"Do you have any friends? Well, do you? If the answer to this dubious and revealing question is 'yes', then you simply cannot do without playing Unreal Tournament. But I am not good at First Person Shooter games! You whine, clearly unimpressed (and most likely hiding your negative response to the first question!). To this I say, it doesn't matter! like The Rock before he hung up his spandex briefs."
Do you have any friends? Well, do you? If the answer to this dubious and revealing question is 'yes', then you simply cannot do without playing Unreal Tournament.
But I am not good at First Person Shooter games! You whine, clearly unimpressed (and most likely hiding your negative response to the first question!). To this I say, it doesn't matter! like The Rock before he hung up his spandex briefs. I have played this game with players of all skill sets, running the gamut as they say, and though some were reluctant in admitting it, all were thoroughly enthralled by the UT experience. That even goes for those who claim, and rightly so, that UT isn't as smart as games like Half-Life. It most certainly does not try to be; it tries to be faster, and it succeeds at that in a big way.
Playing by yourself against computer opponents can be very exciting, and will tax your reflexes and your ability to be aware, especially in the frantic later missions. All by your lonesome, you may also join an existing match on the net, by any number of ways. Search ongoing blood-filled tournaments by I.P. address, modes of play and more. You'll be able to immediately identify if the arena you are interested in is currently active and determine the number of players and the number of bots (read: computer controlled opponents) running amok inside.
Naturally you will need internet access for online play, and as is the case with the computer itself - the faster the better. However, I've played UT with a dial-up connection with a Pentium II and found it to be a sufficiently engaging experience. But for the truly harrowing, eye-blurring multiplayer time of your life, a cable or DSL connection with at least a PIII is recommended.
Now. About those modes of play. Choose from the ever-present Deathmatch, the Team Deathmatch, Domination, Capture the Flag, Last Man Standing and Assault games. What's all this then? Deathmatches are 'every man for themselves' frag-for-alls, where it's kill or be killed. The top kill getter wins when he has reached the predetermined about of kills or frags.
Team Deathmatches combine the deathmatch experience with team solidarity. Team blue versus team red, and so on. Once again, the top killing team wins the match. Domination also features teams, where the goal is to locate and 'hold' various checkpoints that will garner points toward victory. A bit of planning is crucial to success here, and much of this should be facilitated by 'talking' through a secure, team-only channel.
But Capture the Flag is where this game really shines. Here, the possibilities for strategy are boundless. Have a man stay behind to guard your team's flag while another bravely - and somewhat foolishly - penetrates the opposition stronghold to procure their marker, and bring it back to mate with yours. Should your reconnaissance man be sniped en route, all an opposition member has to do is touch the fallen flag to return it to its proper place of resting.
Therefore, when someone is carrying a flag, he automatically becomes the sought after quarry, wanted only dead, and not alive. Other team members can and should shield this crucial flag bearer with their lives. Your existence is a disposable commodity here, and similarly, your frag totals are also irrelevant, save for points that you can amass as an individual. That is to say, you may earn a ton of points on your own through lethal death-dealing, but if your team doesn't successfully out-steal your opponents for flags, your squad loses. It's that simple.
The other playing options, Last Man Standing and Assault are lesser-known and utilized games within the game. Last Man Standing rewards players inversely to Deathmatches. Winners are determined not by how many times they've killed, but by how few times they have swallowed shells or shrapnel themselves. There will be players who try to win by turtling - hiding in crates so as to avoid being killed. It's a cowardly but effective technique, and so it's very rewarding for those who notice the culprit's position rising to the top of the score chart, to set upon sousing him out. To find the yellow warrior and empty your rocket launcher into his cubby hole brings great joy to all the other players with cajones.
Assault may be the darkhorse of the Tournament. It brings back vivid memories of G.I. Joe, the T.V. show (not the once respectable comic). It's a team activity that has one side attempt infiltration of the other's camp. Then the teams reverse roles. To defend successfully through the allotted time brings the defense victory. If the invading team gets inside and does the required damage to the indicated targets, the defense will rest, literally.
