average side, particularly as regards the texturing of button movers, although I didn't notice any BSP errors.
Gameplay is okay, but isn't particularly "tight". Diamond maintains a consistent range of opposition, consisting of Brutes, Krall and Skaarj plus a few "pest" creatures. However, there seemed to be no particular progression of opposition from start to finish, nor any particular reason for the creatures being there in the first place. I also found there to be an imbalance in ammo provision, with large numbers of Tarydium Shards readily available but very little provided for the Automag.
Furthermore, I must mention the utterly confusing layout of the latter part of the map. Once the player enters the underground section, the map becomes a button hunt, with an improbable sequence of chambers containing various buttons combined with a large number of elaborate dead ends and mini-loops. I couldn't honestly say which of the areas I visited were essential and which were secrets; maybe a greater degree of help from the translator would have enabled the map to make more sense, but by this time the map's translator messages had completely evaporated. Additionally, progression through the map at the early stages relied at one point on the player using a pair Unreal's self-draining Jump Boots, which could render an unlucky player unable to complete the map at all.
I don't want to sound too negative, because I quite enjoyed exploring SP-Plateau and Diamond has definite potential as a mapper, but I would like to see more thought given to the layout, theme and story of his future levels. After completing SP-Plateau, I was left a little nonplussed as to what exactly I had just played.
None to date
Download sp-plateau.zip (2.48MB) from BeyondUnreal