Review by Grampy_Bone

Reviewed: 02/18/03 | Updated: 02/18/03

All show and no go.

Like Quake 2, the original Unreal was an unremarkable game with a remarkable engine; it went on to be one of the most licensed game engines to date, and spawned the popular multiplayer spin-off, Unreal Tournament. When it was announced that there was an Unreal 2 in development and that it would be single player only, the gaming world was understandably intrigued. Obviously for any single player FPS game to be a success nowadays, it must be a truly gripping experience. And yet after all the speculation we are presented with an attractive but thoroughly average shooter in most regards.

The Story:
In Unreal 2 you play as Marshal John Dalton, an ex-Space Marine who captains a ship of misfits and outcasts, patrolling a portion of space no one cares about. The game begins with John answering a distress call from a remote planet and after heading down to investigate, is attacked by hostile aliens. The plot goes from there and suffice it to say it will win no awards and serves mostly as an excuse to travel to the game's various locales.

While the story doesn't develop very much over the main portion of the game, each of your crewmates has their own story to tell that you will eventually learn through a very non-dramatic, un-shocking conversation scene. These characters are not too terribly original either, but they do add some much-needed depth to the game. However this is not Max Payne, so don't expect to find yourself caring too much about your protagonist or his life. What little personality he has is controlled by the player, choosing to either be interested or bored with what your crewmates have to say. Yes, there are basic 'dialogue trees' used in the game's few conversations, but these have no bearing whatsoever on the game's outcome.

Ultimately it is the gameplay that Unreal 2 will be forgotten for, and it is here where the game truly fails to shine. The game consists of around 12 missions, interspersed with interludes on your ship and pointless scenes of you landing on a planet and then flying back. There is a decent tutorial but if you've played any FPS in the last five years you will know how to play this game.

The level design is quite average. The missions are almost all completely linear affairs, and quite short. There is rarely any confusion about where you should be going, and if you ever need to flip a switch or find a key to advance it is always close by. The levels are broken up into smaller segments, further making the game just feel small. There are no real clever bits of design; every hazard or obstacle feels like it was put there purely to harry the player, not because you're in some kind of 'real' place.

The weapons in the game are all standard fare; i.e. pistol, rifle, shotgun, grenade launcher, etc. They all neither look nor sound impressive; and their performance is fairly uniform. The game's more powerful weapons somehow always fail to pack any whollop, making them hardly worth the added hazard of using them. In fact it is quite possible to finish the entire game using nothing other than the assault rifle, and since the game provides plenty of ammo for most weapons there is no reason not to do this. You simply never need to blast anything with a rocket. The game's few interesting weapons are added so late in the game their usefulness is questionable.

Your enemies in Unreal 2 consist primarily of human mercenaries and a few aliens, including the first Unreal's Skaarj. In the first few levels enemies come fast and furious and are fairly decent at evading your attacks, forcing you to aim carefully and watch your ammo. But after this the game's foes drop in number to literally a handful per level, and their AI changes to a very basic 'zig-zag until in range and then stand there and fire.' The later enemies will give even beginner FPS players little trouble on the game's default difficulty.

There are however some missions that force you to defend an area rather than attack, and to help you can set up your own laser barriers and gun turrets as well as command a few friendly marines. These portions are the real strong points of Unreal 2's gameplay. The AI for your friends however is a tad lacking and you have to talk to them directly to issue orders; some kind of global command system would have been nice.

Unreal 2's visuals are quite impressive; it's easy to see how much time the developers spent crafting them. The game's environments are varied and quite interesting. Even mundane places like mines and dams look incredible, thanks to Unreal's high polygon counts, good lighting effects, and a large attention to detail. The character models are all terrific, and even the walls and crates ooze eye candy with their individually modeled panels and pipes. The weapon effects and models however are so-so, and many of them just aren't that impressive when wielded. 'Grace', for instance, is supposed to be some kind of futuristic super-pistol, and yet it looks like a toy in Dalton's hand. The game boasts some technically impressive lighting and shadow effects, but these are rarely used to any great length, adding little to the atmosphere.

There is little music in Unreal 2, other than the intro track and the 'fight music,' and a few scene-specific songs. Whatever music there was was highly forgettable, but in the end its better than no music at all. The sound effects were decent, although the assault rifle just doesn't sound very deadly at all. There are plenty of ambient sounds to set the mood, but this is so standard now it hardly bears mentioning. The voice acting isn't bad, although the character's often fail to give their lines any real emotion or feeling. One has to wonder though if this is the fault of the talent or the script.

Overall Unreal 2 should not take more than 10 hours at most to finish, and that's only if you die very often. And after its over... that's pretty much it. There is no multiplayer, and the game's three difficulty settings offer very little variation. No particular mission or moment in the game stands out so much as to make one cry, ''I must play this game again!'' While we can all appreciate the time and effort that went into the creation of this game, its hard to recommend spending $50 for so little gaming value. In the end this game will only be enjoyed by those who prize graphics above all else. And is that really the kind of market the game developers want to foster?

The Ratings:
Story: 7 - decent, gets better at the end.
Gameplay: 5 - been there, done that
Graphics: 8 - top-notch, but little depth
Sound: 6 - better than silence
Value: 3 - short and not very sweet

Overall Score: 6

Final Verdict:
Other than it's graphics, Unreal 2 is just another standard shooter that we've all played before. It is a short experience that will likely leave you only feeling the emptiness of your pocket. It can only be recommended to the die hard FPS fan who simply must own every shooter released. There are certainly worse games than Unreal 2 out there to buy, but there also many, many better ones.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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