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Unreal | 2 The Awakening | review | game | Lollipop

Unreal 2: The Awakening

(Atari for the PC)
by Eric Johnson

Let's say you just got a new computer and you go to the software store seeking the bleeding edge of desktop computer graphics as of summer 2003. In that situation, the best choice, the only choice at the moment, is Unreal 2: The Awakening. If what you're looking for is good first-person shooter, avoid it like a tourist with SARS because as a game, it's a total rip-off, outclassed in every respect by a cavalcade of shooters available for 20 bucks, but as a tech demo, it's fucking devastating.

Featuring a completely new gaming engine, Unreal 2 has been built from the ground up to take advantage of the dizzying array of technological advancements that've become available in home computers over the past few years. Most contemporary shooters employ tweaked versions of the three-year-old Quake III engine. Development time is considerable, and revenue is generated from farming out the technology to other companies, so most showcase titles – present company included – are stale, half-assed gaudy generic sci-fi action games exceptional only because they dazzle the spectator with the promise of a brighter tomorrow. Except for an excellent first level, Unreal 2 is an inexcusably brief romp through a series of alien worlds to retrieve a series of alien artifacts. Often an entire level will consist of approaching an amazing-looking structure, only to find that its interior is one meandering hallway with a single awe-inspiring boiler room waiting at the end of it. Critics weren't harsh enough on Unreal 2; it's short and poorly-executed. Its apex is a poor imitation of Alien vs. Predator, and its worst resembles Battlefield Earth in a foreign language without subtitles.

As for that envelope... well, it has a lot to do with lighting. Sure, the level of detail is a considerable leap above what you've seen in the past – like getting a new prescription of glasses – but it's what the new engine does with light, smoke, and steam that'll make you cream in your jeans. Every spark and every muzzle-flash generates its own arch of light and casts dynamic shadows on everything. Light reflects off particles of steam just as it would in the real world, and fire looks so fucking good, it makes you want to grab a stick and marshmallows. Establishing shots are particularly devastating, and structures often resemble slime-covered alien cathedrals. But all those buttresses and spires are little more than perfume on a pig if you're looking for a game to lose yourself in.


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