Game Review - by Jeremiah Pratt
Of all the first person shooters that I've played over the past couple years, Unreal is still the prettiest one around, even a year after its release. The original release of Unreal, in 1998, was a bit early for its time considering that in order to get the game to run the way it was intended required a Voodoo 2 and a Pentium 2 Processor. Since its release, however, the game's designers have done some serious work on the Direct 3D Open GL portions of the game engine. Although Return to Na Pali still runs best on a Voodoo based accelerator, the game is now playable on most Direct 3D accelerators.
For those of you, who don't remember the premise of the original, you were the sole survivor to escape the slave ship Vortex Rikers and the inhospitable planet of Na Pali. This is where the expansion pack picks up--after escaping the planet, the UMS Bodego Bay finds your shuttle in orbit around the planet and brings you on board. You are told that you can either go back to Na Pali to recover some data cores or you can stay and be dumped out the nearest airlock without a suit. You opt to go back to the planet.
17 all new single player missions. Plus 7 new heart-pounding DeathMatch levels. Deadly new enemies - like the Pack Hunter, the Spider and the Space Marine. Arsenals of all-new weapons like the Rocket Launcher, the Grenade Launcher, and the devastating Combat Assault Rifle.
You'll run and gun with the weakest-looking and -sounding weapons in the business, just like Unreal. Fortunately, a few additions--a high-powered machine gun, a rocket launcher, and a grenade launcher--add some "oomph" to the arsenal, but it's really the new monsters that elevate the mission pack. The two Quake II packs offered pretty much one new beast (which I thought was shameful); at least here you get a total of three: human marines, some scary giant spiders, and little pack-like lizard things that really mess you up quick. Of course, the Nali, Skaarj, Titans, and the wicked Mercenaries are back--as well as the snake things, flying bird things, big dragonflies, blobs, and lizard men, whose real names elude me. The AI is still hit-or-miss. Back when Unreal debuted, the AI was revolutionary; now it just feels uneven. Mostly it just consists of some neat dodging and multiple attack routines. The new pack-like lizard things do have a nice routine in which a solitary critter high-tails it and returns with friends. Still, the AI can't "hear" worth a damn: you can kill a monster with impunity so long as his buddies are out of visual range and you're out of their "activation zone." Where Return to Na Pali utterly fails is in its pacing. Each mission set apparently has its own designer, and there's not much cohesion among the levels as a whole. Sure, the plot moves along (albeit slowly), but you go from Nali village to underwater cavern to wrecked spacecraft feeling like you're playing a string of separate scenarios rather than progressing. Unreal felt long and plodding at times, but at least it made you think you were going somewhere.
Unreal is still damn pretty, but I'd give the nod to Kingpin and Half-Life for their greater grit and realism. The lighting effects are still overused, the character models still bulge in the wrong places (what is it with those boots?), and the blood effects still look pasted-on. These weaknesses may not have been as noticeable last year, but they are now. Also, your character still seems about four feet tall, given your perspective.
It's inspirational where it should be scary, boring when exciting things are going on and way too light-and-fluffy-instrumental for me. It'll make you feel like you've been stuck in an elevator too long. The weapon effects, even the new ones, are none-too-thrilling, though I still like the Nali chants, the Skaarj grunts, and the "hoom-hoom" of the Titans. The voice acting is decent, except for your character's nerd-boy voiceovers: for a guy, who's supposed to be some sort of criminal, he sure sounds whiny.
The game's engine is still one of the prettiest on the et, and Unreal gets credit for being the first true Quake II-killer in single-play, even if games using an enhanced Quake II engine are now giving it a serious run for its money). A return trip to the hellish planet shows us that Unreal still has a few tricks up its claw-bearing sleeves. With that said, Return to Na Pali is mediocre as mission packs go. A few new weapons and monsters barely make up for the uninspired story and mission design. Pick it up only if you must revisit last year's shooter.