Trolling around for another WW2 shooter, I discovered that Burut had created a sequel to Ubersoldier, the FPS that followed the current Wolfenstein formula of strange Nazi experiments and bizarre invention only backed by an incredibly buggy engine and quite possibly some of the worst voice acting ever put on disc. The good news is that the second one is something of an improvement.
The actual story behind the game is not what either the press materials or the back of the box actually tell you and forget looking for a manual…there isn’t one aside from a text document on the disc. Still, with Wolfenstein’s supposed release date nowhere in sight, taking on the Third Reich in a relatively unknown game seemed like it would make the waiting a little more bearable.
Taking place in April, 1945, the Third Reich is in flames. A cadre of top Nazis make plans to flee to Tibet, there to set up a base of operations protected by the dead thanks to their occult discoveries and strange science. At least that’s what the back of the box says. Instead, the player will be playing the role of Karl, the Ubersoldier from the first game, as he follows a mysterious shipment of drugs that may be slated to build a new battalion of ubermensch loyal to the Reich. It’s not as exciting as the first premise, but you do end up in Tibet and fight the kind of occult oddness that only Egon Spengler could appreciate as part of a Sci-Fi Channel Saturday special.
It does win points for presentation by using detailed comic-book styled panels to try and make sense out of the characters and the reasons for why they’re risking their necks. It’s not quite on the same caliber as Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s more storied take on the occult as the sci-fi elements can often feel forced in along with the cheese laden dialogue. At least the Germans actually speak in German which was a huge improvement over the Boys from Biloxi treatment that they were given in the last game, although the awful English voice work hasn’t made as much headway. The discotheque-inspired score isn’t much to write home about, either, but at least the roaring sound of machine gun fire and massive explosions make up for it.
Karl still has a few tricks up his sleeve from the first game to keep the FPS formula from feeling stale. As the Ubersoldier, he still has the powers that enable him to stop bullets and slaughter an endless parade of cannon fodder. Karl is capable of creating a bubble of time around himself that can catch bullets and, if has enough power left, fling them back at his enemies. If the bullets are still caught up in the field, he can also walk them into his foes like spiked wall of death which is always fun.
The downside is Karl won’t be able to shoot through it, either, and the more bullets that his shield absorbs the more power it consumes. The energy that he uses for this ability slowly regenerates when not in use, however, unlike his health which requires a steady diet of first aid packs to keep him alive. That also slowly regenerates at critical levels but only enough to keep one or two shots from killing him while scrambling for band aids.
Two other powers are available when Karl fulfills the conditions to activate them through a timed combo that forces the player to risk their safety while trying to beat the clock. Stabbing three enemies in a row will give him the chance to go into a berserker rage which makes him temporarily invincible while turning his knife into an instant killer that replenishes his health. The icon indicating his power is timed, so if the player wants to use it, all they have to do is stab another bad guy while it’s still active and off they go into a bloody slashing spree. Once the emotion wears off’, he can repeat the whole process again.
Instead of stabbing his way to the second power, Karl will need to line up three headshots in a row to stock the Ubersniper. Activating it makes him temporarily invincible while giving whatever weapon he has on hand or switches to, whether it is a pistol or a panzerschreck, unlimited ammunition. Both of these powers can completely tilt the balance of the game to the player’s favor as they tear through groups of soldiers with wild abandon or gun down entire squads without pausing to reload. Saving them up for when you might need them is tempered only by the limited time that the player has to actually get in that last triggering kill, but it does add a nice layer of strategy to the otherwise bland gameplay.
Karl can also improve himself in between mission chapters by using experience points earned by completing as many knife or shooting combos as he can for his powers. It’s a great RPG twist to the formula encouraging even more melee or sniper action by the player to earn as much experience as possible. Karl’s health, the amount of energy that he can use for his time shield which is strangely used by sprinting, the length of time his emotional powers such as Ubersniper stay active, and the accuracy of his shots can be fortified with points. Of all of these abilities, only accuracy was pretty useless since most every weapon had enough precision on their own without any help. But once you had a decent amount invested in his powers, many of the later battles can become cakewalks with just the right timing, but it can also quickly kill an over-eager player looking to take on armored troopers with only a knife.
