Rather than the "official" release, this was reviewed using the compilation release made by Delacroix that makes part 1 and 2 continuous and fixes some issues (it is listed in the downloads). Until part 3 comes out this is the definitive way to play it, and, having played the original release of Interloper before, any issues mentioned were present there too.
Given the final result, this release was relatively unheralded; several years after the original's release, Project Xenome as a whole had been written off as another "episodic" pack with a promising start that likely wouldn't see a follow-up, then this sequel was essentially shadow-dropped with little hype, and what a sequel!
Part 1 was set almost entirely in Human industrial facilities. Part 2 is much more varied, and essentially split into three sections across 15 giant maps, with the first section being the full ending to part 1, as you continue your journey through the facility, and finally find a way out. The second section is a more traditional Unreal journey as you explore and progress through a treacherous and isolated ice environment, and the ending section is a massive Skaarj base that is essentially the alien version of Part 1 in terms of setting focus.
Basically all of the build is amazing; Architecture is consistently great, and there are stunning scenes throughout, with very little that feels neglected. There is the occasional bit of odd looking geometry seemingly due to BSP issues or other technical oddities, but it doesn't change how amazing the vast majority is, especially some of the Skaarj geometry later. The later parts do look more detailed, but I feel that's more a result of the Human architecture innately being more utilitarian rather than any actual deficiency. The texturing is near-flawless, especially given the variety here, and I saw basically no issues beyond the occasional surface that felt a little overscaled, and even that's rare given how massive the scale in general is. The lighting is mostly just as good, with varied and fitting usage that varies between environments, as you go from the more realistic Human base settings (bar a theme twist or two), to the cold blues and whites of the Ice planet, to the technicolour Alien lighting of the Skaarj base. The one thing I felt was a slight weak point was one level early in the Human part where the power is off; rather than being actually dark the main rooms are mostly somewhat flat ambient lighting, it feels like one of the closest things this set has to a conceptual oversight, as I feel like a slower, creepier section with actual darkness (given the provision of the infinite Operation Na Pali flashlight to make that not too oppressive) could have been a contrast to the parts around it. Even in that level a significant part doesn't have this problem and has the otherwise great lighting quality of the rest.
The elephant in the room that all this visual opulence has to match against is clearly Project Zephon (and Xidia, especially it's Ice Skaarj map, to a degree), which also has an ice theme and a lot of incredible high-tech architecture. Xenome 2 holds up to it very well, and arguably even surpasses it at times - clearly so in some of it's later Skaarj sections - which is even more impressive given it's both larger and mostly made by one person.
While I consider it a weaker part of the build relatively, the audio has also notably improved on part one; in the original, while it was fine, I couldn't quite work out what the soundscape was going for, while, in part two, it's quite clear that it's going for the Half-Life approach of mostly being ambient sounds, with occasional music to accentuate certain moments. The sound usage is mostly interesting and fitting, and the ice areas also feel appropriately desolate in a way that makes it feel colder. Music is mostly used well (and the volume is better, although still a little on the quiet side at times), although there are a few moments that feel weirdly silent with no music, like one or two of the set-piece fights.
This mod starts as a literal direct continuation from the first, as you continue on from the final fight. However, more elements of variety come in very quickly to still distinguish it; while it starts in the Human base, there are more outdoor and natural elements added, and the scale is frequently even larger than it already was. The story is still relatively straightforward, as you end the attempted Skaarj invasion and turn the tables to go on the assault against the origin of it, but it adds some more elements, like it turning out there's a bit more to your character's nature than just being an incidental killing machine in the right place. The scale has also increased a lot, as it goes from a small-scale survival story to a planet-crossing epic with a lot of hints to a deeper conspiracy going on, as well as the Nali playing a part.
