Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Unreal II: The Awakening (PC)

Developer:Legend Entertainment|Release Date:2003|Systems:Windows, Xbox

Today on Super Adventures I thought I'd do something wild and play a video game for once. Unreal II: The Awakening to be specific, a first person shooter from the Xbox era, when PC games often came on multiple CDs stacked up on the same spindle to maximise the chances of one of them getting scratched. That's what my copy's like anyway, so I hope it still works.

Actually I'm not sure it ever really worked properly for me, as all I can remember about the game is that I stopped playing it early on when it crashed to desktop a couple of times. But I get the feeling I probably could've gotten further in it if I'd wanted to, and now that I'm writing about it I'll endeavour to be more persistent (whether I like the game or not).

The original Unreal was co-developed by Epic and Digital Extremes, but they were busy with the Unreal Tournament side of the franchise, so Unreal II: Unnecessary Subtitle was developed by the folks who made the Return to Na Pali expansion pack instead, Legend Entertainment. This was Legend's last ever game before being shut down by their owners, but they'd been around a while and were mostly known for making adventure games. So there's a non-zero chance that the writing might be better than the first person shooting here. I'm not getting my hopes too high for either though to be honest.

(Clicking the pictures will make them bigger, but not much bigger.)


Uh, this is weird. I wasn't expecting the game to begin with a journey through someone's optic nerve, with the whole screen shaking whenever the bass hits in the music loop. I keep waiting for it to turn into a cutscene or show a company logo or something but nope, it just went to black and continued playing the same bit of music over and over.

Oh damn, I think the intro's broken! Well that's not the best omen. Though looking on the bright side, the game can't crash to desktop if it never loads at all.

Okay bored now, I'm pressing escape.

Unreal 2 main menu screen
If you ever wanted to know what Unreal II's main menu looks like today you are in luck. I was expecting the trippy pre-menu sequence to keep playing in the background but instead there's a still image of some vague sci-fi location back there. The first game had a fly-through of a castle behind it to show off the graphics, but this doesn't want anything to distract from its important menu options.

Speaking of options, the original Unreal let me choose my character (well my character skin really), but this isn't so keen on letting me define its protagonist. I can pick the difficulty though at least and I'm choosing... normal. Like I always do. All other settings have been maxed out, as it is a game from ancient times and I'm sure my modest rig is up to it.

Oops, I think playing it in widescreen has broken the cutscenes. The game's gone and put cinematic widescreen bars on an image that's already widescreen, making it ultra cinematic. That's around 2.96:1! I think I like it this way though.

In fact I love this shot in general. I don't know what I was expecting from the game, but beautiful space scenes wasn't it. They've even got a separate cloud layer drifting across the planet, it's really well done.

The soundtrack's not what I expected either, as it seems to have dropped Unreal's sequenced techno and become traditional orchestral sci-fi music. So far at least.

Right now the intro's mostly showing off a bunch of angles of this ship as it drops off a little one-man fighter, all rendered in-engine. It runs on Unreal Engine 2 by the way, in case that was in doubt. The engine wasn't quite as ubiquitous as Unreal Engine 3, which seemed to power basically every PlayStation 3 era game, but a fair few games made use of it, like BioShock, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Postal² and Splinter Cell.

After a loading screen the bloke flies down to the Terran Colonial Authority HQ and the camera pulls right in to the control room window to show off that the engine can do landscapes and indoor rooms simultaneously. Though now I'm starting to think that the screen actually is a bit too narrow.

There, I set it to a more traditional res so that the characters' heads don't get cut off.

I'm playing as John Dalton, a Master Chief wannabe who's so ready for action that he even wears his bulky power armour to the office. He sounds a lot like he looks... actually he sounds like every Redguard you meet in Morrowind and Oblivion, mostly because he's got the same voice actor.

His boss, Commander Hawkins, informs him that his request for reinstatement in the marines has been denied yet again. We don’t know why he was kicked out, that’s deliberately left a mystery, but I’m thinking it was for disobeying orders so that he could save puppies or something. Dalton’s pissed off at being stuck doing the most boring space patrol for another six months at least, but Hawkins is a military type so he tells him to stow it and then offers him a choice of new game or tutorial.

