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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by GT Interactive and Epic Games


cup.gif (5516 bytes)Ups:
Still beautiful, but with great single and multiplayer gameplay this time. Well-balanced weapons, easy to get into. Very smart bots.  

Downs: Needlessly scary notice about D3D problems.

System Reqs: P200, 32 MB RAM, 120 MB hardrive space, 3D card highly recommended.

unreal1.jpg (6815 bytes)The original Unreal was about one thing: graphics. Ostensibly a first person shooter, its single player game was outright boring, possessing neither the personality of a Duke Nukem nor the plot of a Half-Life. This same thing could be said, of course, about Quake II’s single player game, but Quake II at least had a king-hell multiplayer game. And Unreal did not.  In fact, Unreal’s multiplayer code was a mess; you could just forget about internet games, and even LAN games were often mired in chop.  Mix some in some uninspired maps, and Unreal stands out as one of the great multiplayer gaming fiascoes. Even the late unlamented add-on pack, Return to Na Pali--which allowed you to escape from the same place you escaped from in the original—was uninspired and did little to redeem its original’s shortcomings. But man, did they look pretty. Unreal is still unsurpassed graphically, and anyone who played it will never forget the first time they stepped out of the prison ship and into the incredibly rendered world of Na Pali. The waterfall itself was worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, even the game’s beauty was marred by the fact that you could only see it if you were running a 3dfx card. Since it shipped with no support for Open GL or Direct 3D, the game never made it onto a lot of gamers’ hard drives.

So we were skeptical about Unreal Tournament. Epic didn’t seem to have much talent for constructing single-player storylines, so we weren’t heartbroken to see them dump that. But given Unreal’s awful multiplayer, we weren’t expecting anything to challenge Quake III’s gameplay. We were just expecting something real pretty.  

unreal2.jpg (7328 bytes)And Unreal Tournament is real pretty. But here’s the kicker: it also has great single-player and multiplayer games, tight and fast multiplayer code, an elegant interface, support for Open GL and Direct 3D, generally excellent maps, and enough variety and game modes to keep even the most demanding fragmeister busy for a long, long, time. Unreal Tournament ups the FPS multiplayer ante to backroom Vegas levels; Quake III had better be real, real, good if it wants to sit at the same table.

unreal3.jpg (6705 bytes)Unreal Tournament has five different gameplay modes. Of course the old standards are here, and in UT you’ll find both FPS meat-and-potatoes modes: deathmatch (and team deathmatch) as well as capture the flag. But UT has also thrown in some interesting new modes. In Domination, you have to seize and hold specific points on the map; it’s a lot like the take and hold missions in Tribes, and makes for an absolutely murderous game as you and your teammates take and retake the contested areas. Even better is the new Assault mode. These games are timed and mission-oriented, and in them you’ll be tasked with either attacking an enemy base and accomplishing a number of objectives (for instance, blowing up an enemy tank prototype) or with preventing those objectives from being accomplished. Epic has put a lot of thought into the Assault games, and they’re uniformly stunning, combining interesting and gorgeous maps with challenging tactical situations. In one, you’ll have to board an enemy frigate, in another, you’ll jump from a helicopter onto a moving train and work your way from car to car as you approach an enemy command center. In my favorite, which is right out of Saving Private Ryan (and appropriately named Operation Overlord), you disembark from a landing craft right onto a beach strewn with barbed wire and covered by heavy weapons fire from bunkers. It’s a brilliant gaming moment. The final mode is Last Man Standing. You’ll start the game loaded up with all weapons and a limited number of lives, and the game continues until there’s but one lad left alive. It’s hardcore stuff.

unreal4.jpg (4477 bytes)You can play any of these modes in either single-player or multiplayer, and the most surprising thing about UT is just how good the single-player game is. In single player tournament, you’ll start off playing deathmatch against a single bot; as you progress up the ladder, you’ll deathmatch against more and tougher bots on more complex maps, and other game modes will begin to open as well. This is a great learning tool for those new to FPS multiplayer games, and Epic also includes a short but instructive tutorial that explains each mode for newbies. But the thing that really makes the single player game stand out is the bots. In a word, they’re smart. Real smart. The bots in the single-player game will give you a run for your money, especially on the higher difficulty levels. They’ll take cover, attempt to gather the most powerful weapons, seek out health when injured, and run from a mismatch. You can also command bots on your team through a very simple and efficient interface, and they do a surprisingly good job of following orders. They’ll even message you from time to time when they take position or spot an enemy. Of course, sometimes the bot AI falters; for instance, while defending in the Operation Overlord scenario I sat in a tower with a sniper rifle and picked off every bot as they crossed the beach; they never caught on. But overall, this is the best bot AI we’ve ever witnessed.

The bots also play a big role in Unreal’s extraordinary multiplayer game; if you want to play Assault with four on a side but can only scare up five human players, no problem; just add three bots to the mix. Believe me, they’re as good as most random human players, and you’ll rarely feel them to be a handicap. And for a game this beautiful, it plays very smoothly in multiplayer. Over our LAN network, we experienced virtually no lag.  With a 56.6 modem, we still managed to find plenty of games running with pings around 250; while you’ll be at a bit of a disadvantage in these games vs. DSL players, they’re still very playable. And UT makes it easy to find games. If you’ve got an Internet connection, all you’ve got to do is click on the “Find Internet Game” menu, and you’ll quickly be given a listing of servers in order of ping time.  This is the best out-of-the-box multiplayer support since Tribes, and here UT gets big points. Its ease of installation and use, coupled with its tutorials, will allow many newbies to find their way online.  Where we can frag them with ease. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

unreal5.jpg (7394 bytes)UT includes 12 weapons, from your basic pistol to an upgraded razor jack to the Redeemer, which launches a mini-nuke missile and will kill you a lot until you get the hang of guiding it. While none of the weapons are inspired in the Half-Life-alien-weapon sort of way, they are all nicely balanced and include secondary fire modes for variety.  My favorite’s the Flak Cannon, which is sort of like a shotgun (which is, by the way, not included) that shoots rounds of molten shrapnel in primary fire mode.  Not much of a weapon at range, but it will flat put someone on their ass from up-close-and-personal distance. But all’s not lost if you do need to reach out and touch someone--the Flak Cannon’s secondary fire mode will lob shrapnel grenades a goodly distance. You’ll quickly learn when to use weapons to their best advantage, and you’ll also learn that some maps favor certain weapons over others.

Speaking of maps, most of those included in UT are first-rate.  From a wooden galleon to a spaceship traveling at hyperspace speed, UT’s maps are both challenging and graphically stunning. With about 60 of them included in the game, you won’t get bored anytime soon. And by the time you do, plenty of   players will have used the included editor to post new mods. 

unreal6.jpg (5450 bytes)Of course, we’ve saved the best for last. Unreal Tournament's  graphics are just stunning, without a doubt the prettiest game we’ve ever played. It takes a bit of a horse of a machine to squeeze out everything the engine’s got to offer, but our PIII 450’s with 128 megs of RAM and Viper 770 cards ran very smoothly at high res and 32-bit color. And by the way, the first run of UT comes with a little sheet warning Direct 3D users that the game might have trouble detecting their cards. Since we run TNT 2s, we were pretty upset about this, but it’s no big deal; just change your settings from software rendering, and all is gravy.

But that’s the only thing we were upset about during our hours of pretty much nonstop gameplay; Unreal Tournament is a great game, and as remarkable a turnaround from the original’s abysmal multiplayer as the ’99 Rams are from the ’98 version. If you’re at all a fan of multiplayer games or first person shooters, buy this game.

--Rick Fehrenbacher