Ubersoldier II provides plenty of run down buildings and industrial park-like areas that don’t feel very WW2-ish, a problem that the first game had. The opening outdoors sequence featuring on-rails shooting has some of the worst graphics in the game likely because it had to deal with a lot of nature instead of metal filled interiors bristling with bolts. It does get better later on thanks to an overdose of photographic textures used to plaster everything from brick walls and rusty pipes to blown open apartments and sand swept mud walls, but some of the special effects are equally as impressive as long as you can put up with the slight jittering that the graphics occasionally suffer from. Despite the endless industrial basements that the player may be pushed through, one or two of the later stages do make for some exciting stuff such as a raid on a train or the ruins of Berlin. The game also uses Iron Crosses in place of dastardly swastikas likely owing to whatever rules the developer was forced to follow overseas, but there’s no mistaking who the bad guys are here.
A bit of variety has even been squeezed out of the soldiers who start out as typical grunts and then graduate to armor wearing, goggled valkyrie fighters or hulking, steel clad, titans. The physics that turn most of the enemies in the game into equipment filled pinatas is also back to help keep the action entertaining to watch. Helmets fly off, armored face masks fall to the floor, weapons go flying out of soldiers’ hands, and bodies go sprawling off of catwalks or collapse where they stand leaving behind the occasional health kit.
At one point in the game, the player will also run into one of the many boss battles that mix up the formula. Telekinetic soldiers using Nazi super science will hurl shockwaves against you which pass through walls and barriers while soaking an incredible amount of damage as you dance from left to right in predictable patterns. Huge armored soldiers will slowly march firing missiles, grenades, and belch lead with a custom MG 42. The fact that there are stacks of healing packs scattered everywhere is pretty much anyone will need to know that one of these coming up.
The last boss, though, resorts to cheap tricks in order to provide a challenge as it shoots homing fireballs that manage to fly around walls, around corners, up and over fences, and continue to hound you until they explode on your ass or if you manage to shoot them down first. As the boss becomes more damaged, it fires more homing balls at you in succession until you spend most of the final encounter running away in the hopes that he’ll follow you into one of the barrels you need to blow up to actually hurt the guy. An allied AI will try to help you, but the tank completely ignores him to vent all of his fury on you instead making your partner seem utterly useless until the appropriate, scripted cut-scene comes up for him to do his thing. The boss is killable with enough patience but not particularly memorable aside from the feeling that the game had to rely on clipping tricks in order to make it challenging.
Some of the levels also resort to a few platformer tricks that only Lara Croft could appreciate. At one point, you’ll have to avoid gushing columns of fiery lava. Another level has you flipping buttons and levers. And the heavy scripting in the game guarantees that you’ll watch allied AI troops get slaughtered on a regular basis, or that you will be forced to follow certain NPCs who can conveniently hop and mantle over barricades that Karl isn’t Uber enough to do himself.
It’s a good thing that the gameplay held up as well as it did because the ending was uber-garbage. Aside from how scripted the final battle can feel, one of the main characters weeps over her dead brother and then a minute later, cracks a lame joke and laughs like it’s alright. Hysteria, much? The credits roll and at the end is an actual FAQ which answers some of the questions that players may have about the game with cheeky answers such as “because it’s an alternate timeline” which is always a convenient catch-all when there are holes in the logic that nothing else can explain.
Players can also look forward to forgetting about the multiplayer because it looks like there’s no one out there playing this game other than people like myself who should have given up on it long ago. Given how hard it was to find this game in the first place on this side of the ocean, that’s probably part of the reason.
Taken as a cheap, budget shooter, Ubersoldier II manages to offer plenty of gunplay that lasts around six or seven hours and is something of an improvement over its predecessor despite the hokey story. As a WW2 shooting gallery with super powers and RPG options, it’s stock formula manages to avoid being yet another run ‘n gun, but everything else is best left to the dust bin of history as you wait for the next mission with B.J. Blazkowicz.