Unreal II: The Awakening
After a year of waiting (you have been waiting, right?), Unreal II finally hits a console. I’ll try to ignore the fact that the PC version, which looks nicer and lets you play with more people online, is also cheaper. The question is, since Xbox is already so lousy with Halo-ish titles, can you be quite so unbiased? The meat of Unreal II lies in its singleplayer game a dozen missions that do little to advance the genre but do look very, very pretty while going through the motions. Ultimately, however, single player suffers from a too-short story and dumb-as-rocks enemies, whod rather bum-rush than exhibit any sort of tactical acumen. But things look up with the XMP multiplayer mode, Unreals take on capture the flag its confusing at first, but get eight or 12 people going at once, and its Halo-class chaotic fun. Unreal II is ideal if you need some Xbox Live sci-fi shooting right now, but if not...not
Heres what Awakening puts on the table: a whole lotta guns and a bunch of dumb, ugly aliens to shoot with em take it or leave it. Sure, theres some mumbled story about a bunch of space bugs fixin to get their misshapen claws on some ancient artifacts, but your role here is nothing more than glorified inter-galactic exterminator. The co-op mode suffers from a bit of slowdown, but the Live modes team-based sci-fi combat should hold you over until Halo 2.
Unreal II plays like every first-person shooter pre-Halo. In fact, it begins so poorly, in such spectacularly mediocre fashion, that were I not reviewing it, Id have chucked it in a drawer until someone invented a way to retroactively make the first half interesting. But the threadbare plot begins to make some sense thereafter, and the reliance on sheer firepower gives way to more open-ended game-play. Bringing up the rear, and saving the game from obscurity, is a solid multiplayer Live game and the now de rigueur co-op mode (OK, so maybe it was made after Halo). Its too short, and not exactly gaming genius, but its medium fun while it lasts.
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You could package Unreal 2 in a different box and call it 'Alien Shoot 'Em Up'? and there would be no substantial difference ' this is a generic, rest on your laurels title from developer Epic that, while beautiful to look at, is a bloated (3GB mandatory install), largely plotless shooter that is disappointing given the pleasant surprise that the original Unreal was when it was released.
Here's the long and short of the game: alien artifacts have turned up that, when meddled with, unleash a whole host of nasty creepy crawlies that you need to reduce to protoplasm or somehow send back from whence they came.
Your supposed motivation for all this is that you were once a military man who got busted out of the service for some vague transgression and are now working to show 'em they never should have kicked you out in the first place.
See also: virtually every cop / military / secret agent movie or TV show in the last 30 years.
Anyhow, now you're working for some faceless, futuristic military industrial corporation out in the bad neighborhoods of the universe with your buxom, sultry, tattooed first officer whose sole job seems to be walking you from the briefing room to your ship and back in her tight leather pants.
I have to pause here and ask: why even bother with a plot when all it entails is a bunch of maddeningly time consuming cut scenes, pointless conversations, and a storyline that, for the entire game can be summed up as 'fly to the next planet and kick alien butt' Oh yeah, blah, blah artifacts' blah blah, you might get your military rank back' blah, blah you wonder if your first officer might like you.
Why complain about this, when really we all know this is a shooter and that plot is often secondary in these titles? Because even with the aforementioned 3GB install, these memory-hog cut scenes and pointless conversations make for an inexcusable number of CD accesses and delays in gameplay.
Get used to this: loading' stand by' initializing. You'll see this no less than a dozen times before you finish your first minor mission, including three forced cut scenes of nothing more than your ship flying around over some planetscape or other before you even get to unholster your pistol for the first time. Grrr.
Now, there are some good things about Unreal 2 to be sure: it is a beautiful, beautiful game. Played on an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro the details, colors, and lighting effects are a wonder to behold. In fact, some of the best parts of the game are just looking around. Weather, ambient effects (steam, light, fire, water, molten metal, etc.), and texture details are all standard-setting, just as was the original Unreal. Very nicely done.
The audio is also terrific, however I gave it a 3 for this simple reason: if you use the recommended SoundBlaster Audigy and check the EAX option in the setup you will get a general protection fault and lose your place in the game about once every five minutes. Clearly this was not fully tested as it should have been. Like its predecessor, expect a host of patches and updates to correct these 'minor'? problems.
Gameplay is exactly what you'd expect of a shooter these days: some nicely hidden enemies that make you jump (especially if, like me, you really don't like spiders), some moderately tough puzzles, and some creative layouts, traps, and terrain that keep you thinking about where to step, jump, or try to squeeze through to get to your next objective.
What you will immediately notice as missing is any kind of multiplayer. Yes, yes, there's Unreal Tournament in all of its permutations, but it's a shame that even here in 2003 there's still little on the market other than Serious Sam and Ghost Recon that allows any kind of co-op multiplayer' it would be great fun in Unreal 2, to say nothing of a little deathmatch action.
Ultimately, while there is a lot of eye candy here, there's nothing at all new. Your money is much better spent on Medal of Honor or Return to Wolfenstein or saved for Doom 3 or Duke Nukem Returns when and if the latter ever comes out.