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Once upon a time, a little title called Unreal came out, in a time when FPS were saturated with generic Doom rip offs. A little company called Epic games, headed by an energetic guy nick-named Cliffy B decided it was time for a change: a first-person shooter, with great graphics, level design to die for and an incredible experience. Their task was a success, and to this day Unreal is considered one of the best FPS on the PC, period. The other day, I was doing price changes at my store, and I noticed that Unreal had gone down to just $3.99. Though I had played the game a lot when it had first came out, I decided to pick up a fresh copy of the game since I had no idea where my old disc was, and this one came with the expansion pack as well.

Unreal’s story is a bit cliché admittedly. You see, you’re a prisoner on a prison ship that gets sucked into the gravity pull of a planet when on your way to the prison colony. The ship crashes, hell breaks loose, and soon you discover the planet has a dark secret. Something has caused an evil group of aliens named the Skaarj to enslave the peaceful, defenseless citizens of the planet you just happened to land on. And of course, you’re the only one who can save them. It’s about as original as New Coke.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing Unreal are the differences between it and games like Quake and Doom. The formers single player mode consists of you battling bots in multiplayer levels, and the latter, while revolutionary at the time could not escape it’s fatal flaw, that being a lack of a feeling of togetherness. You wandered a level, you killed what you could, and you got to the end and moved on to a completely different level. Unreal’s design creates a feeling of togetherness; as you progress you move the games various areas it progresses in a logical fashion.

Quite simply, the games levels are astounding. The areas are exotic and original; each with their own design quirks that make them interesting. The first area of the game alone is a prison ship that you must escape from, moving out eventually to a tropical area, complete with an amazing river and incredible cliffs. Incredibly, all of the games levels are this awe-inspiring, and playing through the game more than once proved that there were still things I hadn’t noticed before. One cool thing is that the planet isn’t completely desolate; native creatures roam the planet, and they even help you later in the game.

Depending on the difficulty level you have the game on, the enemies can be quite devious. On Easy Mode, you’re not going to get hit, but on the harder game modes you have to use some in-depth strategy to defeat your foes, something unlike games like Quake. You have a wide arsenal of weapons you can use to defeat the games main enemies, the Skaarj. The weapons are varied and have a unique design to them in that they have both primary and alternate fire. The games got some innovative weapons like the razor jack, which fires razor blades that ricochet around. Of course, standard weapons such as pistols and rocket launches inhabit the game.

Multiplayer is incredibly fun in the game. Though the game has had a more multiplayer based spin off build around it, that being Unreal Tournament, it’s incredible the devoted following still left to the game. When I want to play multiplayer, I click through the menu and am given the option to play dozens of different multiplayer games against enough players to make it fun. The neat thing is the multiplayer levels that are designed by the fans of the game; there’s nothing as exciting as seeing the game download a level and wandering it in awe of what can be done.

Considering that the game was released some 5 years ago, it’s amazing that the games graphics still hold up to this day. The games graphics engine has been used in dozens of games, such as award-winning titles like Deus Ex. The texturing is phenomenal, and all the little details are wonderful. The enemies and inhabitants of the planet all look incredibly animated, and everything down to the sky and water are all impressively done. Quite simply put, this was one of the best games graphically for it’s time, and even now it looks incredible on my GeForce 4.

The sound is seriously the only place where Unreal messes up, which is a pity. The sound effects are pretty good; you can tell which direction shots are coming from based on the sound alone, which may be standard now but at the time it was incredible. You hear your enemies wandering about; you can use there footsteps to plan an attack. The place where it’s lacking though is the music. I’m serious when I say that I never noticed it while playing, even when just wandering aimlessly. I listened closely and it was there, but it’s just so…not there…It does nothing to really add to the atmosphere of the game, which is truly a shame because a wonderful score to accompany the game would make the game kick ass totally.

Overall, you really can’t go wrong with Unreal. It’s truly an ”Epic” experience (oh come on, I had to slip a pun in here somewhere), one that anyone will enjoy. The game is quite simply just a fun game to play. It’s completely up to you on what you want to do in the game, and that’s a truly wonderful feeling. Pick it up, don’t be cheap.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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