Unreal II updated impressions
We check out Epic and Legend Entertainment's forthcoming single-player-only sequel to Unreal.
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On display at a recent Infogrames press event at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, California, was the latest version of Unreal II: The Awakening, the highly anticipated sequel to Epic Games' 1998 hit Unreal. As many who've been following the game's development already know, the game will put you the role of a Terran Colony Authority marshal aboard the spaceship Atlantis. You and your crew are after seven relics that have been strewn across the galaxy. These mysterious artifacts hold a powerful secret, and many other forces and races are scrambling to possess them. You'll have to ensure that the artifacts don't fall into the wrong hands by getting to them first and fending off the armies of aliens in your way.
Producer Matt Powers was on hand to demonstrate the build, and the first level he showed was of an alien planet overgrown by a strange, purplish jungle. A group of mercenaries has discovered a mysterious power source on the surface of the planet that's almost organic in nature, and your job is to infiltrate their facility, investigate their discovery, and then escape with your newfound data. The mercenaries run this planet, and they've left it bristling with automated defenses that you'll have to deal with. Your primary objective lies behind a massive wall whose only opening is blocked by a force field. Atop this wall are a number of turrets that automatically track and lock on to you if you get too close. It's here that Powers was able to demonstrate some of Unreal II's weapons. To dispatch the turrets closest to him, he selected a standard grenade launcher, whose explosive munitions eventually tore through the turrets' tough armor. To contend with the defenses that were farther away, Powers switched the munitions in his grenade launcher to an EMP charge. These grenades took out their targets with one hit, since their electromagnetic pulse penetrated the turrets' armor and fried their circuits. In fact, the grenade launcher can fire six different types of grenades: explosive, electromagnetic, toxic gas, incendiary, concussion, and smoke.
The smoke grenades showed off another of Unreal II's strong points: the graphics. The particle-based smoke realistically bends and twirls when disturbed by any moving object, including your own character. Likewise, explosions will cause smoke to temporarily disperse from any given area, before it slowly settles back down. The lighting and shadows in Unreal II are also particularly noteworthy. In the first level demonstrated, Powers walked into a poorly lit area with a light source that was placed above a metal grill. This light source threw distinct shadows all over the room, including on the main character's arms and gun, creating a very realistic and visually impressive effect.
Another of the levels on display showed off Unreal II's squad-based gameplay mechanics. In this particular scene, your character and a group of colonial marines have to defend a base from an invasion by mercenaries. These mercs will attack in waves and swarm your facility from numerous locations at once. You control your marines by walking up to each one individually and hitting the use key. This will prompt you with a dialogue tree that includes commands like "patrol outer wall" and "guard front door." Once you issue a command to a marine, he'll perform his assigned task and engage any enemies he sees while doing so. In the case of this level, you'll have to successfully defend against three waves of mercenaries, and if you keep them from storming the base, you will have achieved victory. Interestingly enough, you won't be able to issue commands to your squadmates remotely or via some sort of radio--you have to be standing next to anyone you wish to bark commands at. This might pose a problem if you assign someone to patrol a faraway area and then change your mind a few minutes later, since you'll have to physically retrieve him. Powers said this was an intentional move by the designers to instill a certain level of tension in the players. Judging from what we saw, that move definitely pays off.
The final level that we saw feature an alien race that Epic and Legend Entertainment has kept quiet about until now. These quasi-mechanical creatures look like a cross between the Borg from Star Trek, H.R. Giger's Aliens, and the alien invaders from the film Independence Day. They use laser beams to scan for nearby enemies, and when they are damaged, small droids rush out of hidden alcoves to quickly repair their fallen comrades.
According to Powers, Unreal II: The Awakening is about two weeks away from reaching alpha, and while the game is mostly feature-complete at this point, many seemingly small things like voice-overs, tuning, scripted events, play testing, and the removal of graphical glitches still have to be addressed. While Powers wouldn't give us a firm release date, he did affirm that Unreal II would be out before Christmas this year. We'll have more on the game as new details become available. In the meantime, take a look at the latest batch of screenshots.