One of the most frequently referred-to release dates in the industry is "When it's done" and from day one, Epic MegaGames had assured us that Unreal was a game that would not be rushed. Four years later, the day of completion has finally arrived, and it's safe to say that this game was worth the wait; Unreal is an evolutionary step up from Quake II that no shooter fan should miss.
The plot for Unreal places you as some sort of interplanetary criminal, being sent to an off-world penal colony. Midway through your voyage, the ship is caught in a mysterious planet's gravitational field and violently crash-lands. As the sole survivor (everyone else on board has been gutted by something), your goal is to get off the ship and, ultimately, the planet.
The game starts out rather timidlyyou escape from your cell and make your way through a smoky ventilation duct, while checking out some effective screen flaring effects from bright lights. But after you drop out of the ship, the wow factor goes into overdrive: You emerge on a sunny plain with birds flying overhead and a village in the distance, and you get to see the ship you escaped froma ten-story behemoth that's gone headfirst into a cliff. The sense of scale and the attention to detail is enough to make anyone's jaw drop.
You begin your adventure on an exotic planet where the peaceful Nali have been invaded by the mecha-reptilian Skaarj. The Nali's medieval-era architecture merges with the Skaarj's sci-fi control centers and ships, giving the player plenty of terrain to blast through. All of the levels are logically linked together, so a landmark you see off in the distance may be your next destination.
The first few levels feature some truly fantastic design. During one level, a security alarm goes off, and an iron bar drops to block your progress. Suddenly, the lights begin shutting off, one by one, until it's pitch black. After a tense second of silence, you hear a frightening growl, and a Skaarj leaps out at you from a hole in the wall. It's one of the most cinematic moments in PC gaming historyand it's a pity there aren't more sequences like this in the game.
While the story may fall off, there's no shortage of action from start to finish. Unreal's enemy artificial intelligence, coded by the author of the Quake Reaper Bot, will keep you on your toes. Not only are the Skaarj fast, but they roll, strafe, and duck with precision and yes, they do run for help if they're losing a battle. They act more like human deathmatch opponents than anything else I've seen.
Which is probably your only chance to find some decent opposition since, due to some funky coding and unbalanced weapon issues, the multiplayer mode is fairly pathetic. Unreal is a great exploration for one player, but for deathmatching it's still all about Quake II.