Let it be known. Panic2 from Atomic Pop is... different.
This spectre from the past is best played on UT's oldskool for one big reason: in a pack like this decals go a long way. But if you prefer to fire it up the old fashioned way, give it a whirl on Unreal as well. I promise you, no other Unreal SP map or pack ever made is like this. Everyone should play this at least once. Panic 2 has its own weapons, textures, enemies... and yes, music. It's one of the precious few to exist that has no relation to anything in the Unreal universe, so no matter what my review says...this one already gets praise for originality.
The story is simple...in its own cosmically absurd way. Corporate aliens are trying to force their music on the universe and it's up to you to stop them. With the aid of guitar wielding space monkeys who are enslaved by the M.E.A.N. (you're primary antagonist), you have to utilize whatever means are at your disposal to battle your way into their corporate headquarters and destroy their executive branch. While you do start the game with your trusty Dispersion Pistol (at least in the UT version), the rest of your weaponry will consist of four other guns that manipulate the power of music, making you some kind of alien killing rock hero. I guess. It's all very funny and will tickle you in ways you may not be ready to deal with yet.
Right away you'll find some sort of sonic zapper that functions very much like your disperser, and even regenerates. You'll have both of them and honestly, the DP may be better in a lot of situations since the zapper's sonic projectiles seem bigger and slower than your trusty prison issue's blue bolts. You'll also get some sort of rapid fire...keyboard gun of some sort that seems to harness the divine power of Mozart. Of course, this wouldn't be a rock and roll space odyssey without a cannon that shoots platinum records. The record launcher is probably the packs most useful weapon, though the Mozart gun is effective earlier on (though its ammo gets eaten up rather quickly). To top off the tools of the trade is a rocket launching weapon that functions very much like the Eightball but has the penalty of having a rare ammo supply (it comes in handy during the last map, where you have to take on the tough corporate suits in their conference chambers). The weapon count fits well with the map load and they all do the job effectively. Only complaints here is that sometimes the firing response time isn't so great. This is most true in the case of the Mozart gun, which seems to delay a bit too long after you press the trigger for it's ammo to spit out. The record gun and even the zapper seem to have this problem too, which often made me miss a shot because I had moved by the time the gun decided to fire. Also, the 3rd person view on the new guns seem really off, but mirrors are a rarity in the pack so you'll probably never even tell. Besides the guns, you'll also find an Unreal translator and a searchlight (which you'll barely use). Health-packs, ammo, and armor are all provided and all of them have new models. But at times they seem a little too generous; my health never dipped below 70. Oh and for some reason there's a random Unreal assault vest in one of the maps, don't ask me why.
Naturally there's a bunch of new enemies to sink these new guns into. You'll be taking on M.E.A.N.'s forces in several varieties. From concert loving, record spitting, dance prone robots to heavily muscled enforcers...the mainstay of enemies come in different classes and use different weapons. The heavy muscle guys come in more types than any other bad guy in the game (Some classes of them don't even have weapons). There are also small, robotic sentry droids that fly around to annoy you. Besides the "grunts", there are also computer operating "little green men" who sit on floating chairs and attack you with their own Mozart guns. These guys seem to have a superior class as well, but the big-headed variants are rare and limited to one or two rooms. Besides the lackeys, you'll also fight several of the corporate suit enemies that are tougher than their underlings. Rounding off the antagonists is the final enemy, a unique final boss character you have to take on at the end of the pack (naturally). As mentioned earlier, there are friendly NPCs in the game, the guys I dub the space monkeys because...well that's what they look like. Although they populate the game and seem oppressed by the forces of M.E.A.N., they also come in varieties, as indicated by numerous skin types (including a ghastly, beaten up one that gives them a better impression of a slave race). They also behave, curiously, like Nali in a lot of ways. They'll bow when endangered (which has a certain "We're Not Worthy!" Wayne's World charm to it) and will wail on their guitars to praise you. All the enemies will put up a decent fight, although like most new villains in Unreal SP games... they lack the visual flair and swiftness of their Unreal counterparts. What keeps you, the player, in check are the weapons you have to use to fight them. Besides lacking the fine details offered by the normal guys we're used to, Panic 2's enemy horde is also very limited to their environments, which can more often than not be obstructive.
Panic 2 originated on Unreal and before that Atomic Pop was developing levels for the Quake engine. As a result, the maps look pretty much as you'd expect. Even though the game was made during Unreal's golden era, Panic 2 hardly utilized the engine the way other packs of that time did...let alone how Unreal itself did. So yeah, the pack looks below Unreal's standards. Yeah, rooms are boxy. Yeah, the lighting is washed out. Yeah, it doesn't really matter. Despite the simplicity, Atomic Pop still manages to add a lot of filler. Each level functions. Aliens use computer screens and sit behind desks. Grunts take showers in locker rooms. Slaves package music, rock-out at concerts, and sell drinks at a bar. There are music sampling booths that play tunes when you approach and other such things that keep your attention. Even though the pack looks very mid 90s, there still manages to be a lot of attention to detail. One error exists though and I need to note. A dark spot in the last level kills anything that enters it, and its location is very inconvenient.
Another thing that raises eyebrows when I glance at my reviewing responsibilities concerning the schema is story. There is certainly a story, that much is clear. But it's more of a staged story rather than an engaging story, which is standard of a map Panic 2's age. The readme explains the situation and the first map sets you off on your adventure. But there's really very little plot interaction throughout the pack. You know the score at the beginning but it doesn't really get fleshed out at any great length of detail or even a small gesture of major plot points. You fight the bad-guys, foil their plans, and kill the big boss. Instead are an assortment of amusing distractions that make you forget that each translator log exists only to tell you what door is locked or unlocked. Corporate logos and propaganda litter the walls of many of the maps and are the sole form of narrative material in the game. What raises my eyebrow is that it's a hard call to decide how to weigh all of this, score wise. Much like my level design, verdict, I'll have to call it halfway.
Overall Panic 2 is a fun little romp that detours nicely from just about everything else you'll ever play on Unreal. It doesn't outstay its welcome and isn't very difficult to play. It really just comes down to a question of how much its charm works on you and for how long. Remember kids, music is the weapon!
*Note that only the Unreal Archive uploads are checked to be the newest and most compatible/stable download link.
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.5
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.6
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).5
SoundUse of ambient sounds and event sounds to give the level atmosphere, and the quality of any custom sounds. Appropriate use of music and silence to complement the atmosphere.5
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.5
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.3
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.6
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.4
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.5
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.7