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8th Mar 2001, 04:04 PM
Unreal II
World Exclusive! Legend Unveils Its Stunning New Field of Dreams

May 19, 1998, was a good day for PC gamers. It's the day that the original Unreal finally went gold, some six months after its initially scheduled fall 1997 release. It was backed by an extensive ad campaign that had quoted Nietzsche ("When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you") and that focused heavily on showing actual in-game screenshots. It posed the question. Can you believe how great our game looks? Unreal was optimized for Intel's all-new MMX technology, as well as PowerVR and 3dfx 3D
accelerators. It was, as the kidz were quick to guess, da bomb.

Guess what? Time to get those tingles of excitement again. Sure, we're a tough-to-please crowd these days, with technological buzz-words dripping off the tongues of even the most hardware-illiterate, but take a look at this: Unreal II looks absolutely unbelievable. Oh, and there's a damn compelling game idea wrapped around the stunning visuals, to boot. It's all revealed right here.

With such a powerful initial impact, it's hard not to focus on the detail and quality of the visuals in Unreal II - even at this early stage, still some way from the game's Q1 2002 scheduled release date. Like Boticelli's The Birth of Venus, a soccer stadium packed with the red and white of Sheffield United, or the March 2000 Playboy Playmate, it's impossible not to stare slack-jawed for a few moments before attempting to process the beauty of what you're witnessing.

So take a moment. Hold the magazine out in front of you, let your eye wander momentarily through those rolling hills, browse through the flora (and watch out for the fauna), but don't yet consider the variety of deadly combatants waiting around any particular corner.

Done? Nice, huh? So now let's get down to the details.

Legend Entertainment established a working relationship with Epic Games (creator of the Unreal technology, and developer of the original game and its multiplayer follow-up, Unreal Tournament) when it developed the Unreal mission pack, Return to Na Pali, and then licensed the technology for its action/strategy hybrid Wheel of Time. With this background of expertise in the core technology, Legend is already well-positioned to drain every ounce of potential from the latest iteration of programmer Tim Sweeney's powerful and ever-evolving engine.

"Unreal II will take the best parts of Unreal and Unreal Tournament," says Legend's studio head Mike Verdu. "We're creating a single-player game with a rich story that surrounds 13 combat missions."

Telling a story has been a hallmark of Legend's distinguished history in the PC gaming market. Its early adventure and roleplaying games (such as Mission Critical) garnered critical acclaim. Even the poor-selling Wheel of Time ("the license could have been a hindrance in this case," confessed Verdu) scored well with critics for the game's unique blend of action and strategy.

For Unreal II the focus is clearer, and despite the fact that it's a sequel, there's no previous storyline weighing it down. It's got an all-new world, an all-new character to play, and an all-new style. While set in the same universe as the first game, Unreal II will introduce five alien races in a story that's designed to be tight-knit.

In a nutshell, you're a "Terran Colonial Authority Frontier Marshall" – a long winded title for a guy who patrols the butt-end of space in a creaking ship, named Atlantis, acting as a limited law enforcement agent on a lawless frontier. The familiar sci-fi story of megalomaniac corporations, itinerant aliens, and slovenly mercenary forces belies some of the intriguing gameplay potential that Legend is currently tweaking.

Within the 25 levels that make up the 13 missions, you'll be conducting solo infiltration tasks and search-and-rescue efforts, and also shooting out slap-bang at the pointy end of a full-blown war.

Says Verdu: "With this game, you'll get one-third of the way through an encounter when there will [suddenly] be a new way of playing, and you'll get those 'wow' moments." As a 60 second précis of gameplay, Verdu explained how you would land on a planet's surface, where your Intelligence Officer (from the safety of Atlantis) will let you know where the trouble is brewing. By following her instructions, you'll tumble into a firefight between mercenaries and aliens. When the humans start firing at you, and the four armed aliens don't, which side do you take? You'll be prodded in the right direction (it's a linear game, like most any first-person shooter) but the tension of those moments-and the frantic, plasma-singed results of your decisions- will make it feel like you're in the middle of major galactic developments. "We want to capture the magic of Assault [mode] in UT," explains Verdu.

Suddenly, while walking back down a corridor, your path is blocked by a bar. Ominously, the lights ahead wink out, one at a time, pitching you into total darkness. There's a momentary pause…and then you hear the swoosh of a scything blade as it cuts across your torso and your trigger finger instinctively pulls, firing wild and blind. As you fumble for a flare, you see the corpse of your first Skaarj kill lying at your feet. The adrenaline rush is incredible in this major set-piece "wow" moment from the original game, and it's the kind of moment you should expect more often in the sequel.

"We want to make it a real moment-to-moment experience," says Senior Level Designer Scott Dalton, who cites some impressive influences: "I totally worshipped Half-Life and Deus Ex." Using AI comrades will add a unique twist, as you'll be able to command probably four or five supporting marines using an interface designed to be fast and effective.

