Unreal Tournament

a game by Digital Extremes, Inc., and GT Interactive
Platforms: Playstation 2 Dreamcast PC
Editor Rating: 9/10, based on 5 reviews
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Unreal Tournament
Unreal Tournament
Unreal Tournament
Unreal Tournament

You can't blame Infogrames for seeing the imminent release of Quake III on the Dreamcast, complete with SegaNet support, and asking, "What the hell are we sitting on Unreal Tournament for?" Keeping in mind how much the French publisher seems to like supporting the Sega powerhouse it's not surprising that they've decided to bring their Quake-killer to the Dreamcast, complete with eightway Internet play (or two-player split-screen if you're too cheap to hook up to the Web). That's right, now the two arena-based first-person shooters that took the PC gaming world by storm are coming home to the Dreamcast, which should make Sega fans very happy considering that future PS2 owners will only be able to play Unreal Tournament on a four-way split-screen. Yuck! While the version we played was very early and fairly sluggish (developer Secret Level is concentrating on faithfully porting over all the code before tweaking the framerate and Internet-compatibility), the Dreamcast's PC-styled guts should make the conversion a relatively painless one. Don't let the screens on this page fool you, we're sure by the time this game comes to market it'll look just as good as the PC version, maybe even better. Thirty-five maps to play on, 10 different weapons, spectator-cams, advanced 'bot Al and improved HUDs all in the rumored lag-free environment of SegaNet--Unreal Tournament gets ready to frag this fall.

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Game Reviews

If Unreal was a response to Quake and Quake II, then surely Unreal Tournament will be seen as the main competitor to Quake III Arena. The spruced-up version of Epic/GT's hit shooter will focus on multiplayer games, offering Unrealists 'bot practice sessions before heading out onto the Net to find fresh meat. UTs sweet-looking player models, new weapons, increased gameplay options (including the ever-popular Capture the Flag), and less-buggy online play will all be welcome improvements. Check back in future issues of GamePro for further updates.

Overview

The Tournament has begun! The time has come to prove you are the best! You and your team are going to face off in person against the deadliest warriors in the galaxy. Who is going to take the Unreal Grand Master title and who is going to crawl away in defeat? Like they say: to the victor goes the spoils. Unreal Tournament on the PlayStation 2 features all the same stunning gameplay and wicked AI you’d expect from the title. There’s no question that the developers have done a great job porting the game to a new platform, but in the end it just doesn’t stack up to its PC brother.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Single player on the PS2 is very straightforward: you’re a contestant in the Tournament gunning for anyone who stands between you and the prize. The initial game menus are different from the PC version; they actually look much cooler, sliding in and out of view smoothly in response to your selections. Once gameplay starts, these cosmetic changes continue (damage and weapon status indicators are updated) but the basic look and play of the game is nearly identical to the PC version. All the game modes from the PC version are here: Deathmatch, Domination, and Assault. In all the single player scenarios the key to enjoying the game is the intelligence displayed by the computer controlled players. As expected, the AI behind the ‘bot players is fantastic -- they respond to changing situations and player actions just as well as their PC selves (if not better). There are still a couple of situations where the AI actions aren’t up to snuff, but overall it’s very impressive. While the PS2 controller is great for most games, it doesn’t quite stack up to full blown First Person Shooter (FPS) action where you need to turn, move forward and back, look up and down, and strafe as well as control selected weapons and fire accurately. The Unreal Tournament team has compensated for this in two ways. They’ve added some pretty cool auto-aiming and target-finding assists for players using the PS2 controller. These assists go a long way to make up for the slower turning rates and less-accurate pointing that are inevitable with a console-style controller.

The other control option gives you the full speed and responsiveness PC Unreal Tournament fans are used to. Just plug any USB keyboard and mouse into the PS2 and use the control setup that dedicated FPS maniacs swear by. (Here’s a hint, never, and I do mean NEVER, play Unreal Tournamentwith your opponent on mouse and keyboard and you on a PS2 controller. You’ll be bits of splatter on the wall before you can turn around). Where the game falls short of its PC brother is in multiplayer support. The game does offer up to four player split screen play on one system or you can use an i.LINK cable setup to connect multiple PS2 systems and play on separate screens. Now as a mainly PC-based gamer I may be biased, but split screen FPS gaming just doesn’t cut it. Your opponents can see exactly where you are and what weapon you’re carrying. An i.LINK setup is much better, but then how many people have multiple PS2 systems, not to mention an i.LINK hub to connect them and four TVs lying around? Bottom line here: since multiplayer is what Unreal Tournament is all about, I felt cheated by its inadequacies in the PS2 version.

