Videogame (1998). Epic Games (EG). Designed by Cliff Bleszinski, James Schmalz. Platforms: Win (1998); Mac (1999).
The Unreal series of First Person Shooters is a competitor to Quake (1996) and its various descendants, and has generally shared its rival's philosophy, with similar gameplay and atmosphere. The two series compete not only as game experiences but also as technologies, with the core software of both systems licenced to other game developers to use in their own products. The first game in the series, Unreal, casts the player as a prisoner on a Starship en route to a penal colony which crashes on an unknown planet. After making their way out of the remains of the ship, the player discovers that the pacifist indigenous Aliens are being enslaved by a cruel and technologically advanced race of interstellar conquerors, the Skaarj. The most interesting moments are perhaps at the beginning, when the player is trying to determine their situation from logs found inside the crashed spacecraft, before suddenly emerging onto the surface of an alien world full of exotic species and striking locales. Unreal's visual design is impressive, and its many combat sequences are well crafted. Ultimately, the player can find a way off the planet; after which the story is continued in Unreal Mission Pack I: Return to Na Pali (1999 EG, Win), a largely repetitive expansion in which the player is picked up by a human starship and dispatched back to the planet to recover secret military data from another downed spacecraft.
Unreal Tournament (1999 EG, Lin, Win; 2000 Mac, PS2; 2001 DC) designed by Cliff Bleszinski was a rival to Quake III Arena (1999) (see Quake), and was thus primarily concerned with multiplayer combat in temporary Online Worlds. It was followed by several similar games which made gradual improvements to the gameplay; the earlier titles included year dates in their names in order to emphasize their similarity to sports games (see Videogames). The major releases to date are Unreal Tournament 2003 (2002 EG / Digital Extremes [DE], Lin, Mac, Win; 2002 rev vt Unreal Championship, XBox) designed by Cliff Bleszinski, Unreal Tournament 2004 (2004 EG / DE, Lin, Mac, Win) designed by Cliff Bleszinski, Jeff Morris, Steven Polge, and Unreal Tournament III (2007 EG, PS3, Win; 2008 XB360) designed by Steven Polge. Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict (2005 EG, XBox) designed by Mitchell Danuco is a sequel to Unreal Championship (the XBox version of Unreal Tournament 2003) which was redesigned to suit gameplay styles common on games consoles, primarily by including hand to hand combat and a third person view. Unreal Tournament III: Titan Pack (2009 EG, PS3, Win) is an expansion for Unreal Tournament III. Unreal II: The Awakening (2003 Legend Entertainment [LE], Lin, Win; 2004 Xbox), however, is a single-player FPS set in the same universe as the first Unreal, but created by different hands. The player adopts the role of a marshal in an obscure sector of space who must recover the seven pieces of a mysterious alien artefact. While the mission designs are interestingly diverse, the linear plot suffers from somewhat clichéd execution (see Interactive Narrative). Unreal II: eXpanded MultiPlayer (2003 LE, Lin, Win) adds an option for player versus player combat to the game.
As with Quake, originality of speculative concept and credibility of plot were not major concerns when the first Unreal games were designed. The intent – as was conventional for First Person Shooters at the time – was simply to provide an exciting and visually striking action experience in a science-fictional environment. In this, both Unreal and its single-player sequel succeed admirably.
Related works: Hard Crash (1998) by Ryan Hughes (Jerry B Oltion) and Prophet's Power (1998) by Dean Wesley Smith are Ties based on the storyline established in the first game. [NT]
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