Daily Elysium: A Few Hours With Unreal 2

Despite another hectic day, I had a chance to sit down with Unreal 2 for a few hours yesterday. A hard decision, because Certis’ enthusiasm for the multiplayer element of the new Black Hawk Down demo nearly drove me away from my solemn duty to play games then talk here about those games. It’s a tough job – and incidentally, one we pretty much had to create for ourselves – but I’m willing to do it.

So, what are my impressions after a few hours of Unreal 2?  A must buy or a wait and see?  A flash in the pan, or a soaring eagle with golden wings and dagger claws?  Read on to find out.

Visually, Unreal 2 is absolutely stunning.  IÂ'd need my handy John Carmack Book of Incomprehensible Technospeak to begin to relate the wealth of bump-mapping and anisotropic filtering that assaults your screen. YouÂ'd be remiss not to pause every few moments and simply admire the sweeping vistas or even something as simple as the wall textures. As an added bonus, doing so could likely double your total play time.

IÂ'm reminded of a comment I saw under a recent topic, where one of our readers pointed out the paying fifty dollars for ten hours of entertainment is a pretty good bargain. Considering that you pay, on average three to five dollars an hour for a movie going experience (not including popcorn), IÂ'm actually inclined to agree, with one caveat: that ten hours needs to be excellent. For example, I was perfectly satisfied with my Max Paine experience. It had engaging visuals, a fairly interesting storyline, an original style to both writing and presentation, and a satisfying novelty of its gameplay. Sure, it took me twelve hours at most to finish the game, but that wasnÂ't an issue. It was twelve fun hours, and I got my moneyÂ's worth.

So, I approach games with that philosophy. If you must make them short experiences, then you must also make them consistently engaging. An outstanding graphics engine is a good first step in that direction, but that engine must be complemented with the elements of gameplay, and it is here where I begin to find cracks in Unreal 2.

I would like to stress again, IÂ've only played about three hours of the game, and these are only impressions. By that measure, IÂ'd have been markedly disappointed with Jedi Knight 2 at this stage, though my final review would have been considerably more enthusiastic.

Unreal 2, at its start, is mired by derivative gameplay, clichés, poor AI, and uninspired level design. That is not to say that it is a bad game, but simply, so far, a mediocre one. For as beautiful as the worlds of Unreal 2 appear, they are equally uninteresting to work through, and they are filled with stock puzzles and uninventive pitfalls. Early on there is even an homage to UnrealÂ's early Skaarj encounter, a heart pounding experience the first time I played through it, that literally excited me as much as the first Â"˜zombie-dog jumps through windowÂ', but Unreal 2Â's revisit to this classic gaming moment is as contrived and predictable as, well, as a Â"˜zombie-dog jumps through windowÂ' moment in any current survival-horror game. You see it coming from a mile away, and you feel strangely hollow when itÂ's passed.

As if unwilling to leave any cliché overlooked, there are crates-a-plenty scattered through the first several levels (though they serve no apparent function). And where there are crates, a jumping puzzle over an electrified floor canÂ't be far behind. You wonÂ't be disappointed Â"… unless you were hoping for something a bit more inventive.

Fighting enemies is pretty much a matter of simply holding off the swarming hordes. The creatures seem to display no significant AI, save for an occasional dodge of your slower ammunition types, and the level design facilitates this with long stretches of narrow hallways – often segmented by otherwise pointless doors – filled with a steady flow of whatever bad guy youÂ're supposed to slaughter in this level. Boss fights take place in large, usually round, rooms, and donÂ't seem appreciably difficult by comparison.

The story is no more engaging than the play thus far. You learn through the course of the first level that there are seven artifacts scattered on seven different planets, and these mysterious artifacts hold some unknown but desperately important power. Thus you must travel to these seven planets and collect these seven artifacts. Between missions you will talk a bit with your three crew members, a missed opportunity for the writers to have injected a bit more tension into the story, about your upcoming and completed missions. This is done under the pretense of fleshing out an uninteresting back-story about your crew, is delivered through poorly acted dialogue, and feels more like padding than any sort of plot device.

I donÂ't want to leave you entirely with the perception that my time with Unreal 2 has been wholly unpleasant. An early mission in which you and several marines must hold a hostile LZ while you wait for rescue was actually a pretty satisfying experience. Further, I canÂ't say enough about how amazing some of Unreal 2Â's visuals can be. With the proper equipment, it can be a breathtaking experience.

I wish I had more enthusiasm to sit down with the rest of the game, and push my way through, and with a few twists of the story line, and a few really satisfying levels I could be coaxed right back in the mood. What IÂ've seen so far, however, leaves me a bit disappointed. I am reserving judgment, but I am also beginning to lose faith.

- Elysium


I'm enjoying the game, personally. I'm almost willing to say the entire package was worth the cost just to interact with your pilot, Ne'Ban. His design is insanely good, his voice is spot on, and the humor is appreciated. It's almost like directly interacting with a beautifully rendered version of some of the more unusual aliens from Master of Orion 2, or Star Control 2.

