Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
Tankard Of Ale Or Bonk Sire?" Was all you used to get from women in Role Playing Games. That and "Help! Help! I'm crap. I'm wearing a white dress and I need to be rescued!". Of course, that was the 'old days', when men were men and women were buxom serving wenches with low-cut dresses. But nowadays, in the nineties. Britannia, fabled realm and setting of the Ultima Octology. has ceased to be the macho wash homeland we all loved and cherished. Instead, it's a right-on ecological cum social cum feminist disaster area.
As in the real Britain, the Royal house is in turmoil. The servants are in revolt. The women want equal rights - a full rpg referendum, a franchise bill, and less of the low-necked corsets which push their bosoms out. Lord British, once compassionate and regal, is now distracted and bearded. The water's running out. the plants are dying, and they're running out of Mana Boost Potion (or whatever they call 'coffee' in rpg land).
In the old days, of Ultimas I to VU these problems would have been solved very quickly with the key phrases: hanging, drawing and quartering. But today, 1993 it's conscience, compromise and climb-down.
You Avatar, have returned to Britannia for a good old knees up with all your old adventuring chums, managing to make it to bed in the early hours, at least six units over the legal horseriding limit. You wake up the next morning to a castle in chaos. The Guardian has cast a huge spell, encasing the entire castle in blackrock. an indestructible mineral. The only chance of escape is to explore the castle's underground sewers for a way out. Although you're obviously not the first with your hand up for a knee-high holiday in sewage, it is suspected that there may be an escape route below.
The key word for Underworld II is 'freedom'. Nothing can completely prepare you for the freedom the game gives you (except Undenvorld I of course). It's about as close to Virtual Reality as you are ever likely to get from your mouse driver. Move the mouse pointer to the top of the action screen, hit the left button - and you're galloping forward; half-way up and it's an easy canter. Left or right with the mouse and you'll rotate. Down left or right and you'll whip round. Full at the bottom and you'll be moonwalking. Right button while running and you leap forward. When you turn, the world turns with you. Pixel by pixel. You can look up at the ceiling, or down at your shoes. You can shuffle along a wall and dart out of corner. You can sprint down tiny corridors or leap from parapets. You can fall down several screens into a lava pit or you can get caught in water currents, and be swept over a waterfall. You can wear a dress and call your character Jemima. You can stab spiders, hack humans, bash bugs, or alliterate like an arsehole. You can cast spells. Shoot arrows. Throw daggers. Break down doors. Smash open chests. Pick locks. You can run out of torches and be plunged into monster-infested darkness. You can be teleported off the map and into an 'ethereal void'. You can be poisoned, healed or cursed. You can barter for objects or just 'stab and run'. You can drown or be burnt alive by a lava flow. You can be killed in a million different ways or you can solve each puzzle in at least six.
I know all this sounds impressively bum-licky, but that's because there really is nothing you can do with this game except sit there, dribble slightly, and say "blimey" every eight to ten minutes. The graphics are stunning. On a 486 the dungeons can move like a film. The wall textures vary between red brick and granite to ice and swirl multi-coloured 'alternate dimension' style walls.
Add a soundcard and you'll have to throw the fabled word 'atmosphere' in. You'll hear your footsteps echoing, the snow crunching under your feet, the large (size 14D) footsteps of an approaching beast, the swishing swashbuckle of your sword, the clink as you miss your target and hit the wall instead, a greasy schlop as you finally manage to hit your foe, and then the "oof" as it, hours later, expires in an explosion of blood.
'Atmosphere' is what rpgs crave to create. Without it, they're crap. Underworld fl does it effortlessly. But. not it has to be said, as well as the original. Underworld. II. with its twenty or more levels, takes a lot longer to get going than The Stygian Abyss and there's a lot of empty space between 'excitement points'.
Gone are the hippy-trippy mushrooms, the mellow ankhs and mantras, the goblins with lisps, the dwarves with attitudes, the flute-playing ghouls. In Underworld II you have eco-disaster for Britannia, racist goblins who make a big deal out of you being hummie, and overall, a bit of a po-faced follow up. There's not a joke in sight.
This is because Underworld II is more in tune with the rest of the Ultima titles, having a darker plot which updates all the storylines of the previous games with the 3D system. Most people, however, are blessedly ignorant of the other Ultima games. Anyone who knows the entire history of Britannia is to be found at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, alongside train spotters and people who use the word 'quintessential'.
But you can only be picky about a quintessential product like Underworld 2. It's huge, it's state of the art and it's at least 72 hours worth of continuous play.
One of the sub plots In Underworld II Is the castle's on-going soap opera. While you're bouncing around other dimensions, rescuing damsels etc., the characters caught in the keep are having their own little dramas. There's a traitor in their midst, so it's up to you to cast a 'Be Poirot spell and ask the question: "Where win you on ze naight of ze blackrock?"
Download Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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2018-12-19 Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds game added.