10 years ago a first person shooter game was released which pushed the genre, and gaming in general forward. Unreal displayed significant technological advances which had a major impact on the industry as well as the player.
Released on May 22nd 1998, Unreal was a sci-fi first person shooter which placed the player as a prisoner on a crashed spaceship on a hostile planet. With a lengthy and developed story told through the discovery of notes and diaries it made a refreshing change from most "obliterate everything" games. The numerous subtle sub-plots were also interesting and helped to build a realistic environment with a history which became evident as the game progressed.
The game world itself was incredible for the time, built on a state of the art engine which took over three years to complete. The game was originally planned to be a Quake style shooter, with a similarly designed HUD. But changes during the development led to a different game. A rivalry with ID software's Quake series was beneficial and many people considered Unreal to be the technically superior title.
The game's graphics were particularly revolutionary, with an exciting lighting system. Coloured lighting really added to the atmosphere and the game even had an early form of texture filter. However, what really made Unreal special were the detailed textures. At the time I remember being amazed at the close up detail, especially in the game's atmospheric opening and later on in the water temples. Stone, wood and metal had never seemed so convincing in a game.
As well as offering a wide range of indoor environments, Unreal had staggering outdoor worlds. The game featured a range of plants and wildlife which really helped to create a believable game environment. Waterfalls, rivers and lakes looked spectacular especially when you were swimming past a shoal of fish.
The sound technology was cutting edge featuring accurate sound effects which could really enhance the atmosphere. The chilling screams of dying prisoners from the opening level and the first encounter with a Skaarj alien remain significant gaming memories, and even today they still measure up. The game's music soundtrack was developed with a memorable theme, and music that could add to the drama of the story.
The enemy AI proved genuinely challenging, with enemies diving out of the way of fire and attacking using a variety of athletic tactics. The range of enemies was significant with different races and types including the terrifying golem monsters.
The game's level editor was also very popular at the time, and with the encouragement of the developers a thriving mod community developed. Maps were easy to develop at home and the editor meant that they could be finished more quickly than the equivalent Quake map maker.
Unreal's influence has been long reaching. The game engine has been developed significantly and formed the basis for many of the top games of the last 10 years. The game spawned the successful Unreal Tournament franchise and a slightly lackluster sequel.
Even today, Unreal offers fun nostalgic gameplay. The graphics can't measure up to today's standards but in a high enough resolution, it retains an old school charm. Playing through the game again recently, I was pleased to remember classic levels and the weaponry is still as great as ever. Multiplayer is still fun and the bots can be really tough to play against in the standard deathmatch.
It seems amazing to think that Unreal came out a decade ago, and yet it still remains an excellent example of a solid first person shooter which has left its mark on PC gaming.