Upon learning of Midway’s plan to release a compilation of Unreal titles I became hopeful that such a value package could draw more players into the Unreal universe. Smaller bundles had been available previously and never failed to attract a few that, for whatever reason, had missed out on what the games offered. A second buyer of this anthology is definitely the collector that absolutely must have each and every Epic offering emblazoned with the big U. A third potential consumer is the individual with one or more of the games that is enticed by the idea of everything neatly contained on a single DVD. Which of these will be satisfied with this compendium? Let’s have a look.

The DVD case is of the inexpensive, but sturdy plastic variety that you might find in a movie rental store; in other words, pretty standard. It’s still nice to see that they didn’t take the cheap way out and stuff it all inside a cardboard box. The DVD box is encased in a glossy sleeve with a fold out cover, featuring nice artwork and all the standard information you’d expect to find. The actual DVD box shares the same artwork (minus the foldout, of course), so you can toss the sleeve if you aren’t one of the aforementioned collectors. It’s what’s inside the box that matters to the rest of us.

Inexplicably, you won’t find mention on the cover of the bonus CD contained within. This little unannounced gem contains some 70 minutes of the finest music drawn from every title except Unreal 2:

  1. Unreal
  2. Flightcastle (0:51)
  3. Shared Dig (2:34)
  4. Dusk Horizon (2:31)
  5. Bluff Eversmoking (3:57)
  6. Isotoxin (4:09)
  7. Unreal Temple (Crypt) (4:12)
  1. Unreal Addon
  2. Black Wind (3:10)
  1. Unreal Tournament
  2. Unreal Tournament Menu (2:00)
  3. Foregone Destruction (4:11)
  4. Go Down (3:00)
  5. Botpack Nine (4:49)
  6. Mechanism Eight (6:12)
  7. Skyward Fire (4:56)
  8. Razorback (4:49)
  9. The Course (4:28)
  1. UT2004
  2. UTMenu Redux (4:14)
  3. Ghost of Anubis (2:01)
  4. Infernal Realm (1:59)
  5. Assault (1:59)
  6. Arena (0:53)
  7. From Below (1:59)
  8. Sniper Time (2:00)
  9. Onslaught One (3:48)

Through the years, Epic Games has imbued these titles with a few rather tasty tracks by industry legends Kevin Riepl and Michiel Van Den Bos, so the addition of this bonus CD is worth noting. It seems like it would be a nice selling point and worth mentioning on the packaging, but I suppose it’s fun to find something pleasantly unexpected. Alas, I’ve ruined your surprise, so let’s move on.

A single DVD contains the install for all five titles: Unreal, Unreal Mission Pack 1: Return to Na Pali, Unreal Tournament, Unreal 2, and Unreal Tournament 2004. It unpacks into about nine and a half gigabytes of content, all stored neatly into a single Unreal Anthology folder. Each game has its own subfolder and executable. The closest you’ll come to a unified menu is if you choose to install the optional Unreal Anthology desktop shortcut, which leads to a small windowed version of the Unreal Anthology cover art. You’ll be asked “Which Game Do You Want to Play?” to which you respond by clicking the tiny version of the original game that you wish to play. A nice touch, I suppose, but it really amounts to just an extra (optional) step and it offers no benefit.

Let’s pause here to discuss the games themselves. I’m not going to fully review each game as by now that’s been exhaustively covered here and elsewhere. According to Game Rankings, the following review averages apply:

And for the sake of discussion, I won’t disagree with those. I will say, however, that the value of each of those titles can be greatly expanded upon by the readily available free online content. You could spend months downloading and playing user made maps, modifications, and mutators for Unreal, UT, and UT 2004 alone. Note that Unreal 2 is not the later released Special Edition that includes XMP multiplayer. XMP is such a fine addition to the Unreal family of games that I cannot understand why it wasn’t included (according to Game Rankings, the Special Edition ranks a full 8 percentage points higher than the standard edition). Still, it’s available for free online; so if you pick up Anthology, you really should give it a shot.

Those of you that are new to the Unreal universe will definitely want to pick up Unreal Anthology. The singleplayer and multiplayer games offer hundreds of hours of entertainment. The free user created downloadable content and the inclusion of UnrealEd for each title raises any single ranking by five to ten points, without question.

Do you fall into the second group – a collector? Well, all you really need to know is that it’s got a big fat U slapped right on the front of the package, so you’re good to go. The packaging is nicer than expected for a budget title ($29.99 US retail), you have the inclusion of a bonus music CD, and the sharp black and gold box will look smart on your bookcase. To be honest, there’s not much here that you probably don’t already have – it’s just shiny and new.

Do you own a few of the titles and wish to round out your collection? Are you looking for a convenient all-in-one backup install? This one is definitely for you, with a few small caveats which I will detail below.

The burning question on everyone’s mind is – what’s new? The simple answer is – not a lot. Other than packaging and some minor cosmetic logo changes, it’s more or less what you’ll find in any previous iteration. Someone obviously took time to remove old publisher logos, but didn’t take the time to fix many of the in-game links, such as the Help link to Legend Entertainment (now defunct); setup screens refer to old hardware like 3Dfx, TNT, and Matrox video cards; the level preview screens for Unreal Gold are blank. The game versions are identical to those previously released – meaning that some of the same bugs and incompatibilities still exist. If you were looking to this compilation to make things right, you’ll have to keep waiting.

We hope you're not still stuck with a Matrox G400 No Level Preview Videocard Time Warp!

The biggest omission, however, are the missing S3TC textures from Unreal Tournament. By default, you’ll be playing in D3D with the standard low-res textures. Admittedly, the high res S3TC textures only work with an old official (and some open source) OpenGL version and Midway may have just decided that they didn’t want to support it, but there are going to be many people that have never tried Unreal Tournament who simply aren’t going to see it at its finest.

Low Res Textures From Unreal Anthology UT

High Res Textures From Original Unreal Tournament Retail

Also somewhat confusing is the fact that, despite UT Game of the Year and UT2004 ECE boxes being pictured on the box and on the Unreal Anthology menu, there’s no sign of any of the user made modifications that were included in those particular versions. Of course, you can download them at the respective mod websites, but that’s 14 modifications that you’ll have to hunt down, download, and install.

It's worth noting that the game would not install on my home PC, which is equiped with a common Memorex 16x DVD ROM player that recognizes pretty much every standard - the same drive I used to install my standalone copy of Unreal Tournament 2004. I couldn't even get Windows to recognize that there was a disc in the drive. It installed just fine on my Dell Inspiron laptop that utilizes a QSI CDRW/DVD combo.

A compilation such as this is very welcome. There’s a lot of content here, and it is budget priced, yielding a tremendous bang for your buck. I only wish the older games were the recipient of a little bit of extra attention to make this the definitive Unreal collection. Still, if you don’t own these games and enjoy the genre at all, this will be money well-spent.