One of the most iconic FPS franchises, made by Epic Games. The series started as a primarily single-player game, but its multi-player successor, Unreal Tournament, saw such great success that the series has essentially split into three branches:
Single player games:
- Unreal Tournament
- Unreal Tournament 2003
- Unreal Tournament 2004
- Unreal Tournament III
- Unreal Tournament 4 (A reboot developed by Epic Games, alongside their own mapping/modding community, using the Unreal Engine 4)
Console exclusive games:
Lore-wise the games take place 20 Minutes into the Future, starting with the adventures of Prisoner 849, a featureless prisoner stuck in an ancient planet after the prison ship that carried her crashed onto it. While at first the series appeared to be your run-of-the-mill First-Person Shooter, what really made Unreal stuck on its time were the ginormous, gorgeous and colorful landscapes. Afterwards, the series moved onto an Anachronic Order after the release of Unreal Tournament, which started as an Expansion Pack of Unreal and became a multiplayer-focused Spin-Off of it, focused on a multi-billion intergalactic tournament managed by the Liandri Mining Corporation and sponsored by the New Earth Government. The third game of the franchise, second in the single-player series, Unreal II: The Awakening, is an interquel set between the other two games, and followed a Space Marine's adventures with his crew across many different planets. The games released afterwards have a less-clear place in the timeline due to retcons and contradicting Word of God, though nowadays it's mostly set that all of these games up to Unreal Tournament III are set after Tournament. Furthermore, with the exception of III (which instead took the War Is Hell route), all other Tournament games follow the Tournament Arc, following different seasons of the Liandri Tournament. Meanwhile, the Xbox-exclusive Championship games are set in an Alternate Universe, following the same Tournament Arc as the mainline Tournament games.
The first game in the series codified the Secondary Fire trope, and set the template for every other FPS released after it, including their 1998 competitors. Meanwhile, the first Tournament (alongside rival game Quake III: Arena) popularized the Instagib gamemode (even though it started as just another game modifier, later games and even other franchises would ascend it to main gametype) and Announcer Chatter (at least for first person shooters) tropes.
Like many popular FPS series, modding potential is a large part of its appeal and success; both the single- and multiplayer parts of the series have seen many releases. Part of the dodgy reception of UT2003 and Unreal 2 is the fact that their modding tools were half-broken. Of particular interest is the fact that almost all of the original Unreal's assets and textures are available in Unreal Tournament, so with the right mod (along with transferring the music and maps from the original game to the UT folders) it is essentially possible to turn UT into one big "super-game" with a full single and multiplayer component.
The Unreal series fell into obscurity near the turn of The New '10s due to the lack of a followup to Unreal Tournament 3, helped along by a number of outside factors: the rise of team-based / "tactical" shooters (having started around the same time as Unreal with Counter-Strike, but really reaching its peak concurrent with UT3 with the Call of Modern Battlefield glut), the rise of free arcadelike shooters (World of Padman, Nexuiz, Alien Arena, OpenArena...) taking the place of commercial ones, the overwhelming popularity of Team Fortress 2 (which combined the strategic elements of the former with Unreal's action-packed and over-the-top vibe), and Epic Games's shift in focus towards the Xbox 360 with the Gears of War franchise. However, Epic president Mike Capps was quoted as saying that the franchise is due for a revival, and with Unreal Tournament 4, they eventually delivered... at least until a much bigger success caused them to shift focus.
Furthermore, the Unreal Game Engines, one for each Tournament, have seen extremely widespread use throughout the gaming industry, with countless games in just about every genre released using Epic's code.
Recurring tropes for the series include:
- Abnormal Ammo: Many of the weapons use unconventional ammo. A favorite is Tarydium, the resident power-producing crystals, where both the crystals themselves (the original Stinger, UT3's combined Stinger Minigun) and the waste product from creating power with them (the perennial BioRifle) are useful for the purposes of killing things.
- Armor Meter: Most of the games display armor as an icon with a number, on the HUD. The PC version of UT and UT3 not only has this combination, but also a human-shaped figure showing which pieces of armor the player is carrying.
- Armor Points: Multiple methods:
- U2 and the console versions of UT have a gauge for the armor.
- The PC version of UT and UT3 not displays Armor Points, but also a human-shaped figure showing which pieces of armor the player is carrying.
- Arrange Mode: The multiplayer-based games of the series have the Mutators, modifiers which change the rules of the game by modifying the players' starting loadouts, the items in the match (including their availability), or modifying physics properties such as overall gravity and player speed.
- Convection Schmonvection: Lava is deadly only when touching it in this series.
- Crapsack World: Across the series, the Unreal universe's setting is extremely dark and edgy.
