Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
|a game by||Looking Glass Technologies, Inc.|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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Less than a year ago, a group of designers and artists introduced what eventually became one of the most talked about dungeon games ever. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss won high praise from both critics and buyers alike, even winning VG&CE's Computer Game of the Year award for 1992. But give credit to Looking Glass Technologies for not letting success go to its head (at least, not so soon). The release of the sequel within a year of the original's debut only proves that the talents at Looking Glass Technologies are determined to prove themselves the finest electronic dungeon masters ever.
Anyone who has been following the third Ultima trilogy will remember the Guardian, a malevolent entity who occupies an alternate dimension from that of Britannia. One year after the Guardian's defeat (as chronicled in Ultima VII: The Black Gate), Lord British, sovereign ruler of Britannia, orders a feast in honor of the Avatar who so handily defeated the Guardian. But the celebration is premature; the Guardian was only set back temporarily, and has now encased the entire castle in a blackrock gem. As the Guardian's forces ravish the land, the Avatar must travel to eight alternate worlds to free the people (or things) from the Guardian's icy grip, ultimately bringing down the ebony wall that surrounds the castle and facing the Guardian once again.
As you travel to the various worlds, you will encounter the inhabitants of special locations who are under the oppression of the Guardian. Interacting with the inhabitants via a multiple-choice parser and solving the numerous quests each will ask of you will cause the Guardian's jurisdiction to slowly subside, paving the way for the release of the castle in Britannia.
Certain quests in one particular world might require an item from another world, which certainly reinforces the manual's claim that Underworld II is "a nonlinear gaming environment." That claim is by no means an exaggeration, making it imperative that you keep exhaustive notes. Of course, it certainly helps when the game includes one of the best examples of an auto-map this industry has ever seen: the ability to write directly on the map and, by way of a new feature, the ability to save each map as a separate GIF file for later editing and printing.
For players who haven't experienced the original game, the interface will take a bit of getting used to. Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds plays quite differently than most other dungeon games, with its use of a free-moving game world. All actions, including moving and selecting items, can be performed with the mouse. Even a combination of keyboard and mouse controls is available, though the keyboard lacks the elegance and fluidity of the mouse.
Due to the game's extensive use of a technique known as "textured mapping," where polygon images are overlaid with bit-mapped graphics, the game can play at a rather sluggish pace for slower machines (a minimum of a 386 SX is required). Those fortunate enough to own a faster machine (dare I say a 486?) will enjoy an unprecedented sense of freedom found in no other game that allows such movement. Running full steam ahead down a gently sloping corridor (something you can't do in those other "similar" games), with a rather large dread spider on your tail (spewing green ichor from a belly wound that you accidentally inflicted), suspends all possible belief that this is "only" a computer game.
To say the graphics have improved over the original is somewhat misleading. I should say the graphics are enhanced, since the original Underworld had graphics that surely suited all who saw them. These enhancements include better detail and clarity. As monsters scale closer to your perspective, they're less blocky than before (an inherent problem with scaled graphics). Even the view screen is increased by a decisive 30%, giving you a larger view into the underworld.
Not surprisingly, the sounds have also improved, as the game uses a full assortment of digitized sound effects, from the opening of doors and the slicing of a sword, to the inimitable tone of the Guardian as he speaks to you in dreams.
Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds proves that games can have the perfect balance between technological achievement and solid role-playing enjoyment. But, if you're hardheaded and want the next best thing, I know the location of a few good lava tubes here in Hawaii.