Graphics & Audio

Stunning -- that’s all there is to it. No other launch title I’ve played takes this much advantage of the new graphics engine in the PS2. The visuals are smooth, detailed, and just plain gorgeous. All the fog and lighting effects from the PC version are here, with some enhancements. Placing both versions side by side, I’d be hard pressed to say which looks better (in fact I’m not going to -- both are spectacular). Add to that the bone shaking sound effects and music (which stays in the background where it belongs, much better than it did in the PC version) and you’ve got a winning package.

Bottom Line

The PS2 version of Unreal Tournament is like caffeine-free diet Mountain Dew -- the taste is there, but what’s the point? The game AI provides a solid single player experience, but without acceptable multiplayer the game is lacking what really made it great on the PC. Don’t get me wrong -- if you’re looking for a challenging first person game for your new PS2 then this is the one you want. The single player game is lots of fun and beating the nasty AI will challenge you. But what made the PC version of the game stand head and shoulders above the competition was the multiplayer support and this is the one area where the PS2 version comes in a clear second.

Overview

You wake up, dazed and injured in the wreckage of the prison frigate that had been taking you on what for all intents and purposes was a one-way trip. As you try to make your way out of the twisted corridors, you fight your way through billowing steam venting from broken pipes, stumble to keep your balance as the settling wreckage groans and crumbles around you, and all the while desperately search for a weapon or even some bandages to bind up your wounds. Then, you hear voices from beyond a door that appears to have been welded shut in the crash. Unfortunately, the voices you hear are begging for mercy. Several flashes paint the floor orange and yellow, a scream echoes from beyond the door, and something thuds against the metallic wall on the other side. Eventually you find a way to pry the door open, only to find a scene of carnage, severed limbs, and blood everywhere, but no one left alive -- no one except for the bent shape that howls and leaps away into the shadows as you enter. And it only gets worse from there.

Unreal, the excellent new first-person shooter from Epic, unleashes what, honestly, is a new level of gameplay and quality in this genre. The graphics are stunning -- the first real mix of Tomb Raider_ style graphics with Quake 2 _ style gameplay, but in an environment that outclasses them both, plus adds in a masterful mix of puzzle elements, intriguing storyline, and an ambience of the best adventure games.

All of this is a pleasant surprise in a class of games that is so often over-hyped only to check in with another mediocre Doom update five years too late. Add to this the fact that this game was so ruthlessly slammed as vaporware on all the newsgroups when its ship slipped several times, and you have what amounts to a huge vindication of Epic's commitment to putting out a quality game that breaks the mold of what has gone before.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Unless you've been under a rock since Reagan was in office, you probably think you know all there is to know about running around in a 3D environment taking out bad guys with a chain gun. And yeah, sure, there's plenty of the good old adrenaline battles with heavy weapons (you wouldn't have it any other way, would you?), but there's a good deal more here.

What makes Unreal such an accomplishment in my book is the ease with which you control a character in an action-intensive world and yet still are able to carry out many of the acrobatic and puzzle solving tasks that have thus far been the stuff of Tomb Raider and Myst. In short, the puzzles and the 'environment puzzles'? -- tunnels to swim through, rocks to climb, bridges over chasms to traverse -- are not just thrown in as an afterthought, but are integral aspects of surviving in this game.

And that's very, very cool.

Add to that the fact that the weapons are versatile (many even have 'alternate fire'? options, in effect giving you twice as many offensive options in a battle), the threats to your character are not only monsters, but also a very dangerous world and do-or-die puzzles, and you've got the most fully realized action game to come along.

What Unreal represents, if you really stand back and look at it, is the first successful merging of action and adventure that isn't disappointing in some way to action fans. Hexen tried this, as did Tomb Raider, as have quite a few others in more half-hearted ways, but Unreal is the real thing -- just difficult enough no matter what your skill level, with enough temporary frustrations to test the better brains out there, but not so many that the shoot-everything-that-moves contingent will be left champing at the bit for too long.

Graphics

If you've read any of my reviews (or probably most anyone else's) in the last year or so, you've heard a good deal of harping about getting a 3Dfx card. Well, here I go again -- this just isn't even the same game without one. The fog, lighting effects, underwater effects, the look of the textures, the sky, fire, smoke, and on and on add so much to the feel of this game that you'd really be missing out not to see it the way it was intended. If you do have a 3Dfx card, you'll have no remaining doubt that you did the right thing in buying one. The graphics in Unreal are as promised'outstanding, surprising, catch-your-breath good. So many details have been attended to that it really makes you appreciate what must have gone into the development of this game world. It's not just a game, it is truly a world, with the moon in the sky, native vegetation and wildlife, mist at the base of a waterfall, and dozens of other amazing touches.

Audio

With all the other amenities in Unreal, you wouldn't expect the folks in the audio department to be slouches, and true to form, they're not. The audio and all its nuances is every bit as finely done as the graphics and, as a friend pointed out, Unreal shows -- finally -- that someone in the gaming industry knows the importance of a score in the psychological environment of a game. The music, and especially the creepy sound effects, do a fantastic job of setting the tone throughout the game.

Documentation

Although you won't need to refer to it after you've played for an hour or so, the documentation does what all good docs should do -- quickly and succinctly explains how to play the game and then gets you to the action. It is another credit to Epic's designers that Unreal manages to incorporate so many different aspects of different kinds of action games without using really any difficult-to-learn or hard-to-execute controls, and hence the manual is more of a now and then reference than a 'how the heck do you do that'? maze of frustration.

Multiplayer

If you're fortunate enough to have access to a LAN made up of a bunch of fast Pentiums, you'll be having yourself a grand old time gibbing each other. If you're trying to hook up with your buddies over a modem, that's a different story -- despite claims that Unreal is multiplayer out of the box, you'll likely run into some headaches and unplayably slow modem and Internet connections, largely due to the ambitious graphics of this game. However, while I would normally knock several points off a game's score for this sort of difficulty, I won't here for two reasons'the almost immediate release of a patch which helped shore up this problem, and the inclusion in Unreal of built-in 'Botmatch'? capabilities. You can go head to head with up to eight computer-controlled opponents that are in many cases even better than a human opponent. In fact, if you didn't know which you were playing, you'd probably swear that the bots were other human players -- they're that good. Once again, foresight and innovation are the hallmarks of this game and multiplayer is no exception.

System Requirements

Pentium 166 MHz or better, 16MB RAM, 100 MB hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, Windows 95 compatible sound card, PCI local bus video card, Windows 95/Windows 98/Windows NT, network and Internet play via TCP/IP

Recommended: Pentium 200 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 450 MB hard disk space

Comments/Reality Check: I was actually able to run Unreal quite nicely on a non-MMX P-133 -- less than the 'required'? system specs, but I did have 64 MB RAM and a Matrox Millennium plus an Orchid 3Dfx card. On a P2-266 with all the bells and whistles, though, Unreal absolutely rocked. A 3Dfx card is not mentioned in the requirements, but I would consider it one to get smooth gameplay. As mentioned above, a LAN is almost an absolute requirement for decent multiplayer at this point, with modem and Internet enhancements due out, but not yet all that well implemented. Bear in mind, of course, that even the most killer system will have trouble if you're trying to play an eight player deathmatch on a hopelessly overwhelmed server located halfway across the world'

Bottom Line

Unreal is the smartest, best looking, all around coolest action game -- ever. Not to say it won't be outdone next month or next week, but I'd be surprised if anyone supersedes it any time soon -- it's really that good. Unreal rates a 96 for a game whose designers didn't rush it out the door despite the pressure to do so from impatient gamers, but instead refined and polished it until it was a true masterpiece. I really cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with this game -- it brings back many of the same 'duck and cover'? responses I had the first time I played Doom -- and having played as many action games as I have, that isn't an easy feat to accomplish. Regardless if you're a huge fan of action games or have never played one, don't miss out on Unreal.

Overview

The Tournament has begun. In order to curb rising violence among workers, the Liandri Corporation started hosting formalized lethal competitions to burn off the excess aggression. Soon they found that the televised events were more profitable than the mining operations that were ostensibly their business. In response to growing viewer demands, the professional leagues were formed and the Tournament organized. You have been selected to compete -- will you rise to the peak and gain fame, glory, and riches, or will you go down to an ignominious defeat?

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Unreal Tournament is a fantastic first person shooter that stands well above anything else I’ve played. Focusing on multiplayer gaming rather than a full single player storyline it still manages to provide a rich single player game coupled with the fastest deathmatch action available.

In the single player game you are a contestant in the Tournament. Starting out with straightforward deathmatch scenarios, you must win each battle to continue. As you compete, new arenas and battle styles are opened for play. In addition to the standard styles of play like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag (CTF), Unreal Tournament adds two unique gaming styles: Domination and Assault.

In Assault, teams trade off defending and attacking a fortified emplacement. The attacking team must meet specific goals to win the scenario. The games are timed; the first team to attack has the advantage of setting the pace for the scenario. The faster they complete the attack the better, as once they have completed the attack they will switch to defense. If they were successful in attacking within the time limit they only need to defend for the amount of time that they took to attack, otherwise they must fight the full time. Scenarios range from attacks against a fortified beachhead to blasting your way into a deep-sea base.

Domination is also team based -- with each side fighting for control of key points on the map. Points are scored based on how long you can maintain ownership of each point. With many maps having as many key points as team members, the action can get very fast and furious.

In all the single player scenarios the key to enjoying the game is the intelligence displayed by the computer controlled players. The AI behind the ‘bot players in Unreal Tournament is fantastic. The 'bot players will respond to changing situations, altering where and how they draw up defensive lines, backing up teammates that need assistance, and take advantage of the terrain to set up ambushes. In almost all scenarios the AI manages to emulate human responses extremely well. I found a couple of situations where the computer’s actions aren’t up to snuff, but overall it’s very impressive. The AI breaks down most often in areas where attacking enemies must come through a tight choke point -- the AI players tend to follow a consistent path through the doorway or tunnel, making it easier to pick them off as they approach.

As good as the single player gaming is (and it is good) the focus of Unreal Tournament is multiplayer. All the game styles available for single player are there as well and the networking support is topnotch. The server admin has complete control over the game settings, including the ability to have the server automatically add 'bots if there aren’t enough human players in the game. You can even have the 'bots automatically adjust their difficulty level to match the players. The original Unreal was awful for multiplayer -- huge ping times and bandwidth-hungry protocols caused extremely slow game response. After numerous patches Epic finally got the kinks ironed out, but players still stayed away. This isn’t going to happen in Unreal Tournament -- the net connections are smooth and clear. Play is responsive on connection speeds from modem to LAN and the multiplayer game finder offers tons of options for building lists of servers based on game options.

Graphics & Audio

One of the best parts of Unreal was the stunning 3D engine Epic created for the game. As good as the original looked, Unreal Tournament looks even better. The quality of the game environment has been improved, from the detail of the models and textures to the stunning rendering of lighting and fog effects. The game’s character models are excellent; players have full control over all aspects of their character appearance from outfit and team coloring to the face used. The animations used for the characters are smooth and detailed -- take some time to drop into a game in spectator mode just to watch the action. It’s worth it and you won’t have time to really look around while trying to defend yourself.

Level environments range from deserted castles, old mining facilities, and temples to starships speeding through deep space. The background graphics are amazing -- in the HyperBlast level there are even other ships keeping pace with yours visible out the windows. The level design is consistently ambitious, game environments feel less like simple maps and more like actual locations.

The game's music provides good background atmosphere, but never overshadows the crucial sound effects you'll need to hear to keep tabs on what is going on in the game. There are audio cues for everything from control point captures to weapon pickups and changes. Listening carefully will keep you updated on not only your team’s status, but also what enemies near your location are doing.

System Requirements

Required: Windows 95, 98, or NT; Pentium II 233 or equivalent; 32 MB RAM; 2X CD-ROM; 3D accelerator board.

Recommended: Pentium II 266 or equivalent; 64 MB RAM; 4X CD-ROM.

Bottom Line

For a game designed with multiplayer play as its chief goal, Unreal Tournament offers great single player gaming as well. With Epic’s amazing 3D engine added to all-new gameplay, GT Interactive has released a game that can compete with the Quake series across the board -- the included levels and game modes are fantastic and the extensibility of the game engine promises great add-ons from fans ranging from new maps to complete game overhauls. Grab a copy and take it out for a spin -- you won’t be disappointed.

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