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Unreal Tournament (PC) artwork

Unreal Tournament (PC) review

"Eternal Tournament"

Unreal Tournament (PC) image

Few experiences in the world of entertainment creation are more harrowing than being in the shoes of an IP holder about to take its ideas in a fresh direction. We all thrive on routine to some degree, wallowing in the mediocrity of our annualized franchises and superhero blockbusters and the like. New means different, and different means not the same. Not the same means risk, means possibly worse. However, a lack of evolution leads to stagnancy and prevents the rise of ingenious new ideas. A comedic manga was adapted into a serious film feature movie, and science fiction was changed forever by director Oshii's Ghost in the Shell. An excellent horror series was succeeded by a more action-oriented adventure, and thus an entire genre of video gaming took off thanks to Resident Evil 4. A linear FPS series was turned into a sandbox third-person shooter, and few games have since matched the environmental destruction of Red Faction: Guerrilla. Granted, taking a concept into a wildly new direction can lead to catastrophe, but to insist that an idea never transform into something new expresses an unhealthy notion that consumers, not creators, should always determine the identity of a work.

With this in mind, let's ask a question. How do you follow up one of the best shooter single player experiences ever made? If you answered "All multiplayer, minimal story, no campaign," you'd be met with intense skepticism. That could go horribly wrong unless you took great care and knew what you were doing. That's what Epic did in making Unreal Tournament, a sublime experience for single and group play alike.

Unreal Tournament (PC) image

Unreal Tournament's mechanics are instantly recognizable and intuitive, just like Unreal's. It retains most of the arsenal of the last game but with subtle improvements aesthetically and mechanically. The quick-dodge feature in Unreal returns, the speed adjustment option returns alongside a fantastic air control option, the default movement is similar to Unreal's; one needn't use the tutorial level (with bizarrely risque murals) to figure out how anything works. The first game's ingenuity in gifting players with silky movement and visually defined projectile trajectories makes for immaculate gameplay in a multiplayer setting. The aspect that sets Unreal Tournament apart from its predecessor is the content itself.

There are five core gametypes in Unreal Tournament, all of which are well-introduced by the single-player Tournament Mode, a selection of challenges across the many maps. There's Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination (a mode during which a team must hold areas of interest to get points), and Assault (a mode during which a defending team must prevent an invading team from securing objectives). All of these are easy to grasp but provide plenty of nuances for players to master. In the absence of kill assists, custom loadouts, cosmetics, and other such progression systems, Unreal Tournament is delightful in its simplicity, for what greater incentive to play is there than mastery of mechanics?

Unreal Tournament (PC) image

Many FPSes set a high "skill" ceiling consisting of trying to figure out the invisible trajectories of poorly defined bullet fire, but Unreal Tournament is communicative and above such primitive design. As in Unreal, most weapons fire visible projectiles, so players dodge attacks to play a furious game of cat-and-mouse instead of peeking out from behind cover to play a boring game of whack-a-mole. The audio design for the weapons relays their might in relation to each other, with each sound aligning to each shot fired. Damage boosts and shields are represented by visual and sonic means; the former power-up painting its user in purple while accompanying shots and depleting power-ups time with distinct notes for players to hear, and the latter item coats its user in degrees of yellow according to the amount of shields left as static crackling fills the air upon its depletion by fire. Other than gameplay, the game knows how to convey the conditions of matches as a whole.

Hectic arena shooters can fall into the trap of being overwhelming, but this is avoided by communication, as well. Kill displays and whatnot are present here, as well as universal notifications if someone's on a killing spree. Weapon models are distinct enough to convey what weapon one currently equips; this, sound effects, and the just-right delay in switching weapons helps prevent one from getting unfairly surprised too often. Weapon and player spawns have sound effects, as well, reducing time wasted looking for a certain item on the map if one is observant. Unreal Tournament knows how to use its sound design to convey its mechanics and the conditions of a match, leaving one to appreciate the maps themselves.

Unreal Tournament (PC) image

From pirate ships to castles in space, maps are varied in size, scope, and aesthetics. Each map accommodates the control and arsenal immaculately, with careful weapon placements and natural choke points providing dynamic topography in terms of physical landscapes and power plays. Unreal Tournament's gameplay and map design are a beautiful synergy that makes each match different every time, even with identical conditions. This alone is equivalent to nigh-infinite replayablity, but various customization options take this to the next level.

Being able to tweak mechanics is a PC gaming staple, and Unreal Tournament is a prime example of this supreme design philosophy. Bots are better than ever, and their AI can now can be customized in-game, with their accuracy, defensiveness, jumpiness, and general behavior capable of being altered in order to make combat even more dynamic. Equally vital are the options to adjust movement speed, air control, and time-to-kill (I prefer a 110% game speed and 100% air control mode); just tweaking these options can drastically transform the way a match transpires, anything from Superhot-esque deliberation to supersonic mayhem. Yet more drastic transformations are caused by mutators, which effect anything from weapon loadouts to gravity. Fan-made mutators are even more vast, ranging from entirely new weapons to automatic bot assigning to gameplay alterations like double-jumps and grappling hooks. Which brings us to the mod community.

Unreal Tournament (PC) image

Unreal Tournament's mod community is the stuff of dreams. Custom cosmetics, weapons (the Portal Gun and ChaosUT Sword are my favorites), textures, music, quality-of-life improvements, entirely new multiplayer modes, and literally thousands of maps result in infinite replayability that could not have been possible without a focus on the PC platform; you don't get this much quality or quantity on consoles. Perhaps the most vital of these improvements is Oldskool, a modification that, among many other things, allows one to play original and fanmade Unreal levels using the improved engine and mechanical tweaking of Unreal Tournament. This is the definitive way to play one of the best single-player campaigns of all of FPS-dom (several of them of you count mods like Seven Bullets), and all on top of what might be the best FPS multiplayer to date.

Unreal Tournament offers a fantastic, intuitive arena shooter at its core. Surrounding that core is an endless ocean of fantastic fan-made content. What times we live in that, for a twenty-dollar bill, you can pick up Unreal Gold and Unreal Tournament: Game of the Year Edition at full-price. For a twenty-dollar bill, you can pick up thousands of hours of quality.

For a twenty-dollar bill, you can pick up two of the best video games ever made. Ain't we spoiled?


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Featured community review by Follow_Freeman (July 22, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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Zydrate posted July 23, 2018:

Yooooo this shit was my JAM all those years ago. My brother and I played the hell out of it and we got in trouble more than a few times. Pretty much birthed our gaming lives.
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Follow_Freeman posted July 24, 2018:

I only started playing about a year ago, but I think it's become my favorite game from an entertainment quality (as opposed to artistic, though if you like architecture, Unreal Tournament has you covered).

Hey, while I'm here, check out this mod video and join the Discord server linked below, love to have you.
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Masters posted July 24, 2018:

Ah, UT. It was once my favourite game, is still in my top 5 FPS and top 10 games of all time. I booted it up the other day and it still rocks. You could spend ages talking about the weapons and maps, which is what makes or breaks an FPS -- and not have time enough left over to cover how awesome the sounds are. Nice to see it get more love.

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