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. IÃ‚'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. YouÃ‚'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.
IÃ‚'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), IÃ‚'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 wasnÃ‚'t an issue. It was twelve fun hours, and I got my moneyÃ‚'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, IÃ‚'ve only played about three hours of the game, and these are only impressions. By that measure, IÃ‚'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, clichÃƒÂ©s, 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 UnrealÃ‚'s early Skaarj encounter, a heart pounding experience the first time I played through it, that literally excited me as much as the first Ã‚"˜zombie-dog jumps through windowÃ‚', but Unreal 2Ã‚'s revisit to this classic gaming moment is as contrived and predictable as, well, as a Ã‚"˜zombie-dog jumps through windowÃ‚' moment in any current survival-horror game. You see it coming from a mile away, and you feel strangely hollow when itÃ‚'s passed.
As if unwilling to leave any clichÃƒÂ© 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 canÃ‚'t be far behind. You wonÃ‚'t be disappointed Ã‚"… 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 Ã‚– often segmented by otherwise pointless doors Ã‚– filled with a steady flow of whatever bad guy youÃ‚'re supposed to slaughter in this level. Boss fights take place in large, usually round, rooms, and donÃ‚'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 donÃ‚'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 canÃ‚'t say enough about how amazing some of Unreal 2Ã‚'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 IÃ‚'ve seen so far, however, leaves me a bit disappointed. I am reserving judgment, but I am also beginning to lose faith.- Elysium