Unreal II Xbox Impressions

We take an advance look at the upcoming Xbox version of Unreal II.

The original Unreal II on the PC was the highly anticipated sequel to the 1998 shooter Unreal. Developer Epic has constantly worked with its proprietary game engine (known simply as "Unreal technology") and revamped it through Unreal, Unreal Tournament, UT 2003, and finally Unreal II, and the result was a graphically spectacular PC game that some fans found to be disappointing because of its rather short length (many players got through the game in less than 10 hours). We met with Epic producer Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski, who conceded this point but assured us that the upcoming Xbox version of the game will offer players more bang for their buck.

Unreal II is headed for the Xbox.

The Xbox version of Unreal II will feature the entire single-player campaign from the PC version, in which you play as John Dalton, a former space marine assigned to routine patrol duty until the antagonistic and extremely dangerous skaarj aliens (the primary villains from the original Unreal) make a reappearance in the universe as they attempt to recover a mysterious artifact. As Dalton, you'll have to fight your way through different futuristic environments on different planets while traveling with your crew, which includes the alien Ne'Ban, the gearhead Isaak, and the less-than-fully-clothed navigator Aida. In between fights, you'll be treated to real-time, in-engine cutscenes, and you'll be able to wield many of the original weapons from the first Unreal and Unreal Tournament, like the shock lance, and new weapons, like the flamethrower.

We started with a rundown of Unreal II's features, which will include an improved control scheme that will be "as good as Halo's," according to Bleszinski. In addition, the Xbox game will have higher-quality voice-over than the last Unreal product to hit the Xbox (Unreal Championship, which was released last year), as well as split-screen cooperative play for two players, which segments the screen so that each player's view is on top of the other. He conceded that although the Xbox isn't quite as powerful as some of the most high-end PCs out there, it's still an excellent platform and seems to have translated many of the PC game's graphical frills, such as its lighting and fog effects, as well as environmental effects such as foliage, just fine, even at this early stage in development.

The game will feature the single-player game from the PC version, plus a new multiplayer mode for Xbox Live.

Bleszinski went on to describe Unreal II's online multiplayer mode via Xbox Live, which he simply referred to as "XMP," or "expanded multiplayer." XMP will be a class-based multiplayer game that will "add more depth" than Unreal Championship by letting players choose to play as actual classes (similar to the multiplayer mode in Wolfenstein for Xbox Live), such as a ranger, a sniper, or an assault character. XMP will feature a goal-based mode in which two opposing teams must capture and control all the artifacts on a map to win; in many cases, each team will start the game in control of two artifacts and will attempt to capture the other two to score points.

Here, Have a Flamethrower

Different classes will be able to use different weapons; for instance, assault classes might be able to use heavier weapons, though different classes will be balanced by other factors, such as running speed and armor. XMP will also let players use one of three different vehicles in multiplayer play, though Bleszinski acknowledged that coordinating moving vehicles as well as players of different classes online (Epic currently plans to allow up to 16 players to play online in a single game, though this number may change) will be a difficult task, and he assured us that his team at Epic and the game's developer, Australian studio Tantalus (which is handling the port), are doing their best to make sure that the multiplayer mode works before the game ships.

Unreal II has been in development for only five months or so, but it's already looking quite good.

Unfortunately, Bleszinski was a bit more evasive about plans for Xbox Live downloadable content--when asked about the possible addition of features such as new maps or new multiplayer modes, he replied that nothing has been confirmed or announced, though neither studio is ruling out the possibility of adding to the game after its release. He did at least mention that PC fans of Unreal II "should listen for updates," since it's possible that Unreal II's development on the Xbox might coincide with new add-ons for the PC version.

We were able to get a glimpse of some of Unreal II's single-player levels in action, and for the most part, they seemed true to the original PC game's levels. The Xbox version of the game has been in development for about five months at Tantalus, so not everything was finalized at this point, though outside of a few technical problems we observed, the game seems to run quite well at this point--the frame rate remained steady for the most part, and the game seemed to control well enough with the Xbox controller.

The game seems to control and play well, even at this early stage of development.

We watched a few different levels in action, including the early-game hell research facility (which is infested with fast-moving spiderlike aliens) and the even earlier forest level, in which you must explore a dark alien forest and meet up with a team of stranded marines. As Bleszinski pointed out, some of the texture detail had to be lowered while porting the game from the PC to the Xbox, but at a standard TV's native resolution of 400x300, the difference isn't really obvious, and this seemed to be the case. He also mentioned that Epic and Tantalus are working to incorporate as much of the original Unreal II's physics, including rag-doll animations for dying soldiers and monsters, as possible. And apparently, the Xbox has a few unique advantages over the PC platform, such as not having such stringent fill rate limitations, which lets players use the flamethrower weapon or see huge explosions that fill the screen without the Xbox's processor taking as severe a hit (resulting in less potential slowdown).

Unreal II for the Xbox seems to be coming along well at this point, and hopefully its multiplayer options will give it more replay value for Xbox Live fans. The game is scheduled for release later this year, but we'll have more updates on this promising Xbox shooter as soon as we can.

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