In the game, you are a prisoner being escorted to a planetary prison on a prison vessel, the Vortex Rikers. Then said ship crashes on an unknown planet. You wake up sometime later and escape from the wrecked vessel. However, the planet proves to be anything but safe as you find that the peaceful natives, the four-armed Nali, are subjugated by an extremely violent and technologically advanced insectoid-reptile race: the Skaarj. The Nali texts bring up various references to a messiah finally ridding the planet of the Skaarj.
Unreal stuck out from a lot of other FPS games at the time by being more like an adventure game, with less of a focus on combat and action set-pieces (although there are still plenty) and generally very non-linear levels with the onus on you to find out the backstory of the planet and various races on it, as well as having groundbreaking graphics and an excellent soundtrack. It saw a lot of critical acclaim, however, it was somewhat overshadowed by the release of Half Life a few months later and the release of Unreal Tournament a year later.
Unreal also had a subsequent Expansion Pack called Unreal: Return to Na Pali, which starts after the events of the original game. You are recruited by the UMS, who gives you more equipment in order to go back to Na Pali and find a crashed ship.
As Epic Games decided to focus on the Tournament side of the franchise, the rights for a sequel were given to another company, Legend Entertainment. As one might expect, the game saw a large change from the original.
- Abnormal Ammo:
- The Stinger uses shards of Tarydium crystals meant for mining rock.
- The Razorjack uses rotating spiked blades.
- The Biorifle uses the most abnormal ammo of all: toxic, unstable Tarydium sludge that gets shot in big blobs.
- Artificial Gill: The SCUBA Gear, available whenever the player must proceed underwater. They have a limited air supply that runs out pretty quickly. The expansion pack features a new one that not only lasts longer, but also recharges whenever surfaced.
- Blatant Item Placement: In general the game tries to keep this believable, with equipment found on dead bodies, in armories, put in boxes by confused Nali, etc. It gets noticeable in the rushed final levels however, where you get the (almost) Infinite Flashlight right before you cut the ship's power, knocking out all the lights, and a pair of infinite jump boots just as you encounter the Skaarj Queen, who can teleport and is the last word in Lightning Bruiser. In Return To Na Pali, the UMS weapons are inside of crates. Some of those crates were thrown with so little aim that they hit hard some of Nali villagers.
- Body Armor as Hit Points: Played almost completely straight. Most armor absorbs a constant, high percentage of damage, which is subtracted from the armor's strength instead. Dying with armor is possible only if you were already near death when picking it up; in all other cases it effectively acts as extra health. The shield belt is this trope completely played straight as always takes damage instead of your health.
- Deflector Shields: The player can use "shield belts" which absorb damage until depleted.
- Difficult but Awesome: The Razorjack; it is frequently dismissed as it seems slow (not to mention that the player can accidentally behead himself with it, due to the blades' bouncing), and yet once landing headshots with it is mastered it can kill most non-boss enemies with little ammo expenditure, and each pack of ammo is worth a lot (and quite frequent), making it a borderline Game Breaker.
- Evolving Weapon: The Dispersion Pistol, with many upgrades across the maps. At first, it's just an Emergency Weapon, but damage increases massively with each upgrade, but so does ammo consumption, and the ammo regenerates very slowly. Better make your shots count on the higher levels.
- Flechette Storm: The Stinger.
- Gangsta Style: The alt fire mode for the Automag, with a near 100% corresponding drop in accuracy. Most shots not in melee range will miss.
- Gatling Good: The Minigun, obviously, though its Gatling-ness is rather unusual compared to standard rotary cannons.
- Hit Scan: The Automag, the Sniper rifle, the Shock rifle and the Minigun. Also the Assault Rifle in RTNP.
- More Dakka: The Minigun.
- Nerf: In the earlier versions, when you paired the Dispersion Pistol (no matter its upgrade level) with an Energy Amplifier, the resulting bolt was a one-shot kill against anything but the boss - including the stone titan, whose inability to move fast made for ridiculously easy fights. The developers eventually figured out this was undesirable, and a patch vastly reduced the amplified Pistol's power.
- Painfully-Slow Projectile:
- The Dispersion pistol. After a few upgrades you can charge a full-power bolt that would one-shot any non-boss enemy, but good luck hitting anything with it.
- The Bio rifle has this by design, as it's more of a toxic-substance vacuum switched to reverse than an actual weapon. It's actually more of a mine-layer than a rifle.
- Quad Damage: The Energy Amplifier.
- Secondary Fire: Every weapon, except the "Sniper" Rifle, which originally had one (mentioned in the manual, no less) but got changed to a poor man's zoom very late in the game's development process. In some cases (like the Flak Cannon) this mode is the more effective one.
- Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness: Weapons fall into two categories - those that trigger the AI's auto dodge, and those that don't. The ones that don't are far more effective (depending on the enemy).
- Use Item
- Air Vent Passageway: How you get off the Vortex Rikers prison deck in the first level of the first game. If you look closely, you can just about make out a Skaarj watching you through the fog from the other end of the tunnel, but he vanishes as an explosion rocks the corridor. The Air Vent Passageway also turns up a couple more times in various levels throughout the series, such as ISV Kran, and in the Expansion Pack, the UMS Prometheus, and the Foundry Tarydium plant - in the latter, the vent nearly collapses into lava with you still inside!
- Alien Blood: The Mercenaries have green blood. Notably, this isn't a form of violence censorship - your blood, as well as that of other enemies, is quite red.
- Alien Sky: Some of the most breathtaking skies ever seen in a videogame, especially for the time.
- All Up to You: Inverted; your only goal is to survive.
"Your first priority is to keep your already-battered body in one piece. Failure to achieve this will render any secondary objectives somewhat irrelevant."
- Apocalyptic Log: Many of the translator messages are these, especially the ones you find aboard the Vortex Rikers and the ISV Kran.
- Artificial Brilliance: The Skaarj will change their tactics depending on how much health they have left, how many allies they have backing them up, and what weapons are being used against them. For example, if you are using projectiles they will dodge the shots flying at them, whereas if you use a hitscan weapon they will jump out of the firing line before you can pull the trigger.
- Artificial Limbs: The Mercenaries' arm cannons.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: The Skaarj & Krall Elite, also the Warlords and the Skaarj Queen.
- Badass Army: The Skaarj.
- Beast of Battle: The Titans.
- Bee People: The Skaarj fit the description of the trope, sans the "Bee" aspect. Only the Pupae and the Queen have any insectoid traits.
- Bigger on the Inside: For levels set inside the Vortex Rikers, ISV Kran, and Terraniux - done subtly though, as you rarely see the whole ship up close in any one level to gauge their true size, and they look suitably huge from outside. More blatant in the case of the Skaarj mothership, where the final core area consists of wide-open spaces. Averted with the UMS Prometheus, where you move in and out of the ship over the course of the same levels.
- Bittersweet Ending:
- In the main game your character has managed to defeat the baddies and escape, but is now drifting aimlessly in space in an out-of-fuel pod.
- The expansion pack continues the plot and gives your character a proper "positive" ending, but when you think about it, the overall situation remains bleak: the Skaarj are still alive and kicking, and though they have failed to defeat you there's a whole planet full of peaceful Nali still waiting to be exploited. And then, the remaining Unreal games just made it all worse...
- Blade on a Stick: Wielded by the Krall. Their staffs can also shoot energy bolts, just for good measure.
- Boss in Mook Clothing: Brute Behemoths, Skaarj Berserkers, and Skaarj Lords.
- Degraded Boss: After your first encounters, you'll start to see these more often.
"Access denied. The intruder must be eliminated. All Warmasters are being routed to this area upon arrival from the Source."
- Breather Level: Serpent Canyon, which comes right after the enemy-infested labyrinth that is Cellars at Dasa.
- Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: Nali names for many things - for example starships are "thunderbirds" or "metal chariots", Skaarj are "the demons from the stars" (or just "sky demons"), while humans are "two-armed soft skins". Inverted with the Nali Cow and, appropriately enough, the Nali Rabbit (which looks more like a kiwi). In the level "Temple of Chizra", they put an eightball gun on an altar and call it the "stick of six fires".
- Cargo Cult: the Nali are a simple, agricultural race that can't quite figure out how the Skaarj could be doing what they do without magical assistance, and therefore immediately label them as demons from the skies. The Nali do have some advanced technology, but it's implied they are relics from a long-past era, whose scientific workings are impenetrable to the race's naive minds. They see such objects as holy relics, and put them on sacred pedestals, accessing which involves holy rituals.
- The Chosen One: One of the Nali diaries specifically mentions a savior princess, which does raise questions if you're playing as a male character, although it should be noted that the original plan for the game contained only a female PC, with male options being added later. And not only does the Nali depiction of the lightning goddess Vandora look human (apart from the 4 arms), she has the exact same hair and face as Sonya, minus the respirator mask.
- Collapsing Lair: As Prisoner 849's escape pod flies out of the Skaarj mothership. Possibly justified by the damage that the escaped prisoners will be wreaking after 849 turned off all the force-fields.
- Convection, Schmonvection
- Conveyor Belt O' Doom: Foundry Tarydium Plant, in Return To Na Pali.
"It has been 0 days since our last accident"
- Cool Starship: The Vortex Rikers prison vessel, the ISV-Kran, and, of course, the Skaarj Mothership. From RTNP there's also the UMS Bodega Bay and the UMS Prometheus.
- Deadly Rotary Fan: Found in the Deathmatch level DmDeathFan.
- Death of a Thousand Cuts: Due to the ability of the AI to dodge nearly everything you throw at it (Skaarj especially), in many cases Cherry Tapping something to death with the Automag is the most effective solution.
- Defensive Feint Trap: Injured Skaarj and Krall will sometimes retreat to lure you into an ambush.
- Deflector Shields: The Mercenaries have one which grants temporary invulnerability, and the Skaarj trooper class have an arm-mounted version.
- Doomed Hometown: Many Nali villages on the first Unreal game as well. In fact, the entire planet Na Pali can count as a whole Doomed Planet, since even after the events of RTNP there are still Skaarj on the planet.
- Downer Ending: The level "Bluff Eversmoking" definitely ends badly. you spend the entirety of it reading diary entries of a human woman who's running from the Skaarj, determined to survive whatever it takes, and it's subtly implied you might finally find an ally in her. You don't. When you find her at the end of the level, she's quite dead.
- Elaborate Underground Base: Outpost 3J. Judging by the interior bearing no resemblance to the ship's external shape, and the length of the tunnel that prisoner 849's escape pod flies through to get out in the closing cutscene, there's also one of these under the Skaarj Mothership (the various teleporters presumably take you in and out of it). Well, either that or the Skaarj have TARDIS technology.
- Electronic Speech Impediment: A good indication of just how screwed the Vortex Rikers is, the computer voice starts playing up.
- Elite Mooks: The aptly-named Krall Elite and Mercenary Elite.
- Empire with a Dark Secret: Locations such as Dark Arena, Velora Temple and Nali Castle, as well as some Lost Technology including very deadly weapons, suggest a darker, more violent side to the Nali's past, the effects of which possibly led them to become the spiritual, pacifist race they are.
- Enemy Civil War: Can happen if a monster accidentally shoots another in the back.
- Skaarj Berserkers will fight with just about anybody.
- The Skaarj and the Mercenaries don't get on either, judging by the Skaarj scout standing over a dead Mercenary and trying to find a way into the Terraniux when you reach the ship.
- The Mercenary prisoners in the Skaarj mothership. One assumes that the Skaarj were looking to eliminate the Mercs along with everyone else who crashed on Na Pali to protect the secret of their presence on the planet.
- There's also "Cellars at Dasa", where a bunch of Krall (who normally have teamwork as their hat) jump out and start fighting a Titan.
- A Skaarj scientist finds out the downside of supercharging test subjects with tarydium in the Mothership Lab.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Mercenaries.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: One of the Skaarj melee moves is a Spin Attack. The Krall will sometimes twirl their staffs before firing, or when idle.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: Some of the wildlife wandering around Na Pali is harmless, but if you look at their scripting in the Level Editor, even they are set to "Attitude to Player: Hate." This is lampshaded by the Prisoner 849 in the intermission at the end of "Velora Pass" in RTNP:
"I'm glad I made it out of there. I'm used to being bitten, hacked, shot, stabbed or blown up, but in there I could have been crushed, sliced, diced, or... skewered! Whoever built that place must have been a real sadist."
- Evil All Along: The UMS crew trying to kill the player in Return To Na Pali.
- Faceless Goons: The Mercenaries, and the UMS space marines in RTNP.
- Floating Continent: Multiple floating islands, one of which ("Na Pali Haven") you actually get to visit.
- Foreshadowing: The translator messages often make reference to future levels, even ones some distance down the line.
- The Sunspire you visit about halfway through the game is also clearly visible in many other levels' skyboxes.
- Frictionless Ice:
- The multi-player map DM-Tundra has an area, where you find the Shock Rifle in a frozen lake.
- The level "Gala's Peak", from RTNP, features this in a bridge, though you can keep from accidentally falling off a ledge by crouching.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- In "Bluff Eversmoking", there's a log with one:
"Jailer Hrang of the Red Hand Tribe: We have captured a Terran girl. Some of my soldiers want to try and take liberties with her. I guess that's OK as long as they watch those boots! She kicked my in the hrangos last time."
- Later, by the same author:
"I am in DEEP SHIT. If captain Duk'choroth comes and finds out I let her escape, I'll be de-hrango'd for sure!"
"Bridge Foreman Khan Vhranna: I've about had it with Grok Vhul'rath. He's such a pompous son-of-a-Bulrach . If he makes us fix the drawbridge one more time in the rain, I'm going to bust his face in."
- Grimy Water: The Terraniux levels had several areas full of greeny water.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: The Krall can occasionally be seen sleeping, talking or playing dice while on duty.
- Hand Cannon: The Brutes dual-wield rocket launchers as pistols.
- Hive Queen: The Skaarj Queen.
- Improvised Weapon: Many of the weapons in the game, like the Stinger, were not weapons to begin with and adapted into such.
- It's All Upstairs From Here: The Sunspire.
- Its Pronounced Tropay: The "j" in Skaarj is silent, although we only find this out in the expansion pack as no-one in the original game says the word aloud.
- Kick The Nali: Every sentient enemy in the game, and even the player if you so choose.
- There's a situation in Chizra's temple where you have the option of murdering a Nali priest to get the superhealth he's levitating over. Although there is another solution - you can lure the Slith closer to scare him off the platform.
- King Mook: The large, psychotic Skaarjs with glowing "pseudoinvisibility" effects fought near the end. There's a fourth (orange) one that escapes from the Mothership Lab, though you don't actually have to fight that one. They were all part of an experiment to mutate Skaarj with tarydium so they would have natural energy shields. Unfortunately it had the side effect of sending them into Unstoppable Rage, so they were locked up. Of course, once Prisoner 849 destroys the generator powering the forcefields...
- Return To Na Pali has an unusually large, 15 foot tall Skaarj Lord with double the normal amount of health as a surprise boss at the end of the "Bounds of Foundry" level.
- Last Breath Bullet: The warlords attempt to do this to the player as part of their death animation. Similarly, if a Skaarj warrior is decapitated he will swipe blindly at the air with his claws before falling down.
- Late to the Party: Happens repeatedly. Though you sometimes hear other survivors being killed, the closest thing you see to another living human is a body being thrown across a corridor by a Brute. Or possibly the captain of the Vortex Rikers, who spasms and dies as you approach.
- Lethal Lava Land: The level where you fight against a Warlord for the first time.
- Lightning Bruiser: All types of Skaarj.