Unreal 2 hawkings TCA uniform
Well the faces aren't incredible, but that uniform's pretty good. It's a little like a short-sleeved version of the Battlestar Galactica uniforms. Actually it looks just like a better version of the Systems Alliance outfits in Mass Effect.

I've got dialogue choices on screen over on the left, but they're a bit small so I'll zoom in on them for you:

I decided to go with 'Tutorial' and was happy to hear Dalton say a line out loud even though I'm in first person view. I'm even happier that the keys on the numeric keypad work for making dialogue choices.

It didn't actually skip ahead to the training though, I still have to walk to the elevator myself. I have to find my way there too, there's no quest markers. Though I can get a reminder of what I'm supposed to be doing by pressing F4.


TERRAN COLONIAL AUTHORITY HQ, TUTORIAL.


After learning how to point the starting weapons at targets and pull the trigger I got roped into a one-on-one deathmatch with the tutorial guy!

Would've been nice if I could've captured a screenshot with a good angle, the directional damage indicator flashing up and my opponent on screen all at once, but two out of three isn't bad considering that I'm also trying to win here. But I was aiming right at him when I was hit, despite what the lying damage indicator claims! It's trying to throw me off and make me look the wrong way, but I'm not falling for it.

I've got a pistol, rifle and grenade launcher here and I've been given no reason to think I won't be able to carry more guns later. I can't aim down sights, but the guns do have a secondary fire mode, so I should really be killing this guy with clever rebound shots from the rifle's ricochet shotgun shard attack instead of shooting at a box.

I beat him 5-0 using the grenade launcher in the end, because I've got godlike first person shooter skills honed through years of failing to beat classic shooters for my site. Also because it’s a tutorial fight on normal difficulty. It wasn’t exactly an exciting Unreal Tournament match with us both running around the arena, I just waited for him to come out from between the boxes and then shot grenades at him, but I won in the end and that's the important thing. Now I get to make my heroic return to the ship with my heroic music playing and many heroic camera angles.


2. ATLANTIS INTERLUDE.


O...kay. I thought the game was going for a serious tone but we're apparently sexy space pirates now. I guess when you're trapped on a spaceship, cosplay's not the worst thing you can do to keep yourself sane.

First Officer Aida looks like she belongs on a shitty 90s sci-fi DVD cover but she sounds exactly like you'd expect a smart-ass first officer to sound. Though she's mostly messing with Dalton right now; I got another set of dialogue choices so I asked her why she was being so formal and she replied “Prolonged exposure to brass usually makes you revert to your primitive military state. Just trying to make you feel at home… sir.”

No one's told me yet, but my ship's the TCA Atlantis (I saw it written on the hull during the cutscene) and Aida's offered to take me on an inspection tour of it. Sounds like a good way to trick them into showing me where my own cabin is.

There's only two other people on board and they're less eager to be dragged into a conversation. This definitely isn't Mass Effect where I could chat with everyone about everything forever. But on the plus side I don't have to ride the s l o w e s t  e l e v a t o r  i n  t h e  u n i v e r s e to get between floors either.

It's still taking a while to get around though because Dalton walks so damn slowly. He's like a humongous mech in a world of giants and when he stomps around the corridors his footsteps have the metallic thud of an industrial stomping machine. Every step I take makes me wince in sympathy for the floor. The guy really needs to take his robo-pants off when he's just hanging around the ship.

I remember being underwhelmed by the ship even at the time and that's weird because it looks pretty decent and I love sci-fi corridors. I guess a spaceship's only really as interesting as the people/terrifying alien monsters you find in it. But I'll carry on inspecting it just in case I find something amazing in here. Not sure why the crew are all so eager for me to search through their cabins though... I guess the artists just wanted to make sure people got to see all their work.

Though when you encourage players to really look around and examine all the details you should probably make sure that the text wasn't written by someone sticking their cat on the keyboard.

Now I have no idea what I'm being warned about! It could be saying "WARNING! DO NOT STARE AT THIS SIGN," for all I know. I could be in real life-threatening danger here.

I searched around a bit more and found some mysterious MiniDiscs on a table. Some science fiction franchises like Star Trek seem to think we're going towards solid state memory cards for physical data storage, but in Unreal the future clearly belongs to the floppy disk.

