Unreal II: The Awakening has finally made its debut on the Xbox, about a year after it was originally released on the PC. As one of the most well-recognized franchises in the first-person shooter genre, fans waited for Unreal II with much anticipation, only to be disappointed by a short, uninspired single-player campaign and a lack of multiplayer options. Though the latter problem has ultimately been addressed by an add-on for the PC version, Xbox owners will be underwhelmed with this version of Unreal II because it plays and feels like a watered-down port.
Textures suffer from a notable lack of detail.
The first thing you'll notice is that the game looks pretty average, by Xbox standards. This is particularly galling, given that one of Unreal II's few strengths on the PC was its first-rate graphics, which still hold up well today. On the Xbox, textures are noticeably blurrier than on the PC, and many of the pretty normal-mapping effects seem to have been stripped out. Armor doesn't glint and glisten in the light, and exposed skin looks rather flat. Polygonal detail in the enemy and character models also seems to be compromised. Even color depth in the game is lacking, which is most noticeable in shadowy caves, where you'll see ugly banding in the darker areas. The game's animation suffers from jerkiness, especially during cutscenes. Additionally, the frame rate is uneven and will often take a dive during intense firefights or in large areas.
Not everything about the presentation is bad, though. Unreal II still offers scenic views of the terrain and presents an interesting variety of environments, both indoor and outdoor. Fire that comes from the flamethrower also looks pretty good, and it's still satisfying to ignite enemies to watch them run around while trying to put out the flames. The sound effects and music also work well, but they aren't exceptional. The voice acting is also pretty decent, with the voice actors doing their best to make lemonade out of a lemon of a script and story.
The single-player campaign in Unreal II is mostly unchanged from the PC version. You'll assume the role of John Dalton, a former space marine who's been demoted to the Colonial Authority (basically a transgalactic police force) along with a few other marine rejects. You eventually find yourself mixed up in a quest to find seven mysterious and powerful artifacts. With several hostile races and power-hungry corporations vying for control of these relics, you'll fight your way through 12 varied and mostly well-designed missions trying to retrieve all the artifacts. Some will have you working with a team of marines to defend an area against enemy attack by using deployable turrets and force field generators. Others include your basic infiltration and retrieval missions, which often culminate in boss fights.
The actual combat in the game is pretty standard fare. Enemy AI is passable, but it's nothing special. The arsenal, at least, is pretty interesting and varied, and each of your weapons has an "alt-fire." Guns range from standard assault rifles and rocket launchers to laser rifles, flamethrowers, and grenade launchers (with a variety of grenade types). The game includes two difficulty levels, labeled normal and hard. In practice, these options actually mean ridiculously easy and normal. At the "normal" difficulty level, enemy fire hardly scratches your shields, thus allowing you to play in a sloppy manner so that you can still make it through the entire game without dying. The "hard" level is a closer approximation to the PC version's difficulty level. However, experienced shooter fans still won't have too much difficulty making it through the six-hour campaign. You can no longer save the game at any point, but the developers have thoughtfully included a few checkpoints at logical junctures in each mission. You'll still want to avoid dying, though, because the load times are pretty long.