Unreal Gold Review

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I assume everybody has heard of Unreal. If not the game then the engine. When I think of Unreal, I think of multiplayer because that’s really what the series is focused on. But the first two games had actual stories. Unreal does have a multiplayer component but from what I’ve researched, the network code needed improvement, thus Unreal Tournament was born. Unreal Tournament was initially developed as an expansion for Unreal and went on to become one of the best multiplayer games of its era. Developed by Epic MegaGames and published by GT Interactive, Unreal was released for PC in May, 1998. Return to Na Pali is a mission pack developed by Legend Entertainment, adding new missions to the single player portion of the game. The two campaigns were later bundled together as Unreal Gold which is what I played for this review, specifically the GoG version. I did download and install the OldUnreal 227 Patch which is a community patch that adds support for modern systems, fixes multiple bugs, and includes a bunch of other improvements.

The story focuses on Prisoner 849 who manages to escape the prison spacecraft Vortex Rikers after it crash-lands on the planet Na Pali. The planet is home to a race of creatures known as the Nali and has been overrun and dominated by the Skaarj which are a race of technologically advanced reptilian-like creatures. Na Pali is a planet rich with a mineral known as Tarydium which is a source of great power and is the reason the Skarrj have invaded. Prisoner 849 navigates around the planet fighting the Skaarj and learning of the Nali’s suffering and even comes across other dead humans. The prisoner does escape the planet at the end of the main campaign and Return to Na Pali takes place not too long after that. Prisoner 849 is found by a Unified Military Services ship, Bodega Bay. The UMS send the prisoner on a mission back to Na Pali to locate downed ship and the prisoner discovers that the Skaarj aren’t the only enemy he or she needs to worry about. You can create your own character so Prisoner 849 can be male or female. The story is told through your translator which I guess translates any information provided by the many messages, signs, logs, journals, and terminals you come across. Return to Na Pali includes actual voice acting which is serviceable. Unfortunately, it does come to a rather abrupt end and it just feels anti-climactic. You’re never forced to actually care about the story in either campaign but it’s there if you want it. One thing I love about Unreal is its atmosphere. Everything about it is very sci-fi and alien.
You can walk, run, crouch, jump, and dodge, and any items you pick up can be stored in your inventory for use at any time. The translator is not only good for understanding the story but also for understanding what you need to do to progress. A lot of the information you come across are actually hints or indications of what you need to do. You can use the flashlight, searchlight, and flares to see better in dark areas. The force field can be used as a defense, invisibility makes you temporarily invisible, and jump boots allow you to jump higher than normal. The amplifier will temporarily increase the damage of certain weapons and SCUBA gear allows you to breathe underwater for a brief time. In Return Na Pali, you’ll acquire Marine SCUBA Gear which does recharge over time. Then there’s Fruit Seeds which can be planted to grow Nali Fruit which grants health. Health can also be restored from health packs and super health packs found throughout the environments. Kevlar suits, assault vests, and shield belts provide you armor and toxin and asbestos suits allow you to traverse through hazardous areas safely.
Items, weapons, and ammo can be found lying around the environments and in breakable objects like crates. There’s a good variety of weapons in Unreal and they all prove to be useful. You start out with the Dispersion Pistol which has infinite ammo since it does recharge energy. It fires energy bolts and you can charge up energy for more powerful shots. You can find upgrades for the Dispersion Pistol which make it more powerful. The automag is a handgun that can be held sideways for a faster rate of fire. The ASMD can fire a beam or slow-moving orb of plasma. If you manage to shoot the orb with a with the beam, you can create an explosion. The Eightball Launcher is basically a six-barreled rocket and grenade launcher and if you hold the crosshair on an enemy long enough, the Eightball Launcher will lock on to them. You can hold down the fire buttons to unleash multiple projectiles at once. The Minigun fires a stream of bullets and it’s secondary fire is a faster but less accurate stream. The Stinger is like a machine gun shotgun combo. I think the Flak Cannon is my favorite weapon just because of how satisfying it feels to use. It launches flak shards that can bounce off surfaces and it can also launch grenades. The Razorjack is a weapon that fires blades that can ricochet and the secondary fire allows you to guide the blades with your crosshair. I find decapitating enemies with the Razorjack to be extremely rewarding. You’ll also get your hands on a Rifle which is really a sniper rifle. Then there’s the GES Bio Rifle which is a powerful weapon that fires blobs of Tarydium waste that will explode. You can charge up your shots for more damage and when the blobs land on surfaces, they basically act like timed mines.

