"You Have Returned, Foolish Man-Child"
Four bloody years it took them. Four bloody, dripping years of programming, sketching, modeling, attending conferences on the id and the self, held at "clothing optional scenic seaside locations." It took that long, and all that treacherous work, to make Unreal. Unsurprisingly, Unreal had the mark of polish and quality that the untrained eye could easily see. So what happens when you take less than one fifth of that time to craft an expansion pack? Well, you get something that lays somewhere on the sunny side of crap.
Unreal: Return To Na Pali is an expansion pack for Unreal. Produced by Legend Entertainment (who will also be making Unreal 2), Return to Na Pali picks up directly where Unreal left off. You're floating in orbit of Na Pali after escaping the surreal nightmare on the surface. You are then picked up by a terran ship, the Bodega Bay (Yes, like in Hitchcock's The Birds) and are sent back to the surface to retrieve some top secret weapons information from a derelict space craft, the Prometheus (Yes, like the Greek legend).
Once on the surface, you must battle through 17 levels, encounter one or two plot twists, utilize three new weapons, shoot three new types of badasses, and make a thoroughly anticlimactic exit. There are also a few new multiplayer maps and modes tossed into this mixed salad.
For your killing pleasure, three new guns: the Combat Assault Rifle (CAR), the Grenade Launcher, and the Rocket Launcher. The CAR is a high-accuracy, high-velocity machine gun that can also shoot out a burst for added effect. The Grenade Launcher launches... grenades. It can also be set to drop a grenade and detonate it later at the touch of a button. The Rocket Launcher launches... rockets. It can also function in the same way as the Laser Guided Half-Life variety, vectoring to where the launcher is pointed.
The weapons are a welcome addition. They all feature much more satisfying sounds, and bloody results, being therefore weapons of the coveted 'kick-ass' variety. As opposed to the classic Unreal weapons, which always felt a bit like killing someone with a tissue paper and feather dusters.
And to give you something new to shoot at, three new enemies have been added: the Spider, Pack Hunter, and the Space Marine. The Spider is... a really big spider (Squash it! Die Arachnid Die). The Pack hunter is a very quick lizard that tends to attack in groups, closing the distance with careless abandon and gnawing off your knees (Well not actually, but one can imagine). The Space Marine is sent down to kill you by your "employers." Unlike their "Aliens" brethren, your average colonial marine will not lend a helping hand like Hicks, but rather ventilate your middle like Barbara Striesand.
The levels are the great disappointment in Return to Na Pali. Although none of the levels are quite so blatantly amateurish to fall into the pit of Klingon Honor Guard, none are half as compelling or convincing as those found in the original game. Unreal had you trekking through a finely tuned mysterious world, each site topping the last in awe and wonder. Return to Na Pali has neither the polish nor the inspiration to compete.
Graphically, Return to Na Pali also falls short. Although it's still Unreal and therefore pretty, nothing substantial has been added. The new weapons and enemies are impressively modeled and skinned, appearing quite pleasing to the eye, but the environs are largely similar to those already found in Unreal. If any new textures were added you'd be hard pressed to locate them. The inferior level design and a tendency not to use the high-detail textures, cause Return to Na Pali to actually be less attractive than Unreal itself.
Graphics aside, it does introduce four new multiplayer modes: Gravity Match, in which gravity is greatly reduced. Cloak Match, in which a reversed game of tag is played, centered around a guy with a cloaking device (a cool effect by the way). Terran Weapon Match, in which only the new weapons are used. Last is Marine BotMatch in which all the opposing bots are Space Marines. The new modes breath a little more life into Unreal Multiplayer but sadly don't add anything to keep you playing for longer than a few games.
Where Unreal evoked quality, polish, and ingenuity, Return to Na Pali merely blurts mediocrity. It is a decent diversion for Unreal fans who want a little more Unreal and don't care too much about anything else. But as a simple expansion pack, Return to Na Pali does little to expand. In fact, much like the abhorrent Mysteries of the Sith expansion pack for Jedi Knight, it makes the whole game seem like less instead of more. Pick this one up if you have to kill time while waiting for Unreal Tournament. But tarry not too long, and look elsewhere on the shelf for that spark of creativity that makes the great games.