GD Star Rating
You wake up, dazed and injured in the wreckage of the prison frigate that had been taking you on what for all intents and purposes was a one-way trip. As you try to make your way out of the twisted corridors, you fight your way through billowing steam venting from broken pipes, stumble to keep your balance as the settling wreckage groans and crumbles around you, and all the while desperately search for a weapon or even some bandages to bind up your wounds. Then, you hear voices from beyond a door that appears to have been welded shut in the crash. Unfortunately, the voices you hear are begging for mercy. Several flashes paint the floor orange and yellow, a scream echoes from beyond the door, and something thuds against the metallic wall on the other side. Eventually you find a way to pry the door open, only to find a scene of carnage, severed limbs, and blood everywhere, but no one left alive – no one except for the bent shape that howls and leaps away into the shadows as you enter. And it only gets worse from there.
Unreal, the excellent old first-person shooter from Epic, unleashed what, honestly, was a new level of gameplay and quality in this genre. The graphics are stunning – the first real mix of Tomb Raider style graphics with Quake 2 style gameplay, but in an environment that outclasses them both, plus adds in a masterful mix of puzzle elements, intriguing storyline, and an ambience of the best adventure games.
All of this is a pleasant surprise in a class of games that is so often over-hyped only to check in with another mediocre Doom update five years too late. Add to this the fact that this game was so ruthlessly slammed as vaporware on all the newsgroups when its ship slipped several times, and you have what amounts to a huge vindication of Epic’s commitment to putting out a quality game that breaks the mold of what has gone before.
- Free, pirated version of Unreal Gold (Unreal & Unreal Mission Pack) from ThePirateBay :
- Licensed, $10 download from Good Old Games.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Unless you’ve been under a rock since Reagan was in office, you probably think you know all there is to know about running around in a 3D environment taking out bad guys with a chain gun. And yeah, sure, there’s plenty of the good old adrenaline battles with heavy weapons (you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?), but there’s a good deal more here.
What makes Unreal such an accomplishment in my book is the ease with which you control a character in an action-intensive world and yet still are able to carry out many of the acrobatic and puzzle solving tasks that have thus far been the stuff of Tomb Raider and Myst. In short, the puzzles and the "environment puzzles" – tunnels to swim through, rocks to climb, bridges over chasms to traverse – are not just thrown in as an afterthought, but are integral aspects of surviving in this game.
And that’s very, very cool.
Add to that the fact that the weapons are versatile (many even have "alternate fire" options, in effect giving you twice as many offensive options in a battle), the threats to your character are not only monsters, but also a very dangerous world and do-or-die puzzles, and you’ve got the most fully realized action game to come along.
What Unreal represents, if you really stand back and look at it, is the first successful merging of action and adventure that isn’t disappointing in some way to action fans. Hexen tried this, as did Tomb Raider, as have quite a few others in more half-hearted ways, but Unreal is the real thing – just difficult enough no matter what your skill level, with enough temporary frustrations to test the better brains out there, but not so many that the shoot-everything-that-moves contingent will be left champing at the bit for too long.
If you’ve read any of my reviews (or probably most anyone else’s) in the last year or so, you’ve heard a good deal of harping about getting a 3Dfx card. Well, here I go again – this just isn’t even the same game without one. The fog, lighting effects, underwater effects, the look of the textures, the sky, fire, smoke, and on and on add so much to the feel of this game that you’d really be missing out not to see it the way it was intended. If you do have a 3Dfx card, you’ll have no remaining doubt that you did the right thing in buying one. The graphics in Unreal are as promised – outstanding, surprising, catch-your-breath good. So many details have been attended to that it really makes you appreciate what must have gone into the development of this game world. It’s not just a game, it is truly a world, with the moon in the sky, native vegetation and wildlife, mist at the base of a waterfall, and dozens of other amazing touches.
With all the other amenities in Unreal, you wouldn’t expect the folks in the audio department to be slouches, and true to form, they’re not. The audio and all its nuances is every bit as finely done as the graphics and, as a friend pointed out, Unreal shows – finally – that someone in the gaming industry knows the importance of a score in the psychological environment of a game. The music, and especially the creepy sound effects, do a fantastic job of setting the tone throughout the game. BTW, the sountrack is so good they released a CD; if you know a place where I can download it, please let me know.
Although you won’t need to refer to it after you’ve played for an hour or so, the documentation does what all good docs should do – quickly and succinctly explains how to play the game and then gets you to the action. It is another credit to Epic’s designers that Unreal manages to incorporate so many different aspects of different kinds of action games without using really any difficult-to-learn or hard-to-execute controls, and hence the manual is more of a now and then reference than a "how the heck do you do that" maze of frustration.
If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a LAN made up of a bunch of fast Pentiums, you’ll be having yourself a grand old time gibbing each other. If you’re trying to hook up with your buddies over a modem, that’s a different story – despite claims that Unreal is multiplayer out of the box, you’ll likely run into some headaches and unplayably slow modem and Internet connections, largely due to the ambitious graphics of this game. However, while I would normally knock several points off a game’s score for this sort of difficulty, I won’t here for two reasons – the almost immediate release of a patch which helped shore up this problem, and the inclusion in Unreal of built-in "Botmatch" capabilities. You can go head to head with up to eight computer-controlled opponents that are in many cases even better than a human opponent. In fact, if you didn’t know which you were playing, you’d probably swear that the bots were other human players – they’re that good. Once again, foresight and innovation are the hallmarks of this game and multiplayer is no exception.
Pentium 166 MHz or better, 16MB RAM, 100 MB hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, Windows 95 compatible sound card, PCI local bus video card, Windows 95/Windows 98/Windows NT, network and Internet play via TCP/IP
Recommended: Pentium 200 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 450 MB hard disk space
Comments/Reality Check: Back in the day, I was actually able to run Unreal quite nicely on a non-MMX P-133 – less than the "required" system specs, but I did have 64 MB RAM and a Matrox Millennium plus an Orchid 3Dfx card. On a P2-266 with all the bells and whistles, though, Unreal absolutely rocked. A 3Dfx card is not mentioned in the requirements, but I would consider it one to get smooth gameplay. As mentioned above, a LAN is almost an absolute requirement for decent multiplayer at this point, with modem and Internet enhancements due out, but not yet all that well implemented. Bear in mind, of course, that even the most killer system will have trouble if you’re trying to play an eight player deathmatch on a hopelessly overwhelmed server located halfway across the world…
Unreal, at it’s time, was the smartest, best looking, all around coolest action game. Not to say it hasn’t been outdone, but I’d be surprised if anyone superseded it easily – it was really that good. Unreal rates a 96 for a game whose designers didn’t rush it out the door despite the pressure to do so from impatient gamers, but instead refined and polished it until it was a true masterpiece. I really cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with this game – it brings back many of the same "duck and cover" responses I had the first time I played Doom – and having played as many action games as I have, that isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. Regardless if you’re a huge fan of action games or have never played one, don’t miss out on Unreal.
Covers and labels
Unreal by GT Interactive & Epic Games,