Return to Na Pali adds three new weapons to the arsenal – the Combat Assault Rifle, UMS Rocket Launcher, and UMS Grenade Launcher. I do like using them and they fit in considering the context of the story but they have existing counterparts that perform the same functions with some variation. For example, the Combat Assault Rifle is a rapid firing weapon, similar to the Stinger. Although, it does have a faster rate of fire and it can also launch a cluster of uranium shards that detonate on impact. The rocket launcher and grenade launcher do what you would expect and you already have the Eightball Launcher which doubles as both. You can guide rockets with the rocket launcher and you can launch timed grenades and grenades that can be detonated manually with the grenade launcher.

You’re going to be engaging a lot of enemies on your journey as well as a few bosses. There are different races of enemies and some races include enemies of different ranks. Brutes are large enemies that can fire rockets and Behemoths are basically massive brutes that can do more damage. When it comes to the Skaarj, you’ll engage Scouts, Warriors, Berserksers, Assassins, and Lords. They can all fire dual energy orbs and are quick on their feet but will retreat if they take enough damage. They will rush you and slash at you when they get close enough and sometimes they’ll lunge at you with their claws. There’s also Skaarj troopers, gunners, and officers that can wield a variety of weapons, wear armor, and carry personal energy shields. Finally, there’s the Skaarj offspring which are little creatures that will leap at you. In the technologically advanced areas, you’ll encounter Mercenaries. They can wield all kinds of weapons and activate temporary shields that cover their entire body for protection. The Krall are a lizard-like species and you’ll engage both Warriors and Elites that fire bolts of energy. The Skaarj, Mercenaries, and Krall are the most common enemies in the game and the higher ranking ones will often prove to be very dangerous. These enemy types can be quick and they like to dodge roll to avoid your shots.
There are some other enemies you’ll face frequently like Sliths which spit acid and Devilfish which are encountered underwater. Tentacles are attached to ceilings and fire projectiles and Gasbags fly in the air and fire flaming projectiles. Every now and then you’ll have to deal with Flies, Mantas, and Boblets and Return to Na Pali adds three new enemy types to the roster – Predators, Spinners, and UMS Marines. Predators are small fast-moving creatures that appear in numbers and rush you. Spinners are arachnid creatures that can lob balls of acid. And UMS Marines can move around very quickly and can wield combat assault rifles and rocket launchers. The most common boss-type enemy you’ll encounter is the Titan. You’ll fight numerous Titans across both campaigns. They can take a lot of damage before going down and will throw boulders at you which can do a lot of damage. The main campaign includes two additional unique bosses which are only encountered towards the end of the game. These include the Skaarj Warlord and Skaarj Queen. I think Return to Na Pali could have benefited from a unique final boss instead of ending the way it does.
It’s very easy to get lost or stuck in Unreal, especially if you’ve never played this before. The translator will let you read the information you come across and you really should because much of that information indicates what you need to do but it’s not always clear where you need to go. This is not a unique trait to Unreal since a lot of first-person shooters in the nineties had confusing and/or maze-like level design. You’ll be pushing a lot of buttons, pulling a lot of levers, and interacting with a lot of terminals and then running back to a previous location to see what was opened or is now accessible if you can find the area. Some areas include multiple similar looking hallways and rooms and I often found myself running around in circles for a while. On the other hand, the environments do encourage exploration whether it’s because you need to figure out where to go or to find secret areas which contain goodies like weapons, ammo, and items. Cracks in specific walls indicate you can blow through them and there’s plenty of objects to break scattered around which normally house ammo and items. You can also push objects around which can sometimes be good for reaching higher platforms. You’ll have to watch out for traps, lava, and some other environmental hazards and one of the best things about this game is the large number varied environments. You’ll traverse through villages, caves, a temple, arena, castle, processing plant, and different alien installations. The environments will range from appearing primitive to technologically advanced. It’s pretty cool stuff and the environmental variety keeps things interesting throughout the entire experience and applies to both campaigns. The missions or maps are broken up by loading points and in Return to Na Pali, you can view your Kill Statistics at the end of each mission.
I did play some Bot Matches and they are fast-paced and fun just as I expected. I do think Unreal Tournament does the multiplayer better but that game is based on the multiplayer here after all. I only played with the content that the game and OldUnreal 227 Patch came with. You can set the game style and speed, set a frag limit and time limit, create a map list, and customize the bots. You can decide on their appearance, name, color, class, skin, and then set how they will perform in battle with stats like skill, accuracy, combat style, alertness, camping, and favorite weapon. The bots actually perform well and can be challenging, depending on how you configure things. Obviously, they’re nothing like real opponents but they can make for fun single player action experiences. There’s different game types to choose from including the classics like deathmatch, team game, and king of the hill. I believe the OldUnreal 227 patch adds quite a few things like the Quadshot for example which was a weapon cut from the final version of the game. There is a large variety of maps to choose from and you can download and apply mutators which are basically modifiers. Needless to say, the multiplayer can be a lot of fun. You can download all sorts of mods that change things around so you’re not limited to just what the game offers.
Unreal does look dated but doesn’t necessarily look bad. The textures are bit blurry and character models are blocky but there’s plenty of color and the environmental variety keeps the presentation from looking stale. The OldUnreal 227 Patch includes a lot of improvements and optional features that affect the visual presentation. There’s also improved texture mods out there should you want to give the game a facelift. Unreal includes a lot of detail especially in the environments which help breath life into the world around you. You’ll come across dead bodies and blood scattered around. You’ll see creatures flying in the skies and roaming around the surface areas. If you protect a Nali from enemies, it may lead you to a secret area. You’ll come across enemies on patrol or interacting with terminals. Then there’s the gore effects which are excellent. There’s nothing more satisfying than turning an enemy into bloody chunks or blowing their heads off with well placed shots. The soundtrack is phenomenal with a lot of memorable tunes that fit in with what’s happening on-screen and I would say the music is largely responsible for setting the game’s tone. There’s a lot of excellent tracks here that help to make things feel alien and science fiction-y. The sound effects are pretty good, overall. The weapons sound satisfying and enemies make all kinds of different noises. On the technical side, the game ran smooth most of the time. I did limit the frame rate to sixty for recording purposes and did notice some stutters but it wasn’t often. The only bug I encountered was textures not loading or just not loading correctly.

