It Was Only meant to be an expansion pack. Hard to believe, given that Unreal Tournament was to challenge Quake as the king of multiplayer shooters in one brutal and unexpected assault. Perhaps the greatest irony in this tale of UTs meteoric rise and world-shaking success is that, had it not been for its more illustrious id Software-created predecessors, Unreal Tournament may never have even existed. Rarely, if ever, can there have been a clearer example of the student becoming the master than in the shockingly short ten-month cycle it took to transform a bot-based add-on pack into a game which would shake the very foundations of the still burgeoning online first-person shooting genre.
For years, the guys and gals at Epic and Digital Extremes had cast envious yet respectful gazes up at their id idols, hoping to one day emulate the legendary developer's success. They got off to a solid enough start with 1998's visually impressive single-player FPS Unreal, which shipped with a handful of (as it turned out, unusable) multiplayer options. "When Unreal shipped it had broken network play, so we decided we needed to make an add-on pack that had good multiplayer. We started working on one with Digital Extremes and called it The Bot Pack" explains Cliff Bleszinski, co-designer and lead level designer on the game. Then one day, Mark Rein (CEO of Epic) sat us down and said that he thought it should be its own product, at which point we renamed it Unreal Tournament."
Epic's idea was simple; make a great multiplayer game in collaboration with Canadian development team Digital Extremes, full of different game modes, levels, mutators, weapons and some smart Al. and unleash it on the market as a new franchise.
Of course, one massive obstacle stood in the team's way - the feverishly anticipated multiplayer titan. Quake III: Arena, which by a twist of fate was set to ship almost simultaneously with Unreal Tournament. The scene was set for perhaps the biggest face-off in PC shooter history, a battle of David vs Goliath proportions that would see the gaming public's loyalties divided like never before.
A lot of people didn't even have UT on their radar, recalls James Schmalz, Unreal Tournament's co-designer and weapons designer. A lot of people were looking forward to Quake III, and most had dismissed Unreal Tournament as we'd onginally announced it as an add-on pack. I think that all changed when the demo came out. People saw the cool stuff that we were doing with it and it really brought a lot of fans onboard and got a lot of people excited about the project. As for the rivalry, we just hoped enough people would like UT."
Unlike the majority of game development projects. UT was to prove one of the smoothest projects that either Digital Extremes, (responsible mainly for the artistic side of development), or Epic (who provided the engine, Al and level design) had ever worked on. It was one of the smoothest developments we ever had, remembers Schmalz, of Digital Extremes' dealings with the project.
However, things weren't quite so straightforward for the Epic team. To be honest, the development of Unreal Tournament was immensely easy, but only once we'd sorted out our new offices, recalls Cliff Bleszinski. "Unreal Tournament was developed during the whole transition when Epic was moving from Canada to Raleigh, North Carolina. So we had to develop the game amid this immensely bizarre situation where we were relocating 15 people and trying to find them houses.
Rise Of The Bots
Enter Steve Polge, the man whose input would ultimately not only bring stability to the Epic team, but more importantly, set Unreal Tournament apart as unarguably the most lifelike shooter of its generation. Steve spent a long time figuring out how to get office space for us in Raleigh and finding everyone houses, instead of working on the Al. But he got around to doing it eventually, and it was amazing, recalls Cliff.
Given the short timespan and the constant distractions of relocating a 15-man team, it's perhaps even more impressive that Polge managed to create bots that could barely be distinguished from human players. Steve Polge had written the original bots for Quake says Bleszinski. He took the work that he'd done there and applied it to Unreal Tournament. Our goal was always to make bots that would play like real people. It's easy to make bots that can kick your ass, but it's hard to make Al that's entertaining and interesting. We did put a lot of tweaking into the levels. We had constant passes where we'd follow the bots around the levels to make sure that they picked up all of the items. Ultimately, Steve wound up making very, very compelling artificial intelligence opponents." Not bad for a man who'd spent much of the early part of his career working with distributed networking at IBM.
