There's No Doubt that Unreal's engine constitutes the bedrock of the past five years of gaming. Countless titles have been constructed with its three iterations of clever coding - but what of Epic's flagship games?
Unreal games are odd in that they've never garnered the outright love that other franchises roll around in daily. I mean, could you honestly explain the motivation of the Skaarj? Could you name the heroine of the first Unreal? Presented with a row of outlandish computerised flesh-globes, could you pick out the front bits of Unreal Il's mission-giver Aida?
The very fact that the series' masterstroke came with the brute simplicity, speed and ingenious weaponry of the Unreal Tournament games - devoid of plot and depth, yet replete with elegant and brutal design - sums it up. The Unreal series is just a little hollow in the face of the Dooms and Half-Lifes of this world. Time has perhaps been harsh though. The original Unreal was, is and always shall be a touchstone in PC gaming and clever level design. At the time, waking up in a derelict prison ship to face a level where enemies were only seen in fleeting glimpses before walking out into a beautiful panorama of wide-open spaces, waterfalls and four-armed peaceful natives was breathtaking.
These days, the game still remains a good blast. Beset somewhat by the fact that back in the day, a developer could create a level with the clear intention of making you lost and frustrated in the knowledge that you'd keep on plugging away, it also took a fairly non-linear approach to its temples and spaceships -providing extra corridors and points of interest up the yazzoo. But, and this is the clincher, there was never the atmosphere or the intensity of your Doom or your Quake. People remember feelings, fear and thrills, rather than pretty temples and water effects - which is perhaps why the Unreal single-player series doesn't hold the sway that history suggests it should.
Another reason, of course, is Unreal II: The Awakening - a game that was perhaps not as good as the reviewer at the time said it was. Beautiful for its time, and packed with innovative features like the smart in-game conversation system and inter-mission spaceship hub, the game's plot and voice-acting felt numb, while the action itself lacked the intensity of its rivals.
It's also a clear-cut example of the hype gravy train doing a game disservice though, as there's plenty to enjoy here even today - the situations you find yourself in are continually in flux, and each alien world you visit is unique from the others on the violence itinerary. And, of course. Aida has a chest that when horizontal, you could park your bike in.
In The Box
In the Unreal Anthology package then, the two single-player offerings serve as an intriguing exhibit on the lessons of gaming past. Next up are the games that single-handedly invented the big, bouncy and fun part of online gaming - and if you even dare to disagree, you can stick your precious Quake III pointy Q' straight up your unbelieving arse. In terms of botplay, weaponry, translocator madness, map design (Oh! Sweet Morpheus!) and sheer modder-love, the original UT is a real joy to go back to. There is, of course, a touch of the Memory Lanes at work here - but there's still a ton of players online (there are a lot of people playing the original Unreal's deathmatch too by the way).
In terms of long-term play though, there's little reason to plug away at UT when compared to the might of UT2004. This is perhaps why UT2003 has been neatly sidestepped for the purposes of the Anthology - but while we're being completists, what about Unreal IIXMP?
As needs no particular explanation, UT2004 is still the most comprehensive and most accessible online multiplayer package in existence and is the crowning glory of the Anthology at large.
If you're interested in the recent history of computer games as much as you are in their visceral thrill, then Unreal Anthology is a worthwhile purchase, as the games are a brilliant example of series that's at once misunderstood, chequered and occasionally quite brilliant.
Gears Of War seems to have replaced it as Epic's initial engine-show-off goliath release, but the Unreal juggernaut shows no sign of pulling onto the hard shoulder. With countless companies signed up to Unreal Engine 3, and number 4 in the works, the Skaarj may be down - but they might not be out.
Download Unreal: Anthology
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP