The year 1998 was a great time with a huge number of seminal games seeing release, such as Half-Life, Ocarina of Time, Resident Evil 2, and Metal Gear Solid. Of course, this means that a lot of classic hits will see their 20th Anniversary in 2018, a realization that dawned on me when Epic announced that Unreal Gold was going free on both GOG and Steam to commemorate its May 22, 1998 launch date. I had a blast with Unreal back in the day. I still have my original CD, but I was super excited to snag the download version for free. For those who are old time fans of the game or if you’re just curious about this highly influential PC classic, LGR did an excellent Unreal retrospective on Youtube that I think is well worth a view.
Before Unreal’s release, Quake II was basically the king of PC gaming, and Epic Games fully intended Unreal to be a “Quake Killer”. And they weren’t just making empty smack talk, either. Unreal ended up being an amazing game for its time. The graphics were well beyond anything that had come before, as enshrined by this now infamous magazine cover:
That might look laughable today, but in the late 90s, the visual splendor of Unreal completely warranted this kind of hype. And it used those graphics to create an alien world that had a level of atmosphere and immersion that was clearly raising the bar for video game settings.
Unfortunately, I feel like Unreal’s challenge to the computer gaming throne was really very short lived. Just a few months later, Half-Life came onto the scene, and while it’s graphics engine didn’t quite have the bells and whistles of Unreal, it quickly became the biggest game to play for a variety of other reasons. Honestly, I feel Unreal, as a game, has always been an overlooked masterpiece. It spawned the Unreal Tournament spin-off series, which was massively popular around the turn of the century, and the Unreal Engine, which has powered a ton of games over the years. But people hardly ever talk about the game that started both of these things, even though its stands well on its own.
Unreal is currently free on GOG and Steam for, I think, the next day. I will warn anyone who is interested that you can run into problems playing on modern PCs. Personally, I can’t boot it up using the software renderer, I have to use Direct3D instead. This was a bit odd to me considering that other old Unreal Engine games always crash in Direct3D mode on my machine, necessitating the use of the software renderer. When I run into issues with old PC games, I always seek help from the PCGamingWiki. Their Unreal page has a good list of mods and fixes that go a long way to getting this game running up to snuff.