Do not expect the silent, deliberate plan and execute methods from games like Rogue Spear to be of much use or necessity. Simple Joe team tactics and top notch FPS skills will see you through. For the invaders this means rushing in hard with guns blazing. Often, a sniper perched somewhere is a good idea, as he can pick off some of the more belligerent defenders. Also, ejecting a few grenades into a filled corridor couldn't hurt. It could kill, but not hurt.
From the standpoint of those involved in the holding action, a warrior on either side of main point of entry is always a good plan, with another man on a stairway perhaps, lobbing grenades continuously, raining death like an unrelenting downpour.
And what of these grenades? This is where UT distances itself from The Eager, The Many, The FPS pack. It's all in the weaponry. In other games where you have only a Rail Gun and Rocket Launcher to really look forward to, the possibilities can only stretch so far. The arsenal at your fingertips in UT is instantly impressive, and only rightfully appears genius-inspired over considerable time spent with the game.
Each weapon has a primary and secondary function, activated by the left and right mouse respectively (default setting) and the middle, rolling mouse button allows you to scroll between weapon selections. The obvious choice right away seems to be the Rocket Launcher. With the primary button tapped you can fire a single rocked (heat-seeking if you have the Auto Aim 'crutch' function on) but with it held down for any length of time, you will hear the rockets loading so that multiple releases are enabled. You will be able to accrue up to five rockets at a time in the weapon's chamber, and releasing the button at any time during this loading process will empty the launcher of any and all rockets loaded at that time. Failing to release the button will automatically fire off the maximum five rockets when the chamber is full; this is not something you want to have happen, as the weapon could go off when you're not expecting it to, creating a potential hazard as much to yourself as anyone in the general vicinity.
The rockets can streak toward their target in a spread, or in a cluster, the former formation being ideal for slicing running or multiple opponents and the latter serving as the ideal method of absolutely ensuring complete and utter annihilation of even the most stubborn bots. The right click function 'tosses' the rocket shells as grenades. The possibilities for this death-dealing device are endless, and like the primary function, you can 'load' the amount of shells to toss, once again, up to a maximum of five. Dropping shells on the heads of unsuspecting bots on a floor below; down elevator shafts full of your pals; directly at the chest of an oncoming handgun toting hero; all ramifications will equate carnage in your wake and a smile on your face.
Now onto the best weapons - and UT is the only FPS that I have played where the rocket launcher (the mainstay of most fragfests) isn't at the top of the food chain. Enter the Flak Cannon. Ventilating enemies with the ultimate FPS gun in my experience can only be described as supremely pleasurable. Obtaining a Flak Cannon and a healthy supply of ammunition is reason enough for celebration - and to send cognizant opponents fleeing. The primary function is unparalleled. A volley of hot lead spits forth like glowing embers tearing through nearby opponents, even bouncing off walls to do residual damage to those who might seem out of range in tight corridors. This is the best close range weapon ever. One shot will do in even the Godlike from close proximity without damaging the user.
The secondary function is perfectly suited to enemies just below your line of sight. Lobbing a frag grenade that rainbows downward onto someone's face or chest will have devastating results. There are areas where you can stand over a staircase or ramp leading up to your position, and continually bombard any who strive to ascend.
Add to this high-powered duo the Sniper Rifle, which features a scope as its auxiliary action, allowing one to zoom in on an opponent and at almost the exact moment the fire button is depressed, their head lops off. ''Headshot!'' The game informs you, and as good as this is to hear while in zoom mode, it is all the more satisfying when one is able to effect this exclamation while running about.