This is the first time I’ve beaten Unreal and its expansion and I think it’s a phenomenal package. A true classic. It’s also become one of my favorite sci-fi shooters of all time. I love the setting, enemies, and weapons. The Skaarj and Mercenaries look badass in my opinion and give off that evil alien race vibe. Both campaigns do a great job at making you feel like the only human left alive on a hostile planet. The environments can be confusing but are well designed and encouraging exploration. Unreal is one of those games with high replayability. With both campaigns, multiple difficulty modes, and multiplayer, you’ve got plenty of reasons to return. But I think the greatest thing about Unreal is that it’s open for modding. Like Doom and Quake that came before it, Unreal is a game that will not only stand the test of time because it’s fun but because of the dedicated the community will keep it alive with mods.
I would absolutely recommend Unreal to anyone. If you’re a fan of the other Unreal titles and have never played this before, you really should. Realizing the quality of both of these campaigns and how they still holds up today, it’s disappointing to know that the developers have shifted their focus entirely to multiplayer after Unreal II. I think Unreal is a good basis for the classic soldier-versus-aliens theme that could have blossomed into an interesting franchise with great fast-paced action-packed campaigns. There’s actually an impressive amount of world building here and if you enjoy fast-paced action in a sci-fi setting, definitely check out Unreal.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Smart 'Max S'
    July 4, 2019    

    Speaking of the Unreal Engine.. Can you get around to reviewing Clive Barker’s Undying sometime?
    Excellent game from 2001… Many thanks.. :)

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