|I am a console gamer by heart. There, Ive said it. Ill take a nice,
market-tested control pad over a keyboard and mouse any day. And if I have to document my
flight path and memorize a 20-page control system before I can even get my oh-so-cool jet
fighter to leave the ground, forget it. So, each time a highly touted PC game crosses over
to a capable console system, I begin to drool. Unreal Tournament has certainly received
its fair share of hype. It seems like I have been hearing the praise over its graphics and
AI, its death matches and dominations forever. Oh, and the PS2? Its capable. Damn
For those who havent heard about the Unreal franchise until now (and, no offense, but I cant imagine who you are), Unreal was a first person shooter that took the PC world by storm not too long ago. It was revered for its graphics and its advanced AI and panned for having a horrible multiplayer mode (see the review on this site). Unreal Tournament was a make good of sorts for Unreals multiplayer mishapsan arena style shoot em up with options and flair and PC gamers seemed to love it (again, check out our review on this site). And here it is, Unreal Tournament on your PS2. To be honest, I cant say that it was all it was cracked up to be.
First things first: keyboard enthusiasts relax, Epic Games has configured its control system into several choices for Sonys Dual Shock Controller. Most utilize both analog joysticks so that, for example, in one setup you use the left joystick to move forward, backward, and turn side to side while using the right to look up and down and strafe right and left. Another uses the left joystick to move and strafe while the right enables you to look around much the way a mouse would on a PC. Any new control system takes getting used to, but there should be something here for everyone. I didnt have many complaints after a few rounds. And if you just cant deal with it, Unreal does support the keyboard-mouse combo via the PS2s USB ports. As far as we know, any USB mouse and keyboard should work.
The game looks pretty good, but suffers in comparison both ways. On one hand, the PS2 version moves at about 30 fps, which when compared to a hot PC system, is pretty slow. On the other hand while the character animation is at least as good as I have seen on any PC, perhaps better, but it is not up to the standards set by other PS2 games. It has retained a very PC feel with its presentation, texture mapping, etc., which could go either way depending on your preferences. But the levels look good; there is essentially no draw-in or shimmer, lighting and weapon effects are great. It is a solid looker. And, of course, the gore is intact.
The sound is effective if not spectacular. The techno-crunch soundtrack gets you there, the explosions boom, weapons reverberate, and the bodies fly apart with a lovely squishiness.
The game itself is all arena style action. There is no in-depth single player story line here. Any plot is limited to "defend this," or "destroy that," or everyones favorite, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Basically, you start with only Death Match ("kill!") and two levels: a tutorial that will only be useful if you have never played an FPS in your life, and an opener. This is the beginning of the first "ladder." From there you open successive ladders which in turn open the different types of gameplay. In Domination two teams fight for possession of control points in order to gain the highest score. Capture the Flag is pretty much self-explanatory. And Assault actually devises situations for teams to get in and out of, such as blowing up a computer terminal or escaping a compound. These team efforts can be fun as you can take command and deliver real time commands like "cover me" or "attack" (all of the usual battle cries). Unfortunately it is slow to start. You must first work your way through all of the boring stuff before it gets good. And the AI is not all that impressive. Maybe I was expecting more because of the hub-bub surrounding the PC version, or maybe I just expect more period, but for the most part the characters just run at you and either die or succeed in killing you. They are creatures of habit, not intellect, and if you figure out where they have a tendency to respawn, you are pretty much guaranteed victory (hence the "boring stuff," especially in Death Match).
This is where I am supposed to say "but the multiplayer option makes it all better." Well, yeah, its better, but far from perfect. Sit down with your buddy and you will have some fun. Buy yourself a multi-tap and four of you can split-screen it, which is even better. But wasnt the PC version all about going online and slaughtering friends and strangers en masse, with the perk of having your entire screen to view the carnage? Well, the PS2 dont play that. At least, not yet. I have heard rumors that a patch will be available once the PS2 becomes internet capable, but I cant say that for sure. And isnt that a little too late? Right now, at best, you can get a sort of "lan bash" feel by connecting several PS2s together through the FireWire port to give each combatant his/her own monitor.
And besides, nothing can make up for some of the most terrible level design I have ever seen in a multiplayer FPS. Dont get me wrong, the levels do become increasingly complex as you go along, and some are downright imaginative in their settings (like spaceports with windows showing landed vessels and open-air arenas with zero gravity). But the first, I dont know, half of them are ridiculous. The first arena you enter consists of two semi-circles connected by a recessed roadway and some stuff to hide behind. I mean, whoopee! Lets go around the corner and see whos thereoh yeah, the same guy I killed last time because he pretty much has nowhere to go. This effectively limits the ever so talked up 50 maps to about half as many fun ones. There certainly is nothing here as large and captivating as the temple in Golden Eye or the pipes in Perfect Dark.
Unreal Tournament, I believe, was just meant for the PC. If indeed it is able to become internet capable when the PS2 does, then that may change. But as that could be a year away, I am sure I would be tired of it by then, and a sequel might have already taken its place. A little straightforward action, some blood and guts, and a few cool weapons just arent enough to cut it for me, not for the long term anyway, especially when you consider the other PS2 titles that are waiting for your fifty bucks. Rent this one, open a few of the neater levels, the team games, and see what you think.