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I never hear about Unreal II. At least not often. When I do hear about it, it’s not always positive. It seems to be the outcast of the series. I remember hearing about Unreal and certainly Unreal Tournament. I remember hearing and reading about Unreal Tournament 2004 and seeing screen shots of it and images for it everywhere back in the day. With that said, it seems that Unreal II and Unreal Tournament 2003 just came and went. Developed by Legend Entertainment and published by Infogrames, Unreal II: The Awakening was released for PC in February, 2003. The Xbox version released in February, 2004 and was published by Atari. For this review, I played the PC version, specifically the GoG version which is the Special Edition that comes with the eXpanded MultiPlayer expansion. However, the expansion is free so you can download it.
The story revolves around former Marine John Dalton and his crew on the ship TCA Atlantis. John is now a Terran Colonial Authority Marshal who patrols remote areas of space. He’s recruited by the head of TCA operations, Sector Commander Hawkins to retrieve seven artifacts which, when combined, form a powerful super weapon. This is a much more story-driven shooter than the original Unreal and it’s accompanied by voice performances that range from decent to terrible and none of the characters are particularly interesting.
Unreal II is a much slower-paced game than the original. You play as John and he can walk, run, crouch, go prone, jump, mantle, and lean left and right. Your health and shield can be restored from pickups or health and shield stations scattered throughout the environments. You can acquire shield energy from specific fallen enemies but I do think dead bodies disappear way too quickly which can suck if you really need the shield energy. There’s no items to acquire and store in your inventory like in the first game. The Atlantis is John’s ship and acts as a hub of sorts. You can explore the ship freely and interact with the members of your crew. When interacting with characters, there are different responses and questions you can choose from. Before each mission, you can attend a briefing and learn about any new weapons you’ve acquired. When you’re ready to start the mission, you enter your dropship and off you go. Each mission takes place on a different planet. I actually think that’s a great idea and I got into it in the beginning but the story loses steam pretty quickly. Plus, all the environments are linear for the most part and it just doesn’t capture that same awesome and cool sci-fi alien feel the first game did.
As you progress through the campaign, you’ll get your hands on a good variety of weapons, some of which were present in the previous game like the Dispersion Pistol which has infinite ammo and you can charge up energy for a more powerful shot. The Magnum Pistol deals a good amount of damage and it’s alt fire is a three-round burst. The Combat Assault Rifle is a rapid-firing weapon that can also fire bolts that will bounce off surfaces, great for shooting enemies around corners. The grenade launcher can fire six types of grenades – frag, incendiary, EMP, toxic, smoke, and concussion grenades which will knock enemies down. The Shock Lance can fire dual energy bolts which can bounce off surfaces and the secondary fire is an EMP blast. The Shotgun fires shells and incendiary slugs. The Rocket Launcher can fire a single rocket or four rockets that will fly around wildly if you’re not locked on to anything. The Flamethrower can fire flaming gas or spray fuel. The Sniper Rifle is easily one of the best weapons in the game, capable of taking some of the tougher enemy types quickly. The most interesting weapons in the game are the SpiderGun, Takkra, Drakk Laser Rifle, and Singularity Cannon. The SpiderGun launches sacs that will spawn little arachnids and it can also fire a sac that grows until it splits revealing a large arachnid. The Takkra is a small bot-like floating device that will attack enemies and the secondary fire will cause it to protect you. The Drakk Laser Rifle fires a laser pulse and its secondary fire is a limited range sustained beam. Finally, there’s the Singularity Cannon which is only acquired at the end of the game. It generates what appears to be a miniature black hole that sucks in enemies.
I think one of the cooler aspects of Unreal II is all the diverse planets you’ll visit. And many of them introduce new enemy types. The Skaarj return but you don’t get to fight them often. Many enemies are of the human variety and you will engage quite a few alien creatures but they’re not as cool or interesting as the ones in the previous game. The enemies exhibit basic behavior and many areas are defended by enemy auto and rocket turrets. The game does like to throw a lot of enemies that can fire rockets at you, making several encounters feel cheap and frustrating. You’ll want to approach some encounters very carefully because it can be very easy to die if you’re outnumbered. There are a few bosses encountered throughout the campaign and they’re actually quite easy to defeat. Ultimately, the enemy variety is good but the encounters are not always enjoyable.
While the original Unreal required you to pay attention to progress, it would be hard to get lost in Unreal II. The environments are pretty linear, overall. There are some rooms and areas you can explore which usually contain goodies but for the most part, where you need to go is pretty straightforward. You’ll have to infiltrate areas, defend NPC’s, retrieve items, and during certain missions, you can command Marines. There’s quite a few missions that require you to defend an area or NPC and in these scenarios, you can command Marines to cover certain locations. You can also utilize defensive equipment like turrets and deployable plasma field generators. There are quite a few hazards you need to watch out for like arachnid sacs, ionized plasma gas, fire, and lasers but as long as you approach areas carefully, you should be able to avoid these things easily.
Visually, Unreal II does look better than the first game and the varied environments keep the visual presentation interesting from beginning to end. I think the fire, explosions, particle effects, and muzzle flashes look good and the gunplay can feel quite satisfying. You can blow an enemy into bloody pieces and watching them run around on fire screaming in agony never gets old. Some textures are noticeably blurry, animations can be a bit stiff, and to get this running in widescreen with a proper field of view, I would recommend consulting the game’s PCGamingWiki page. The soundtrack is nowhere near as good as that of the first game. Not even close. The sound effects are alright. Enemies will make different noises, moan and groan when they take damage, and you can listen to human enemies interacting with each other. The weapons fire is decent. I think the Combat Assault Rifle sounds a bit weak but most weapons sound okay and get the job done. On the technical side, the game crashed on me twice and I got stuck in the environment at one point.
Unreal II is okay. I got into it in the beginning but the more I progressed, the more I disliked it. It’s not a bad shooter, it’s just average. While Unreal is a fast-paced action-packed shooter set in an awesome and interesting sci-fi setting, Unreal II fails at most of that. It’s not fast-paced, it is action-packed, and I appreciate the developers giving you all of these unique environments to explore but you’re time on each planet is always short-lived and the world building is far from great. I didn’t find the story, itself, interesting, the voice performances kill any kind of mood or tone the story attempts to set, and the enemies are just not as fun or interesting to engage as the enemies in the first game. The campaign doesn’t offer much in terms of replay value, the environments are linear, requiring little-to-no exploration, and some encounters are more frustrating than fun.
I would only recommend Unreal II because you can get it for under twenty dollars on Steam or GoG. Ultimately, I think it’s a disappointing sequel. What made the first game so much fun just isn’t here. Granted, I didn’t try the multiplayer so I’m only basing my recommendation on the campaign. For all I know, the eXpanded MultiPlayer expansion could be the game’s saving grace. I have no idea. I won’t say Unreal II is bad but it’s not great. Honestly, I got bored. I lost interest in the story very early on and I got bored with the gameplay shortly after that. The beginning shows promise but it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s better shooters out there.