PC Gamer Reinstalls Ultima Underworld
PC Gamer runs an infrequent feature called “Reinstall”, in which an author of theirs takes another look at a classic game of yesteryear…or yesterdecade. This time around, Ultima Underworld gets the treatment, and Ed Ricketts has tons of praise to heap upon the game:
Jumping back into the sprawling dungeons of the Stygian Abyss today is gleefully exciting. But it’s also a tiny bit depressing, because I’ll never get to play it for the very first time again.
Not only was this the first ‘proper’ PC game I ever played, but also one of the most influential PC games in terms of technology and design that has ever been released. Like its Ultima predecessors – in spirit if not in mechanics – Underworld was a genuine RPG, stuffed full of quests and magic and exploration and dialogue and weapons and stats.
Back here in the present day, I’m playing a Fighter, right-handed, swimming speciality, Str 11, Dex 8, Int 6 . And I’m struggling to move. Fortunately there’s a tutorial of sorts to follow – in the manual. This was an age when you actually needed to read them.
He goes on to note the control issues the game has, and praises its immersive gameplay and numerous technological innovations. He’s a bit dismissive of Ultima Underworld 2, but his conclusion is — I think — bang on:
For me, then, Underworld is almost the perfect RPG — control issues notwithstanding. It has influenced, directly and indirectly, the Elder Scrolls series, the Deus Ex games, Half-Life 2, System Shock (Warren Spector was the game’s later producer), BioShock, Tomb Raider and frankly just about every 3D RPG that has since appeared.
So I’m still baffled by the relative lack of interest shown in it over the years. There was a sequel — bigger, more polished, but ultimately less inspired — and that was it. Yet maybe more than any other classic PC game, Underworld is crying out for a remake. Don’t touch the systems, the content, the story or anything else, just modernise the graphics, jiggle the control scheme a bit and you have the RPG to beat all RPGs. It makes Dark Souls look like Angry Birds.
Now, to be fair, there was one notable attempt to remake the game, although this was ultimately cancelled. Someone also went and mapped out the entirety of the Great Stygian Abyss in Unreal Tournament, and it’s not impossible that said work could be used as a template for something…more remake-y.
Still, Ricketts is basically correct: whither the interest in Ultima Underworld that it is properly due?