Part 1 already did a decent job with various set-pieces, but part 2 goes even further with them, and just about every map has at least one notable moment in it. A way this becomes obvious right away is in your glowing green Skaarj stalker established in part 1; they are still mostly an enigma, but there's quickly a moment where they directly try to impede you, and this happens throughout, including a sequence that leads to a major twist part way in. It's almost always trying to engulf you in the moment of what's happening, and later sells that the Skaarj are actually paying attention to you as a threat now. Like the first, the text writing is probably the weakest point; it's better than the first version of the original, as well as communicating much more story this time, but it could still have done with a proof-reading pass, and there's even a level title with an obvious typo. There's also a major moment in the story you can potentially miss entirely, which seems a bit of an odd oversight. There is a clear fourth-wall breaking message at one point that's not hidden at all and hard to miss, but given how large the set is overall it's pretty ignorable.
Conceptually it's hard not to conclude this is on another level compared to almost anything else. You go from a night-time Half-Life 2 Ravenholm-esque Spinner infested industrial area, to a massive dam, to ancient ruins in the drained lakebed, to the giant frozen lakes and precarious cliffs and caves of the ice planet, to the jaw-droppingly massive Skaarj base that somehow keeps expanding, including a ton of other just as notable moments in between and during those segments. When it seems a level or setting has shown all it has to offer, it suddenly springs something even larger and more impressive on you. This size and variety doesn't compromise the level design either, as many interlink in all manner of ways, as well as viewing into levels both before and after, at times it almost feels like it's flexing just because it can. Even on replay there was a moment where I suddenly comprehended I was inside a matryoshka doll of an area probably bigger than many other sets put together, that was built inside an even bigger area I had passed on the way, where I felt I could only laugh at how seemingly effortlessly it had crushed almost anything I'd seen before in Unreal while still being only a small part of the overall adventure. Like the original, environments are also very rarely static, and are filled with moving industrial objects, alien devices and similar. As before, it wears it's inspirations on it sleeve, with some quite familiar moments at times, but makes them different enough to have their own style and still be distinct. If it was possible this set would deserve an 11 for Conceptual Grandness.
The gameplay is also epic, although in this area it's where that applies for both better and worse. On Unreal difficulty almost every level has multiple fights that pile on six+ threats at once, generally with a range of Skaarj Warriors and Troopers wielding all kind of weapons. They are mostly quite manageable despite that, and there's a good provision of supplies (especially if you find some of the secrets); I frequently loaded a save when fights didn't go too smoothly, but I ended up leaving a lot of health and ammo behind, suggesting I could have been accepting of mistakes and still had plenty of supplies left. Like the first part, the larger fights do sometimes feel like a bunch of enemies placed in a large area rather than more intentional design, but there's usually enough going on in the actual environments to make them interesting, and there are frequently pits and other environmental hazards you can turn against the enemy with some creative weapon use. In addition, despite their numbers the actual types are rarely buffed (beyond a new type of Warrior that isn't that much tougher than a Skaarj Lord), so even when the nastiest variants like Flak and Sniper troopers show up you can mostly focus them down quite easily.
While I feel it is mostly fair, and the highly interlinked level design means you can frequently see fights before they start, the size and nature of the fights makes this a pretty gruelling set on the harder difficulties; in fact, it's probably the current benchmark for difficulty that isn't something completely broken. If you aren't completely overwhelmed by a lot of the fights on the higher difficulty settings it's a sign you're pretty good at Unreal. On the flip side I've seen a range of players seem to finish the pack just fine, so the lower settings appear to tone down the more extreme parts a lot, and if you aren't into more hardcore difficulty you should probably go with Normal or Easy. The challenge and variety of combat also has an interesting effect of pushing the idiosyncrasies of the Operation Na Pali UT arsenal; for instance, since Enforcers lose accuracy fast at a distance vs the Automag, the ASMD was my primary sniper weapon until Rifle ammo became common. The Pulse Rifle also saw a lot of use vs it's Stinger counterpart, especially as it's capable of pressuring shielded troopers who can just ignore Stinger fire.
Like Part 1, a lot of the interaction isn't just combat, as there's a lot of environmental navigation and exploration puzzles, in fact, it's probably even more of a thing here, with some pretty extended platforming sequences, along with some slightly obscure progression occasionally, although a little looking around for a vent or similar will normally reveal the way forward. There are also hazards beyond platforming, such as the segment where you have to go along a very precarious cliffside path, or the various machines and other moving objects in both the Human and Skaarj bases.
