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Unreal II: The Awakening

Developer: Legend Entertainment | Publisher: Atari
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 02/03/03 | Genre: FPS

Let's get one thing straight before we begin, so not to confuse anyone: Unreal II is better than the original. It is, in fact, a good shooter... but it isn't the best out there, which spells mediocre doom for shooters. The game definitely boasts superb graphics like the first one did for shooters of its time. It has better direction and keeps the drive to play longer than the first couple missions with endless mind-numbing levels to follow. But, again, it isn't the best out there. Unreal II comes off as merely okay. What utterly sinks the game into the sea of disappointments is that fact that the staple life-force of shooters, multiplayer, has been unexplainably abandoned.

Do not buy Unreal II looking to continue the somewhat story of Unreal because the two share nothing, save the futuristic universe, in common. You are now Dalton, a space marshal patrolling some far forsaken end of the universe with a crew of two former space marines and a babbling alien pilot. The new tale set to justify your blasting away of clunky, uninspired alien life forms is laid out well with clear set goals, but you are led through the "non-action" parts by long, drawn out cutscenes. Hoping to inspire you to get hooked into the story, Legend Entertainment has you talk to your crew in between missions. Sadly, the dialogue is worse than horrible B movies. Once you find a character with something worthwhile to say, you enter the deep place: the cutscene of the cutscene. The adverse effect of these scenes is to push you to crash land your ship into the planet, rather than listen to your crew's drivel.

You and your crew end up shooting your way through 12 well-designed missions in pursuit of seven mysterious (are there any other kinds?) alien artifacts. What really is fun and a better developed, yet not totally new idea in Unreal II is the addition of defensive levels. One great level has you blast your way to the top of a tower and then defend using only a sniper rifle a marine repairing some equipment. You must then make your way to another base and defend it with help from friendly troops until a rescue ship arrives. Again, these maps aren't new, but Unreal II has to better planned and executed addition.

Battle is raged across snow, desert, random scientific and military facilities, and the all-mighty biomechanical alien hive. Graphically, Unreal II is amazing. Levels are fabulous (though no damage can be seen from all the blasting going on), and the pyrotechnics are so great, you'll want to set everything on fire just to "ooh" and "ahh" at how cool it looks. Legend made sure to emphasize this marvel by suppling one third of your weapons cause things to combust and catch flame, so, yeah, that's fun. The lighting, particle, and smoke effects are also well done. The new Unreal engine is also capable of creating large outdoor areas, and to again emphasize this ability, you start many levels far away from wherever or whatever building you are supposed to get to.

First-person shooters live and die by combat. If killing things isn't cool and done is mass amounts, success is but a dream. This, unfortunately, is where Unreal II falls down on itself. No amount of graphics or story can save this genre of game if fighting is the cornerstone of development. Now, understand, Unreal II isn't necessarily bad, but there isn't anything memorable as there was in the original. Weaponry, though comprised of the standard assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, laser pistol, rocket launcher, and flamethrower, isn't the problem. Each, of course, has a second firing option (rocket launchers can fire homing missiles, and the shotgun can now set people on fire), and there are some nifty, unconventional alien weapons that have some interesting abilities. There is a device that can set off a swarm of biting spiders to attack an enemy, or a flying ball that tracks down and attacks enemies, which can also be used as a defensive shield.

The major, repeat MAJOR, problem with this title is the AI. Gunfights are quick and predictable. Enemies remain in the same position, eliminating replay value, and lumber at you in clunky fashion. The gunfights are completely straightforward. The opposition ranges from your grunt aliens of low intelligence to smarter than the average human alien soldiers to unimpressive and unimaginative bosses. Each, while exhibiting some duck-and-cover tactics, as a whole general run a zigzag rush philosophy. Little more can be said of the AI because there is little there to talk about.

With no multiplayer, at least at this point with no rumors of patches and/or upgrades, to play Unreal II again would be like pulling teeth. Who wants to go through those long-loading cutscenes again? Not a lot of positives have been mentioned, but that is only for the fact the positives are standard to most, if not all, shooters. Unreal II is a decent shooter, but it falls far short of the level set by the original and expected from its creators, especially with the time spent in development. It falls even further from its title of being Unreal.

By Peter Humpton - 02/13/03
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Violence
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Screenshots for Unreal II: The Awakening

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