Unreal II: The Awakening is the sequel to Unreal and was developed by Legend Entertainment and published by Infogrames in 2003 under the Atari brand. It utilises Unreal Engine 2 and again features a single-player campaign, as well as multiplayer deathmatching.
The game can be played at three difficulty levels and begins with a short (optional) tutorial on the colonial base of the planet Odyssey IV. What is cool about this is that the training section ends with a short deathmatch against a bot, to test that you’re up to the task of playing the game. Once you’ve passed that test you’re then flown up to your orbiting spaceship, The Atlantis, to meet your crew (Aida, Isaak, and Ne’Ban).
You play as former Marine, John Dalton, a Terran Colonial Authority Marshal whose job it is to investigate a distress call from Liandri Station Lima Six on a planet called Sanctuary. You land and are immediately attacked, so must fight off the hostiles and then make your way to try to rescue the humans who’re under attack by this mysterious alien force.
You begin with three main weapons: the Dispersion Pistol returns from the first game (but looks and acts differently, and is mostly useless to begin with, but does become more useful later); a Combat Assault Rifle with two fire modes, and a Grenade Launcher that uses different types of ammo (although you only have one type to begin with). You can also throw Frag Grenades if you can find some. Later on you acquire more weapons, like a bulky-looking shotgun; a flamethrower; an alien lance; a rocket launcher, and a sniper rifle. It’s a fairly standard loadout for a first-person shooter, although the feel of the weapons is quite good.
Your health is indicated by an orange bar in the top left-hand corner of the screen, and the blue bar underneath it indicates your shield levels. Both health and shields can be topped-up by either collecting power-ups or by standing on re-generators for each.
Graphically, Unreal II: The Awakening is much better than the first Unreal, and it’s obvious that the second Unreal Engine is considerably more sophisticated than the first. Environments are quite complex for the time, although it did bug me that you aren’t allowed to walk up slopes over a certain gradient, which feels counter-intuitive.
Gameplay-wise, Unreal II is arguably better than the first game too. The Skaarj are back and are more aggressive than previously, and they make formidable opponents as they jump and roll away from your blasts, making them hard to hit. And if they get close to you they’ll use wrist-mounted blades to slash you, which can end the game quickly unless you avoid them.
Annoyingly, the save game mechanism will only allow you to re-load from set waypoints, which means having to backtrack and re-play certain sections if you die. Which does render the ability to save the game manually mostly useless, and it is very annoying having to go back to the very start of a level if you die.
Unreal II: The Awakening is not a bad game, and it is quite varied with some nice touches, although it is a fairly bog-standard futuristic shoot ’em up for the masses. If the save system was better I’d like the game more, but it isn’t and therefore it lost me at a certain point. Unreal II should still be available to buy now, though, which it isn’t, thanks to Epic‘s insistence on recently de-listing it from retail stores.