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Have You Played... Unreal?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Unreal barely feels like a game any more. It’s an engine. “This is Unreal, not Unity,” barely causes a flicker of the original Epic FPS to come to mind. And yet it’s one of my favourite shooters ever.

And it’s still so fun to play. Released six months before Half-Life, in an alternative universe where Gabe Newell had stayed at Microsoft, it would probably be remembered as the most important FPS of all time. History denied it this, because a more important one came out in the same year. But what a thing it remains.

Going back to it now, it’s interesting to realise how heavily it pre-empts the arena FPS – or indeed, invents it. The single-player campaign, which is enormous, regularly featured large open areas in which enemies used their wits, circled you, forcing you to learn new ways to fight that weren’t just pointing and clicking in a corridor.

It was the first game to make coloured lighting look good (to such great effect). Programmer Tim Sweeney was in an unofficial competition with id’s Jon Carmack, adding in new technological features, new ways of doing textures, and perhaps most significantly, some of the most amazing indoor-to-outdoor seamless transitions games had seen at this point. It was the game we all bought a 3DFX card for.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and general hero of humanity.

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