Unreal II: The Awakening
Unreal II feels like it was pulled out of a sci-fi manual for hacks.
The original Unreal had its faults, yet somehow managed to turn them into high points. The lack of characters, dialogue and general story structure resulted in a very different sort of gaming experience, where you were pretty much left to fend for yourself. It essentially followed the continuous journey of a single anonymous prison ship escapee through a hostile alien planet, concluding with said character blasting off into space in an escape pod, drifting helplessly. “To be continued“.
Unreal II doesn’t continue that story. In fact, it has very little to do with the previous game, save for scattered encounters with the Skaarj. Their inclusion feels forced at best, and with not a single Flak Cannon making a reappearance or a Nali in sight, one has to wonder what sort of a sequel is this. Replace the Skaarj with ninja turtles and there’s literally nothing tying The Awakening to its supposed source material. But even with its dodgy continuity, can the game stand on its own?
You start as a marine in power armor, the quintessential shooter cliche. Ok, so you’re actually a former marine, now a marshal, and are currently marshaling the ‘ass-end of space’ together with a few other rejects. These include your ‘strategist’, a chess prodigy called Aida who dresses up like a space whore and has a snake tattooed on her stomach that slithers down south, a chain-smoker named Isaak who tells you things about your guns you already knew, and an R2D2 doppelganger thrown in to provide comical relief. Yep, these guys are your first line of defense when the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance!
There’s some nonsense about powerful artifacts that the aliens are after for some nefarious purpose, and you are assigned to stop them. The plot gets watered down to finding magical artifacts pretty quick, and this pitiful device serves as the story’s primary driving force until the very end. Proceeding to hop from planet to planet in an attempt to hunt down each artifact, you progressively visit ever stranger locations as you steadily size up your armory and kill ratio.
The architecture and graphics in general are easily the best reasons to pick up this game. Details abound both inside and out, with exterior landscapes extending for miles and industrial interiors that look sleek and shiny. There’s a good amount of variety to be had as you planet trek across the galaxy, but the visual details don’t come cheap, especially with painful loading times experienced on even newer rigs.
Combat is generally enjoyable, but too often it comes off as painfully bland. Much of this has to do with the inherent generic quality of everything, starting with the guns and ending with the enemies. It’s like it was all scooped out of a stock sci-fi catalog for hacks. The action is just as forgettable, with a pointlessly slow running speed making it even more irritating than it should be.
The audio isn’t any better. With some of the most repetitive and generic techno loops you’ll ever hear, weak weapon sounds and bland voice acting creeping out of your speakers, you’ll likely want to tune out as fast as possible. It’s hard to know exactly where Legend’s development ends and Epic Game’s production begins, but it seems as though they’re at odds with each other. The story is a thinly veiled excuse to blow stuff up, but they hammer it in anyway with each mission briefing, trying desperately to add character depth to virtual signposts. The game is weak, generic, immature and ultimately pointless, though it definitely looks good.
System Requirements: Pentium III 1.0 Ghz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, Win 2000/XP
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