A game engine as the core software component provides the underlying technologies to address the common technical issues required in a video game and other real time interactive application. After exploring the architecture of a generic game engine, we identify its core components including the graphics engine, physics engine, sound engine and their key functionalities required by applications. In this paper, we propose a cost-effective approach to using a game engine to enable simplified and rapid development of cultural heritage applications. We describe the main system features including asset management, even-based real-time interaction, and dynamic scene management provided in an integrated development environment. We also discuss the common critical implementation issues for cultural heritage representation including the main architecture construction, environmental aspects involvement such as terrain generation, multiple levels teleporting, and cinematic view creation. Using this approach, a virtual heritage application is successfully prototyped and runs in UnrealEngine2 Run Time environment.