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Sunday, 2 February 2003

Unreal II - The Review [lurks]

When Unreal came out, the game blew us away. It looked absolutely stunning and the story played to the strengths of the new engine to make a really special single player game. Now I've been playing the Unreal II: The Awakening, the sequel. So now that Legend have taken up the content reigns and Epic have concentrated on the engine, has this resulted in a game of equal standing?
Well, I'm sorry to say but no it hasn't. What we have is an FPS by the book, by the numbers. There's very little new in any aspect of it. What is new is the stunning visuals and there's a lot of entertainment value out of going 'Wow' and just appreciating that finally game designers are making 3D models for the incidental set pieces rather than just drawing textures. It's like the Legend team have some people that can be bothered, that are happy to go to work and others which drag their carcass into work as a chore.
Barely seconds into the game and the player is confronted by a camera sweep that the designers couldn't even be bothered to animate smoothly. The basic premise of game has our Marshal 'John' (no, really) as captain of a vessel. In some sort of vague nod the the increasing sophistication of FPS games in some quarters (like Deus Ex), Unreal II employs dialog when talking to characters in a very basic sense.
They were on the right track, for sure. The idea of being able to walk around your ship and talk to the crew is a good one. Walking into a room to be given a briefing complete with obligatory 3D holo thinggy is a good idea although nothing of the briefing is useful and it just adds to the string of poorly conceived and executed cut scenes which you can't skip. Even the door to the room thoughtfully locks you in.
While one doesn't expect some sort of open ended structure to a bog standard FPS, the degree to which Unreal II is on rails is very apparent. You wont need to walk around for long to find something in a puzzle. On the whole the game is easy (I played on the middle 'Normal' setting) and there's nothing to tax the brain at all. So if we accept all of this, what we can count on is some superb visual and plenty of good shoot-em-up action which is what it's all about.
The humanoid adversaries tend to be tough, if not in armor, in the fact that they'll start shooting you with a shotgun from the other side of the map before you've seen the guy. The 'bot' strength of the engine has been used but zero thought appears to have gone into supporting a sneaky player, just an accurate player. As the type of person that prefers a good ambush as opposed to a head on firefight, I was left wanting.
The weapons themselves all feel weedy. There's nothing that makes you go 'Wow' or conveys some sense of power, even the rocket launcher.
Obviously you can gather I'm not a huge fan of Unreal II yet I have actually played it through quite a bit. The interest is maintained through stunning visuals and very tasty level design. There are also some engineered gameplay events which are quite pleasant, if not innovative in any way.
What is most annoying about Unreal II is how it could have been a great game. It has most of the work done, all it's lacking is attention to detail and some thought at how to advance the genre. Perhaps a little more respect for the cognitive ability of the game player wouldn't have gone astray either.
As it is, Unreal 2 is an FPS by numbers that rings hollow with the sound of bored game developers at Legend Entertainment. It's not a terrible game, it's even worth a play and probably the relatively inexpensive 25 quid asking price. However be prepared to shake your fist at the sky and wish that the developers had a little more passion for games than is evident in this run-of-the-mill effort.

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