The Unreal engine was produced not only as a game, but with the intention of licensing the engine out to other gaming companies for modification in creating new games. Unreal, along with Quake II, was one of the first engines produced with this intention. A few games have been created with the engine, such as Rune, Wheel of Time and some, as of today are still in development, like the highly-anticipated Duke Nukem Forever (the production time seems to be living up to the title).

Unreal also added a little more story depth to it's genre with the translator, picked up at the very beginning. It allows you to read signs written in alien writing, logs left behind by dead humans as you pass their corpses, (giving you a hint of how those who came before perished as opposed to simply leaving them there for you to find), ship logs, and even the logs of the Skaarj commanders against whom you wage war. This adds a literary element to the game somewhat like the various books you can find and read lying around in some of the Ultima games.

The basic premise of the story is very similar to Quake II. You're the survivor of a crashed ship. in Unreal, however, it was not a marine troop carrier, but a prison ship with a cargo of condemned humans. So however the crash puts you in peril, it is also your salvation. You must find a way to survive on a strange world. Discovering along the way that the same aliens who attacked the prison ship have also enslaved the indigenies who await their messiah, an offworlder who is prophecied to deliver them from the hands of slavery and oppression, but you just want to find a ship and get the fuck out of there.