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Epic's 'astounding' Unreal game

By Steven Bilodeau

After four years of work, Epic has released Unreal, a title originally supposed to compete with Quake for gamers' hearts.

Originally intended as a showcase product for MMX technology, the game's release stalled as new technologies were incorporated into it. 3D accelerated graphics, 3D positional sound, coloured lighting and artificial intelligence for the monsters were all crucial additions along the way. 

The designers also paid careful attention to the demands of multiplayer gamers.  Unreal can be played over modem, network or the Internet. You can have a male or female character, and each comes with a large variety of different costumes to differentiate amongst players.

As far as describing this game, it's difficult to know where to start.  How about with the enemies that dodge, duck and chase after you? Or the variety of weapons? How about the levels that are blended so seamlessly into each other that you actually feel like you're walking around a real place instead of just in a big box? Even outdoors scenes with waterfalls and animated wildlife don't slow down the game.

The scenery in this game is remarkable; Unreal provides quality along with the quantity.   Look up into the sky and you'll see stars, but not cartoon-looking ones. These look real and they're behind smoothly rolling night clouds. The moon casts shadows, as do the torchlights in the
buildings you encounter. Smoke rises from chimneys, translucent and naturally moving.

Unreal also provides more of a challenge, thanks to better intelligence built into the enemies. Though the monsters in Quake 2 will duck and chase, they're not overly sophisticated. In Unreal, they really are smarter and more brutal.

The fighting seems to be personal with these guys!

One feature which I particularly like in Unreal is the inclusion of 'Bots.  These bring the benefits of multiplayer gaming to the single player. You can create 'Bots that will hunt you just as if you were playing a network game against another human. Though still computer-controlled, the 'Bots will perform more like a real player.

Unreal's story involves your character being marooned on an inhospitable world after the prison barge you're on crashes. Aside from the now freed prisoners, you've also got the native flora and fauna trying to kill you. Traps and ambushes await everywhere.

The game's interface will be immediately comfortable to anyone familiar with DOOM or Quake. It is fully customizable, so that any action can be assigned to a keyboard, mouse or joystick function.  Graphics and audio control are also set up for detailed adjustment.

When you think you're done with the game, you can modify it from scratch with the included UnrealED editor. This is the very same tool used by the game's developers to design the levels in the finished product.

Support for nearly all modern 3D accelerators is supported through Direct 3D. Owners of 3Dfx Voodoo or Voodoo2 boards will get special support through Glide. 

Needless to say, a game this robust will have some glitches. All of the different combinations of hardware could not possibly be accounted for, nor could the challenges of network and Internet play. Epic has already addressed a number of these concerns through minor compatibility patches.

Players with 3D audio cards like Diamond's Monster Sound will want to download the patch from the Unreal site.  It fixes a sound stutter that many players (including myself) experienced, and increases game performance tremendously. This kind of instant support is nice to see. Unlike many games, though, Unreal was ready for store shelves.  These patches are to fix specific problems related to specific hardware concerns.

Players may have the Game of the Year in Unreal. It's nice to see a title that has been so hyped actually deliver the goods on every level.

And for the people who worked on it the last four years, it has to be satisfying to release a game which will certainly be considered a classic.

Steven Bilodeau is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal. You can find more of his columns at

Steven Bilodeau can be reached via e-mail at And for more computer news, visit JournalExtra, the World Wide Web site of The Edmonton Journal, at


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January 31, 2006