On the weaker side there's some awkward use of spawning at points; you have the supplies to deal with it, but it can still end up feeling a bit of a waste when you realise enemies just keep coming and you need to run instead. Later on there are also a few moments where an enemy spawns behind with little warning, which is especially kind of cheap when it's something like a Flak Trooper. One boss is also mostly made tricky by extra enemies that spawn, but it's linked to killing them, so you can just leave the spawns alive but weak and the boss is much easier. While the rest are fine in terms of difficulty, the last boss also seemed a bit anti-climatic given it's a pretty ordinary Warlord fight. The final level in general is a little odd pacing wise, as it's a slower-paced navigation puzzle level with mostly low-key combat, but it's a fine level in itself.
There's also one semi-ambush at the bottom of an elevator that actually seemed unfair and was only really possible by sniping enemies from the top (made more awkward by circumstances limiting your weapons). One or two of the environmental traps/set-pieces also verged on learn by dying, especially the one in the first map where you have to dodge some explosions by hiding behind some pretty weak looking crates. There was also a major set-piece fight against a horde of Warriors that was kind of trivialised by the AI seemingly not being able to enter the tunnels around the arena, so you can mostly pick away at them quite safely.
This is a massive set, and even on this replay it took nearly nine hours to complete (although I did spend quite a bit of time looking for secrets, but still missed several), which is part of why these issues aren't as big a problem as they could be, given they make up just a fraction of a set where I ended up with over a 1000 kills (not even counting Xenome Part 1) and yet it pretty much never felt like a slog. The ending is also much more satisfying this time despite the anti-climax of the final boss fight, and it works as some sort of ending even if part 3 doesn't come out.
Technically it's fine considering it's size but there are a few issues. While pretty rare for how huge it is, there are some occasional BSP issues and instant-death bugs, although not really anywhere they get in the way too much. There's also the occasional moment you can get stuck behind geometry, although it mostly requires precise jumps. I also had a bug at the end of the first map where saving after a turret broke the save; this is literally in the last fight of the map before the next level, but it's pretty nasty and required me to completely delete my quicksave file to fix it; in the worst case though, the ONP map system provides you weapons when you load a map, so you can always manually load the next map to continue. Weirdest of all there's a random floating player model at one point in the last map; presumably this was a way to test the environmental scaling or something and then the author forgot to delete it when the map was finished. Given how massive a lot of areas are the performance is quite impressive, and while I imagine weaker computers will struggle I rarely noticed performance drops even in the largest parts full of things happening.
When I reviewed part 1 I said "if this first episode is anything to go by the full release could be a new classic." While the full release technically isn't out, it's nice to be right, and somehow be blown away enough to end up more right than you thought. Perhaps the recently released, yet-unreviewed "The One" could match it, but, outside of that, this is the current peak of Unreal Single Player mods, and the one to beat. It's a roller-coaster of incredible visuals and variety, a simple but effective story and mostly very fun combat and other gameplay interactions. Even in this review I feel I'm only scratching the surface of everything it has to offer. Part 3 has yet to come out, and it's easy to think it won't, but that's what was thought of part 2 as well, so we can only hope JazzyB will grace us with part 3 at some point soon, even if it's got it's work cut out to follow-up this masterpiece.
ArchitectureImagination, realism and detail of structures used in the design of the level.10
TexturingUse of textures in the level. Technically speaking, alignment and scaling. Choice of textures, and quality of any custom textures used.10
LightingLighting of the level: does it look cool? Use of light colour and other effects, and sourcing of lighting (no light out of nowhere).10
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.9
Technical ExecutionTechnical soundness of the level, i.e. no visual glitches, no random deaths or other gameplay bugs, and a good framerate.8
Conceptual GrandnessScale, imagination, awe & originality of design and layout, physical foreshadowing of future areas.10
Story ConstructionBacking story & progression via translator, subplots, and script of voice acting where applicable. Logical choice of opposition.9
Story ImplementationProgression of the written story via the events of the level, and performance of voice actors where applicable.9
Gameplay AweQuality of scripted sequences, originality and staging of combats. Maps that force the player to "learn by dying" will be penalised.9
Gameplay BalanceBalance of weapons and items to creatures, including difficulty settings. Most importantly, fun factor.8