Big & beautiful, but not very addictive.
When I started Unreal for the first time I was stunned. The intro, generated by the graphics engine and with a great musical score, made me enthusiastic about this game in no time. And after playing a few levels, I thought Unreal was a game that had it all:
- The best graphics gamers had ever seen; this game was nothing but a visual breakthrough! A couple of years later Unreal still does not look dated at all. The detailed textures make even the most basic corridor look good and the lighting in this game is simply fantastic. Notice how a flare, a flashlight and a searchlight all create a different form of light.
- Great music that actually changes when a big battle is about to happen. Many games promised “dynamic sound”, Unreal actually delivered and this adds suspense to the game. The grunts and screams you hear have the same effect.
- The smart A.I. of the Skaarj makes them worthy opponents. This made dueling them exciting; when you see them duck a rocket and jump at you, you know you are in trouble.
- Nice variety of weapons, all weapons have two different ways that you can use them. Some of them are your standard FPS stuff (rocket launcher, pulse weapon, sniper rifle); others are original like the Razorjack, the Flakcannon and the GES Biorifle. The weapons may take a little getting used to. My main problem with the weapons is that they don’t sound very impressive, but Epic solved this with the release of a patch.
- Level design, another good feature of Unreal. There are indoor and outdoor levels, medieval Nali levels and high-tech Skaarj levels and I like the way they are linked together. You enter spaceships, temples and castles and the levels feature big differences in height and distance. All the levels are somewhat mysterious and there are a lot of them. I mean this game is big. Unfortunately a lot of the levels are rather dark, which becomes annoying after a while. I admit that cheated by summoning a searchlight every now and then.
- The controls are completely customizable and modify almost everything in the “Advanced options” section.
- Botmatch! Because of the decent A.I. of computer opponents, Unreal provides an enjoyable deathmatch experience to those who don’t have Internet access.
- The use of scripted events to create some memorable scenes. For example, when you enter Dark Arena you know something bad is gonna happen. A sweaty mouse was the result. I especially liked the tense finale.
[added later: I recently took Unreal of the shelf again and downloaded two of the mods that are available; Serpentine
and Unreal 4 Ever
. Serpentine replaces the standard weapons with real-life ones and hence turns Unreal into a game which emphasizes strategy & tact instead of fast reflexes. Unreal 4 Ever's weapons are completely bizarre and cause total mayhem. Both mods really add another dimension to Unreal's gameplay and are a lot of fun, especially when you play a BotMatch.
Although Unreal Tournament has been out for a couple of years, Unreal is still a reasonably popular multiplayer game. I had no trouble whatsoever in finding a game to join. Although I didn't like the deathmatches (too frantic & fast-paced) I must admit that it all worked very smooth (with the 226final patch). If a game was played, using a map I had not installed on my hard-drive, I even received the map automatically. Because Unreal is a popular game there are also a lot of custom-made maps available. So there are plenty of ways to expand the fun you can get from Unreal.]
For some weird reason this game is not addictive at all, I guess there simply is not enough action. The levels are often empty and there is a lot of time between the battles. I think the pace of the game is not high enough. Of course not every game needs to be like Serious Sam
, but if Epic
wanted to make more of an action-adventure/exploration type of game they should have worked on the story line. Why not add conversations with the Nali and other characters or make the player the leader of the Nali resistance. These simple text messages you get every now and then don’t do the job. Also I thought the gameplay consisted too much of turning switches, opening doors, pressing buttons and deactivating forcefields.
The Bottom Line
Unreal is a game with many great features, so it is hard to explain why I’m not too enthusiastic about it. This game was on my Hard Drive for almost two years before I finally finished it. Sometimes months would go by between the completion of two levels. Even though the game bored me long before I finished it, I still think it deserved to be the hit title it was.