Other than Ne'Ban, I've found the "strategy" portions to be the most interesting. It warms my ex-Team Fortress engineer heart to run about erecting walls and turrets while I order marines to cover different attack angles. Those missions are difficult, but really satisfying.

Overall, I like it. It isn't ground breaking, but it is fun.

I wouldn't call $5 per hour a bargain, I was simply pointing out that the two mediums are very similar in price. I don't necessarily agree with your caveat, personally I think an opionion on a game should be given with time left out of the equation. I wouldn't rate a movie lower because it was an hour and a half instead of 2 hours.

well since it seems my quake 1&2 levels are a bit dated for portfolio pieces, i am going to go pick this up.  why oh why cant someone make a worldcraft type editor for unreal games?  unrealed is awkward and clunky.  it takes no talent to make box rooms with a bunch of neat looking prefabs.

such is the pain i endure to find a job! (haha nice little flare of the dramatic no?)

OK, I've spent a little time with the game, and yeah it's pretty, but nothing terribly spectactular.

But one thing...I've been spending most of my time with consoles lately (Halo, Ratchet & Clank, Metroid Prime, GTA:VC) and you know what PC games have GOT to learn?  Streaming in of new levels off the CD/DVD or HD.  This level loading crap has got to go.   And be forewarned, Unreal 2 has loading periods for some of the most assinine cut scenes.  A separate loading sequence for when my dropship goes to the planet, a scene that lasts about 15 seconds?   Incorporate that data into the ship map for jebus sakes.  Or at least let me skip it.

I've become spoiled.  Damn you Half-Life for the start of this trend with your wee levels and comparitively quick load times.  Daaammmmnnn yooouuuuu!

>>And be forewarned, Unreal 2 has loading periods for some of the most assinine cut scenes.<<

Oh God!  It's awful, isn't it.  Loading.  wait.  wait.  wait.  Wow, that ship detached from that other ship and made a whooshing noise as it entered the atmosphere!  Loading.  wait.  wait.  wait

- Elysium


I picked up the game a couple days ago, and I would imagine that I am about half way through at this point.  First off, the graphics are absolutely incredible.  There are may parts of the game where I have stopped playing and just wandered around looking at the design, and the marvelous texture work.  Of course on the ship I had to crouch and look up in front of Aida to belhold those wonderous polygons.  AND SHE LOOKED AT ME.  I dare any man who plays this game to say that they haven't done the same thing.  ; )

That being said, I can't help but be a little disappointed in the game.  It is odd, but I continue playing, not on the premise that I am involved or immersed in the game or story in any way,  but to just "see it".   <spoiler below>



There is one scene at the beginning where the guy is guiding you to the control  room using the intercom system on the base and says something to the effect "There are a lot of creatures in this next room, be careful".


<end spoiler.>

How moronic.  This game is completely devoid of any suspense or intrigue at all.  It is almost like a rail shooter and even when you don't have some moron telling you what is going to happen, you can pretty much ascertain when the next group of monsters will appear.

The short game length would be tolerable if the game had a modicum of excitement.  Of course there are some memorable moments, but these are just islands in a sea of tedium.  Unreal 2 is a pretty bauble, devoid of any character.  Is it worth it?   I would say "perhaps" ,  if only just to see the latest technology as I really can appreciate the amount of talent and time it took to get the visuals down. 

Opps, I posted this too in the first unreal 2 thread,  but I didn't see it as it was nested with another comment. I thought it wasn't successful, so I did it again. Sorry for hte spam.

im enjoying it for the most part.  its got a few, "hey we'll poof in random enemies behind you down the hall you just came".  but for the most part it is entertaining.

i always hated this about the previous unreal.  the skaarj are masterfully programmed to jump dodge left or right just as you fire.  nice ai is one thing but the implementation seems so artificial.  i can deal with it though as it is a good challenge.

im stuck crouching under the floor with a skaarj pacing on top of me.  im doing a pretty good job of killing myself trying to squeeze a shot throught the cracks and hitting an obstruction too close to me.

havent found much use for the energy lances.  i usually stick to the alternate fire of the assault rifle.  i pepper the skaarj with the primary fire till it gets closer.  then i pound it with 1-2 shot of alt fire.

the landscape isnt as explorer friendly as you might think.  i have jumped around trying to find secret stashes and sniper spots.  my efforts have caused 2 crashes to desktop.

is it me or does the unreal 2 cd's make god awful, loud noise when its reading?

The lipsync/animation of the characters is poor compared to the liveliness of Cate Archer and her cohorts in NOLF2. So much potential with the free-roam of the Atlantis--sort of an updated Wing Commander (1-2) except most of it was so useless. Voice acting bad, mannerisms/eye-movement stiff, unrealistic, distracting. Levels are tiny walk-in-a-straight-line-to-end-of-level-and-then-back.

Enemies for the most part seem to be rejects from Red Faction.

Visuals amazing. Halo for X-Box is a better game experience overall though, and Unreal 2 seems to borrow liberally. Gameplay uninspired. Blah.