Unreal II: The Awakening
I Must Be the only person in the industry who still thinks Half-Life is unsurpassed as a shooter. This is not just nostalgia talking. I still go back to it now and again to see how it's holding up against the latest contenders. Oh, I know it was graphically surpassed ages ago, and there have been shooters with better enemy Al and with more fleshed out characters and better developed stories since. But it's how the whole experience hangs together that matters, and in that sense nothing comes close. Not the scattered epic grandeur of Medal Of Honor, not the touches of tension and originality of Aliens Us Predator 2, not the highly challenging and intelligent firefights of Soldier Of Fortune 2.
Of course, this is the bit where I tell you that Unreal II could be the game to beat it. The difference this time is that I'm not basing that statement on a few sciqqgshots, a quick demo and an interview all of which are designed to show anewiitle in its best light. I'm basing it on seven solid hours of gameplay. Seven hours during which I was enraptured by organic landsc irown back in my seat by the virul force fit the action, astonished by th variety of infraction, weaponry and mission structu and engaged by an intergalactic tale that stil has time for complex characters.
During a break from the action down a glass of water, trying to stop my adrenaiine-fuelled shakes from spilling it, I asked project director and main designer Glen Dahlgren if he thought Half-Life was still the benchmark for new shooters.
It was a real jump, he concedes. It added depth when there wasn't any. But if you look at its story, it's paper-thin, and a lot of the games that have come since have gone a lot deeper, adding characters with personalities. That is the expectation now, so I don't think Half-Life is the one to beat anymore - in my mind at least. And he has no doubts that in Unreal II Legend has something that will beat anything currently on the market.
We've improved it in several ways. Obviously the storyline, and in the variety of the missions. You defend areas against assault, you escort VIPs and so on. And graphically it's superb." But doesn't he think the FPS needs to move on from the go down a corridor, press a button, kill everything' mindset?
That's kind of the core of these games and they're all going to have that. But we have a conversation tree, other people have vehicles in there, we have more advanced physics... Things are going to come from more engaging stories, that's what brings things to life. And Legend knows about storiwl We made text adventures back in the day. I find it interestin bringing just a touch or whaf was In an adventure game into first-person shooters, and I was like: Yes, of course that's the way things should go!' The puzzles in Unreal II aren't confounding, you'll never get stuck, but you'll be doing cool things and feeling like you're always making progress. And with your crew you're always getting new information. Whenever we feel the player is in trouble, there's Aida to help you out.
One minute you feel like you're playing some wonderful sci-fi version of Project IGI, infiltrating a base set in a vast expanse of terrain and picking off soldiers with a sniper rifle. The next you're in AvP2, creeping along claustrophobic corridors and screaming at the sight of a giant arachnid creature stampeding towards you. Later you could be relaxing on your ship, talking to your crew and getting to know them better, or back on the ground co-ordinating an assault with a bunch of Marines, or even organising your resources to defend an area from an impending onslaught.
One thing you won't come across, however, is a multiplayer mode. It's incredible just how surprising people have found this announcement, given that the online mode has effectively already been released as Unreal Tournament 2003. In fact, I tell Glen, it's a heartening move after all these years of hearing the cry of single-player gaming is dead'.
It was the hot topic for a while," he agrees, but our background is telling stories, crafting an immersive single-player experience. We've done multiplayer with Wheel Of Time (Legend's 1999 magic shooter), but when you do that you're building two different games. Being able to focus on just one means we can get it right. I point out that in most games the multiplayer seems tacked on anyway.
"It's almost always the case. Return To Castle Wolfenstein was nearly an exception, although in that case the multiplayer was actually stronger. And that was because they had two companies working on each mode. That's great, but it's going to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. This means Legend has not only been able to concentrate its gameplay efforts 100 per cent on the single-player game, it also means it hasn't been hemmed in on the technological side. When you don't have to worry about your engine and levels being populated by dozens of people, you can pump up the polygons and go crazy. Which is why Unreal II is significantly better-looking than UT2003. Quite a boast.
Glen is quick to point out the ' guidelines they set themselves to still please the hardcore action fans. Deus Ex attempted to be all things to all people and, in some ways, I think they went a little too far, only because the traditional FPS fan has certain expectations. Wheel Of Time succeeded on a lot of levels, but it diverged from the fans' expectations. And while there's a hardcore community that stilt plays it. you can't veer too far from the formula. At least not all at once. Unreal II is a traditional shooter, but it has some other stuff to start thinking about, with lots of dialogue and so on. But none of it should make you think you don't understand what's going on - you can still go off and shoot things. We never want to dilute the action experience, but we're going to add stuff to it."
I've only really touched on what playing Unreal II is like. Like all great games you need to play it to fully appreciate it. The touches of teamplay and the necessity to work out tactics when defending an area all add extra dimensions. And while legend has made it clear how secondary the graphics are to the game's content, there's no getting away from some extraordinary alien vistas, especially the huge outdoor areas brimming with animal and plant life. It also has exceptional Al, making enemies as realistic and challenging as any I've ever come across. What's more, each type of enemy poses a different test, whether it's an ultra-tough armoured alien warrior, an intelligent team of soldiers trying to comer you or just the sheer numbers of creatures out for your blood.
Best of all is the news that the game is on schedule and should be completely bug-free and ready to ship come January. In fact, just as we were going to press we received official confirmation that the game will in fact be finished within a few short weeks. Which means, hold your breath now... will be bringing you a massive exclusive review of the game in our very next issue, on sale January 9. And if a true gamer's heart beats within you, that's very good news indeed.
It's The Strong Characters That Will Make Unreal Ii Unique. That's What Legend Is Hoping Anyway
It's hardly Shakespeare, but the characters in Unreal II are slightly more three-dimensional than you'd expect for an FPS. Most of the dialogue and interaction happens on board your spaceship in between missions. This is your opportunity to slowly get to know each of your crewmates better and, in turn, watch your own character (John Dalton) develop.
Dalton is an ex-marine now working as a security marshal for the Terran Confederate Authority and desperate to get back into the military fold. Like most action heroes, he's not too bright. Aida Shen on the other hand, Legend's concession to the hormone-crazy shooter crowd, is far more than just a pretty face and well-developed body. Thanks to a very bad experience when working with the army as a teenager, she is cynical and bitter. As Bob Bates explains: When you first see her - the way she looks and dresses - you think there's going to be a romantic interest or sexual innuendo. But she's a rebel who doesn't trust anyone, unlike Dalton who is a bit naive about the chain of command. As the story progresses their arcs cross, so he realises you can't put blind faith in authority and 6he realises you have to trust someone - you can't be completely cynical.
Completing the crew is Isaak Borisov, an engineer with a disgraced past who modifies weapons and briefs you on them, and the childlike alien pilot Ne'Ban, who provides most of the game's humour and a curious side-plot.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode