The Critical Hit Days of Horror countdown – Unreal

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So if you can recall a couple of weeks ago when I talked about that ladder in F.E.A.R. I said that while I was writing about it I was reminded of another gaming moment that scared the bejesus out of me, and that I’d mention it later. Well, later is now, and we’re going to talk about the Skaarj ambush in Unreal.

For those of you who haven’t played it, 1998’s Unreal was a sci-fi first-person shooter that put you in the shoes of the unnamed Prisoner 849 who was being transported to a moon-prison aboard the spaceship Vortex Rikers. However while en route the ship crash-landed on the planet of Na Pali, home of the four-armed Nali, and their brutal overlords the Skaarj. As Prisoner 849 you go on a lengthy journey to escape the planet, journey through numerous mines, mining and processing facilities, eventually ending up on the Skaarj mothership.

Now you’ve seen me mention the Skaarj a few times (you might be more familiar with them from the Unreal Tournament games), and during the course of the game you fight against these agile monsters enough times to become accustomed to them and their movement patterns, but right near the beginning of the game there’s a memorable encounter with one as it ambushes you while you’re working your way through a mining facility. Take a look:

What made this moment so effective was that it occurred after a long period of no-to-little basic FPS combat, all the while seeing a single Skaarj observing you from a distance, thus heightening your tension as you know it’s coming for you.

And then you walk down a dead end to hit a couple of switches, you sigh, turn around and start walking back, and then the lights start switching off with that clunkclunkclunk. You’re in the pitch dark for a few seconds, you know it’s coming, and then the roar, the flashing red light, the Skaarj leaping at you from the shadows, and you desperately trying to fend it off with a lousy pistol. It was a great moment, and one that’s stuck with me for ages.

What’s even worse is that the developers played a dirty little trick on you that you can’t see in the clip above – while the lights were off a narrow bar slid across the passage way to prevent you from escaping into a wider area when the Skaarj attacked. Not cool!

(Header image courtesy of Ben Erdt)

Last Updated: October 23, 2018

Trevor Davies

I like pie, I think.

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