Review by DrExplodo

Reviewed: 03/28/03 | Updated: 03/28/03

Seriously Flaws Keep This From Being A "Must-Buy", But It's Still Very Fun

It’s been roughly four years since the arguably revolutionary “Unreal” hit stores and much has been said about Unreal 2’s development in the last couple of years. Revolutionary graphics, gameplay, AI and plot elements have all been hyped at some point in time; Legend has practically promised a masterpiece. Now the game is out everywhere and, as could be expected, some of these claims are true and others aren't. Few people consider this a masterpiece, however (and I’m not one of those few) and a handful have even been bashing it as one of the most disappointing games since Daikatana. Let’s examine Unreal 2 element by element:

Graphics and Sound: The graphics in Unreal 2: The Awakening have to be its finest point. In my opinion they even surpass those in Unreal Tournament 2003, albeit not by much. The UnrealTech engine (formerly titled “Unreal Warfare”) really shines and I expect to see it employed nearly as much in the future as the original Unreal engine was in the past. Not only does Unreal 2 have an engine that allows for state of the art rendering, but that capability has been used masterfully, composing a wide variety of different atmospheres to fight in and explore. Since the game takes the player from planet to planet, you’ll see a combination of expansive outdoor areas with verdant alien plant and animal life abounding, industrial complexes with beautifully detailed machinery and electronic devices, fortified military bases, thick-misted underground environments- even an alien hive planet reminiscent of the movie “Aliens” which has to be the most stunningly detailed level ever created in a first-person shooter. Additionally, there are a moderate variety of finely detailed enemies, top-notch particle rendering effects, and much, much more. The sound and music are definitely above average; I particularly enjoyed the weapon sounds. Getting the most out of this game graphically may be taxing on your system, but probably not horribly so. Personally, I use a Pentium 4 2 Ghz processor, a 128 MB GeForce 4 graphics card and 512 MB of Ram and I can run the game smoothly with all graphic options turned up to the maximum except for resolution, which I keep at 1024x768. Unreal 2: The Awakening will wear the crown for FPS graphics until the day Doom 3 is released.

Gameplay: The core of any FPS, or any other game, always boils down to how it plays. Unreal 2 plays very well, in my opinion. However, it is lacking in innovative gameplay concepts. It isn’t any more revolutionary than its electronic sibling, Unreal Tournament 2003. Few new concepts have been employed, but it remains plainly and simply fun to play. The weapons are mostly very interesting and finely honed. There are over a dozen different weapons, everything has a double trigger, and none of the original Unreal’s weapons have been lazily carried over except for the Sniper Rifle, which is the same sort of thing you’ll see in any other FPS. Personal favorite weapons of mine include the clever and fine-tuned standard assault rifle, the hydra grenade launcher, which employs six different grenade types, and the nicest-looking flamethrower ever rendered on a PC. A few of the weapons are practically useless, though. Curiously, the most often advertised weapons have been among the most disappointing. The self-piloting, laser-firing drone called a “Takkra” could have been great but does almost no damage and the Spidergun- which replaced the Leechgun that never made the “final cut”- came out as both conceptually ridiculous and grossly underpowered. Most of the enemies in the game are fairly interesting, but there is a slight lack of different kinds of them. In most levels there are only 3 different types of enemies to fight, although one type may use different weapons on different occasions. The AI seems to have advanced very little. Most enemies are good at employing cover and have limited group-based tactical capability, but I had heard about things like enemies providing cover fire for each other and launching pincer attacks, and those things rarely occur and always as scripted events. Your character has a few new tricks up his sleeve- such as jumping, catching a ledge and “vaulting” up, like in “Tomb Raider”- but his power armor renders him a bit slower than I felt comfortable with. Overall the gameplay is quite good, but fails to be quite at the top of its class.

Story: The story of Unreal 2: The Awakening is one of its major flaws, in my opinion. The primary plot of the game- and I’ll be general here so as to give nothing away- is that the Terran Colonial Authority (a human government agency representing the game’s primary protagonists) have stumbled across a mysterious alien artifact and learned that there are a series of them that, if combined, could create a weapon of devastating power. You go from planet to planet on a sort of intergalactic scavenger hunt, so to speak. They elaborate on the artifacts very little and I consider it a tired premise. I found the secondary characters agreeable enough, but I think the subplots were slightly clichéd and highly predictable. Also, the game is incredibly linear. There are no branching plotlines or alternate endings. Also, I found the ending very disappointing. Personally, I care very little about storylines in first-person shooters. If I wanted a good plot I’d take up an RPG or adventure game. If story is important to you in an FPS, though, you may find yourself unmotivated by the events that unfold in Unreal 2.

Replayability: This is Unreal 2: The Awakening’s biggest fault. It is an extremely short game; don’t expect it to last much more than 10 hours or so. There are three different difficulty settings, but each has the same missions and mission parameters and even the same enemy AI, as far as I can tell. The only obvious differences are in how much damage you inflict and absorb. Even so, I’ve played straight through the game several times out of the pure enjoyment of the gameplay and graphics (I’m a sucker for eye candy). But I really would have liked to see more missions or the ability to choose which missions to undertake. This game will not last long and each time playing through it will be very similar to the last.

I ultimately feel disappointment for Unreal 2: The Awakening, but mild disappointment, and I do consider it money well-spent. It has proved a graphical masterpiece and a legitimately fun game, but otherwise nothing too exceptional. The AI breakthroughs aren’t there, the gameplay breakthroughs aren’t there, and as diverse and interesting as the levels might be, they don’t last nearly long enough. If you like FPS games primarily as shooters, love great graphics, have few concerns for plotline and aren’t too low on cash to dish some out for a short game, I recommend this whole-heartedly. If you expect unique, unpredictable and intricate plots and demand innovation and length in your games, even at the expense of eye-candy, this is not your title.

Graphics: 10/10 Gameplay: 8/10
Story: 4/10 Replayability: 2/10
Overall: 7/10
(Where 1 is unacceptably pathetic, 5 is a decent, average game and 10 is revolutionary, i.e. Doom, Half-Life, etc.)

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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