Unreal II The Awakening
It is common knowledge that FPS games are technologically where it's at. This year we will see the benchmark for PC game graphics be beaten quite a few times. We are only in February and with the arrival of Unreal II it is easy to say that, in many ways, this is the best looking PC game you can buy. Later this year of course Doom III will again be setting new standards. What lies behind all this technological glitz though? Is it a satisfying gameplay experience? Unreal II has been eagerly awaited since the hugely successful Unreal Tournament and almost a year after it was intended to arrive, Unreal II is finally with us.
Of course you probably know that Unreal II has no multiplayer component so the single player game is going to have to be particularly impressive. The story goes something like this. Controlling the ex-Marine John Dalton, a Marshal for the Terran Colonial Authority, you begin the game with what looks like a mundane patrol mission. However before you know it the crew of your spacecraft, The Atlantis, have answered a distress call and non-stop action is only just around the corner. Throughout the game you'll travel to different alien worlds in order to complete your missions but whilst this might add graphical variation to the game, it sadly does no such thing for the gameplay.
Whilst Unreal II should have been remembered as one of the greatest games of 2003 it will be remembered as one of the average ones. The graphical splendour in the game is perhaps the only characteristic that has advanced. The actual gameplay is very basic FPS stuff. The whole game is as linear as could be. There is no room for deviation from the rigid script and the levels, whilst excellently designed are a simple process of moving from point A, killing aliens along the way until you get to point B, wash, rinse and repeat until the game ends. There is nothing in the gameplay that hasn't been done 2 or 3 years ago and that is a big disappointment.
What most people will complain about though is the length of the game. In all honesty you will do very well indeed to get 10 hours out of the game. With no multiplayer content and no variation in the single player game you're looking at poor value for money unless you're thinking of creating some levels yourself with the excellent included editor. The length wouldn't be so bad if there was something special here, other than the visuals, but sadly there isn't.
Of course we've already mentioned the graphics, numerous times, but they are special and the eye candy freaks out there will certainly love Unreal II for it's looks. I don't know whether it's just me but the graphics actually seem marginally better than in Unreal Tournament 2003. Of course with the beautiful character models and the superbly detailed levels that are on offer the system requirements were always going to be steep. On our Athlon XP 2000+ system that uses a GeForce4 Ti4200, we could just about play the game at 1024x768, although some of the details had to be turned down a bit to keep the framerate respectable at this resolution. The complex textures are probably the cause of a whopping 3GB installation too. Still where cutting edge graphics are concerned the latest and greatest hardware is always preferable to get the most out of the game and this is definitely a game that will showcase that £300 graphics card you lucky ones out there might have.
What came as a shock to me was that Unreal II is fully subtitled. The option is in the hud section of the options menu. All cutscenes and in-game dialogue, including the tutorial were displayed in text. There aren't many situations where not being able to hear your enemies might disadvantage you either. As we've said before the gameplay is very uncomplicated and as soon as enemies can be heard they are usually on top of you. It is refreshing to see a FPS that caters for deaf gamers by providing subtitles.
The wait has been a long one for fans of the original Unreal and it's sad to say that in all truth Unreal II won't live upto their expectations. The gloss of the superb visuals cannot hide what is a decidedly average affair and isn't as enjoyable as the original Unreal. It isn't a poor game by any means in fact whilst it lasts most gamers will enjoy Unreal II, as long as they aren't expecting anything innovative in terms of gameplay. If only there had been the option to head off in different paths and obtain different endings. As it stands you'll not want to play the game again unless you want to attempt it on a higher difficulty setting (there are 3 in all). Let's hope other developers take advantage of this game engine and give us the gameplay to match the visuals.
Game Rating: 7.0/10