|Ever since the success of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom/Doom 2, first
person shooters have flooded the gaming market. Most of these games are mediocre at best
and have little new to offer players over the gameplay of original Doom. There have been
exceptions: Quake and Quake 2 both took the market by storm because of their excellent
multiplayer capabilities, while Dark Forces and Jedi Knight succeeded due to their
excellent single player and story line. So Epic Megagames and Digital Extremes
first foray into the first person shooter, Unreal, needed to have that extra something
special to compete in a genre as crowed as this one. Does Unreal Deliver? You bet it does!
The storyline behind the game is that you are a criminal on a prison ship that crash-lands on a strange planet. In the crash, most of the crew and prisoners are killed, while others escape only to be shredded by something living on the planet. Your goal is to get off the planet in one piece while figuring out a way to get rid of the unwanted guests you meet along the way.
The first thing I noticed about this game was the impressive quality of the textures and the rendered environment. The designers took the visual quality of the game to the limit of what current video and sound technology can provide on personal computers. The visual effects are stunning to say the least. The first time you step outside, you are greeted by a dynamic sky that moves and changes when you look at it, while off in the distance, birds circle and a beautiful waterfall tumbles over a cliff. The dynamic lighting and lensflare effects are so profound, you have too see them to believe them! Careful attention was paid to little details like fish swimming in the rivers and small rabbit-like creatures running across the landscape. The level design is excellent and it flows with the storyline very well, changing from an inside environment to an outside one with incredible smoothness. Sometimes you can actually see some of the places you will later end up off in the distance.
The sound on Unreal is also extremely well done. Ive had the opportunity to try it with and without a 3-D soundcard, and I can honestly say that this is one of the first games to make full use of a good 3-D soundcard like the Soundblaster Live! or Turtle Beach Montego. The Soundblaster Live! with its four speaker support was the most impressive of the two. With the Live and four speakers, you could literally hear growls and grunts coming from the direction from which they originated. This is the first game to actually spook me when a creature ambushed me in a dark hallway. The sound in this game does a lot to give the player that "you are there" feeling. The music in this game is actually in some kind of compressed format like MP3 so it doesnt pause while changing tracks (very nice and one of my pet peeves about Quake 2). While not quite CD quality, the music well done and complements the gameplay nicely.
Although the single player experience is excellent, the multiplayer is seriously lacking. The major problem with Deathmatch in Unreal is that most of the weapons have the feel of a scaled-down peashooter. The best gun is the rifle, but only if you get a head-shot, greatly reducing its usability in multiplay. The Weapons just dont seem to have the powerful feel of Quake 2s and the multiplayer game seems move much slower than the frantic pace of Quake 2. Though multiplayer level design is good, weapons placement is sometimes poor for the area, and ammo is often scarce. The modem play out of the box is close to unusable and if you dont have an ADSL or better connection to the web I strongly recommend Quake 2 instead. The multiplayer is even slow over a LAN. Look somewhere else for multiplay until the bugs are worked out of Unreals network code and a finalized patch is available.
System requirements was another area in which Unreal was really lacking. The requirements for this game are extremely high if you want to have all the effects turned on with no choppiness. Quake 2 accomplished this on a 166 MMX with a 3D accelerator and 32 megs of RAM , while Unreal Requires a P2 266, 64 megs of RAM and a VooDoo 2 Card. Compared to Quake 2, Unreal is a hog; you pay for the huge increase in visual quality. But even accounting for this, Unreal should have at least been smooth on a 200 MMX with 64 megs of RAM. I think much of this poor optimization can be chalked up to the Unreal teams inexperience in creating a 3D engine, especially when compared to John Carmacks Quake Team. Hopefully in the near future a finalized patch will resolve some of these performance issues, but until that day a P2 266 would be the minimum I recommend.
In summary, the highs of Unreal are its stunning effects, good level design, excellent sound and great single player experience. The lows are the weapon imbalance and lag in multiplay and very high system requirements. The bottom line is this: if you are looking for a great single player first person game and have a beefy system, look no further. If you are looking for a great multiplayer experience, look somewhere else, at least for now.