Shame I can't pick them up and stick them into a computer to look at what's on them. Dalton doesn't have an inventory to put items into, he just has guns.

Now I'm wondering where the game fits in the grand scheme of space sci-fi.

That's interesting, for some reason I thought Unreal II came out way earlier than most of this, seeing as Unreal was released back in 1998. But nope this came out nearly five years after the first game, and a few months after 2002's Unreal Tournament 2003. I should've stuck that on the timeline as well, and put Doom 3 and Escape from Butcher Bay just before Halo 2 while I was at it, seeing as they were the point that first person shooters really started to fake extra model detail with clever normal mapping.

Call of Duty 2 was another landmark for first person shooters, as it popularised the 'screen full of red' regenerating health system, and Unreal II predates that as well. So with any luck I'll be running back through levels with 5hp left in the tank, desperately looking for any health kits I left behind.

Unreal 2 Atlantis bridge
Hey I've found the bridge! Turns out that they keep it at the front of the ship, along with all their exposed cables. Though I can't see the rest of the ship out of the side windows when I look back the way I came, annoyingly.

This guy's the pilot, Ne'Ban, who's only just been assigned to the ship. He seems to be a blob in an exoskeleton and English is definitely not his first language. I tried going over to introduce myself and he told me he was occupied territory, so I guess there's nothing else for me to do now but get on with responding to that urgent distress call we've received.

I was actually told about the distress call when I first came on board, but I made a command decision that locating the ship's toilets was my absolute priority. I never did find them, though I'm pretty sure I've been to the briefing room before, so if I can just retrace my steps I'll be back there in a minute.


A BIT OF WANDERING AND A MISSION BRIEFING LATER.


Aida explained in the briefing that Liandri Station Lima Six on Sanctuary has been overrun by unknown hostile aliens and that the Atlantis is flying over there to help out. We don't have any blueprints of the inside of the base, but I do have this map out of the outside that I can project in our holotank. I can even choose to highlight certain locations! It seems pretty much entirely pointless, but I like it when developers take the time to add a bit of pointless to a game.

I just wish they'd used the time to add an automap I could use during gameplay instead.

Before I go I get to chat to my buddy Issak here about my weapons. But I don't much want to. I'd rather ask him if he's really Cid from Final Fantasy VII and if that's a photo of Trinity from The Matrix on his desk.

Alright, now I need to find my way back to the shuttlebay I came from so I can go save the day.

Another beautiful space scene. If there's one thing this game's good at, it's planets.

Though now the music's sounding more like a track from Alien, so I should apparently be worried about what I'm going to find down there.


3. SANCTUARY.


After a few unskippable shots of mutilated corpses to set the scene, I landed in the base and got out to stretch my legs.

Things are getting very Unreal all of a sudden, with a scripted scene of a dude getting dragged away under a door and signs of mayhem happening just ahead of me. I tried the door controls and started a bit of an electrical fire, so I guess I'm headed down the obvious and straightforward path through the pipes on the right. I don't think I'm going to need that map after all if the game's going to stay as linear as this.

I've finally found enemies! The music's gone from spooky to shooty as I'm taking on a room full of the speedy bastards here. They go down quick enough but I'm still taking a shameful amount of damage in return.

I'm trying to stay moving and dodge through enemy fire, but agility isn't Dalton's strong suit and it doesn't help that their blinding bolts of light are rebounding off the walls. I keep seeing the damage indicator light up like this and hear shots coming from behind, but when I turn around I see nothing but the wall the bullets are bouncing off. It's confusing.

After I'd cleared the room and all the corpses had sunk into the concrete floor there was an earsplitting sound of feedback from the speaker as one of the survivors decided to turn it on and say hi. Aida soon started mocking him over my earpiece, talking about how green he is, but he seems to be holding himself together pretty well considering that everyone he works with is getting murdered around him.

Guess I'll go down into this hatch he just opened for me and go shoot more aliens then.

Awesome, I've finally gotten a good shot of one of the enemies I'm fighting down here. I didn't realise this until now but they've got long hair and beards; they're like a gang of hipster xenomorphs.

