Unreal became a household name back in 1998 when it challenged Quake II, Half-Life, and SiN for the First Person Shooter crown. It had a solid storyline for a blockbuster game. It had a cool universe of its own, with numerous races, and factions. But most importantly, it had one of the better multiplayer death match modes anyone had seen.
Unreal, and Quake II’s multiplayer modes became so popular in fact, they exceeded the popularity of the campaigns. So iD would follow-up Quake II with Quake III Arena. Q3A was an entirely multiplayer affair. It was fast. It was frantic. It became an instant hit with competitive gamers everywhere.
While this was going on, Epic realized while creating Unreal’s multiplayer focused expansion pack that it was now advanced enough it could be its own game.
The first in a line of one of gaming’s most popular arena shooters. This is where it all began.
PROS: Customization. Variety. Mod tools. Everything.
CONS: Graphics haven’t aged well.
HOLY WMD BATMAN: The Redeemer.
Unreal Tournament takes place in the same universe as Unreal. In it, the New Earth Government, partners with Liandri corporation to devise a bloody gladiator sport with characters representing each of the races in the Unreal mythos. As such you get to choose from a bunch of races, and characters to use.
Unreal Tournament is a vintage game that holds up very well for both original fans, as well as newcomers who missed it. UT was, and is novel because instead of simply copying Quake III’s “Faster! Faster! Faster!” philosophy it instead blazes its own trail. How does it differentiate itself from the competition?
The first observation a new player would note is the weapons. Instead of a standard hand gun, shotgun, machine gun, rail gun, and rocket launcher along with laser or plasma guns UT mixes things up.
Unreal Tournament does have some stock weapons in it, but even those are set apart by their alternate firing modes. Pistols can be fired gangsta style. The minigun can have faster spins with less accuracy but more power, or standard spins with less power but more accuracy. Rockets can lock on to targets.
UT does feature a sniper rifle too. But don’t go into it thinking it is going to be an easy job getting headshots from afar. Because of the frantic nature of the game staying in one spot camping away is usually a bad strategy. It’s only a matter of time before you’re spotted, and taken down.
Science fiction themed weapons get outright bizarre. The shock rifle can shoot slow-moving orbs with its secondary function, that can then be shot with its primary function causing it to explode taking out enemies in its wake.
The flak cannon can fire shrapnel or grenades. The biorifle can either pepper an area with green sludge or slowly charge a single shot that will kill many combatants in one hit. This also fires on a slow arc, so it takes time to master.
The ripper is easily the most sadistic gun in the game. Firing giant buzz saws, players unfortunate enough to be hit in the neck will be decapitated. Moreover, the blades ricochet off of walls. So really skilled players can use that knowledge to rack up frag counts. The secondary fire won’t decapitate. But it does have farther knock back.
The redeemer is the showcase weapon. Firing the primary shot launches a nuclear missile. Firing the secondary shot lets players remotely control that missile, driving it into a crowd of potential victims.
If you do run out of ammo UT has you covered with the impact hammer. It’s essentially a jack hammer you can use to explode enemies, or boost jump at the cost of some damage.
But weapons are only a small part of the equation. The biggest contribution Unreal Tournament makes is the ability to dodge. Unreal Tournament allows you to double tap any direction to do a sidestep or a roll. This becomes key when playing because in a full game, there will be projectiles flying around everywhere.
Dodges can also get you moving down hallways faster than running in some cases. Making movement a really big reason why many still play UT to this day.
Unreal Tournament has a few modes that are staples today. There are of course the typical Death match, and Team Death match modes. These work the way they do in every other shooter, players or teams trying to get in more kills than the opponent until either the kill limit is reached or the time runs out. Last Man Standing also appears with every player fighting until only one remains.
Assault is one of Unreal Tournament’s modes that set it apart upon release. This mode has an attacking, and defending team with the attackers setting up targets to be destroyed. This has been adapted, and retooled in a number of other games. But it was here it really came into its own.
Domination is another mode that has been retooled by other games. In it teams try to hold control points on the map for as long as possible. The more points held, the higher the score becomes. This leads to skirmishes around the points as teams rally to increase their scores before the time expires.
Capture The Flag is also here, and while UT didn’t invent the mode, it is one of the most popular series to play that mode in. This is because of some spectacular map design.
In fact map design is so memorable that many of them reappear in sequels as well as many fan made mods for other games. Maps like Deck 16, Fractal, and Face are prime examples of the games’ glory.
The music is also very memorable. Tracks like Go Down will never be forgotten by the fans of this series for a reason. The soundtrack is full of electronica crafted for the environments throughout the maps. It matches the tone of Unreal nicely.
While the blocky visuals, and lower quality textures won’t wow you the way they wowed audiences in 1998 the customization options just might. Over the years a lot of PC games have really watered down the options. These days you can turn on or off certain visual effects, set detail levels, set your resolution, and whether or not you want to have v-sync enabled.
UT takes it further. You can change every one of those options as well as fine tune your HUD, crosshairs (You can give each weapon its own) as well as a bunch of other under the hood options. You can also punch in engine commands by pulling down the console. It’s sad to see in retrospect how much tinkerers no longer have the ability to tweak without going into a buried .ini file somewhere in a directory.
Unreal Tournament (and its successors) also gives you the tools you need to make your own stages, mods, and other user content. That’s on top of the 16 years of community mods you can still find today.
Going back to Unreal Tournament now will give you mixed emotions. On the one hand the old visuals aren’t going to wow you at all. On the other hand the tight gameplay, advanced movement, and reflex requirement will make you wonder why such a fun, and rewarding style had to fade out.
Still, even 16 years after its release, Unreal Tournament has a small but devoted group of people still firing it up. Do check it out if you have even the slightest interest in video game history.
Final Score: 8 out of 10