"Ladies and Gentlemen… We Have a Winner!"
1999 is the year for pugilism. It is the year in which many genres have thrown down their best gauntlets and the gaming public has watched in awe and anticipation, waiting for the victor to emerge. Battling Bots '99: the competition of Starsiege vs. Mechwarrior 3 vs. Heavy Gear 2. Real-Time Sequels '99: matching Age of Empires 2 vs. Total Annihilation: Kingdoms vs. C&C 2: Tiberian Sun. These showdowns and others have sustained and entertained the loyal masses all year. But one match, the final match, is just now raging on gaming rigs 'round the world. That match, that quintessential bout and classic David v. Goliath, is none other than Multi-Play FPS Fragfest '99: Quake 3 Arena vs. Unreal Tournament. Members of the studio audience, viewers around the world… a victor has emerged.
Unreal Tournament, in no uncertain terms, is the best multi-player first person shooter to come out all year. While there are other games that push hard on the boundaries of traditional FPS gameplay such as Starsiege Tribes and the upcoming Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament focuses on expanding and refining more classic FPS gameplay instead of creating a whole new paradigm. Even with that focus on keeping it familiar, Unreal Tournament is extremely innovative, taking FPS Multi-Play to the brink of perfection without alienating the massed legions of Quake fans.
UT includes 6 ways to play: Tournament Deathmatch, Tournament Team Deathmatch, Domination, Capture the Flag, Last Man Standing, and Assault.
Tournament Deathmatch is traditional Deathmatch, pitting players with guns & ammo against each other in an orgy of violence. Team Deathmatch groups players into teams. Domination is a Team Deathmatch mode in which each team attempts to hold on to three control points on the map - score is awarded to teams based on the number of control points held and time of possession. Capture the Flag is like the old kids game: teams face off, each has a flag and each attempts to steal the other team's flag and return it to their own base. Last man standing assigns each player a certain number of lives, when the lives are exhausted, the player is 'out.' The winner is the last player to remain alive.
Assault is another team-based mode that is sure to raise heads. It involves two teams, one in control of a base that they must defend, and the other team attempting to storm the base and accomplish some task. The tasks are varied, such as invading an artillery position and detonating the massive gun or jumping off a moving helicopter and taking control of a speeding train.
While that may seem a bevy of play options, it is merely the beginning of the variety. Unreal Tournament allows you to vary the style of gameplay from how fast people move to how much damage guns do. Beyond that, specialty rules sets (called 'mutators') can be assigned to any level. Mutators can be anything from 'Chainsaw melee' (self explanatory) to 'Fatboy,' a mode in which players get larger as their frags go up. The sheer number of options and modifiers that can be used in Unreal Tournament, combined with the large number of gameplay modes, make for a game that is almost endlessly expansive.
All of these modes can be played either online or simulated in every detail using a practice mode that places computer controlled opponents, called 'bots,' in place of humans. One of the most notable features of UT is the incredibly good AI. Quite simply, the bots play like humans . . . like good humans. Bots exhibit all the behavior of a skilled human player, except that they actually follow your orders in the Team games. Bots are also highly configurable, from one of eight pre-set difficulty settings to actually tweaking their favorite gun, marksmanship, and other characteristics. To put it bluntly, no one has ever programmed a better AI in a FPS than the UT bots; playing offline just as much fun as playing online.
The weapons in UT help to make it a far more intense, and subtle game than most other FPSs. Every weapon has two fire modes whose effects complement each other and make for some great combo moves. With two modes of fire, you are essentially always equipped with two weapons, adding depth and intensity that was lacking in Quake 3.
Graphically, Unreal Tournament is fine and based on the still-great Unreal engine. Unlike Quake 3, where the fun is dependent on the graphical quality, the fun in UT is all in the gameplay. Architecture detail is not particularly complex, player models are not particularly varied, and overall the game is not actually as visually appealing as the original Unreal. Still, the graphics are perfectly functional and carry the gameplay well.
Also, although the engine may be a little old, the gameplay maps are fantastic. Unreal Tournament's 50-plus areas have you fighting on stratospheric sky scrapers, spinning asteroids, ships in hyper-space, and even a Spanish Galleon. In fact, Unreal Tournament has some of the best multiplayer maps in the entire FPS genre.
Interface is yet another area in which UT excels. Epic Megagames (the game's designer) also made wise move in incorporating the Gamespy server-locating software directly into Unreal Tournament, which makes finding a good server a snap.
Add to that some excellent sound and smooth internet code, and you have a serious winner on your hands. Unreal Tournament, by the thinnest of margins, is not really a revolutionary game, but it is almost perfect at what it does. This is the definitive straight multi-player first person shooter. It is an amazing game that never fails to impress or entertain. No self-respecting action gamer's library is complete without Unreal Tournament. This is the undisputed champion, choose it . . . there's no reason to pick the consolation prize.