I stole his dead friend's shock lance, so now we're all firing bouncing blue lens flares everywhere and it's chaos. The weapon can also fire a more powerful blast with the secondary fire like the ASMD shock rifle from the other Unreal games, but it won't let me shoot the projectile in the air afterwards to detonate it. Shameful.

One thing I haven't found yet is a shield pickup, and it hasn't been recharging, so I should really try harder to not get shot. Still, I'm pretty tough, so I think I can last a while longer.

Okay, I'm starting to think that I was overestimating my durability. As soon as those little shock lance bastards had me surrounded it was over in seconds for me. It wasn't my fault though! I was carefully making this way down this hallway, moving from crate to crate and taking enemies out from behind cover, when all these other fucks crept up on me from the door I came out of!

It's not a huge disaster though as I've been quicksaving frequently and the loading times are only about 10 seconds on my PC. Though that's taking into account the eternity it takes for this bloody GAME OVER screen to give me a 'load game' button to press. There's nothing more irritating than a game making you wait before you can restart.

Though this survivor talking to me over the speakers is starting to come close. I liked the guy at first, he seemed helpful enough, but now he keeps yelling "Nice shot!" or whatever when I kill something and it's getting obnoxious.

A little further on I got into a lift with glass roof and looked up to see the lights going off floor by floor, just like in that hallway near the start of Unreal! Then a giant monster with blades on his arms came out to kick my ass... just like in that hallway near the start of Unreal.

But the lights were off and it all took place in darkness, so here's a shot of a pretty courtyard instead. There was a second Skaarj alien waiting to ambush me here so suppose I could've shown a shot of him but I'm more interested in this reflective pool of water. It's usually pretty still, but when I jump in it disturbs the water, along with the reflections on the surface. Doesn't come across all that great in a screenshot unfortunately.

I've been getting a real sense of déjà vu here, but only because this courtyard looks just like the place I parked my spaceship in at the start of the level. I've definitely played this game before and I'm sure I didn't quit this early but I still don't remember any of this at all.

I definitely recognise this place though, as it's what I was looking at on the holographic map in the briefing! So Aida decided to show me a picture of the end of the level, that's... helpful.

I'm sure I'll get back to narrow corridors soon enough, but for a change they've put me in an open area full of... nothing. Well aside from a few of those Skaarj shooting energy blasts at me. I've tried shooting them with my assault rifle but they block the bullets with their wrist blades somehow and it seems to take a full magazine and then some to put them down for good. It's really frustrating to empty an entire 75 round magazine into an enemy without missing a single shot, only for it to come up and gut me while I'm switching to my next weapon because it's got a faster movement speed and can leap at me with his blades like a fiend from Quake.

These Skaarj don't like grenades or the rifle's secondary rebounding shard attack as much, but they're much harder to get a hit with as they just roll out of the way. It's a pain in the ass to fight them... so at least I'm getting the authentic Unreal 1 experience! Then once I've beaten one I take a few steps forward or run off on a futile search for health and end up triggering another one I didn't see.

After I defeated four of these bloody Skaarj aliens, the survivor who's been pissing me off over the speakers decided to take his chances and run outside in an unskippable cutscene.

What he should've done is keep his head down until I'd got to him. Turns out that there was a fifth Skaarj hiding somewhere and the survivor soon becomes ineligible for rescue as he's knocked down into a sci-fi generator to his death along with the object in his hands. On the plus side this means that I finally get to take a half-decent screenshot of one of these Skaarj aliens in the daylight! Though this one looks better armoured than the ones I've been fighting. He's like a cross between a Space Marine and the Predator, so I'm thinking he'll be my boss to fight on this level. It's a silent 'j' at the end by the way.

Well the survivor's dead, so now it's only Aida talking to me in my ear and she'd appreciate it if I walked back to my ship and left. It's not Dalton's job to go collect the mysterious artefact the former survivor just dropped into a generator... but he's going to do it anyway, and seeing as I'm the guy controlling him, that means I'm getting dragged along as well.

First though I'll need to get into this base and open the generator up again. Amazingly they had the sense to install a safety sensor which automatically shuts it all down when foreign objects like dead workers, mysterious artefacts and Skaarj bosses get detected inside the mechanism, so it's sealed up right now.

