SummaryEpic's first FPS is more than real ... it's unreal!
The GoodEpic MegaGames have been known for developing platform games such as Jill of the Jungle, Xargon, and Jazz Jackrabbit. Around 1997, the company decided to change direction and develop a first-person shooter called Unreal, to capitalize on the success that was Quake II, as well as show off their new engine.
Instead of treating us to a demo, the developers gave us a sneak peek of Nali Castle. The preview may have showed its exteriors, but when I finally reached the castle in the actual game, I didn't want to stop exploring it. It houses almost everything a castle should have (dining room, study, chapel, etc.) The castle itself was taken over by the Skaarj as it was extended to include prisons and torture chambers.
What's interesting about the prison ship is discovering dead corpses with books besides them. This is a nod to the System Shock series, in that the books are actually logs detailing the person's moments before they are killed. Also, early on in the game, you pick up a translator which is a tool useful for decrypting the alien language seen throughout the game.
You do all your exploration on a planet called Na Pali, which is the planet the prison ship Vortex Rikers crash-lands on. The planet is inhabited by the Nali, a peaceful tribe consisting of four-armed humanoids. Also on the planet are Skaarj, brutal reptilians who have boarded the prison ship and killed everyone on board except Prisoner 849, who manages to escape onto the planet's surface.
As for the Nali, you see them walking around, praying to their God, or just levitating. Some of the Nali motion you to follow them so that they can help push a few switches here and there. If one of the Skaarj is in their vicinity, you are supposed to protect the Nali from them as they will be attacked. If you attack the Nali yourself, they will refuse to help you, instead telling you to go away and leave them alone. What I found funny about them is how they walk backwards while facing you, as if they are doing the moonwalk.
All throughout the game, you always do battle against the Skaarj using a variety of weapons, which can be easily accessed with your mouse wheel. Of these weapons, my favorite is the Eightball Launcher, since it can fire more than one powerful rocket at enemies. The Skaarj's artificial intelligence, particularly the SkaarjWarrior, is amazing. They are capable of timing your shots at the right moment, and roll out of the way to avoid them. It takes several hits for the Skaarj to be killed, but when they are killed, flies appear buzzing around the corpse, a nod to Quake 2.
Unreal's music is excellent, and it is right up there with some of their other games like One Must Fall: 2097, in the way that the composers used the module (MOD) music format to create the soundtrack for the game. Dynamic music is used for certain events such as scenery changes and boss battles. There are a few pieces that I had to listen more than once. I like the support for CD audio tracks; you can listen to music by your favorite artist if you are getting sick of the in-game compositions.
The graphics are really breathtaking. Most of the game takes place outdoors. I looked up at the sky and see one or two beautiful moons surrounded by millions of stars. And on the surface, there is a fair bit of vegetation including ponds that you can see through. More often than not, there are secret passages hidden in them, and they often lead you through to hidden places. Then there are the locations. I like exploring the temples, castles, ruins, and the Skaarj mothership. The best one was the Nali castle.
I noticed a neat feature when I installed the 226 patch. When a new map is loaded, some information is displayed at the top telling you what game it is, the map name, and author. This stuff is not found in any first-person shooter that I played. This feature is useful because by taking note of this, you'll be able to tell which author made the best maps for the game.
When I finished the game, I decided to have a go at Botmatch, which pits four computer-controlled opponents against you. I was amazed at how aggressive the bots were. The Botmatch mode is ideal if you can't find any multiplayer games to join. The idea of playing the game this way wasn't present in any first-person shooters before it. Botmatch was popular enough that it got carried onto both Unreal Tournament and its successors.
There are quite a few puzzles in the game, but this is really a matter of pushing buttons to access new areas. that you find a button. The puzzles don't appear early on in the game, because you spend your time getting used to the game first. I found that proper exploration is the key to solving puzzles in the game, because the solution to them is often revealed in dark areas.
Epic was generous enough to include UnrealEd, which is the level editor for the game. Users can edit existing maps or create brand new ones, and there at at least several CD-ROMs with Unreal levels, but most of them are focused on deathmatch. With each major update, it has been used to create maps for future games that use the Unreal engine.
Finally, the game is quite violent, even as one rated 15+ by most game rating organizations. All throughout the game, you see the Nali nailed to crucifixes, struggling to break free, as well as other forms of Nali execution. I just felt blasting them just to put them out of the misery. Then there are some parts in some locations like the Sunspire Tower where you see your reflection through floor tiles, and watching one of the Skaarj troopers attack your character, a girl, is quite unpleasant.
The BadEpic could have shown us something else other than Nali Castle. There are no speech throughout the game, but listening to speech being read out every message could have enhanced the experience. When you save or load a game while music is playing, that music cuts to the beginning instead of continuing on.
The Bottom LineWhile I was still in high school, one of my buddies tried this game out and said to me "Unreal is unreal!", and I can see why. The game features a brilliant soundtrack as you explore quite a few breathtaking environments. During the game, you do battle with the Skaarj who have amazing artificial intelligence, and come across some interesting logs from someone who has met their unfortunate demise. The puzzles are not too hard to figure out, and there are some interesting stuff elsewhere. Although starting off as a tech demo, it transformed into something that most fans of first-person shooters will definitely enjoy.