Unreal II: The Awakening Review

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Graphics: 9.5
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 7.5
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 8.1
Review by Andreas Misund Berntsen

When a company like Legend Entertainment announces that they’re planning on creating the best single player experience in a first-person shooter to date, you know it’ll be big. Unreal 1 sold an incredible number of copies when it first came out, five years ago, so there is obviously suspense around the sequel. Does Unreal 2 live up to its expectations, and is it now the best single player shooter? You’ll have to read on to know.

The story of the game takes place in the same universe as Unreal 1, only this time you’re in control of a new character, Marshal John Dalton. John is an ex-marine, who now works for a police force called Terran Colonial Authority. He’s not very happy to be stationed on Atlantis, but after having been rejected from the marine on several occasions he really doesn’t have a choice. Onboard the Atlantis his crew consists of Aida Shen, the sexy female who briefs you on your missions, the ship’s engineer Isaak Borisov who also works on your weapons, and finally the weird alien pilot and navigator Ne’Ban. The plot is about seven strange artifacts that you, being a part of the good guys, must collect, and figure out what use they are. It was important to Legend Entertainment to really have a good storyline in Unreal 2. They wanted to tell more than most first-person shooters, which is very much commendable. The result is a series of real-time rendered cut-scenes in between missions, and the possibility of speaking with your crew during the briefing period. The conversations aren’t very dynamic, but you do at least you have multiple choices. To finish a conversation it’s normal to go through all of the conversation choices, so what you choose isn’t very important for how the other party will treat you.

The story of course also progresses throughout the missions you play. Even though the game is mainly as linear as they get, fun things to happen in the missions you play. The level of originality and innovation isn’t outrageously high in Unreal 2’s missions. Most are about going from your dropship to a certain location, killing everyone in your path, perhaps saving someone, or setting off a bomb or three. A very high IQ isn’t required to complete this game, but some of the later levels are actually fairly interesting. One example is where you have to set up turrets and laser-shields to fend off an attack by vicious female soldiers. There are a total of twelve missions, which should entertain you for about ten hours. As you most likely know, a good first-person shooter needs good weapons. Unreal 2 has about fifteen, and it seems like John Dalton has no problem carrying them all at the same time. The selection varies from your basic rechargeable energy blaster, to the semi-automatic rifle, to flamethrower, to the multi-purpose grenade launcher. The latter can take up to six different types of ammunition, ranging from EMP grenades which with ease disable turrets, to frag grenades, to concussion grenades. Some of the weapons could easily have been removed without the gameplay suffering at all, but they do work nicely. Shooting the foes doesn’t feel as “good” and realistic as in Soldier of Fortune 2, but at least you’ll have many ways of doing it. Accompanying the weapons is a nice set of sound effects. Overall the quality is high, and each of the weapons sound realistic and nice, but some could easily have been louder and more “badass”. Playing a first-person shooter is a good way of losing aggression and stress, so guns that both “feel” and sound satisfying is important.

Since Unreal 2 is set in a very futuristic setting it’s of course important to have a strong musical score. You won’t find the orchestra-type music we’ve heard in many World War-based shooters, but instead you get a fairly diverse selection of electronica, which is more appropriate. At times the tracks do get somewhat repetitive, but Legend Entertainment could certainly have done a lot worse with the music.

Even though the gameplay in Unreal 2 isn’t exactly superior to every shooter to date, the graphics just might be. The engine used in Unreal 2 is very much similar to the one used in Unreal Tournament 2003, but really good-looking particle effects that are used to create illusions of running water, fire, smoke and more has been added. Skeletal mesh features have also been added, which enables more realistic head tracking, eye movement, lip-syncing etc. Also, what’s great is that you can tweak it pretty much to your heart’s content. At maximum detail Unreal 2 looks absolutely spectacular, but the majority of desktop PCs won’t handle it too well, so you can drag down for instance the texture detail, shadow resolution, skin detail, world detail, etc. Turning down a couple of things should turn the slideshow into a fluid fury of action in many cases, and when changing these settings is done very quickly and without any hassle, like it having to restart, you know it’s good.

Another thing Unreal 2 certainly does well is the AI. The code works so that each creature or human being for that matter can be handled extensively. For instance, a human can be given an objective, or he could just wander around aimlessly. The human could then check the time of day, and depending on what time it was he could decide upon what to do. The monsters try their best to dodge your bullets, and the Skaarj even block some of them. In my opinion the human opponents are the most interesting, because they do fire back at you with pretty much the same weapons as you, they work in groups, and act reasonably the same way a person would. The human opponents are obviously also much more intelligent than the for instance the Izarians, who are pretty much mindless creatures. Your suit, which is pretty much state of the art, can handle a whole lot more beating than ordinary soldiers, but if you turn up the difficulty I can assure you that you’ll face seriously skilled villains.

In total you’ll be up against approximately 24 different creatures, ranging from your average human soldier, to gigantic spiders, to mutated alien critters. Those who have played Unreal 1 will also recognize the Skaarj, who are back, in search of the artifacts you’re also after. They’re still big and dangerous, but if you manage to dodge their jumps and fire when they’re not blocking you should stand a chance against them. Sometimes you’ll be up against hordes of tiny spiders, where your flamethrower is very efficient, while other times you’ll be up against bosses, who you just need to keep pounding with the big guns.

Initially Legend Entertainment wanted multiplayer in Unreal 2, with both a bunch of deathmatch and capture the flag maps, but because of time constraints it never did get made. Since John Dalton can’t exactly move as well as the “gladiators” of Unreal Tournament 2003 I think we should just be happy with UT2003, even though it could’ve been a lot of fun using the wide variety of weapons that Unreal 2 offers, in a LAN game, or over the Internet.

Conclusion:
While waiting for Unreal 2 to be released I was really under the impression that this would be a game that offered a revolutionizing gameplay experience. I wasn’t entirely sure what that would mean, but I was hoping for things like using mounted cannons, perhaps shooting out of a plane, or some other things that we don’t see in every game. Unreal 2 is by all means a good game, because it offers outstanding graphics, good sounds and music, and fairly decent gameplay. It could however have done so much more in the gameplay department, because very few of the levels are memorable the way a boss fight inside a house in a tornado (No One Lives Forever 2) is memorable.

Unreal 2 may not be the longest game to date either, offering around ten hours of gaming, but if you are like me and love sci-fi shooters, then you should definitely considering purchasing this game. To get the most out of it you should have a powerful PC, with as new a video card as possible.