There is a rifle of sorts that fires what look to be razor sharp circular saws. It too, can cause decapitations, though with none of the consistency and immediacy of the Sniper Rifle. Experienced players often fill a room as they leave it with these ricocheting, slicing projectiles, making for a veritable pinball game of garish dismemberment and doom. A 'Bioweapon' makes a somewhat expected appearance, and the Gatling gun, handgun, and two handgun combination are also standard FPS fare. Even so, UT makes the commonplace extra special; the handgun can be held 'gangsta' style - sideways for the uncool - which allows for faster firing, but less sure aim.
The Shock Rifle is arguably the most creative conventional weapon and inarguably the most powerful. Button two fires a slow moving blue ball of energy that is destructive in its own right from close in. Button two fires a weaker, but farther-reaching and more controlled dart of blue fire. The innovation is, that you can fire enough blue balls to fill a room and hit them with a single azure streak to set them off like slow moving mines. Often, what ensues is akin to a dozen rats in a microwave set on high. Complete, and utter liquefaction of all in the vicinity will occur, making this the unlikeliest ultimate in melee weaponry.
Sometimes there will be a mad rush of poorly armed and outfitted combatants as if to the 'twelve items or less' checkout counter. This is evidence of The Redeemer being in the area. As the name would indicate, the much sought after, very unconventional one-shot weapon can be your redemption, though it might take your life in the process of its firing. The trade-off is usually quite favorable however, as kamikaze-style, you are likely to take down at least a half dozen unlucky souls with you using the unwieldy weapon.
And yet there is still more; translocators that can be tossed over say, a small river, so as to 'teleport' to the other side. Useless hand-to-hand weapons make an appearance (though with all the ammo scattered about, they will be unnecessary) and various power ups like invincibility icons, health paks, anti-gravity boots and flak vests are also strewn throughout the different environs.
And what environs! Scale the rickety, spiraling steps encircling a castle, fighting on the inside, rending rivals on the ramparts and leaving carnage on the parapets. Duel it out with Rocket Launchers atop a donut-like space station in zero gravity. And then thereís my personal favorite: shooting it out atop skyscrapers with reduced gravitational pull at play, and the top three floors to each building accessible. Perched in hiding atop one building, fire your sniper rifle at an unsuspecting villain in a windowed transom of a building adjacent. Bounce about like super armed, agile spacemen loosing volleys of blue fire to knock airborne attackers off the structures altogether, or pin down and annihilate cornered foes as you soar overhead like their personal Grim Reaper of unimagined phantasy. Itís one thing to pontificate on, and truly another to experience, and all of this is occurring with visceral visuals and voices, and tight controls (you'll need to work both the mouse and keyboard well simultaneously for any measure of success). Teleport, strafe, and run and gun your way to happiness.
Even with this embarrassment of riches as its unbeatable hand, UT saves the small perks as its ace in the hole. Things like naming the bots yourself, (nothing like seeing the game report that 'You've killed punk_ass' or some disliked celebrity or family member) and trash-talking. There's much of the latter in UT, and my Quake II enthusiast friends became enamoured of this feature very quickly. ''Die human!'' and, ''I am the Alpha and the Omega!'' are cries that will echo through your speakers, making the chaos very personal. You will stake vendettas against the one who taunted you as he killed you - literally adding insult to injury - and will hunt him down, kill him, and splash his lifeless body onto the surrounding walls. All this, just for the opportunity to say, ''You suck.'' Revenge was never sweeter.
The indelible, pulse-quickening effect Unreal Tournament will have on you will vary in magnitude mainly by how many friends you have that are willing to join you in this war, and just how much you are into FPS games. But as previously mentioned, appreciation for the game isn't wholly dependent on these factors. I cannot say for sure whether my group of game players is a microcosm of the gaming community at large, but it sure seems likely. Yet their only complaint after fragging week in and week out, was that they wished there were more maps, and more character skins. And they are avaiable - easily downloadable from various internet sites. Before long, our tournament was revitalized, and once more battle cries like ''Boom!'' figured largely in our daily conversations.
Appropriately, the notion of shaking this game off once you've played it recalls another, poignant taunt from Unreal Tournament: ''Useless!''
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 10, 2003)
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