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11/01/2011

Unreal Books Impressions


I just finished reading both of the Unreal books based on the old classic PC shooter from 1998. The truth is that I liked them. They both have very interesting stories, characters and events but I can’t help but feel that the two novels could and should have more content in them based on the things we see and the places we visit during our journey through planet Na Pali in the video game.

Let’s go back to 1998 for a bit and talk about what Unreal’s story is. The game takes place in a very interesting sci-fi world. You are a human prisoner on a prison ship named the Vortex Rikers scheduled for a death penalty on a moon called Kira, which is controlled by the human race. During the ship’s space voyage, they come too close to a planet named Na Pali which is one of the largest deposits of a mineral called Tarydium which damages all electronic systems and causes the Rikers to crash on the planet’s surface.

In the game, we players take control of a surviving prisoner we create who is only known as “Prisoner 849” as the ship’s alarm call him/her when we get out of the cell. And we journey through several awesome and very beautiful locations on the planet, learning that the its natives are called the “Nali”, a humanoid species with four arms and they are being dominated and enslaved by a much advanced race of Reptile-like monsters called the Skaarj who look a lot like the Predators.

The game doesn’t have any dialogs or cinematics and tells the story with some texts on an item called the Universal Translator when we walk right past a key point, just like when we scan something in the Metroid Prime games. It has awesome enemies, music, weapons, location and (for the time) graphics that combined made most of the critics say that the game was extremely advanced for its time. The game’s success made the developers span a very cool expansion to the campaign called “Return to Na Pali”, a series of multiplayer-based shooters (Unreal Tournament) and a very bad sequel not directly related to the Na Pali’s events.

Now, there are some things about the books that everybody needs to know and I explained them HERE. If you don’t know about them, I suggest reading that small article first. But now that both have been read I can finally give a final opinion. Prophet’s Power is a much better book than Hard Crash because in one story, we get to see a little of how Na Pali was before the Skaarj first invasion several hundred years before the Rikers’ crash. We get to know how the Nali lived, who they are and interesting information about the planet itself, like the fact that it is a planet-wide graveyard for starships of all kind that have crashed on its surface for Millennia.

In fact, one of these crashed ships is one of the key elements to this first story, because it contains a very, very old artificial intelligence that predicts the future and talks to the main protagonist, a Nali named Haute. It shows him through visions that the Skaarj will arrive, how to prepare to fight them back and even how, many years after his own death, an “avenging angel” coming from the stars will finally drive the Skaarj away from Na Pali.

In the other story, we get to know how the Vortex Rikers operated before the crash and how the prisoners lived inside it until the accident occurs. Everything focuses on a group of three human survivors named Zofia, Gerrick and Boris and a Nali resistance member called Melnori who try to survive and help the natives defeat the Skaarj once and for all.

As I said, the stories are actually quite interesting and cool but there are almost no relations with the game’s content at all, other than the obvious Rikers’ crash and the name of a few locations and weapons. There is no mention at all about prisoner 849, I understand that he/she didn’t have to participate in the story at all, but at least a mention of the ship’s alarm when the game’s character escapes or small stories about a lone human journeying around the planet would have given the video game justice. Also we never get to know if any of the humans in the book are the prisoner 327 we listen to the ship’s alarm mentioning during the game’s beginning.

Also, none of the game’s jaw-dropping locations get visited or explained at all. During the Na Pali journey in the game, prisoner 849 travels through a temple build for a Nali goddess named Valmora, a beautiful castle called Bluff Eversmoking, a crashed spaceship of another alien race called Terraniux, an insanely high tower called the “Spire”, another human crashed ship called the ISV Kran and a bunch of mountains floating in the air with castles and houses built on them. None of them appear or get visited which give a truly lame feeling that the authors of both stories probably didn’t play the game at all because if they had, they would have definitely incorporated these locations to their stories.

The same happens with the other races. The books focus completely on the Nali, Skaarj and the Humans with small and not important mentions to the Kraal here and there but the other alien races we get to fight in the game don’t even get mentioned. The brutes with the rocket launchers, the mercenaries inside Terraniux or the green monsters that spit acid, I can’t help but feel that all of them should have taken some part in both Haute’s and Zofia’s story.

Another aspect I found very negative was the fact that in both stories, the alien races feel way too human. They talk, act and react to things as if they were human which shouldn’t be that way because they feel as if they weren’t well developed by the authors, they even use tools that should be human exclusives like pens, paper, knives and the like. I felt this strongly on Haute’s story and the parts of “Second Occupation” that focus on the Skaarj warlord named Karrikta.

Again, both of the books are good if you overlook the printing problem (which is really hard, especially if you try reading Hard Crash first like I did) and especially if you liked the game like me or are simply interested in a somewhat cool sci-fi story about an alien war. They’re very short, around 230 pages each and should be a quick read even if you are a slow reader like me. Still, I definitely suggest going through the game first if for some reason you still haven’t. It is a very old first-person shooter from 1998 that will run in literally any computer now days and if you like it and are more interested in expanding on the experience and the Na Pali story, go get the books which can be purchased in many websites for insanely cheap prices.

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