Well I turned it back on. Kind of regretting it now though. Man, all this wide open space and the survivor just had to die by falling down into the rotating laser death field pit. Even in death he's pissing me off.

I don't see a lift to get me down there or a switch to turn the energy beams off so I guess I'm going to have to jump down and make my way from level to level, running around the outside to stay ahead of the spinning walls of death each time. I blame Half-Life for this.

Turns out that I guessed right, and I do have to fight the Super Skaarj as a boss at the bottom of the generator. At least it's a change from fighting the same two enemy types over and over again... mostly because this guy fires much bigger lens flares.

This is one of those 'keep the wall in between you and the boss' kind of fights, as we're both stomping around this circular room, each trying to get the drop on the other. Though I'm finding it hard to dodge his projectiles to send over some shots of my own as the things are massive! Though my shock lance projectiles bounce, so I switched to that and just kept spamming shots until he died.

After killing him and riding a convenient lift back up to the top that I must have missed before, I handed the artefact to a squad of Marines in a cutscene and I was done. Except not really as the Marines then went and got their ship shot down off screen and now it's my job to save them. Not sure why they need my help considering they I'm a single Marine wannabe and they're Marines plural, but that's what's happening here.


4. SWAMP.


I was worried that this was going to turn out to be an escort mission, but it's so dark and visibility's so bad that they've practically been escorting me. And when I finally led them to a clearing for pick up, it turns out that they'd already been here and left all this gear just in case!

Those orange pods are the elusive health kits I'm often looking for and rarely find, and that thing to their right is a Half-Life style shield regeneration device. There's an orange one that does health too, but the Marines didn't bring one.

The game got my hopes up here as Aida told me to keep the clearing clear until they could bring the whole gigantic Atlantis mothership down to pick us up. But then the level ended when it was still up in the sky!

Quake 4 (PC)
I was all hyped up to get a scene like in Quake 4 where the ship lands right in front of me and I get to see just how massive it is from the outside in person, but I was denied.

You can tell that this game came out two years later just from the shadows on the rocks and the less cartoony texture on the gun. Not that Unreal II's guns look bad; they're actually fairly well designed as far as made up sci-fi FPS weapons go in my opinion.


5. ATLANTIS INTERLUDE.


So now after the rescue the Marines mission I'm finally back on board the Atlantis, with nothing much do but head to the next briefing to hear about what I'm doing next. It's just like Mass Effect, except not. I like how Dalton's collecting photos of all the places he's visited though, that's a nice touch.

I'll go swing by Ne'Ban's cabin to see how he's settling in. Maybe he's got his boxes unpacked by now.

Ne'Ban's learning English from a box set of Great Sitcoms of the 20th Century? No wonder the guy's been nothing but comic relief. Oh sorry I was wrong, the top disc isn't from the sitcom box. Though it's still comedy.

Anyway Ne'Ban told me that Aida told him to "Go to Hell," so that's where we're flying to next.


6. HELL.


Now I'm at at a weapons research facility on the frozen moon of Hell. Seems that these guys found a second artefact and things went horribly wrong for them as well. They're apparently in need of a bit of rescuing, so I've grabbed my bag full of guns and I'm here to assist them.

The music's gone more synthy for this mission and it's starting to remind me of Amiga games. I'm getting an Alien Breed vibe to be specific, maybe because this place looks like one of those rendered images those games use to set the scene. In a good way.

No survivors so far, but I've found a big open area filled with basically nothing. I bet there'll be a huge fight here on the way back through but right now there's nothing here but desks, chairs, fire and foreboding. The game's back in spooky mode, trying to build atmosphere.

A little further in I came across a survivor and accidentally cured him with the medical equipment when I was pressing buttons to see what they did. I really hope he's less annoying than the last one, though I'm sure this place must have a generator I can shove him into if he starts talking too much.

It was still quiet at this point, but then I had to escort him back through that giant entrance room to open a door and... nothing happened. Still no enemies.

Then suddenly surprise spiders! They're the six-legged type as well, which is the worst kind. Actually the worst kind is their giant red cousins who keep leaping at me. Nice flamethrower effect though.

