Unreal II: The Awakening
Windows - 2003
Description of Unreal II: The Awakening
We waited almost five years to play a ten hour game. Legend Entertainment's Unreal II: The Awakening is roughly a third the size of its predecessor, meaning that you'll be able to go from eagerly installing the game to disappointingly removing it from your hard drive for good in just two or three nights. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering that you could play the original Unreal long enough for food to spoil in your fridge, but most people still want more out of a full-price game than a couple of mildly interesting play sessions. Which is all you're going to get here, as the game comes with a single-player campaign and not much else, unless you happen to be the ooh and aah type who values gorgeous visuals over substance.
If appearance means that much to you, though, by all means buy Unreal II. This is the sharpest looking game to hit the PC in a year, and one of the most striking shooters since the original Unreal convinced thousands of people to spend big bucks on fancy new video cards back in 1998. Character models here have a roundness and human warmth in their textures and coloration that make them almost leap off the screen. They're more cartoon-like than photo-realistic, although they have a peculiarly vivid presence that tops anything we've seen. They also don't have those bulky "Quake hands" sported by every human and humanoid denizen of a first-person shooter since 1996, so bonus points have to be awarded for that aesthetic alone.
Enemies, which include alien monsters, the Skaarj warriors from the first game, humanoid soldiers, and even some mutant insects, also look pretty good, but they have the usual shooter sheen about them and are a little too glossy to be very memorable.
Model quality is matched by the level design. You venture to all manner of alien worlds during the course of the game, going to a desert planet, an icy planet, a lush tropical planet, a creepy Alien-inspired planet, and so forth. While there's nothing too original about these settings, there is a lot of diversity, and some of the settings provide spectacular vistas over alien worlds. The second level, for example, starts you on an icy cliff overlooking a gas giant and numerous moons. There are even a few special moments during play, including one encounter set in a darkened elevator that's reminiscent of the famous darkened corridor Skaarj showdown early in the first game.
Special effects are also handled with aplomb. Explosions are fiery and lifelike, especially the incendiary grenades that kick out sparks and consume anything in the vicinity. Sound is first-rate as well, aside from the faceless techno score. Directional audio is used to great effect, foreshadowing enemy attack from all angles, and each of the enemies comes with distinctive effects that range from out-and-out creepy to intimidating.
Gameplay isn't nearly as memorable as the production values. For starters, the interesting background of the original Unreal has been all but completely dumped out the air lock for a less intriguing tale about a Terran Colonial Authority Marshal John Dalton and his mates on the good ship Atlantis, a patrol vessel looking after one of the galaxy's less exciting sectors. Things soon heat up, though, and Dalton and pals -- including a drunken engineer, an alien who serves as comic relief because he can't quite speak English (there's originality), and a gorgeous female second-in-command who apparently moonlights as a lap dancer, if her boobs-a-poppin' outfit is any indication -- are gallivanting from one star system to the next on a dozen or so missions in search of seven ancient alien artifacts.
This gives the developers license to create the distinct worlds described above, but all this variety somehow robs the game of an identity. While the first Unreal may have suffered somewhat for setting every level in similar locales, its sequel suffers for trying to do too much. You never really get the chance to appreciate one planet before you're off to the next, and that's a problem no matter how much you appreciate the amazing visuals that mark each stop on the tour. In some ways, the game plays like a succession of independent mods forced into a campaign by someone with a knack for cool cutscenes.
What you do during these levels is also largely undistinguished. Everything moves forward on rails. You start a level. You blast aliens. You end a level. Combat is a fairly simplistic run-and-gun affair with adversaries that don't bother much with the niceties of dodging your fire. Unlike most recent shooters, enemies here are more interested in coming straight at you until somebody falls down than they are in ducking out of sight. Every level is filled with insanely tough battles and airless moments where you're given plenty of time to pick holes in the design and yawn. It's incredibly exasperating and dull at the same time.
Things are brightened up somewhat with a good assortment of weapons and a few varied mission objectives. Every gun that Dalton totes over the course of the game features alternate fire options and some missions force you to defend rather than attack. The latter isn't all that original (certain missions of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault seem to have provided the template in spots here), but it at least shows that Legend was making an effort to mix things up a little.
A few other issues add a further layer of aggravation to the mediocrity. There is no multiplayer option, presumably because Infogrames didn't want to compete with sister title Unreal Tournament 2003. An editor is provided, so theoretically somebody could create some multiplayer content, but for all intents and purposes, when you complete the abbreviated single-player missions, you're done with this game. Despite the dumb-as-rocks storyline that needs little or no exposition, Legend is so determined to spin a yarn here that the developers have crammed the game with cutscenes, and imbecilic ones at that, jammed with Dolph-Lundgren-movie conversations. A lot of time is spent waiting for these cutscenes -- which, incidentally, cannot be skipped -- to end.
Load times further up the annoyance ante. You need a bleeding-edge machine to crank up the visual quality and over 2GB for the minimum install, meaning that only serious gamers with serious rigs need apply here. You'll need a 2Ghz, plus a higher end GeForce4 to get playable resolutions higher than 800x600, especially when it comes to outdoor settings.
When you get right down to it, though, Unreal II: The Awakening is decidedly average even with the annoyances. Sure, this is a more than acceptable traditional FPS with over-the-moon production values and some durable, station-wagon-like gameplay, and should appease the diehards suffering from FPS withdrawal these last few months. But if you're a little more discriminating, or are one of those online types who expects to get a lot of multiplayer mileage out of a purchase, you might want to hold off until this one drops out of the new release price range. After all of this development time, it's a shame that the sequel to one of the most esteemed shooters in the history of computer gaming couldn't be more things to more people.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
Moohoo 2023-11-09 2 points
You can still download this game as well as every other Unreal game formerly on GOG through this link: https://archive.org/details/Unreal-GOG-Collection
Barrnet 2023-08-03 1 point
please release the kraken, it's now absolute abandonware
someone make a petition or something
Mike 2019-10-06 -1 point
Some years ago, I made the mistake of buying this ga... no, this piece of crap through Steam. I regret it, and I'm sorry for it. This thing is not worth the time it takes to install. The developers and publisher should only ever have gotten constructive criticism out of this, for any monetary profit they made has come from selling a lie of a game, while what they released is a slow-walking-while-an-annoying-noice-is-talking-simulator, with generic enemy types, unimaginative combat, and a Jar Jar Binks clone as your ship pilot.
I once went to nexusmods (or moddb?) looking for anything that could somewhat fix my experience with this. And I saw that there were no released mods for this. And that was when I came to the realization: people only mod games that are worth modding. And a game can only be worth modding if it first is worth playing.
Thanks for reading.
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