- Excuse Plot: Most of the games prior to Unreal II. The first Unreal at least had the excuse that your primary goal was survival, and anything else was at best tangentially related to it; the Tournament games, however, were generally just To Be a Master with the "story", at best, being backstory you could read about your opponents before they tried to murder you repeatedly, until Unreal Tournament 3 tried to be both a third Tournament game with heavy multiplayer focus and a third Unreal game with an actual attempt at a story.
- Hitscan: While most weapons end up firing Painfully Slow Projectiles, generally each game will go for this instead for your starting gun, the Shock Rifle's primary fire, your minigun equivalent, and the Sniper Rifle.
- More Dakka: A favorite way of increasing your firepower, with most of the pistols having an alt-fire that increases their fire rate (classic Automag and Enforcer's "Gangsta Style" mode, UT3 Enforcer's burst-fire mode) when they're not replaced with something that fires faster outright (2003, Championship and 2004's Assault Rifle), and the games also frequently offer the Minigun and the Pulse Rifle/Link Gun as an option for both hitscan and projectile varieties to boost your dakka.
- No OSHA Compliance: Many of the factories and buildings visited across the saga. In the multiplayer modes, they're key for getting some easy frags.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Normally, the Skaarj. As vicious as they are, they have a code of honor.
- Rocket Jump: Possible across the series; in most cases you can also do it with a weapon you spawn with.
- Secondary Fire: A staple of the series, with each weapon having it's own use depending on the situation. Some weapons even have tertiary fire modes utilized by combining the primary and secondary in some way, an infamous example being the Shock Combo for hitting the Shock Rifle's secondary energy-ball with the primary beam.
- Shoehorned Acronym: There is a weapon called the AVRiL - the Anti Vehicle Rocket Launcher. In-Universe, the inventor added the 'i' to the acronym simply so the weapon's acronym could be pronounced.
- The Many Deaths of You: The obituaries. Especially with the multiplayer games, what with the players being able to shoot themselves in the foot, being crushed or drowned in water, lava, slime.
- Updated Re-release:
- Unreal had Unreal Gold, packing in the original game plus its expansion and porting them to the newer version of the engine introduced for Tournament.
- Unreal Tournament had the Game of the Year Edition, which packed in three of the four Bonus Packs as well as two well-known mods, Rocket Arena and ChaosUT.
- Unreal Tournament 2004 got the Editor's Choice Edition, adding three new vehicles, four new Onslaught maps, six new playable characters, and in physical releases, another disk filled with various mods.
- Unreal Tournament 3 received the Black Edition, packing together the latest version of the game with the "Titan Pack", which added five new maps, two characters that were originally 360-exclusive bonuses, a new vehicle, two new game modes, and a "Titan" mutator.
Tropes found across the series include:
- Art Evolution: Comes with an evolving engine. Compare, for example, the Unreal◊ and UT◊ (both running on the Unreal Engine 1) versions of the Deck map with UT2004◊ (running in Unreal Engine 2) and UT3◊ (running in the Unreal Engine 3) versions of the same map.
- Compilation Re-release:
- Totally Unreal: Unreal + Unreal Tournament
- Unreal Gold: Unreal + Return To Na Pali
- Unreal Anthology: Unreal Gold + Unreal Tournament GOTY Edition + Unreal II (plus the multiplayer expansion XMP) + Unreal Tournament 2004: ECE Edition. note
- Unreal Deal Pack: Unreal Gold + Unreal Tournament GOTY + Unreal II (without XMP this time) + Unreal Tournament 2004: ECE Edition (again without the mods, but with the community bonus pack maps) + Unreal Tournament III Black.
- Game Mod: THE series for mods outside of Half-Life. Both the Singleplayer and multiplayer side of the franchise have seen a large quantity of high-quality releases, due largely to the fact that it was the first game that didn't require knowledge of C programming to make a mod. Unreal 1 featured UnrealScript, which was simpler and less complex than C, and the main game itself was written in UnrealScript, which gave people a strong example to look at. In short, there will be at least one person using a custom model on your map.
And if your mod is good enough, this goes even farther, since Epic Games has made in the past many Updated Rereleases which included many community-made mods, and, starting from 2003, the 1 Million Dollar Make Something Unreal modding contests that have spawned several commercial games like Killing Floor and Red Orchestra.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: A common topic on the franchise as a whole. There's no such thing as "100% good" or "100% evil" characters; all of them are guided by their own interests.
- Woman of a Thousand Voices: Sioux "UnrealGrrl" Blue, who does nearly ALL of the female voices of the Unreal series. May it be a female announcer or a female player, you'll always hear her.