- Locked Out of the Fight: In the first level - which is just as well as you have no weapon at the time.
- Mega Corp: Inuit, the company that owned the ISV Kran.
- Mercy Kill: Putting crucified Nali out of their misery is occasionally rewarded.
- Mission Pack Sequel: Return to Na Pali starts where Unreal left.
- Misguided Missile: The player pulls this on the UMS Bodega Bay in the closing cutscene of RTNP.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nice job killing the Skaarj Queen and starting the Human-Skaarj wars.
- Non-Action Guy: The Nali as an entire race are this. Although you find several dead Nali with weapons next to them, and some Skaarj logs make reference to "rebellious activity", which suggest that at least some of them are actively fighting back. The novel Prophet's Power based on the game develops this idea further.
- Noodle Incident: To this day, the reasons of his/her imprisonment are still unknown.
- No OSHA Compliance:
"It has been 0 days since our last accident."
- Not Quite Dead: Possibly, the Warlord, assuming the one in RTNP is the same one you "killed" aboard the Skaarj Mothership.
- Offscreen Teleportation: Some of the enemy spawners indeed only spawn enemies when you're not looking into the particular spawner. Bodies of slain enemies only disappear when your back is turned.
- Oh Crap: Your first encounter with a Skaarj. You're happily walking along to get back to your objective, in a passage you've already crossed with no enemy activity whatsoever, and suddenly the lights start going out, one by one. You can't run, because the corridor is now blocked. You start to hear grunting noises. This is where you say the trope, right before a whirring mass of blades and hurt dives straight for your face.
- One Bullet Clips: Notably averted by the Automag (oddly, the only gun in the game that needs to periodically stop firing to reload). You don't have a reload key, so the Automag simply gets reloaded when it's out of bullets. If you hear the telltale "click" that signals the clip is down to five rounds, and you know there's a big fight coming, this forces you to change weapons to force a reload.
"Try to keep track of how many bullets are left in a clip. Attempting to change clips with a pissed off Skaarj in your face is not advised."
- Painfully-Slow Projectile: Gasbag fireballs and Titan rocks (just as well, because the latter is a One-Hit Kill). Other weapons vary, but most can be dodged if your reflexes are fast enough. Averted by Mercenaries (with their machine gun alt fire) and by certain Skaarj troopers, who use the same hitscan weapons the player can use. Too bad for you...
- The Skaarj are also aware of this trope and will dodge your projectile weapons!
- Prison Ship: You start out on a crashed prison transport named "Vortex Rikers".
- Playing Possum: Skaarj do this on occasion. However the fact that they lie in a different position when faking makes it quite easy to tell if they are "really" dead or not.
- Powered Armour: The Mercenaries and Skaarj Troopers in Unreal, and the UMS space marines in RTNP.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Arguably, the Skaarj:
"Vigilance is the guardian of honor."
- Scenery Porn: The game that started it all. The first level fools you into thinking it's just another shooter in enclosed spaces with prettier graphics (for the time). The second level... doesn't. If you played the game without first reading reviews of it, the surprise was mindblowing. Lush vegetation, colorful moving skies, animals hopping and flying about, and the sheer size of all the scenery was something completely unseen for the day, along with some perfectly fitting music to set the mood. It remained exclusive to Unreal for a while, too.
- Shaggy Dog Story: Despite the Prisoner 849 rampaging across the planet twice, and killing a Skaarj Queen and two Warlord leaders, along with various references to being the Nali's Savior, the Tournament games, which, according to Word of God, are set several years after, still reference the Skaarj hunting Nali. Not to mention that the resultant declaration of war against humanity devastated their colonies, and Earth itself.
- Space Elevator: well... not really space, more like high stratosphere. Then again, it's not perfectly clear how orbits work in Na Pali. An anti-gravitational one (no cables) carries people to the floating islands.
- In the add on you can find it again, this time on the bottom of a lakem with a log beside it suggesting two humans tried to use it during a storm.
