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Unreal is an outstanding first-person shooter created by the collaborative efforts of Digital Extremes and Epic MegaGames. It is unique among most of the other titles listed in the Gamer's Guide because it does not use the Quake/Quake 2 engine, but instead uses a proprietary engine that is now being used by several other software developers for their own games. Unreal is a ground-breaking game that adds many advances to the world of first-person shooters. Its critics are quick to note that it is more evolutionary than revolutionary, and it does have its share of problems, but few can deny that the game is appealing

As the game begins, you are a prisoner aboard Vortex Rikers, a prison transport vessel. The ship crash lands on an alien planet. You are able to escape from your cell, but you are injured, you have no weapons, and you must face a hostile planet by yourself.

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Of all of the titles released into this genre in 1998, Unreal was probably surrounded by the most doubt. The Unreal team spent four years developing the game and many doubted the title would ever be released after the summer of 1997 release was missed. The unfortunate label "vaporware" was often attached to Unreal. All of this changed when Unreal hit the stores on May 22, 1998.

Unreal has many strengths. The 3D engine by Tim Sweeney supports many new features. Fog, mirrored textures, and massive, outdoor expanses are now possible. Quake 2 was a move towards larger, more open environments, but Unreal has levels that seem to dwarf even Jedi Knight in size. Amazingly, there seems to be little of the trade-offs in detail associated with these massive levels. Also impressive, the levels in Unreal can compile in a fraction of the time needed for Quake II-based levels, an important issue for some developers.

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Thanks to the abilities of Steven Polge, creator of Quake's famous Reaper Bot, Unreal is also graced with some superb enemy artificial intelligence (AI). The Skaarj is one of the smartest and nastiest enemies to ever appear in a first-person shooter. It ducks, jumps out of the way, and can use all of its weapons with deadly accuracy. Many of the other enemies are equally impressive in other ways, but the Skaarj is definitely the king of enemy AI. Another great example of Polge's talent is the BotMatch, a variation of Unreal that replicates multi-player deathmatch for the single player. There has never been a bot that was more dangerous, or acted more like a real, human player.

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Unfortunately, Unreal also has a few drawbacks. The requires a very strong PC to run smoothly. The system requirements list a Pentium 166 as the base system, but a Pentium II is really recommended for the 3Dfx version. Even with a powerful computer, the game suffers from some rather serious lag issues across the internet. Thankfully, the folks at Epic are working diligently to improve Unreal's internet performance. They recently released a beta version of an improved network code, but much of the lag issues still remain. These will have to be solved before Unreal and other games based on its engine can be a true challenge to id Software.

There are, however, some developers who do not seem concerned about the minor bugs in the Unreal engine. Legend Entertainment licensed the engine some time ago for their game The Wheel of Time. Ion Storm announced in February of 1998 that it will be using the engine for an upcoming first-person shooter, tentatively called Shooter.  3D Realms switched from the Quake II engine to the Unreal engine for Duke Nukem Forever shortly after the 1998 E3. It seems likely that others will follow this trend.

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Besides the problems with internet performance, there has been some criticism of the game itself. The storyline is linear, rather than a "hub" like Quake II or Hexen II. This wouldn't make much of a difference, except for the fact that the progression of the game seems to lack a sense of direction. You don't really seem to have any goal to your wandering around the planet, other than to kill things and try to leave. This is perhaps a result of the way the game was developed over the past four years, or perhaps the audience for first-person shooters in now more critical about storyline after so many games are being released with intricate plots and subplots.

All in all, Unreal is strong game that has earned the fevered loyalty of its fans.


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Last update: July 03, 1998
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