Time is the ultimate test of whether or not a thing is good. While last year’s biggest blockbuster is all but forgotten, many people still watch Fight Club at least once a week.
I wanted to review something that I had fond memories of, a thing that gave hours of enjoyment, scares, and even a little frustration. It also still has to be good. It has to withstand that ultimate test, the true mark of respect given only to the titles that deserve it.
1998 was an interesting year. The Clinton Cartel was halfway through its second term, DMX was barking at random people, and home consoles dominated much of the gaming scene. While everyone was all about their Playstation or Nintendo 64, the PC sat cooly in the back, mostly catering to the FPS crowd. Quake was big, as was Duke Nukem.
Most of the action was, however, heavily pixelated at the time. The speed and accuracy needed of the gametype meant that the graphics suffered as a result.
Unreal stood out not only for its beautifully rendered polygons, but for its expansive levels and engaging story. Sure, there was no cutscenes or anything more than decoded messages in human and alien languages, but the atmosphere and wrecked ships allow you to discern two things. This planet is a UFO graveyard and that everyone else who was human is now dead.
The action is still fast and taunt. Only quick moves and zig-zag strategies can enable you to defeat Skaarj enemies, along with other monsters who wish nothing more than to shoot, beat, and tear your butthole to pieces. All that stands between you and death is your fingers and your guns.
Weapons in Unreal are effective at one thing: killing. From frag shells to rockets, you have to cycle and use whatever weapons you still have ammo for. While Unreal doesn’t reinvent the rules of FPS combat, it does refine and perfect them. Every blood splatter and mass of eviscerated meat is just another bump on your journey to get off this shithole of a planet.
With green canyons, towering spires, deep caves and bases, Unreal feels alive and lived in. Toss in four-armed monks offering help and bowing in subjugation, along with the god-tier soundtrack, and it all gives an idea of just how awesome this game was at release.
The only problem I can and could ever think about are the underground levels being a bit too long. I think that’s only because I wanted that expansive sky, those twinkling stars, even the gurgling gas bags above me. Other than that, I can’t really say anything non-positive about this game. It gave me exactly what I wanted: a buttery smooth slip back into the ass of the past.
Retro-Rating: 5 out of 5. Unreal is still the king of the FPS genre to me. Above the Doom, the Quake, the Duke Nukem, even Halo and other shooters famous for perspective and their gunplay, Unreal will always be the best example of what pure first person shooting should be; an exercise in both skill and discovery.
If you’ve never played it, or even if you have, I’d recommend Unreal to all people of all ages. Yes, even little Timmy should have the chance to pop a cap in a Brute’s ass. Compared to today’s even “mature” titles, Unreal is a breath of contained and completely unrealistic violence.
Returning to this game 21 years later makes me want to buy it a beer. In fact, the bar tab is open for Unreal. Replaying this game was a pleasure, true and deserved nostalgia.
We always look back on the past fondly, even if it really wasn’t. But when something of the past is still as good, perhaps better than what we remember, it confirms what we already know: The best has already happened.