The Unreal Warfare engine is truly a
sight to behold, and nowhere does it look better than the long-awaited FPS Unreal Episode
II. The Warfare engine handles increased polygons for organic surfaces, allowing an
unprecedented level of detail. Blood flows inside the translucent veins of a planet-sized
creature, while spores orbiting the planet crawl with life. The particle system does a
magnificent job rendering the sprites that live inside that giant creature, as well as the
trails on weapons. Rockets cut through smoke, pushing it aside as they stir the air. A
freight elevator in the first mission contains more polygons than all of Unreal.
Stunning as they are,
graphics are just the beginning. You play an ex-marine turned cop who keeps order on the
star ship Atlantis. When the action begins to heat up, your combat experience comes in
handy through thirteen missions and over thirty levels on ten different planets. The
briefings for these missions happen in real time, and theyre delivered by characters
that look absolutely fabulous as their eyes move to track you and their heads turn.
Cinematics rendered in real time move you from the briefing into game play, where you
investigate the strange behavior of a group of soldiers on what is supposed to be a
reconnaissance mission--until things get ugly. Thats when you pick up one of more
than fourteen different weapons, from familiar machine guns through alien hardware, and
Episode II offers an innovative approach to game play by taking you out of the cramped
corridors and buildings common to FPSs and providing Serious Sam-like fields and savannas.
Each of the ten planets has unique flora and fauna, as well as individualized
environments. Vertical space is as prevalent and well used as horizontal. There are also
different styles of game play, from offensive invasion and recovery missions through
defensive perimeter protection. A new battery of monsters further mixes things up by
providing fresh challenges that demand innovative strategies. For example, a pack of
benign-seeming droids is actually a unit of repair robots that fixes the tougher enemies,
making it necessary to plan not only how to kill your opponents but also keep them dead.
The AI looks
exceptional in this title, with enemies ducking behind cover and otherwise using their
advantages. Human opponents act human, while alien and robotic opponents act otherwise.
The result is a consistency that makes the whole game more believable. The atmosphere is
further enhanced by dynamic music that changes according to game play, so that firefights
produce a more urgent tempo while sneaking through hallways causes softer sounds. These
and other factors are sure to make level replayability strong, so that the 20-30 hours of
game play is just the beginning. Note, however, that this title wont feature
multi-player supportpick up Unreal Tournament 2003 for that.
Unreal Episode II might make enemies for its hardware requirementsas of this
writing, designers were reporting minimum system requirements including a TNL 3D capable
graphics card, meaning GeForce 2 or higher. This will probably force a lot of fans to
upgrade their video hardware, but rest assured that Unreal Episode II will be worth it.