"Id like to have ground battles of eight to 10 units, but it's more likely to be four to five maximum," says Verdu.

While technical issues limit the total number, so does the logistical requirement of giving orders to your men, such as defending a perimeter or attacking point "x." The AI bots will be used in tactical situations, and you'll be able to move and maneuver them in formations and with purpose into battle situations.

Aside from random AI marines that turn up to help out, the Atlantis housed a crew of three - Ne'Ban, an alien pilot; Isaak, a cranky engineer; and Aida, the hottie intelligence officer. All these characters will be used to advance the story while you're onboard. (You'll be able to wander around between your quarters and the bridge, and train on a holodeck.)

Aida will play a major role in guiding you through the missions, and in pushing the twists and turns of the plot. She's also a major babe (shocker!). Since the interior of the Atlantis is an enclosed environment, Legend can boost the poly count and detail level over the main action environments without any frame hit. As a result, Aida and cohorts are incredibly detailed, and GeForce3-powered hardware technology will be used to create flowing hair, and ensure that those curves are, well, as curvaceous as they can be.

The plan is also to ensure that the relationship you develop with the characters (particularly Aida) is fairly dynamic. An interface is being developed with the aim of empowering a fast-paced dialogue tree in which answers are spontaneous-the idea being that if you crack a joke, Aida will laugh, or be less forthcoming if you've acted like an arrogant ass. The plan is also for you to be able to customize your cabin on the Atlantis with your own memorabilia (possibly importing your own photographs).

The Legend developers also hint at a "pet" character, code named the "sea goat," that might inhabit the Atlantis - you may "adopt" this creature at some point early in the game, and keep it with you throughout the remainder of the campaign. No further information was forthcoming (no matter how subtle our questioning) - as with many of the details, they are still to be fleshed out over the remaining 12 months of Unreal II's development.

While Unreal Tournament does the full online multiplayer duty for Epic's universe, Unreal II will still offer traditional deathmatch, team deathmatch, Last Man Standing, and CTF game modes. In addition, a new game mode will be introduced that follows a pattern similar to some of the single-player missions. Two teams will fight for turf, with light and medium infantry making up the brunt of the task force. A third class, the engineer, will have a vital impact on the flow, and will also introduce a few RTS elements to the combat mix. The engineer will be able to set up turrets and force fields, and will also be able to decide what the new "replicator" object creates. This device is set to provide ammo, weapons, or other items to the team, and the engineer is the one who pulls the strings, calibrating it to whatever the team deems necessary.

In the new game mode, "artifacts" will be scattered throughout the map. Each team will have to control these objects, which bestow different abilities on each team member (like the Runes or Relics from other CTF gamed modes), and "register" them back at the base. Tactical decisions will play a part, as you decide what artifacts to target first and how the engineer supplies the team; powerful weapons will take a long time to be replicated, so do you wait for those, or star erecting defenses? This game mode uses a dynamic that comes from how some of the single-player missions are constructed, so having played through the solo campaign, you'll already be trained in how to play this new multi-player mode. And of course, it sports all the latest network code.

When you're given a tool like the Unreal engine, and its ever-evolving editor (which will ship with the final game, complete with a new framework allowing editing to be done simply through .ini files), you'd think that was enough. Not so. Legend showed off some technological jiggery-pokery with a new particle system that uses the pixel-shading technology of NVIDIA's brand-new NV20 graphics chip (see Hard Stuff, page 100, for more info). The impact is to make many of the ambient effects-water, steam, fire, fog-take on a whole new depth of realism as they swirl, move, and are colored by the
different lighting in a level.

The new engine also boasts 10 times the number of polygons for particles and characters compared to UT, with typical enemies sporting 3,000 to 5,000 polys and the Atlantis crew pushing 7,000 to 10,000. Indeed, the improved terrain and level geometry will push 100 times the poly count of UT. On top of this stunning new outdoor terrain system, there's also an improved meshing system that, when combined with a fine skeletal animation system, allows for some incredibly fluid character movements.

And any doubts about the PC's ability to render the finer details will be put to rest by this display. "I saw the Metal Gear Solid 2 movie at E3 with the incredible breaking glass and thought, "I can do that!'" says Aaron Leiby, systems programmer.

He wasn't kidding. Unreal II sports some of the most realistic breaking glass you're ever likely to see. Two bullets are pumped into a pane, there's a momentary pause, and then it shatters from around the impact marks, before the remainder of the glass tumbles and smashes out of its frame. It is, in itself, a "wow" moment, and one of many technology-based eye-openers.

