Join Date: Jan 2003
Unreal II Impressions
Wow, this game is a beast, but it's gorgeous.
Ok, let's get the boring stuff out of the way, then I can get into what I really like (and really don't like) about the game so far.
I'm currently playing on the following rig (all speeds stock):
AMD Athlon 2600+
Asus A7N8X Deluxe (Nforce 2)
1GB Kingston PC2700
Visiontek Geforce 4 ti4600
Windows XP Pro SP1
While I'm certainly not running a super-rig, it's pretty muscular by today's standards. I only wish I'd held on to my Radeon 9700 Pro long enough to try it on that card as well.
One thing that sometimes bugs me about professional game reviews is that they seem so jaded. I've read two "professional" reviews of the game so far (Gamespot and Gamespy) which give it less-than-stellar ratings, but rather than break the game down into features and how "ground-breaking" it is, I'll just offer this: I personally don't *need* "ground-breaking." I want fun, immersion, and an occasional sense of awe, which Unreal II so far supplies in spades.
For starters, I can't run this game at 1200 x 1600 smoothly. Even without antialiasing and anistropic filtering, the demands on my video subsystem are just too great, particularly in the lush outdoor environments. While this may sound depressing, the game looks beautiful at 1280 x 960 with Quincunx enabled, and runs smooth as mother's milk with all the in-game features turned up.
Ok, I'll come out and admit it...Return to Castle Wolfenstein scared me at various points, particularly in the crypts when fighting the undead. I'd venture to guess the most of you remember that crypt level very well, and found yourself listening for any noise that might give away an approaching zombie.
Unreal II at many points captures that feeling. The scripted sequences are nifty, but overall I find myself just enjoying the mindless combat.
The Skaarj are back, and you don't have to wait very long before you've seen far more of them than you would like. Now, I'm certainly no deathmatch champion, but if you are expecting the Skaarj to go down after a few lucky shots like in Unreal I, you're in for a surprise. These guys just aren't easy to kill with early-game weaponry.
Oh, a minor spoiler here - If you are long enough in the tooth to remember that first encounter with a Skaarj in Unreal I, then you'll find your first meeting with one in Unreal II to be almost nostalgic...
Combat is in-your-face and crazy at times. The death animations of enemy creatures seems pretty straightforward at first, and then the game surprises you with a death shot that rivals Hollywood's best (which arguably isn't saying much). Of particular enjoyment is the fact that "gibbing" is back with a vengeance.
"Gibbing" critters, or blowing them into their component chunks is one of my guilty pleasures. As games recently have struggled to achieve their family-friendly "Teen" ratings, I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see the return of blood and guts to a shooter.
I could rave about the graphics for hours, but I won't. Most of you have probably seen the screenshots, and have a pretty good idea of what the static images look like. What I *will* do is elaborate a little bit on the graphics engine.
First of all, very much like in the first game, enemy creatures shoot at you, and very quickly at that. The end result is that you are often staring into an approaching wall of various types of plasma and energy beams which the enemy critters do their best to hide behind. Even though the crosshairs change when you have an enemy targeted, it can be very difficult to pick your target out among the incoming firepower, much less return a meaningful counterattack.
My first real "Wow!" moment came when I walked into an area that was interspersed with scum-covered pools of water. As I approached, the reflections on the face of the water mirrored the sky in a way that was eerily lifelike, while the algae-covered areas returned no reflections at all. This little attention to detail had my jaw in my lap, and after I killed the local Skaarj, I just ran around the area taking in the view and watching how the light played on various surfaces. Huge kudos to Epic.
The large polygon counts also allow for details simply unheard of in desktop gaming until now. Bundles of wires now consist of individual cables, each with their own polygons and individual texture, instead of a single rough shape with a multi-cable texture slapped onto it.
NPC characters look good, but don't really pioneer a lot of new ground here. It seems like Epic figured you'd be spending a lot more time with enemies and monsters than up close with friendly humans, and wisely chose to put their effort into enemy models.
With one exception so far: I *like* Aida. Aida is your first officer, and she is exceptionally well done. While I would like to throw Epic a bone and say that marketing never entered their minds while Aida was on the drawing board, the sheer geometric perfection of her mammary units and the amount of flesh thereon exposed by her skimpy top would make giving the developer the benefit of the doubt ludicrous.
Needless to say, Aida's ability to make my girlfriend "hmph!" and stalk out of the room in a huff when she walks on screen certainly adds to her appeal.
The player comes equipped with a HUD this time around, and it's functional, though not revolutionary. The crosshair changes for each weapon, so its pretty easy to see what you've got in your hands without having to change your focus to another part of the screen.
Anyway, to summarize I will just say that I'm having a lot of fun so far. Is it fair to say Unreal II is really just Unreal I with better graphics? Somewhat. But look back on Unreal and remember the first time you saw that amazing waterfall after leaving the doomed prison ship, or remember how interesting and unique each new environment was.
Sometimes...Just sometimes, when I'm all Age of Mythology'd out, and following quests in Morrowind requires just a little more mental wattage than I feel like generating, a pure eye-candy shooter is just what the doctor ordered. This fits the bill nicely.