Uropa 2, put in its most basic terms, is a supercharged blend of Impossible Mission and Battlezone, set against a sci-fi backdrop with a lot of chrome. Vulcan Software's second foray into the world of CD-ROM gaming promises an epic of exploration, discovery, adventure, and action. That's a lot to promise and it's no secret that Vulcan's track record has been somewhat spotty.
The company have published some very clever titles, but these rarely aspired to be anything more than, well, derivative - the likes of Hillsea Lido and Timekeepers. Some of the company's more recent offerings have met with the ire of reviewers. Along comes Austex Software, developers of Uropa2, to attempt to rescue Vulcan from this slump.
Rescue it is!
Funny that I mentioned rescue, because that's much of what this game is about. It's the future and mankind has spread beyond the Earth, making the cold moon Europa one of its primary bases. To help with the hard needed to maintain an interplanetary empire, humans have developed two 'races' of intelligent robots to help the work: Tekites and Kapones. It seems though that the Kapones have grown tired of their roles as third-class citizens. They've teamed up with some alien enemies of Earth and have seized control of the Uropa2 colony.
As a Tekite in the special Centurions strike force, you are sent on ten ten successive missions to break the Kapone stranglehold on Uropa2 and free the colony. Not to mention showing those aliens that humans and their robot lackeys are not to be messed with.
The game is played out in two settings. The first is in a 3D isometric world of interconnecting rooms of the colony, ranging from hallways to living quarters to research labs. In most rooms there will be items to interact with - shelves and cabinets to search (the shades of Impossible Mission here, complete with the "searching" wait bar), computer terminals to read clues from, and special items such as lab equipment whose ultimate purpose may be hidden at first.
There are also humans - the hostages on Uropa2 who you are charged with rescuing. They're useless most of the time, move slowly and get in the way. They also tend to walk right in to hostile situations.
That's right, it's not all just easter egg hunt. The Kapones have their operatives stationed around the base, and they'll shoot you on sight. Trying to defeat them with the measly "laser sword" you start the game with is difficult enough, keeping the humans from walking directly into the line of fire is even harder.
But, no game of this sort would be complete without some sort of power-up, and true to form you can gather weaponry enhancements and various gadgets to make destroying the enemy easier. There's even the old "weaponry vending machine" concept you might recall from Alien Breed and a host of other games - because goodness knows, you want to send your crack commandos into hostile situations lightly armed and low on cash.
The bases are equipped with transporters that can zap you between a limited number of locations, but sometimes you have to take the mission on the road. This is the second stage of the game, where you board a "Hovar" craft and set out across the surface of Uropa. On the surface, you can travel between buildings, pick up yet more power-ups and curiosities, and mix it up with Kapone flyboys who send an endless stream of tauntsat you as you dogfight at high speeds on the surface. The 3D hovar sequence engine is fairly smooth and detailed - you won't mistake it for Frontier any time soon but it does the job.
Of the two, it's the less inspired setting for the game, but it allows for two serial linked Amigas to play deathmatches, so it can't be all that bad. On the other hand, in later missions it becomes necessary to launch massive strikes against Kapone bases rather than the discreet surgical insertions of your Tekite droid, and nothing is more rewarding than blowing up a polygon building and turning it into lots of little polygons!
Atmosphere on Uropa
Austex and Vulcan have gone through considerable effort fleshing Uropa2 out into a real experience. The 3D intro, while somewhat grainy and not of award-winning calibre, has a voiceover that sets the mood quite nicely. Virtually all of the text you'll encounter in the game is played back as speech, and the mission descriptions are similarly dictated to you.
The overlapping distress signal you hear early in the first mission is particularly disturbing. In both the station and the hovar views, the game automatically maps your location and where you've been (and has information on locations you haven't yet been to in the hovar view).
The game can be played in both ECS and AGA, although the differences are not staggering - you'll notice some extra dithering and a little less chrome in the ECS version. I was surprised because the AGA version didn't seem to be lacking a lot in color - it is slightly cartoonish, but still effective. The flip side, of course, is that the AGA version could have been so much more spectacular.
If you're going to regain control of Uropa2, you're going to need control over your Tekite.
This is a bit of an adventure. If you so chose, you could drive just about all of the game from keyboard or CD32 joypad, although the former lacks something in the response department and the latter gets really confusing, with all sorts of combinations of buttons to press.
I found that the easiest compromise was to use the joystick most of the time, the keyboard when necessary, and the mouse for interacting with the various computer screens in the game. This is something less than ideal, however. Note: Although you can use a CD32 gamepad, the CD32 is not directly supported. You would need an expanded CD32 with hard drive in order to play, and even then the system requirements suggest a 4X speed CD-ROM drive rather than the CD32 2X,
The game's inventory system can take a little bit of getting used to. Weaponry and items are catalogued separately and sometimes getting them to work exactly where you want them is a challenge - for example, you can't seem to drop time-delay bombs right next to a door you want to blow up, you have to give it a little room, but it took me a few minutes to actually try that out and be comfortable that it would really work.
The documentation for Uropa2 is on the CD-ROM in AmigaGuide format. This is fine, although the layout is slightly confusing, it seems there was a slight omission or error in a couple of parts (at one point, the manual says it is going to describe six items but in fact only lists four), and has no pictures, which would have been nice in order to give a real overview of the GUI, rather than a descriptive overview.
But after a little experimentation, you'll get the general idea. Uropa2 multitasks, so you can check the documentation while your game is on pause.
The next epic?
With the ability to save games for later play and the progressive nature of the missions (you can't start #2 until you've finished #1), Uropa2 is a game that requires you to make a commitment if you want to see it through.
Working through the puzzles and blasting through the baddies takes some time, and there are 10 missions to play through. The real question for a game that offers this sort of challenge is: is it worth my time? I would have to give that a qualified yes. The game revels in pulpy science fiction conventions.
Enjoy them. Sometimes the voice-overs go over the top. Laugh with them, not at them. And yes, your Tekite does look rather like a tin can with stubby arms. But that tin can with stubby arms has been charged with a serious mission!