Seconds Out, Round One
The millennium was coming to a close and the stage was set for the multiplayer shooter face-off of the century. Unreal Tournament shipped first - but only just - storming to the top of the PC gaming charts and enthralling gamers the world over with its eclectic mix of frenetic deathmatching and bright, ingeniously-designed levels. Critics were united in their praise, hailing it as one of the highlights of 20th century online FPS gaming. It was a triumph that neither Epic, nor Digital Extremes had been expecting. I think both us and Epic were surprised," explains James Schmalz. We worked very hard on the game and were hoping for the best, but we were surprised by how well received it was."
A little over a month later. Quake III showed up, its stunningly energetic deathmatch-based gameplay racking up equal amounts of praise and almost identical sales figures to its less fashionable rival. From this point onwards, the balance of power would start to be more evenly distributed between the two huge franchises.
In truth, the difference in quality between UT and Quake III was negligible. In most cases, preference came down to each gamer's personal likes and dislikes rather than any real brand superiority. UT undoubtedly shipped with a more diverse selection of gaming modes and multiple mutators, but for many, Quake Ill's reflexheavy gameplay was the ultimate deathmatch experience.
It was a Coke versus Pepsi situation," says Bleszinski of the rivalry between the two games, one that he personally believes Unreal Tournament won. This is what the heart of capitalism and American consumerism is all about. If you don't have a choice you may as well be living in Soviet Russia. I think we may have capped out with slightly higher review scores and shifted more units. It was great to win that round, especially as id had already had the Doom and Quake games, which were all immense multimillion-selling titles. So for us to have this one victory was immense. I'd personally grown up respecting id and wanting to make games like they made, so it was immensely satisfying."
Despite their love of their own product, Schmalz and Bleszinski are ready to accept that Quake III: Arena had more than its fair share of merits, in some areas even having the upper hand over Unreal Tournament. I thought that Quake Ill's graphics were really impressive, and the game was really polished," says Schmalz. I think we had more game types and more variety of gameplay than Quake III, continues Bleszinski, but Quake III had a certain tangibility to its physics and the way the characters were built, which a lot of Quake fans still believe was far superior to Unreal Tournament
Suddenly, the multiplayer shooter genre sprang to life, with the likes of Counter-Strike and Battlefield 1942 the highlights of a rampant spate of multiplayer gaming projects inspired by the success of UT and of course, Quake III. I think UT sped up the creation of other games by expanding the popularity of the genre, says Schmalz. "When you have a larger fanbase, then other developers and publishers feel they can spend more money on developing those kinds of games."
But Epic didn't just sit back and watch those other developers close the gap, instead launching itself almost immediately into the development of a successor, Unreal Tournament 2003 (the title began development at Digital Extremes before being handed over to Epic), which utilised the company's stunning new Unreal Engine 2 to power its even more frenetic gameplay. Ironically, the game contained far more similarities to Quake III than its predecessor, most notably with its rail gun-esque sniper rifle and faster, twitchy, trigger-happy gameplay. UT2003 was also to dispense with one of the most popular gaming modes, Assault, an omission that Bleszinski regrets to this day. We didn't put Assault into UT2003 because of the really steep curve of learning the new technology, and the amount of time it took to make the art assets. The problem with Assault maps is that they require a tremendous amount of custom content and code, which is loads of work, so we decided that we had to back off from Assault, which in hindsight was stupid. When we did UT2004, we decided that Assault had to come back and it had to kick ass."
And kick bottom it did. The development of Unreal Tournament 2004 -in which Digital Extremes designed little more than a handful of maps for the game - once again blew the world of online FPS gaming wide open by introducing vehicular combat to the UT universe and the stunning new territory-based gaming mode. Onslaught. And with the triumphant return of the revamped Assault mode, UT2004 swept much of the opposition before it, with only the hugely anticipated Battlefield 2 and Quake IV seemingly posing any kind of serious threat to its crown these days.
But that's not to discount the challenge to UT2004's dominance by Epic itself, with the team now feverishly working on a number of PC and nextgeneration console projects for its aweinspiring Unreal Engine 3.0 - including a new Unreal Tournament.
If Epic continues to generate titles as pioneering and entertaining as the previous three Unreal Tournament games, then it could be set to become one of the most dominant multiplayer FPS developers of all time. And to think it all started with a project that was intended to be little more than a multiplayer stopgap. Surely, when it comes to achieving so much in so little time, it doesn't get much more impressive than the story of the original Unreal Tournament.
