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Unreal II : The Awakening

written by Shaun McCracken

Game Information
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Epic Games / Tantalus / Legend Entertainment
Year Released: 2003
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Mature

Visuals 7
Good looking outdoor environments, but it seems like more time is spent indoors, where each of those stages tend to run similar. Decent textures, but seeing how this is an Xbox title, where's the bump-mapping? Crappy animations and a framerate that can go from smooth-sailing to rough waters.
Audio 6.75
Decent sound effects, tired voice acting and music that runs on 30-second loops. The joy.
Gameplay 6.5
Run of the mill by FPS standards, and the XMP mode will really let a lot of people down.
Replay Value 7
Single-player can be blasted through in about 10 or so hours, and the multiplayer is there if you want it.
Reviewer's Impression 6.5
It lacks the intensity of Halo, the charm of GoldenEye and the legendary multiplayer aspects of previous Unreal titles.
Overall 6.75
If the single player mode was more interesting or if the multiplayer mode had been better thought out, perhaps Unreal II: The Awakening would be a purchase for your consideration. But there's too many faults that put this one behind the competition.

Unreal II: The Awakening is a bit of a bizarre shooter. Not that it does anything different from games in this genre, but the fact that it seems to stray from the deathmatch/tournament style kind of gameplay that the series is usually known for. I haven't played every Unreal game, but the ones I have played all seem to be more rooted in multiplayer gameplay than anything else. So it seemed strange to me that this installment actually wanted to have a story and a better single player experience, like Halo. In fact, this game seems to desperatley be a lot like Halo, just not as great.

The single player design is decent enough to keep people satisifed for a few hours, but it offers little variety and not much play time. But where as multiplayer is concerned, this is where this installment of Unreal may put off fans of the franchise. The XMP mode is really nothing more than a co-op mode, and those looking for the traditional deathmatch events where it's basically "everyone for themselves" won't find them here. What's even more disappointing is that there isn't really a way for a single player to jump into an XMP match using AI bots, which is what many shooters lend the option of. But perhaps it may be unfair to get stuck with an AI team member who is a complete idiot. Plus, bots would be better in a deathmatch mode anyway, BUT still, the option of AI bots should have been open. There is Xbox LIVE multiplayer support, but really I can't imagine this being better than going Live in Unreal Championship.

It seems like I really don't have much to say in terms of gameplay, and that's honestly because there's not much to say about it. If you've played many first person shooters, the drill seems like standard practice here: shoot things that attack, fufill objectives and don't die. It's pretty much like this stage after stage with hardly any variety. Now, you would say "aren't all shooters like that?". Well, yes in some ways, but in games such as Halo and the newer 007 titles, there are also driving portions that break up the first person shooter gameplay. Plus, everything here seems a bit dull, where as better shooters that seem to follow the formula have a better pace or better objectives, stories, etc. Point is, the gameplay is average, and fails at trying to become somewhat like Halo.

The visuals are kind of wavering between good and average. The textures look decent, but look a bit washed out at times. The outdoor environments look nice (and sometimes gross, in the case of Archeron), with a good deal of vegetation and even some life, but a good deal of the game is spent in indoor areas, which tend to look the same time after time. Most of the effects look pretty great, especially the flames from the flamethrower. Then there's the character animations. By far in this generation of consoles, these are the WORST animations I have ever seen for characters in a first-person shooter on ANY console. It makes claymation look like something from Pixar. I would say that most of the enemies and any other life have about three or four frames of animation to their name, it's pretty bad. Stuff from the N64 era is better than this. Then the framerate can go from smooth to a slideshow if there happens to be too much action on screen. Again, this is the first time in this generation of consoles where I have seen the framerate slow so bad that it's basically like someone swithcing Polaroids during the action, and it CAN get in the way. Now, there was only one instance where this occured, and it was where I had to wait for a dropship to arrive and fight off any attackers, but it really shouldn't happen anyway, especially on the Xbox. The audio packs a less effective punch with some decent sound effects and explosions, but some rather tired voice acting and music that basically runs on a 30-second loop. I guess the audio aspect of the game was a secondary issue with the developer.

Final Thought

If you want a game that is like Halo, just do yourself a favor and go play Halo. It's difficult for any developer to surpass the benchmarks and expectations that game has established, and you might as well play the original design, rather than one that seems inspired by it. Unreal II : The Awakening also kind of goes against it's franchise by offering a wekaer multiplayer mode than the previous Unreal Championship for the Xbox, and from what I understand, people buy the Unreal games FOR the multiplayer. It's nice that the developers took the single-player aspects into consideration, but when it isn't that strong to begin with, you need something else to fall back on, which would be multiplayer, and that isn't too strong here, either. There were moments where I enjoyed just mindlessly shooting things, but after about four or so hours, it felt like the same thing over and over again. So, while Unreal II isn't an awful game, there's a hefty amount of letdowns that can only make this as a rental rather than a purchase.