Of course, you really want to know what you'll be fighting with, and what you'll be shooting at, right? Well, Legend is promising about 15 instruments of destruction that will take the best of what every FPS player already wants - there'll be an assault rifle (minigun-like), a rocket launcher, and a sniper rifle (with a zoom that's built into your HUD). Beyond that Legend is coy about revealing its full deck. But how about these for size:

GRENADE LAUNCHER: Fires different ammo such as smoke, incendiary, poison, fragmentation, and gas grenades. It also fires EMP grenades (which disrupt electronics) and a "stasis" grenade that will pause time momentarily ("and create a Matrix-like effect," says Verdu).

FLAMETHROWER: See what happens when particle effects get built into game engines? While still being tweaked, the flame effect was already amazing in our dime, and combined with the lighting effects, it will certainly be the weapon of choice of your favorite pyro.

LEECH GUN: Fires leeches that attach to enemies and drain their energy or health, and slows them down.

TAKKRA: An apparent homage (or just "inspired by") the Hive Hand gun in Half-Life, the Takkra fires drones that track targets and deliver a stinging blow. They can also be used in a defensive posture, creating a sphere of bug defense around you.

Other weapons will be announced later; we expect to see a shotgun and various kinds of energy/plasma weapons (a high-powered laser gun and a more Doom II-like plasma rifle are almost certainly in contention). In addition, rail technology will have to make an appearance. (How about introducing the brilliant "I can shoot you through six walls" rail gun from the Unreal4Ever mod?) CliffyB also suggested that a couple of the weapons from UT could be included.

All the weapons will be accompanied by some amazing special effects. While this even should perhaps have stayed in the demo room, it should be revealed that CliffyB's reaction to seeing some dazzling electrical sparkle display from one weapon effect elicited a Keanu Reeves-like "Whoa, I've got wood." Yep, as we thought, too much information. Sorry.

On the receiving end of this arousing arsenal will be 24 different creatures, with only the Skaarj returning from Unreal. Each outdoor terrain will be populated by indigenous lifeforms, as in the original game. As you work through the alien cities, industrial complexes, underground warrens, rain forests, volcanic mountains (and an ice level has to be in here somewhere), you'll come up against Mercenaries fighting for the large corporations. These characters should display their own effective tactical maneuvers, and communicate with each other realistically.

You'll encounter Striders, described as "biological horrors that grow their own armor, weapons, and even spaceships." These creatures alone ("Pods") are not powerful, but they bond together into villains, and multiple villains can bond to form a Nemesis. Don't try to outrun the larger Nemesis, since this creature will be capable of disassembling itself into its smaller units to navigate tight confines, and will bond together again when space allows.

Rounding out the creatures revealed so far is the mysterious N. Only three N exist, but they're crazy multi-dimensional beings that can be in multiple places at once, and attack with psionics. The mind boggles. In addition, we'll see the representatives of each of the five alien races, many of which are still on the drawing board, being created with a universal design goal by Legend's Anthony Pereira, whose job is to conceptualize the whole fantastical menagerie.

There's little doubt that Legend is brimming with ideas for manipulating the awesome technology at its disposal. What's refreshing is the dedication to the tight single-player experience. The team estimates that the game length will be similar to that of the awesome Elite Force, which puts it around a snug 10 hours. With a focused storyline, Legend is bringing together all the elements of Half-Life, No One Lives Forever, Deus Ex, and Elite Force under the umbrella of some of the most impressive game technology in existence.

That combo's not just hyperbole, either. Elements of all these games will meld into the Unreal setting for what's already shaping up to be the next great step in first-person shooters. It's going to take another year to tweak and build to perfection, but this is the kind of game that makes us hardcore gamers go out and spend another $3,000 on a new system in order to see all the detail in its best, most colorful, most "wood"-inducing light.

Note - The above was taken without permission from the April, '01 issue of PC Gamer. I typed in word for word what the article stated. This was not taken from any website or any other source other than the April, '01 issue of PC Gamer.


Uncle Leo
8th Mar 2001, 07:57 PM
Bloody triffic!
Thanks for typing all that.

8th Mar 2001, 08:29 PM
yeah, nice going mate :) i thought i was going to have to wait at least another week to read that

U2 sounded and looked good from the scraps we've been getting over the last few days, but after reading that i'd have to say it sounds absolutely incredible :)

only one negative comment: i can't beleive we have to wait a whole year for it!

8th Mar 2001, 08:46 PM
saw the mag today while browsin barnes n nobles...
all i can say is wowzers! :>

9th Mar 2001, 08:35 AM
I was worried that the game would be all high-tech and UT-like, but now, while we may not have Bluff Eversmoking or the Chizra temple, it sounds like there will be enough atmosphere to keep it interesting!

"Four armed aliens" suggested Nali but they say only Skaarj will return. Intriguing huh...

9th Mar 2001, 01:02 PM
yea it looks like the outdoor sections (the little that was shown) will be amazin!!