From the moment I opened the box, I knew Unreal was going to be my undoing. Once I started playing, it only got worse. My grade point average, my social life… everything down the tubes, due to this game. And I love it!
OK, I’m exaggerating. I’m exaggerating quite a lot. Unreal hasn’t caused me to give up my girlfriend or my social life, even though the amount of time I spend studying has admittedly suffered. Seriously, folks, this game is that good. I know that every magazine and website in existence that has reviewed this game has used this tired and worn cliche/pun, but I can’t think of any better way of saying it: Unreal is, simply put, unreal. Out of this world. It has to be played to be believed. But if you’re still skeptical, let me give you a taste of what you’re in for:
The first and most obvious thing you notice about Unreal is its graphics. Of all of the “unreal” aspects of this game, the graphics are probably the most noteworthy. The game is spectacular–at times breathtaking–and this is on my PowerBook 1400, with an 11.3-inch screen and no video acceleration. If you have a large monitor capable of millions of colors and have a Mac with a graphics accelerator card, I really envy you, because Unreal will look that much better under those conditions. But I’ll be the first to testify that despite all of the hype that ATI Rage Pro or 3Dfx accelerator cards are receiving (and it is well-deserved), Unreal looks outstanding without extra hardware, too. Unlike many magazines which published impressive screenshots of Unreal on souped-up Macs, all of the screenshots in this review are from my ‘Book, so you can see Unreal exactly the way I do, and I am still very impressed.
The detail in everything has been painstakingly done, and the textures and shadows are perfectly rendered and lifelike. Unreal also features a ton of interesting locales–indoors, outdoors, creepy castles, mysterious territories, and even underwater. The settings are immersive; you feel almost like you’re really there.
The soundtrack is equally spectacular, and the background noises fit–and even shape–the mood perfectly. You can get an adrenaline rush or have the hair on the back of your neck stand on end just by listening to Unreal. And once again, this is all coming from my 1400’s speaker grille, which isn’t exactly the ideal sound system!
All of the eye and ear candy in the world can’t make up for crappy game play, but Unreal certainly doesn’t lack in this area, either. You begin the game on a prison spaceship, en route to a prison colony, when a riot breaks out. Waking up and getting off your cot, you run out of your cell, armed with only your bare hands, and find that everyone else on the ship appears to be dead. You search around the ship for messages, information, weapons, and equipment, and finally exit the ship to behold a strange, unknown world. Now, you need to explore this world, figure out what’s going on, try to make some friends and allies, defend yourself against the numerous hostile races on the planet, and ultimately find your way off the planet.
Most importantly, though, you need to survive, which is not an easy task. There are more ways to die in this game than I can count, and as many times as I’ve been slaughtered while playing, I’m sure I haven’t gotten close to finding them all out! There are enemies lurking everywhere, and they are smart–so don’t expect to be fighting some brain-dead demons like in DOOM! The bad guys will hide, sneak up behind you, and retreat and regroup. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to run away from your attackers until you’re better equipped to win a battle, or else you won’t survive.
If you tire of the single-player experience, which is hard to do, there are also some great multi-player options available. All of the usual game play modes are here, such as death matches and team play. Play over a network is smooth and intense, but then again I am using a T1 line. (I just had to take the opportunity to rub that in!) Game play is said to be acceptable using a 28.8 or AppleTalk connection, too, though. The multiplayer games in Unreal as equally awesome as the individual experience, and if you’re short on human players to play against, you can have the computer control some opponents and try your hand at a death match against artificial intelligence (good luck!).
The controls are complex, but surprisingly easy to get used to. By default, you look around, aim, and fire your weapons using the mouse, and move around using the keyboard. If you like, you can turn this feature off and use AutoAim, but you have much more control and can be much more precise if you use the mouse, too. It reminded me of the controls of Bungie’s game Abuse, except in a three-dimensional setting instead of a two-dimensional one. It takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it seems like second nature. Also, Unreal supports the InputSprockets, so if you gave a joystick or gamepad, you can configure it with ease. Make sure you have enough buttons, though; my four-button Gravis GamePad doesn’t give me nearly enough options to do everything I need to do in Unreal, and I find myself going back to the keyboard time and time again.
Speaking of weapons and aiming, there are a ton of ways you can blow things up. The weapons are numerous and varied, and each weapon has a primary and secondary function, so you can usually kill things in two different ways with only one gun. There are also plenty of other tools that you’ll run across in the game, such as a translator for communicating with aliens, flares and flashlights to light your way in the dark, and armor enhancements such as jumping boots, scuba gear, and even a force field!
One of the more interesting options in Unreal is the ability to play from a third-person perspective, much like MDK or Tomb Raider. Although Unreal is primarily a first-person game, and the third-person implementation is a little choppy at times, the option makes for a nice change of pace, and is overall very nicely done. To access this feature, bring up the command line by typing the tilde (~) key in the upper left corner of your keyboard, then type “Behindview 1” to play in third-person mode, or “Behindview 0” to return to the first-person experience. (See the screenshots to see how the two modes differ in appearance.)
Unfortunately, no review of Unreal would be complete without a mention of its equally unreal system requirements. I would not dream of running this game on my 1400 if I didn’t have a G3 upgrade. MacSoft lists the system requirements as a 180 MHz 603 or 150 MHz 604, with 32 megabytes of RAM, a 256K L2 cache, and a CD-ROM drive. However, they admit that it would be better to play with a system more along the lines of a 250 MHz 603, 180 MHz 604, or any G3, with 64 megabytes of RAM, a 3dfx Voodoo class 3d accelerator, and 512K L2 cache, with a speedy CD-ROM drive. Unless you have a super-powered Mac, you will need to run virtual memory, too: Unreal wants at least 72 megabytes of RAM itself to run at the lowest resolution and sound settings. If you want to play a game in high-res mode with great sound, prepare to free up close to 90 megabytes of RAM!!! But thanks to the advancements made in virtual memory, this isn’t a huge constraint: I didn’t notice much slowdown at all when the CPU had to access the hard disk for memory, or when it had to access the CD-ROM drive. The more virtual memory you need, the longer you should expect to wait while levels load, but once you’re up and running, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.
I can honestly say that no game has immersed me or kept my interest at this height since Bungie’s Marathon series, which is high praise! From the involving storyline, to the outstanding game play, to the amazing graphics and sound, this game has it all. It’s been a good year for Macintosh gamers, with games such as Diablo and Tomb Raider II hitting the shelves, but in my book, nothing can compare to this game. Unreal is my choice for Macintosh Game of the Year, and my advice to you is that if you buy only one computer game this holiday season, make it Unreal.
MacMice Rating: 3.5