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The prison transport ship Vortex Rikers was on its way to a penal moon colony when an unplanned course change led to it being caught in the gravity well of an uncharted planet. Not many aboard survive the crash landing, and those that do find this new world to be one full of strange beauty, but also many dangers. Not only is it full of dangerous wildlife, but it is the setting of a conflict between the ruthless Skaarj and the peaceful natives they have enslaved, the Nali. As one of the surviving prisoners, the player must escape the wreckage of the Rikers, navigate through Nali villages and temples, Skaarj mines and refineries, other crashed ships and many more locations, with the ultimate goal of finding a way off the planet.

Unreal is a first-person shooter. Its story is mostly told through short text messages, deciphered via a translator from computer stations, personal logs, books and signs. The game features a weapon arsenal of ten guns, each with two firing modes. Besides standard pistols, rocket/grenade launchers, miniguns and sniper rifles, there are such items as the Bio Rifle, which fires blobs of toxic waste which stick to walls and enemies, the Flak Cannon, which sprays deadly shrapnel, and the Razorjack, which shoots spinning blades that ricochet off walls. The secondary firing mode might allow a charged shot, sacrifice accuracy for speed, or even make it possible to guide the projectile.

The game also includes a multiplayer mode. Ten deathmatch maps are available for free-for-all, team deathmatch or a variant called "King of the Hill". A special mode is DarkMatch, for which one special map is available. In DarkMatch, the map is without any illumination, and players must use a searchlight to see anything. The deathmatch modes can be played against bots, and the game also offers a cooperative version of the single player campaign.

Unreal introduced the game engine of the same name, which employs such tricks as colored lighting, curved surfaces, reflective surfaces, "detail" textures (via multi-texturing), and real time interactive mixed digital music.


  • 虚幻世界 - Simplified Chinese spelling

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Credits (Windows version)

82 People (65 developers, 17 thanks) · View all



Average score: 90% (based on 42 ratings)


Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 177 ratings with 11 reviews)

Big & beautiful, but not very addictive.

The Good
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.]

**The Bad**
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.

Windows · by Roedie (5221) · 2001

Fantastic graphics, not much game.

The Good
Unreal was a sizeable hit, and is one of a handful of games to have been in development for ages, and not be terrible. Announced shortly before the release of 'Quake', it took three years to be released, to mixed reviews. On the one hand, everybody agreed that it looks fantastic - the 3D engine seemed to be only slightly modified for the recent sequel, and the water effects are unsurpassed - but on the other hand it's not as much fun as, say, 'Quake 2'. The sweeping levels are impressive - combining 'Delta Force'-style distances with polygonal graphics effectively, and the soundtrack, although often descending into Jean Michel Jarre-esque cheese, fits the game well. There's even a go at having a plot - it gets forgotten about quickly, but it's nice to see that 'Half-Life' didn't spring from nothing.

The Bad
Despite looking the bee's knees, it's actually very disappointing as a game. The game seems extremely empty, and the huge size of some of the levels makes it seem very impersonal. The creators seemed unsure as to whether it should be a Quake-style out-and-out blaster, or something deeper, a semi-RPG exploration game, and it falls between these stools - there are long sequences in which you meet no monsters, whilst reading small, dull text messages that outline the 'plot'. The monsters, when you find them, seem out of place - they look cartoonish, and dive around like frantic ants. Furthermore, when you try to shoot them you realise that your guns are astonishingly weak. For example, later on, you are attacked by wasps that take two hits from a laser pistol to kill. It doesn't help the atmosphere at all. Worst of all were the bugs - only half-finished on release, the original game required an extensive series of patches before being playable on anything other than a basic 3DFX Voodoo 1 card. As a multiplayer game it was unplayably slow, which seems odd nowadays, given that 'Unreal Tournament' is fantastic.

The Bottom Line
A graphical showcase, albiet a dull one.

Windows · by Ashley Pomeroy (225) · 2000

Epic's first FPS is more than real ... it's unreal!

The Good
Epic 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 Bad
Epic 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 Line
While 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.