- Star Scraper: the Sunspire is an incredibly tall building, so tall it's visible in the sky in other levels. Its purpose is to serve as a starting point for the Space Elevator that brings people up to the floating islands.
- Stock Scream: In the first level, many screams sound like you've heard them numerous times. The air vent filled with green fog is especially flooded with them.
- Storming the Castle: The last levels of the original game requires you to do a raid on the Skaarj Mothership and terminate the Skaarj Queen.
- Super Window Jump: A Skaarj gets the drop on you this way in the Sunspire.
- Tech Fu: The Mercenaries, who wear Powered Armour, wield a rocket-launcher/minigun combo on one arm and sport personal Deflector Shields.
"Franco tried to go toe-to-toe with this thing. At least he died quickly."
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The Kralls aren't happy of working alongside of the Skaarj, as a log shows up in the Bluff Eversmoking level:
"Shipping Log: Grorq of the Red Hand Tribe. I am really getting sick with the way the Skaarj are treating us. Constantly bossing us around and making us watch over their pathetic Nali Slaves. My troops are getting sick of this situation."
- Tele Frag: The expansion features a level with no exit - until an enemy is teleported into a wall.
- There Was a Door: The Brutes are fond of this. In their first appearance in Nyleve's Falls, a Brute smashes its way through a door behind you (which is sneaky as you'll more likely be focused on the Brute in front of you that has just thrown a human survivor against the wall and annihilated him with a volley of rockets). In Foundry Tarydium Plant, a Brute bursts through a ROCK WALL to get at you.
- The Un-Reveal: What exactly is the "Talon Project", the top-secret data you are sent to retrieve from the UMS Prometheus in RTNP? Who knows, because Prisoner 849 flies off into the sunset with it, and s/he isn't telling.
- Useless Useful Stealth: Played straight and averted. The invisibility power-up is great for sneaking past Titans (although some of the Titans you face in the game are part of unavoidable boss battles, natch) but never seems to work on more intelligent enemies like Skaarj.
- Video Game Caring Potential: The Nali. The fact that keeping them alive usually results in them leading you a valuable item (or sometimes a shortcut) doesn't hurt either.
- We Will Meet Again: Your first encounter with the Skaarj Warlord, where after being defeated, he just taunts you and teleports away. However, he appears to be Killed Off for Real aboard the Skaarj mothership. It's possible that he survived that too, though, as you fight another Warlord on the final level in Return To Na Pali, just before the end.
- Wolverine Claws (with occasional Energy Balls): The weapon of choice for the Skaarj warrior class.
- Artificial Limbs:
- Kurgan has a bionic leg.
- Dimitra seems to have most of her face covered in a bionic mask.
- Cool Mask: Sonya wears a respirator.
- Featureless Protagonist: In Return To Na Pali, the intermission voice changes depending on the character you choose. You can choose to be:
Shirtless guy with Bald of Awesome (Kurgan)
Tattooed Crook (Carter)
Smoker with Nice Hat (Ash)
Husky Russkie (Ivan)
Guy with Badass Mustache (Kristoph)
Roguish guy with badass beard (Dante)
Scary Black Man (Dregor)
Red-haired guy with celtic war paint (Krige)
Guy with bionic eye (Bane)
Action Girl (Gina) 
Blonde Action Girl (Tamika)
Action Girl with eye-framing tattoo (Nikita)
Red-haired Badass Spaniard (Raquel)
Heroic Albino (Drace)
Dark-haired girl with cool respirator (Sonya)
Girl in the
ironbionic mask (Dimitra)
Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette (Katryn)
- Captain Obvious: The first game holds the Guinness World Record for "First Game to be Created Using the Unreal Engine."
- Lemony Narrator: The manual, as several of the quotes on this page demonstrate.
- Muzzle Flashlight: Many projectiles glow, but the Dispersion Pistol is the weapon best suited to it because it regenerates its ammo.
- Shout-Out: Check the page.
- Updated Rerelease: Unreal Gold, which is basically the same game in the Unreal Tournament revision of Unreal Engine 1 and bundled with Return to Na Pali.