Unreal, the latest first-person 3D shooter from Epic Megagames, ported by MacSoft, has already earned a spot in the gaming Hall of Fame by sporting some of the most impressive graphics every to grace a computer monitor. Like every game, though, excellent graphics is no substitute for mediocre gameplay, which is what Unreal suffers from.
Unreal requirements and graphics...
If you choose to venture into the realm of Unreal, you'll need the right equipment. In order to be able to play Unreal at a good frame rate (speed), you will need a G3 with at least 64 MB of RAM. Although the game itself needs close to 90 MB, virtual memory won't sacrifice too much performance. Don't even try playing Unreal on a system lower than a 150 MHz 604 or 200 MHz 603, unless you have a 3Dfx card. Needless to say, the requirements are, well, unreal; it certainly pushes the envelope that all all game developers face between performance and achieving the desired results.
You assume the role of a criminal in Unreal, and you awake in your prison cell after the transportation vessel has crashed and other prisoners have escape. Screams ring out that could curdle molten steel. The ground shakes. Dead bodies litter the floor with all the casual disregard that a messy barber might have for clumps of hair on the floor. The computer system announces your escape in no uncertain terms, but no one responds. You have the overpowering urge to flee before whatever killed everything in sight comes back. This is the game's way of breaking you in slowly.
Once you leave the ship, you still have a long way to go with no clear objective of what you should do. Things get more difficult once you start encountering active opposition. You'll traverse over mountains, into mines, through villages, battle in a castle, and a handful of other locations as well. Your opposition is strong, so keep one of the many guns ready at all times, just be careful not to kill friendly creatures who can aid you.
The problem with Unreal isn't so much the system requirements as it is the overall gameplay. Previous such games pitted to you against a dozen enemies at a time, making for a great display of carnage and enjoyment. Unreal takes a more realistic approach to enemies. Each encounter is a one on one battle that can last several minutes. Apart from being amazingly resilient to your weapons, enemies are fitted with some of the finest weapons and can run, dodge, and jump around you fire. At first this artificial intelligence is strikingly impressive, but you'll quickly pick up on the patterns that each enemy uses.
Creature movement is anything but realistic. It sounds realistic, but the movement just does not look realistic. In these days of home video games where characters move in ways that would have been impossible five years ago in an arcade, these creatures seem more like cartoon cutouts superimposed on a beautiful layout. Your movements, as revealed by the BEHINDVIEW 1 cheat (enter it in the console), don't so much resemble Tombraider's Lara Croft as Lara Croft ice-skating while stuck in a crystal. Try it once and turn it off immediately.
Beyond the one on one fighting, which wouldn't be so bad if it was mixed in with traditional carnage, Unreal is surprisingly boring and repetitive. While one could argue that every first-person shooter follows the simple plot of "find the key to get out of the level," when coupled with huge levels, enemies that are incredibly powerful and low in numbers, and puzzles that take more time than brain power to solve, it takes more than impressive graphics to make a game fun.
That's not to say that Unreal is a sleeper of a game throughout. It has its intense moments but unfortunately those are few and far between. Then there's always the performance issue, which means that if you are running the game on a slower Power Mac you'll need to turn off many of the graphics options, which makes the game look more akin to Wolfenstein 3D. G3s will get you into the mid-teens for frames per second (FPS), which is adequate, albeit still a little choppy. On a slower machine with a 3Dfx card, the graphics are improved thanks to the hardware, but the game is still noticeably choppy.
But unreal fun?
Other real caveats include long startup and load times (a minute can be a long time to sit staring at a computer) a few personal quibbles (why does a flare last all of 5 seconds?), and the feeling that you've seen most of the same ideas in previous games. Ultimately, though, it comes down to whether the game is fun to play, and in that regard it seems that the creators may have been better off focusing on that attribute rather than the graphics.