Windows · by Katakis | カタキス (43051) · 2012

[ View all 11 player reviews ]


Subject By Date
Opinions from FPS fans? Unicorn Lynx (180476) Nov 8th, 2011



One of director James Cameron's pet projects after Titanic was an epic sci-fi extravaganza called Avatar, much hyped in Hollywood circles at the time and poised to redefine the notion of a truly alien world on the big screen.

The project fell apart initially, but the scriptment (a hybrid between a script and a treatment ) by James Cameron still exists. Interestingly, you can find quite a few similarities between it and Unreal:

  • Both feature a basic plot premise where, by virtue of circumstances mostly beyond his control, a reluctant hero becomes the saviour of the native race of an alien planet forced to mine their land for ore of utmost importance to an invading race coming from the skies. In both cases the saviour is seen by the natives as someone who also came from the skies and is thus initially met with some alarm or distrust only to be later hailed as a pseudo-messiah.
  • The native race is called "Na'vi" in Avatar and "Nali" in Unreal. The physical description of the Na'vi by Cameron can be visualised as basically a cross between the Nalis' tall, lean, slender bodies and the IceSkaarjs' blueish skin colour patterns, facial features, ponytail-like dreadlocks and caudal appendages.
  • The Nali in Unreal worship goddess Vandora. The home planet of the Na'vi in Avatar (which the Na'vi worship as a goddess entity) is named Pandora.
  • In Avatar, one of the most dazzling alien settings described is a huge set of sky mountains, "like floating islands among the clouds". One of the most memorable vistas in Unreal is Na Pali, thousands of miles up in the cloudy sky amidst a host of floating mountains. The main sky mountain range in Avatar is called "Hallelujah Mountains". The main Unreal level set in Na Pali is called "Na Pali Haven". Both include beautiful visual references to waterfalls streaming down the cliffs and dissolving into the clouds below.
  • The Earth ship in Avatar is called "ISV-Prometheus". One of the levels in Unreal takes place in the wreck of a Terran ship called "ISV-Kran". Even more striking, in the expansion pack Return to Na Pali, the crashed ship the player is asked to salvage is called "Prometheus".
  • One of the deadly examples of local fauna in Unreal is the Manta, essentially a flying manta-ray. In Avatar, one of the most lethal aerial creatures is the Bansheeray, basically a flying manta-ray. The expansion Return to Na Pali even features a Giant Manta, while in Avatar one of the most formidable predators is a giant Bansheeray, which Cameron dubbed "Great Leonopteryx".
  • In the two stories (especially Return to Na Pali, on Unreal's end), a plot point arises from the fact the precious ore behind the invasion of the planet ("tarydium" in Unreal, "unobtanium" in Avatar) causes problems in the scanners.

Unreal was in development for several years before its release in 1998. The Avatar scriptment was probably finished as early as 1996-97. Bearing all the above in mind the temptation to start wondering about further suspicious parallels may be quite strong, but in spite of these similarities both titles have few else in common and many aspects actually veer off in wildly different directions. Even so, the coinciding factors can make for an interesting minutia comparison.


Unreal was the first FPS shooter to official include Bots, A.I. characters which mimic the actions of live players during multiplayer deathmatches. Although previously fan-programmed Bots had been created for games like Quake and DOOM, Unreal was the first game where the Bots were officially included by the game's programmers.

Many features of the Bot A.I. were used to program the A.I. of the game's single player enemies, particularly the Skaarj. As a result Unreal's single player enemies had a degree of flexibility previously unseen in their ability to fight, manuever and navigate levels.

Combined attack

The "combined attack" mentioned in the manual applies to the shock rifle. Fire a plasma blob with the secondary fire button, then, without moving, fire a shot with the primary fire button. The shot will pierce the plasma blob in midair, exploding it (with a nice blast radius).

Cover art

The reason the jewel case is so prominently displayed in the box design is because there were four different jewel case cover designs, all of them screen shots (look carefully at the second box scan and you'll see "Actual Gameplay Screen (2/4)"). This was a clever way to show off the game's graphic superiority.

