Unreal II: The Awakening

Unreal II: The Awakening

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 2/9/2003 for PC  
More On: Unreal II: The Awakening
How many of us here can actually remember the first Unreal? Remember how awestruck you were by that opening fly-by that led to the main menu? Can you recall your amazement when you saw that gigantic waterfall for the very first time? And how about that early sequence when your trapped in the corridor, only to have the lights turn off one by one as you’re attacked by an unknown creature? That game was breathtakingly amazing and it succeeded because surprises, as it seemed, were abound at every single corner. Not surprisingly, the sequel fails because it chooses to abandon the very premise that made the original so remarkable and goes the direct route, making the game far too dull and straightforward for its own good. It’s often said that sequels, while more successful in terms of profitability, are far more inferior than the originals. Sadly, Unreal II: The Awakening fails to deviate from this mold.

At times Unreal II comes off feeling like a graphical showcase of some sorts, as if Legend and Epic decided that the Unreal Tournament-style of gameplay was the direction that they wanted to take with the series. Instead of feeling like a fully-fleshed and well thought out single-player endeavor, Unreal II often feels like a piece of fluff material, designed solely to detract attention away from the hordes of gamers who are drooling over the screenshots of Doom III. It’s almost like the middle child in a family, it’s constantly being neglected and it has a constant desire to be the focus of attention. Thus it goes out of its way to try and prove to everyone that it’s just as good as its siblings but of course, nothing is quite as good as the original, so it fails and exposes to the world that it should only perform the tasks that it is capable of performing. Thus we have Unreal II, a game that sets out to prove something but in the end, really fails to make an impact in an already overcrowded market.

And why does it feel like this? It’s simple, the gameplay is well below the bar set by top-tier titles such as No One Lives Forever 2 and Soldier of Fortune 2. Legend (who was also responsible for Wheel of Time) seems to have taken the AI code directly from that of Unreal Tournament 2003’s, leading to a fairly weak adventure. Enemies in the original were a fairly intelligent bunch, using cover whenever available and retreating to find numbers when wounded. Sure it wasn’t groundbreaking but it was admirable job that led to an above average experience. It seems that time hasn’t been kind to these creatures as they have abandoned all semblances of intellect, deciding that things like strategizing and utilizing cover was a big waste of time. Instead they’ve opted to settle on the often overused bum rush you at every opportunity technique.

Not much in the way of gameplay, but boy is it shiny!

Most of the battles in the game will basically fall into this construct: You run around the corner and see a group of enemy troops. Suddenly they’ll see you and make a beeline towards your destination. Utilizing some of your smarts, you’ll hide behind a corner and wait for them to appear in your crosshairs, allowing you to mow them down without much trouble or incident. Repeat this sequence a few dozen times and you’ve got the gist of what Unreal II is really about. Some of the levels are nicely laid out, such as ones that operate like the assault missions in the original Unreal Tournament, except you’re on the defensive side of things. Besides those though there just isn’t much here in terms of action and excitement.

For a game that has been released in 2003 it sure feels old and dated. Yes the visuals are nothing short of spectacular but I think that today’s gamers demand something more exciting and intelligent than this. Programmers can’t rely on shiny textures and pyrotechnics to draw their audiences anymore. Medal of Honor put you in some truly memorable battles, No One Lives Forever 2 drew you in with its engaging gameplay and offbeat wit and Soldier of Fortune 2 drew you in with the promise of excessive blood and gore. Unreal II can basically offer you lots and lots of shiny explosions but aside from those, not much else.
You really have to ask yourself why you’re playing this game, if you’re looking for tense and exciting story-driven action then you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for a game with enough pyrotechnics to make a WWE fan blind, then you’ll feel right at home. In a word, this game is stunning, simply stunning. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe how beautiful this game is and to be honest; I don’t think that any amount of words will be able to do this baby justice.

Oddly attractive, in that she can probably hand my ass to me on a silver platter sort of way.

From the onset of the game you’ll notice a cavalcade of brilliantly implemented designs and effects. Many of the levels, especially an early one named “Hell,” are just downright gorgeous. Perhaps it’s the attention of detail inherent in each of the game’s levels, rarely will you encounter a plain or barren room and if so, it’ll still manage to retain some sort of visually redeeming qualities. Each level oozes with life and personality and if you’re a fan of the eye candy, this game will have you coming back for seconds.

Then there are the weapons, from a visual standpoint they are quite spectacular. The models themselves seem to be a step up from last year’s Unreal Tournament 2003. You’ll notice a little more refinement in some of the shapes and curvatures and of course, variety. There are some truly odd weapons, such as a device that fires spider mines, a laser-like object and an odd weapon that can be used as a heat-seeking device or a revolving protective shield. And then there’s the flamethrower and boy, is it a flamethrower. I used to think that Gray Matter (Kingpin, Return to Castle Wolfenstein) was the master of the flame but after playing Unreal II, it’s quite obvious that the title belongs to Legend. Then there are the models which I would say are about on par with what UT2003 was putting out. As a nice touch, the aptly named ‘rag doll physics’ make an appearance here as well. If you need an example of how this works I ask you to refer to Dennis Rodman’s infamous appearance on Fox’s Celebrity Daredevil. It’s beautiful really, just beautiful. In terms of visuals this game grabs you from the onset and refuses to let go, holding you firmly in its grip until the very end.
Sadly that’s where the highlights end. The rest of the game is pretty sub-standard and underwhelming, including the audio portions. After having heard the amazing sound effects that populated UT2003 I had high hopes and aspirations for Unreal II, sadly what greeted me was far below my expectations. While the weapons pack a huge bang in the visuals department they tend to go out with a whimper when it comes to the sound effects. Sure you’ve got fireworks but what are fireworks without the loud explosions? Every effect in the game is just so underwhelming, as if I had just gotten off a cross-Atlantic flight and my eardrums were still numb from the pressure. At times I thought that it was a problem with my speaker set as I constantly found myself checking my Z-680s to make sure that I had it on the proper settings.

As you may have heard this game has absolutely no multiplayer elements. It’s really detrimental to the game and after having played through its entirety, I feel that this omission really hurts the overall package. Epic and Legend’s reasoning behind its absence resided in the focus on the single-player aspects, giving the gamer a great reason to expect an amazing solo game. This is especially highlighted by the game’s lack of replay value. The game can be completed in well under 8 hours and after you’ve finished it, there’s little rhyme or reason to revisit it again. With the offline game being so weak, the absence of the online game only further highlights this game’s deficiencies.

It's beautiful, but it comes at a price.

As you probably could guess this game is quite the resource hog as well, bringing our test system (P4 2.4 Ghz, 512MB RAM) to its knees at some points. If you’re planning on playing this game will all the details pumped up then we recommend you have behemoth of a system. Speaking of system, don't play this game if you're expecting to use that shiny new Audigy 2 soundcard. Turning on EAX will cause the game to crash at random moments. The in-game bug reporter, which functions much like that of Windows XP's, tells me that I'm not the only one experiencing these problems. Turning off EAX fixes this problem but then again, who buys a $200 sound card so that they can listen to software sound streams?

Playing Unreal II really reminds me of being in a time warp. It feels like I’ve been transposed back to a time when multiplayer didn’t exist and the levels were bland and straightforward. There’s just nothing here to draw my attention and with the exception of the excellent visuals, I’m compelled to stay away from this game.
Like a runway model the game is externally beautiful but as you peel away the top layers, you begin to discover its deep and dark secrets. Secrets so disheartening that you just may never want to see them again. Not that Unreal II is a bad game, but by no means is it a great game.

Rating: 7.4 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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