Download Unreal Tournament
The current big debate among PC gamers: which is better, Quake III or Unreal Tournament? Our answer: Who gives a crap--we want both! Instead of standard boring-as-hell single-player levels (find key, throw switch, find key...), UT is all multiplayer deathmatch, whether it's split-screen, networked with other human players, or against computer- controlled "bots." Special care has been taken to make these Al players behave like real people--they make mistakes, miss with weapons, lose track of you, etc. You can even team up with bots in Capture the Flag and three other modes. Infogrames is only giving out PC shots for now, and after seeing the choppy early version at E3 we can understand why. But we expect great things in time for release late this year.
Shown in super-choppy form at this year's E3, we're glad to see that Unreal Tournament has come a long way since then. While not quite running at 6ofps, the game plays much smoother than before, even in four-player split-screen (which is good since there's no Internet multiplayer mode). Textures are a little soft, but only the anal-retentive will really notice. Infogrames is planning UT for this fall.
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.
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.
What we thought
"Without a doubt, UTs greatest triumph is its computer-controlled bot players."
What you think
- "Having played and completed just about every 30 shooter that's been made, I have to say that Unreal Tournament is bloody fantastic! Never before has a game grabbed my attention like this: it plays like a dream, the bot Al is superb, the levels are big and imaginative, and the graphics and weapons are far better than Quake III. UTrocks! It should have scored 95%.
- "I'm running along a corridor and a bot darts out in front of me under heavy fire from another bot behind him. I fire off a rocket but before I get the kill, the pursuing bot obliterates his head. The headless body sways there for a split second before my stray rocket reduces it to mincemeat in a spectacular explosion. The game? Unreal Tournament of course. It's detail like this that makes the game so special. Without doubt, iD has been beaten at its own game."
- "Unreal Tournament is so obviously better than Quake III, feel sorry for the narrow-minded idiots who can't see this. For God's sake, wake up and grow up Quake fans, the future is Unreal".
This one needs no introduction whatsoever - unless you've been living on the moon for the past few months you'll know all about Unreal Tournament Proclaimed as the best first-person shooter in this month's Supertest (see page 88), and seeing off the likes of Quake III in the process, UT offers some of the most lifelike artificial intelligence ever seen in a computer game.
One of the best aspects of the game is that It's very easy to make your own levels - the fact that we've managed to collect over 200 new levels for this CD is living proof. In a forthcoming 'How To...' feature we will outline what you need to do to come up with your own levels, but in the meantime you can sample the delights of our ultimate collection. We've got the very best new assault, domination and levels, along with over 100 new deathmatch arenas to keep you in fragging heaven.
To install the new maps, just bring up the CD interface, navigate to the Unreal Tournament section in Extended Play and double-click on the map you want to play.
By default the maps will be unzipped into the C:\Unreal Tournament directory (note the space between the words). If your copy of UT is installed in a different directory you'll need to manually adjust this. Some maps also come with their own textures and sounds (.utx and .aux files), which you'll need to drag from the maps folder into the textures and sounds folders respectively. Enjoy...
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.
If Unreal was a response to Quake and Quake 2, 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.
What's the deal?
TimeSplitters may be nabbing plenty of attention for its designers' GoldenEye roots, but Unreal Tournament is holding its own in the buzz department, too--and not just 'cause it was such a hit with PC gamers. UT will be the first PS2 title that'll support a true networked mode. Invest in a FireWire hub and cables and you can link four PS2S together for your own UT frag party.
Sure, it's an expansive and inconvenient option (a hub will run you about $80 and each participant will need his or her own TV), but at least you'll get to enjoy this frenetic first-person shooter the way it was meant to be played. Unfortunately, developer Epic Megagames wasn't able to implement play over the Internet using USB modems, so the only other way you can play UT with four friends is via the game's split-screen mode--unless you wait for the just-announced Dreamcast version and play this thing over SegaNet.
So why is it a must-get game?
Fed up with tired ol' deathmatch and capture-the-flag stuff? UT's mission-style multiplayer modes could be just what you're looking for.
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.
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.
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.