Cut features

Some Unreal-Previews in 1997 told us about some proposed features which didn't make it into the final game. For example: - the character can morph to four other shapes - you can build your own deathmatch-arenas and - connect them via Internet. So you can - walk from one Deathmatch-Arena to another via teleporters...


The eightball weapon in the game is called like that because it originally fired 8 missiles. Play testing revealed 6 made a more balanced weapon, but the name stuck.


The Unreal engine had a unique feature. It could render using DirectX, OpenGl, and Software Mode. It even included support for 3dfx Glide drivers. Most 3d engines before and since only support DirectX or OpenGL, but not both. It took 4 years to design. It had several features that weren't included in the Quake II engine: * Volumetric Lighting: An effect for generating fog, smoke or plasma. It was used in great effect for obscuring view. * Dynamic Lighting: A real time render of colored lights. You could mix colored light sources to produce other colors. You also could see moving shadows

German version

Violence was reduced for the German version of Unreal. The "reduced gore" option is missing from the menus, enemies simply disappear instead of being gibbed, and severed heads also vanish instead of flying through the air.

But most notable are changes to the opening level: Corpses and blood stains were removed as well as background sound effects and scripted fight scenes - drastically changing the game's atmosphere. Some pain screams and similar background sound effects are also missing in later levels.


Unreal has a lot of "scene" tricks, like colored lighting, dithered texturing in software for 8-bit displays, XMs/ITs for music, music from scene musicians, and other engine enhancements. The name "Unreal" is the same name used by a pioneering demo from Future Crew.


The game's technical advances at the time attracted so much attention that even Bill Gates himself requested a meeting, in absolute secrecy, with the developers of Unreal. The meeting took place in early 1997, but by that time GT Interactive had already acquired publishing rights for the game.


  • Do you remember the Pirate game in Orlando's Disney World: "Pirates of the Caribbean"? Go to the level "Serpent Canyon". When the boat enters the very long and very dark cave, turn on your flashlight and look to your left. You will find an interesting sign.
  • The Demonlord you meet in level 29 shoots rockets at you - but they aren't the normal rockets! On them, the Canadian flag is printed along with the word 'PEACEMAKER'.
  • The prison ship you arrived on was called the USS Vortex Rikers. It shares a name with Riker's Island prison. Coincidence?


A soundtrack CD by Straylight Productions was released in 1998. It can be bought at http://www.synsoniq.com.

Tracklist: 1. Main Title - Vertex Rikers - Dusk Horizon - Dig - Chizra - Chizra Ceremony - Visions - Ruins - Skytown - Cellars of Dasa - Erosion - Isotoxin - Crater - Bluff Eversmoking - The Queen - Guardian of Stone - Wargate - The Fifth Hub - End Title - Unreal Euro Dance Mix

The entire music soundtrack is also available in the music folder on both the CD and when you have installed the game. However, the music-format is in UMX and can't be played on your default player. You will need a program that run that sort of format, you can find it here on http://www.modplug.com


Unreal re-introduced a music format that was popularized on the Amiga computers. The UMX format is a variation of the Mod file.

Mod files are packed files that contain instrument samples and tracker formatted music. The Amiga had dedicated hardware that could load and play instrument samples at various speeds to produce different pitches.


  • GameStar (Germany)
    • Issue 12/1999 - #78 in the "100 Most Important PC Games of the Nineties" ranking
  • PC Gamer
    • April 2000 - #26 in the "Readers' All-Time Top 50 Games Poll"

Information also contributed by Alan Chan, Emepol, Felix Knoke, Ghostbreed, Manfred Glubber, MAT, PCGamer77, re_fold, Rúben Alvim, Scott Monster, Silverblade, Zaghadka and Zovni

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Trixter.

Macintosh added by Ace of Sevens.

Additional contributors: Adam Baratz, Unicorn Lynx, Jeanne, erc, oct, Patrick Bregger, Talos, MrFlibble.

Game added October 28th, 1999. Last modified November 23rd, 2023.