Unreal II: The Awakening


posted 2/9/2003 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: PC
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.
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