The poor survivor was taken out immediately, but I'm sure it was a scripted death so I'm not all that concerned. I'm too busy actually enjoying the combat for once. Sure all I'm doing is pointing the flamethrower at enemies, but it's more fun than chaotic bouncing lens flare bullshit and bullet sponge Skaarj.


SOME FIRST PERSON SHOOTING LATER.


Oh damn, now I've got proper obstacle course to get through! I've got to jump and duck under the laser beam to get around to the lift at the back of the room. Shame I didn't bring a mirror really, it would've saved me a lot of trouble. Now I'm wondering if mirrors had been banned from video games forever by this point. No, Doom 3 had a mirror in one of the toilets, I'm sure of it. Prey as well!

I hate surprise stealth levels in first person shooters... surprise obstacle courses on the other hand are more my thing, if they're designed well enough. They break up the shooting and make me feel like I'm doing something more than heading down one corridor after another. It's a bit unfair maybe, making the player actually move around a room when it's not something they'd done much of in combat, but having quicksaves really takes the sting off it. It means a player doesn't have to do the whole room in one perfect run without a mistake... though I went and did that anyway, to my surprise.

It could be that I'm liking this level more because it's easier, but I don't think that's the case. I think it's more that Unreal II is finally starting to become a game I want to play more of. Trouble is that the game it's becoming is Half-Life and I'm struggling to come up with a good reason why I shouldn't turn this off and put that on instead.

It's even got me crawling through narrow pipes with tiny monsters flooding in, though it wouldn't let me bring a crowbar. It's a little less scary though when the tunnel's brightly lit and you've got a flamethrower, though I'm sure claustrophobic arachnophobes would disagree.

After a reasonable amount of first person shooting I managed to reach the game's second boss: the giant spider queen! She mostly just kept to herself on the other side of the arena though. This time I had two attacks to worry about: a shockwave I seemed to be able to jump over just fine, and proximity mine blobs that are probably also spider eggs. Every time I turned my back on the things I ended up seeing spiders soon after so I'm presuming that's what their deal is.

Long story shot, I shot some toxic grenades back her way and that sorted her out. So now I've got a second artefact! Woo.


7. ATLANTIS INTERLUDE.


Now I'm back to wandering around the ship again. Though this time it's actually letting me have a proper chat with someone for once!

Hang on, this isn't a dialogue tree, this is just a list of topics I can give this guy some info about. It's not a conversation, it's a codex in disguise! He didn’t even reply after I was done reading out Wikipedia pages to him, he just walked off.

The game's trying to make me care about the characters by having them drop hints about each other's dark pasts a little more each time I'm back on the ship, but I can't say it's working. They're all too one note and they don't get to show new sides of their personality with their interactions because I rarely ever catch two of them in the same room together.


8. ACHERON.


Now I'm on the grossest flesh-covered planet in space, preparing to take a trip down Sarlacc's mouth for the next artefact. Planets shouldn't be hairy, nobody has ever wanted a hairy planet! On the plus side I'm fighting actual humans now, so that solves the mystery of whether or not they were ever going to turn up.

At first I thought I was supposed to sneak past all the humans, mostly because Aida made it absolutely clear in the briefing that I should keep out of sight. "Do NOT engage in combat," she said... just before giving me her favourite pistol to hold onto. But then Dalton decided he'd approach the landing zone by swooping in right over their facility, ending the stealth mission in an unskippable cutscene before it'd begun. Suits me, I hate surprise stealth missions.

I think I preferred fighting spiders to shooting humans though. The combat hasn't been tuned to maximise bloke-shooting fun.

Plus the damage indicator is still screwing with me. I'm clearly not being shot from the side, I'm being shot from the front, I can see the muzzle flash of the guy shooting me!

Sadly I can't discouraging him from putting undodgeable bullets into me with unerring accuracy because my own shots don't stagger him. I've been trying to be clever, hiding being walls and popping out to take a quick shot before ducking back into cover, but it hasn't been working out 100% as the enemies are quick and there's surprisingly few walls inside of this Sarlacc monster's throat. Seems that I'm stuck soaking up damage until one of us dies.

