Unreal (PC) Review

By Athanasios 21.05.2018

Review for Unreal on PC

Back in the day, few dared posing a threat to id Software's rule over first-person shooters. The reasons where aplenty, with one of the most important one being the fact that not many had the technical capacity to do so, as people like John Carmack didn't (and still don't) grew on trees. The first that came close to the throne back in that distant, late '90s era, was, without a doubt, Epic MegaGames' Unreal. Its legacy? Oh, just a little, humble line of graphic engines bearing the same name. What about the game itself, however? Was it something more than just an overpriced tech demo? Cubed3 becomes Prisoner 849, and descents into the world of Na Pali to find out. You are welcome to join in...

Id Software's genre-defining Quake is a dark fantasy, Lovecraft-infused, fast-paced FPS, with a raw focus in action, and an abstract level design philosophy. By contrast, Unreal takes it easy, offers a more "realistic" take on world-building, with a much heavier focus in atmosphere. Like Half-Life after it, it's a bridge that connects the arcade-y, old-school shooters of the past, with the more narrative-driven ones of the modern era. Unreal isn't Quake, and this encompasses all of its strengths and weaknesses.

In terms of graphics it was fantastic for that distant 1998. With its vibrant palette colouring a planet where medieval fantasy intertwined with sci-fi, cool special effects like reflective floors, and enough lens flares to give J. J. Abrams an orgasm, plus some high-quality 3D models, this looked awesome. Looked awesome, though - looked. The Unreal engine was great for when it came out, but things have vastly improved after so many years. As such, and as is usually the case with older games, it all falls on the art style's shoulders; an art style that's very good, but not really that striking.

Screenshot for Unreal on PC

When it comes to the overall design, it almost feels as if the developer didn't really know the strengths of its product. Those occasions where what's in front of you further emphasised the fact that you are a stranger in a strange land were simply great. From the weird star-field skies, the otherworldly flying fortresses, the ancient mystical temples, and the claustrophobic sci-fi corridors of the Skaarj, the Predator-like nemesis of the protagonist, Unreal was beautiful.

Sadly, for every great vista (ancient or futuristic) thrown at the player, there are at least two that feel more like boring filler. Having said that, and while visuals have definitely lost their wowing factor, they still manage to immerse you in this alien world. Extra credit should also be given to the fantastic modular soundtrack that bops along everything, with tunes that, besides having a distinctive, industrial/electronic-meets-ambience feel, change dynamically while playing.

Those who came here expecting to play a fantastic FPS, though, will be left empty-handed. Id Software's experience with the genre meant that it was good at it. Epic MegaGames was an inexperienced newcomer, and it shows, with controls, for instance, being somewhat unpolished, like in how the quick side-jump evasion can be activated by mistake, or how... "floaty" everything can feel from time to time, as if controlling a hoverboard instead of a human being.

Screenshot for Unreal on PC

Now, while definitely a fun title, it's better to approach it as an adventure instead of a pure shooter. Unreal's true strength lies in how it can makes one feel like a part of its "plot;" a plot that, despite numerous text logs, mainly follows the show-not-tell principle, with the level design narrating the whole thing. As for the story at hand, it revolves around a convict, who, as the sole survivor of a crashed prison spaceship, must escape the planet, wiping out the invading Skaarj in the process, and all the while the indigenous people view the main hero as their godsend saviour.

The thing is though, that, although immersion is a key element of Unreal, it lacks consistency. For starters, not all levels manage to "tell" a story, as there are many stages where you just shoot stuff, not really caring about the why you do so, and not really having that much fun, as this isn't... well, Quake. Then there are those levels which don't say enough, although they could really benefit from doing so - it's been 20 freaking years and fans are still wondering what's the deal with the four-breasted goddess known as Vandora - or is it just this pervy reviewer?

Screenshot for Unreal on PC

All kidding aside, though, and while it helps to think of this as an adventure, it's a shooter at its core, and should be judged as one. Sure, there are plenty of good things to say here. The Skaarj, for example, are one of the most enjoyably tough alien bastards to fight against, as they constantly evade your attacks, and force you to do more than just aim. These are simply the stars of the show, and offer some of the best battle sequences in the realm of old-school first-person shooters.

...But the rest of the things that one can shoot here are not as fun - like, at all! As a result, these deprive you of the incentive to use the quite varied weaponry; weaponry that includes a secondary firing mode, with "miniguns" turning into shotguns, rocket launchers into grenade launchers, and so on. Sadly, the arsenal, while definitely impressive, is not without issues, as it's a tad unbalanced, and sort of miss that special "oomph" factor available in many other shooters.

These are nitpicks, however, as there's only one thing that's hard to stomach here: the level design. This simply lacks the delicate balance and "tight" structure seen in id Software's early creations, as many stages (especially the last ones) overstay their welcome, or have boring "filler" sections that put a dent to it all, which is a shame as Unreal is generally a fine experience that every FPS should try at least once, despite it being quite rough around the edges.

Screenshot for Unreal on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


Whether you'll enjoy Unreal is highly depended on your tolerance about its many flaws, especially its lack of consistency. Furthermore, this is not your typical fast-paced, trigger-happy, old-school FPS, as it somewhat closer to Half-Life, since it cares more about building an atmosphere and "telling" a story, rather than providing the player with enemies to shoot.


Epic MegaGames




First Person Shooter



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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