Postat: 31 mai
*Note: this review is based on the GOG version, and is shortened; go there for the full review.*
Unique and Fun: 4/5
Aquanox 2 is a strict improvement on the first game, reducing or eliminating most of the irritations of its predecessor, as well as offering more overall polish.
I thought Aquanox 1 had aged well, thanks in great part to good use of textures; Aquanox 2 is a definite visual upgrade, with everything using more polygons, crisp textures, nicer lighting, and much cleaner effects. The improved sharpness solves the issue of vision being obscured by weapon flare in crowded combats, but clearly seeing torpedoes and weapon trails from 20 ships preserves that great hectic feel. The strong styling of each faction is preserved, and the upgraded models look excellent.
One thing I didn't really notice until I returned briefly to the original is that the HUD is *tremendously* improved. Not only is it sharper and more attractive (as the game is designed for higher resolutions), but it is also far more useful.
As before, you have an odd set of 5 degrees of freedom: three axes of linear movement, pitch up and down, and banking (instead of simply yawing [turning] left and right, you roll and pull upward to turn, with a tunable degree of automatic leveling). I guess the rolls make it feel more simulator-y, but the implementation is rough and it interferes with aiming. Aquanox 2 adds an "FPS mode" toggle, but that didn't seem to make circle-strafing more possible. The problematic vertical axis through which you can't rotate (you can never roll or flip so far that the floor is "above" you) is much better here than in the first game - aiming at a moving target above or below you is still a bit rough because the auto-leveler will swing you around, but tracking a target as it passes over or under you is much cleaner than before.
The control scheme does take some getting used to, even if you're a veteran of 6DOF games like Descent. As the game progresses, you may find that maneuvering skills adequate for one enemy type are insufficient to defend against new enemies, and you will of course benefit from tuning your movement style to the strengths of your current ship. This means that there is a continuous learning curve to the game, at least on your first playthrough. Due to this, I wouldn't recommend the game to someone looking for quick lightweight simulator fun. That said, the ships generally feel more responsive than those in Aquanox 1, with the caveat that there is more noticeable handling difference between the heavy and light ships than before.
Although there is still a sometimes disappointingly low ceiling, more vertical space is available than before, and vertical positioning has a much stronger tactical role in combat. I found myself using both terrain features and the bodies of capital ships significantly more in this than in it its predecessor, and that really improved the feel of underwater freedom of motion.
This was possibly the biggest downfall of Aquanox 1: the grating voice acting that made me want to murder several wingmen and made me fear their talking more than the wasted effort when I had to replay a level. Thankfully, that has been completely fixed. There is still radio banter between the skipper and your wingmen, but it is always related to the current action, no one has a fingernails-on-chalkboard voice, and the delivery is generally decent. This alone is the single most important improvement in the game.
The story is odd but somewhat interesting, and in another vast improvement over Aq1, there are no more droning plot summaries by the protagonist as you travel from area to area. If you want, you can quick-skip any conversation and just jump from battle to battle.
All that said, there are still a couple problems. First, the long opening and ending videos, while interesting, seem to have extremely little relation to the plot of the game, but this is a very minor issue. Second, there is a romance sub-plot that will railroad you along a path that has obvious bad consequences.
As with Aquanox 1, the unusual controls and wobbly turning may be an issue, but they're acceptable once you get used to them. Again, those used to flight sims will lament the lack of a lead indicator.
Bonus objectives make for an interesting twist on gameplay: although many are merely "find a hidden freighter", a few are rewards for showing extra skill or doing more dangerous things in combat. It is irritating that you are not told what the objectives are, but you are often given hints in radio chatter.
As with the previous game, difficulty can vary extensively and there are a few really hard missions. The harder "boss fights" are generally either standalone duels or are front-loaded so that you don't have to repeatedly replay tedious sections only to die at the end. There are a fair number of "protect the Harvester" missions, but even on high difficulty she's a sturdy ship and will generally survive as long as you don't wander away from combat for too long. Sometimes there are critical targets that need to be destroyed in small time windows to achieve protection, but once you get the hang of this, it's not too bad, just challenging. Huge battles can happen without being overwhelming, and the final big battle is a both a great set-piece and a lot of fun.
LEVELS, STRATEGY, and OTHER ELEMENTS:
Completing bonus objectives will net you some nice loot including some unique upgrades that can really make a difference in some missions, but you can do without them and will have acquired a pretty full complement of weapons by the end of the game no matter what. EMP weapons are more widely used this time (and feel less forced), although don't believe the manual or Fuzzyhead about being able to salvage anything you disable - only specific bonus targets will grant salvage (there are, however, over a dozen such goodie bags). Sparing the lives of several major characters will not only give you a bonus but result in bonus missions later in the game, which I thought was a very nice touch. Early on, EMP may be your strongest weapon against a few high-armor targets, and the second-generation EMP missiles available in the late game can one-shot most enemies.
I actually used almost every weapon in the game at least several times, as each has a useful tactical role to play, making gun and upgrade load out a nice tactical consideration in addition to your torpedo selection. You only have access to 4 ships in the game, all provided by the plot, but they feel better differentiated than the options in Aq1, and your newest ship is not always the best choice.
Finally, the replay value is significantly enhanced by a vastly improved "instant action" selection including every game mission (unlocked as you beat them), as well as the provision of 40 save slots.
Aquanox 2 fixed or at least improved on all the aspects that forced me to give its predecessor a 3, and has certainly earned its 4. It could use more work (particularly in tightening up the controls), but it has no glaring flaws left, and it's quite fun once you learn to play well. Different classes of enemy move and behave differently, and thus require different tactics to come out on top (as do large battles vs small dogfights); this really makes the game much richer and keeps you on your toes as the game progresses. I was particularly impressed with the execution of protection missions (so often a source of pain) and the great feel of large-scale battles, and the "boss fights" were never gimmicky find-the-weak-spot puzzle bosses, just extra-tough ships with good pilots and escorts. If you like space combat sims, it would be worth giving a spin for its unique feel.