This is the kind of game that gets you into the habit of hitting that quicksave key, but now I'm also getting into the habit of loading if I take too much damage against in an encounter. It's not an ideal way to play, but killing enemies costs health, so if I win a shoot out with only few hit points left I've lost the next fight before it's started. Plus preemptively loading a save is much faster than waiting for the GAME OVER screen to finish what it's doing.

I could try getting quick one-shot kills with my new rocket launcher I suppose... I mean that's what the enemy's started doing and it's been working out great for them so far. I've collected a decent arsenal by this point but most of the guns have been gathering dust in my bag, waiting for me to select them accidentally next time I'm desperately cycling through weapons, looking for something with ammo left and some range to it. They've all got secondary fire modes so I should probably make more of an effort to see what they all do. But not here.

After collecting the artefact (and surviving my trip back through the creature's now-hostile esophagus) I got back to the ship and discovered that my next mission was a dam level on planet Severnaya. I wonder if they want to make a copy of the GoldenEye key while I'm there.

Unreal 2 missions menu
Hey the mouse cursor falls asleep and closes up when you open up the menu and don’t move it for a while, that's a nice touch.

I was going to launch into a tiny rant here about how irritating it is for me when games like this don't give me enough saves slots to let me return to any level I've played to check things, take more screenshots or just enjoy replaying them. But then I discovered that the game has a level select! If you're going to take inspiration from GoldenEye 007, this is the way to do it.

It's just a shame they couldn't have made the combat as satisfying, but I can imagine it must have been hard back then to outdo a 6 year old N64 game.


11. ATLANTIS INTERLUDE.


After Severnaya some stuff happened and then the ship got broken, so now Ne'Ban is using the briefing room computer to walk me through what we're going to do to fix it. Or at least that's what he thought he was going to do. Instead I got this subliminal flash of weirdness which I've slowed down to allow you properly examine and explore the content of every frame.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the briefing room hardware, Ne'Ban is just comically inept with everything that isn't flying the ship. That's his one trait: being clueless.

Seems like we're going to be bringing the ship down to a base to get it fixed, which means I have to protect it from waves of incoming enemies. Man I hope this level's going to be pitifully easy because this isn't the kind of gameplay I'm into.


12. KALYDON.


I think I'm going to just lie here for a bit.

The game tricked me into thinking I was finally going to get to run around the outside of the ship, but then they locked me outside the base and told me to protect a door! They gave me some energy fences and turrets to place though, which is interesting. I wasn't expecting the game to go all tower defence on me.

Well at the risk of sounding like a whiny git who quits games when they get difficult... this is too hard so I'm giving up. Actually I've seen Dalton lying dead on his like this a dozen times already so I guess I'm really just tired of it. Plus I've heard there's supposed to be another tower defence level coming later so I'd rather end this here.


CONCLUSION

Alright, I'm going to try to write this down quickly before the game fades from my memory again.

Unreal II is a game about... uh... shooting people? Fuck, it's no good, I've forgotten it already. It's like a game built out of the least memorable parts of other first person shooters... which at least means that it's got some variety to the scenery. The visuals aren't quite cutting edge anymore and a good chunk of it takes place inside metal corridors, but man it has some good skyboxes. Made me wonder why I was wasting my time looking forward at the enemies when I could've been looking up at the gas giant overhead.

It reminded me a surprising amount of Mass Effect at times, but there's only superficial similarities. Unreal II was never trying to be a 'guns & conversation' style RPG, but there are guns here and conversations, and it doesn't excel at either of them. It reminded me a little of Unreal as well, but not as much as you'd expect. For one thing I didn't get utterly lost in a maze of shitty level design and mysterious switches in this one. Aside from the Skaarj enemies it seems to have about as much in common with its predecessor as Quake II does with Quake.

The game's a first person shooter with extra world building, and the first person shooter part feels... unfinished. I don't mean that it's unpolished and it wasn't even that buggy (I got a couple of crashes to desktop but it mostly behaved itself), but it feels like they stopped working it before they figured out how to make the combat fun. Dalton's slow walking speed is halfway to being an issue, and it doesn't help when you're trying to dodge chaotic bouncing lens flares or get your ass behind a wall before the enemy with perfect aim and a hitscan rifle gets a bead on you. I've heard that you can cheat to increase the movement speed, so that might help, but then you've still got the problem of the enemies not being stunned when they take damage. You have to really knock those bastards down before they'll take a break from chipping away at your precious non-regenerating health bar. It's the kind of game design that encourages frequent quicksaving, and then quickloading when you take too much hurt in an encounter.

