An overview of Unreal 2: The Awakening

The bottom line: I enjoyed Unreal 2. I laughed, I cried, I got a really evil look on my face and cackled maniacally when I found a really big gun. I explored vast gorgeous and detailed worlds, met exciting new aliens and filled them with little blue bolts of light. All this and I got to save all existence as we know it. Try and get a package like that from a cruise line.

Experienced gamers will want to raise the difficulty to "Unreal" to make sure they get a satisfying meaty bite out of the game.

Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let us delve into...

The rich tapestry of Unreal 2

At the core of Unreal 2 is a solid shooter, in which you assume the role of Marshal Dalton. A power armored juggernaut and lawman, stuck with the arduous task of keeping the peace in the "quiet" corner of the galaxy. In between missions Dalton is free to explore his ship, the Atlantis and talk to the members of his crew to receive information about weapons, mission briefings or to further unfold the story.

Combat in Unreal 2 has a really solid feel to it. While Daltons military grade power armor affords him fantastic protection, it also weighs him down and limits his speed. In different parts of the game you will find that Dalton is quite comfortable stomping right on down the middle of the corridors, a dreadnaught of destruction smiting all who confront you. While in others, Dalton must pick his way carefully through the area from one piece of cover to another, the tension heightening every moment you are exposed out in the open. Plenty of different enemies come packed in the box, including the Skaarj and their slaves, mutant spiders, and elite human troops. Mixed in with the standard run and gun missions are some pleasant surprises where Dalton has to defend a location with the help of of AI Marines and placable turrets and energy fences. While I usually loathe such exercises, playing around with the field generators and the turrets was fun, and provided a bit of a break where I could enjoy some more of the scenery while keeping the action flowing. Fans of sniping also have a great scene to look forward to.

The backbone of any good shooter is its weapons and Unreal 2 offers a vast arsenal, all of them with a secondary fire as you would expect from an Unreal game. Some of the basic weapons include:

  • Dispersion Pistol - The classic recharging Unreal sidearm.
  • CAR - A utilitarian assault rifle with a secondary fire that packs quite a punch.
  • Shotgun - A classic crowd pleaser, now with free incendiary shells.
  • Flamethrower - Cover the floor with napalm and light it up later.
  • Rocket Launcher - Launch a single massive explosive or send four smaller missiles to home in.
  • Grenade Launcher - Loaded with frag, incendiary, smoke, concussion, emp and toxin grenades.
  • And many many more...

While each weapon is unique and fun to use they range in their actual usefulness from: "I take it out from under my pillow in the morning and shower with it" (CAR) to "There are only three of these things" (Some magical silver bowling ball). So it iss a bit of a mixed bag. I ended up pulling out some of the more exotic weapons once or twice to say "Oh way cool!" and then put them back in favor of the guns I could kill things with. In between missions onboard the Atlantis, your weapons are stripped away, and you are given a slightly different loadout when you launch for the next mission. Sadly, any ammunition you had stockpiled is also stripped away, but is never returned. If I have managed to scrape together a thousand rounds of CAR ammunition, I expect to keep it for the next mission, instead of being sent down back down with an empty rifle and $20 to stop at the convenience store. I also found that the missions did not supply ammunition for certain weapons I had been given. I might be sent down with a grenade launcher with six grenades in it, and never find any grenades through the mission. This may have been an interesting twist if I had control over the weapons I took with me, letting me slap myself in the forhead and say "Geeze why did I take the grenade launcher!" but instead it pulled me too far out of the game as I thrashed around thinking of all the happy fun grenade time I had been promised, but was now missing out on.

Graphics seem to be something that games make extensive use of, so I will mention them here. Unreal 2 has some fantastic graphics. It is truly a polygon behemoth of mythic proportions. My 1.2ghz Athlon and GeForce 3 may no longer be the bleeding edge, but Unreal 2 does not have to rub my nose in it. Even with resolution and details turned down, the game frequently slipped into nostalgic alien vacation slideshows (here is Uncle Earl on Tau Ceti, here is Uncle Earl on Tau Ceti taken from a dropship, here is Uncle Earl being cut in half by a Skaarj...) that summoned forth bittersweet memories of playing the origional Unreal. The outdoor environments are enormous and enriched with wonderful detail, however I feel they are somewhat wasted. While you are presented with this huge landscape, your path along it very clear, short, and dull. An example of this can be found when you touch down in a foggy swamp area, full of interesting terrain, flora and fauna. Rather than exploring the area looking for clues to your destination while battling the local elements, you take a 60 second hike following a path of big red beacons. A couple hundred thousand polygons went into that scene so that I could ignore them while I played Pac-Man for 60 seconds. I feel that this is most of the reason why the game is so short, (I polished it off in a couple of short sessions) placing all those polygons takes a lot of time, and the time that the player spends in that area needs to be proportional if every drop of worth is going to be squeezed out of those polygons. We are approaching an era in 3D gaming where a single character model contains more polygons than an entire level did when 3D games were first being developed. If 200,000 polygons are going to go into an area, anything less than 200,000 polygons of gameplay is going to be inadequate, no matter how good it looks.

There is no multiplayer included with Unreal 2, which some people seem to have taken umbrage over. I think it was a wise move to exclude multiplayer from Unreal 2. There already exists a branch of the Unreal universe dedicated to multiplayer gameplay in the Unreal Tournament series. This leaves the paths clear for creating and honing games individually to be the best single player and multiplayer experiences they can be.

And that wraps up Unreal 2: The Awakening. Be sure to stick around for the next time I start to review a game and end up riverdancing on my soapbox.

*Please note that due to recent budget cuts the bottom line can be found at the top of the article.