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Monday 11th September 2000:

Nehahra: "Nehahra"
(Size: 48.5 meg. Alternative downloads: Nehahra. Download the latest progs.dat)
Speedrun demos: Neh1m4 in 0:26, Neh2m5 in 1:14, Nehsec in 0:17

Overall mission pack review:

Note 1: This is the latest version of Nehahra, plus the latest progs.dat which fixed some problems with cutscene code.
Note 2: Due to this pack's differences from Quake, it was played on Medium skill, as opposed to Hard.

Nehahra is a huge 17 map project with numerous modifications to the engine, visuals, and enemy, giving an experience that is sometimes like a mission pack and sometimes like a new game entirely. While it has some notable flaws, it also has some very interesting additions and some excellent, varied maps - it's a mission pack that all players should play, however, you will have to face a seriously hard start before getting to maps that show it's true high quality - be warned. The story is (roughly) that humans have built "Forge City" in Quake's dimension. A meglomaniac in another dimension decides to attack Forge City, and you are one of the few survivors. This story is enhanced in various cutscenes: The starting cutsences are initally are slow and long winded with grating voices, but later build up to a scene-setting, filmic feel. Later on the shorter cutscenes add to the atmosphere well, and all are well filmed and made.

The numerous additions to the engine mostly work very well: Coloured lighting from weapons and explosions, glass and transparencies, rippling water a la Half-Life, extra smoothed out animations, breakable walls, full level fogging, skyboxes a la Quake 2, smooth smoke trails, smooth blood from gibs. You can see from the shots how dramatic the great skyboxes look, and the fog which can be very atmospheric. The rippling water is another highlight the increases the feel of the levels, the smoothed out animation is simply excellent, a huge difference when you see monsters moving, and the other effects are all individually beneficial. However these effects inconsistently used over the episode: Particularly the coloured lighting, which is only used for effects and not for any map lighting (and most maps would have benefitted from subtle colours), and the fogging which is rarely used, with a illogical leaps between levels without fog and levels with fog. This reduces the sense of being a coherent episode, and is perhaps less convincing than if those two effects weren't used at all.

The other additions are, of course, new monsters, weapons and power-ups, and these are mostly very good with a wide and well themed selection. Monsters include a beefed up guard with an auto-shotgun, an Enforcer/Ogre hybrid with a nailgun/strimmer combo, vicious insect/human hybrids with nailguns or more lethal weapons, toothy amphibian creatures, skull faced mages with a wide range of spells, their weaker, dark robed acolytes, disgusting blobs that vomit gibs, beefed up and bulky barbarian Deathknights, translucent floating wraiths, and of course Nehahra itself. Grunts have been modified with better weapons too. Overall these monsters are very good and fit well into Quake, only the auto-shotgunner's black coat doesn't fit in. Models, animations, and sounds are all good, however though the skins are well themed, they are worse quality than Quake's normal skins, sometimes quite blurry. These monsters provide varied fun and challenges: Some are fairly lethal, others closer to normal Quake monsters, some add more to the atmosphere than gameplay, like the wee beasties that won't attack unless provoked, and the wraiths who float through walls collecting souls - very spooky. Finally, you occasionally get help from a few friends....very nice indeed.

Weapons are just bloody cool: An automatic shotgun provides the assault weapon to end all assault weapons, while a "sprocket" gun that fires an explosive harpoon is an ideal and powerful sniper's weapon. Models and effects are both good, the auto-shotgun's drilling recoil just adding to the feel. If anything, these are too good, you might not want to use anything else... There's also a sword that replaces the axe, not very useful. Power-ups are: Flight, which makes combat more fun, Resurrection, which allows an immediate resurrection if you die, most useful, and Regeneration, which replenishes health when you get too low. You can accumulate more of the latter, with a few in stock they become extremely useful. Models for these are both great. On the subject of power-ups, the Quad is now a golden, glowing item, a pointless and illogical change since the view when Quadded is still blue. Another detrimental feature is an awful new HUD which takes up too much room, looks blurry, and is harder to read the ammo - again, a pointless change.

Gameplay is distinctive and challenging, particularly at the start which is a serious problem with the episode. The AI for monsters has been modified: most monsters move better, all react quicker. To balance this, most medieval monsters are less tough on Medium. However, the Grunts, Enforcers, and other base enemy, have had their AI cranked up to maximum: Their movement and dodging would put the best bots to shame, their reactions are instantaneous - and overall they are more of a challenge than most medieval monsters. When used sparingly, with fair supplies, this is fine once you are used to it being very un-Quakey gameplay (think Half-Life assassins...). But in the first few maps, there are lots of enemy, placed in some very nasty positions, for example in the dark or sniping from all directions, making it far, far too hard for the introduction to an episode. While all other products of this size have pleasant initial maps to introduce the player to the game, the start of Nehahra is unfortunately very offputting, which slightly spoils the pack overall.

Once past that, the gameplay is much better balanced and more reasonable. However, it may still be very hard for some players, as skill settings are not always properly used: On some levels they have little to no effect, and with all the monster changes, reduced easier options could be a severe problem. However, on Medium skill I found it quite comfortable, comparable to average levels on Hard, easing off in some medieval maps. Most maps have some good exploration, occasionally including non-linear routes, and some maps have plentiful secrets, which can be rather hard to find. After the first 3 maps, combat is generally very good: A mixture of all sorts of fighting, from ambushes to sniping to gang attacks. Some maps rely on fewer, trickier used monsters (mostly base maps), others have vast hordes. Supplies are generally good, weapons are well supplied and ammo is plentiful, especially in the later maps. Health is sparser, and this can cause problems in a few nasty sections. The ending is a couple of disappointingly cliched boss combats - the last one providing a botmatch like challenge that might be novel if you've never played deathmatch.

The pack uses some of the finest mappers known to mankind, thus the maps range from good at the worst to stunning at the best. The maps run the range of themes including base, industrial, waste, city, medieval, gothic, temple, and arcane. Custom textures are used in most maps giving them plenty of fresh and distinctive style - indeed the Id textures look comparatively poor. The map designs vary with the author's technique: some are spectacular, some are a bit plain, some are quite unusual, some more traditional, some complex and labyrinthine, some simpler and atmospheric. This does mean that some maps, like the first few, are notably overshadowed by some others, for example the middle Episode 1 maps and middle to last Episode 2 maps. Individual map reviews are found on the next page, suffice to say the mapping here is undeniably *good*. Indeed, to summarise, the pack as a whole is very good, however it is not quite the sum of it's impressive parts, a more holistic approach would have benefitted it.

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Nehahra: Individual map reviews
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