I feel like I should slap a 'Not Crap' badge on the game and move on, seeing as it's playable enough, but unfortunately for Unreal II I've been playing games like Quake, Serious Sam and Titanfall 2 recently, along with the Dooms both classic and modern, and they've reminded me that video game combat is supposed to be fun and satisfying in the moment. I kept putting up with the gameplay because I thought that the next level might be the one where it gets good (and I did like that spider level), but now that I've reached the halfway point I've realised that I won't be getting anything out of it. From here the game seems like an imitation of better games made by a developer who didn't quite get what makes them tick. It satisfied my curiosity but I can't say I was entertained.


Thanks for reading! Here, have a picture of some guy fishing for treasure as a reward for scrolling down this far.

You can leave a comment now if you want. Maybe you want to share your thoughts on Unreal II, or guess at what the next game will be. Maybe you just want to correct my spelling and then whine at me for not playing enough PC Engine and SNES games lately. Either way it's cool.

14 comments:

  1. I was all "hang on, Unreal II isn't an Amiga game, what's going on?" but then you mentioned Alien Breed, so all is well.

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    1. Yeah I screwed up this week and accidentally played a game that didn't get an Amiga release. Don't worry I won't make that mistake next time.

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  2. That's Teen Agent, polish game I think. Loving that you return to graphic adventures

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    1. That's exactly it. Plus I've got a stack of adventure game first drafts here to finish off and get posted this year, so you'll not have to wait long for the next one.

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    2. That's awesome, keep up the good work !

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  3. I kinda slid over the bits with the old FPS in it. Before those you were talking about the menu, though, so let's talk about menus. I've long liked the way MechCommander 2 gets my blood pumping by opening the bloody main menu. Fade to black, cue music that uses similar instruments as 1's triumphant military stuff but is quiet and ominous, fade in 1's logo but cracked and worn, fade in the animated standard scifi low-angle planet shot, deploy menu with a hearty THUNK. It gets me more alert and concerned about what's going down than half a dozen cutscenes of people talking on starships. Plus there's the THUNK, I love it when stuff on the computer screen acts like it has heft.

    Actually have the corporate logo too.

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    1. Hell yeah. Who doesn't love a nice solid skeuomorphic menu screen, with new windows slamming down onto the screen and all the buttons making appropriate clicks and beeps?

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    2. Ooh, like the music selection screen in Lotus Turbo Challenge III,which looked like a CD player.

      Not only have I learned a new word today -- this site is educational! -- but I've managed to mention an Amiga game. Go me.

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  4. Greetings, this is the first time i comment in this site, and i find entrhalling how many obscure (well, at least not widely known classics), games you post, from the wierd adventure games to the Amiga games wich feel like an alien's understanding of human-made ones. While i'm aware that you are knee-deep in requests, i think the cancelled warcraft adventures is a nice fit for your site.

    Sorry about mi grammar, english is not my first language.

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    1. Maybe some of the Amiga games I've played really were developed by aliens. That would actually explain a lot. I can imagine them being friendly visitors who wanted to help humanity but only had a limited understanding of the human concept we call 'gameplay'... or perhaps their games were just the next phase of their cruel experiments on live human subjects.

      Also I hate saying no to game suggestions, but I only really choose games that were finished and released, and the cancelled Warcraft Adventures game got cancelled. It probably would've been a nice fit for my site though.

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  5. Miss you, dude. Hope you're back to brighten our days through the insane tourism season sometime soon,

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    1. Sorry for the lack of updates lately, I'm holding off to recharge my enthusiasm so that I'm not just forcing myself to crank out new posts out of obligation.

      But I promise you that if the site ever does end, it'll be on a much better game than Unreal II: The Awakening. Or a far worse one.

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    2. That makes 100% sense. As a creator, enthusiasm also wavers a lot. My suggestion, play worse games, not just good ones. I mean those games that don't even deserve to be called bad games. At least they will make you have a laugh wondering how they got published

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