Let me start this review of the Unreal Tournament Demo by saying this: I'm surprised. I must admit that going into this demo, I was concerned that UT wasn't going to have what it takes to go up against the likes of Quake 3: Arena, Team Fortress Classic and Half-Life. But after playing the demo for a couple of days (in the free time that is allowed by my schedule - I'm still shackled by the day job), I'm relieved to say that UT appears to have the makings of a great multiplayer game.
Why would I be concerned or relieved? Because, quite frankly, it's been a while since we've had a game that was truly different. It seems that Quake (the original) was the last game to really turn things upside down. It was leaps and bounds beyond anything else at the time graphically, it had great multiplayer gameplay, and the single-player mode was...well, never mind the single-player mode.
The point is that we need something to breathe some life back into our beloved first-person shooter genre, and I think UT may be just what the doctor ordered. Don't get me wrong - UT isn't going to take the genre to a "higher level" as far as team play, weaponry or strategy (we're waiting on Team Fortress 2 for that), but I think it's a step in the right direction on the whole.
The first thing I noticed about the Unreal Tournament demo was the graphics - they're absolutely stunning, especially with all the graphics options turned on. You can see graphical detail in the game that takes it to a whole new level of realism. The weapons look worn and textured, the character's faces have realistic detail, and the walls, pillars, torches and grounds that make up the environment look fantastic.
Quake 3 Test looks positively "cartoony" compared to UT (but the lack of curved surfaces does stand out now that we've all played Quake 3 Test). This was even more remarkable considering the Super 7 machine I was playing on was powered by an AMD K6-300 processor, a supposedly bad choice for a gaming CPU.
The Super 7 test system was based on a DFI K6BV3+ motherboard, 128MB of RAM and a 3dfx Voodoo3 3000. I didn't run any formal benchmarks, but the gameplay was very smooth over my cable modem (with an average ping time of about 100ms), both locally and over the Internet. We all remember that Unreal was horrible in the multiplayer department. The UT guys have really jazzed up the Unreal network code for UT, and it shows.
To be honest, I consistently get lower ping times in Quake 3 Test (usually more like 50-70ms), but they probably haven't completely finished optimizing the network code for UT. Hopefully it will just get better from here. You have to give the id boys their credit, though...the Quake 3 Test network optimization is great.
A peak outside...
Another peek outside...
The weapons seem to be balanced and well-done. One particular item of note is an option that's available in the Rocket Launcher. In the original Unreal, you could hold the fire button down and the Rocket Launcher could load multiple rockets into the chamber. When you released the fire button, they would all fire at simultaneously. You could fire one rocket at a time, but there was a very slight (but very noticeable - especially to Quake players) delay in the time between hitting the fire button and the rocket actually leaving the launcher. The game had to wait to "see" if you were going to hold down the button to load multiple rockets.
UT has addressed this problem with an option in the menu-driven interface (everything in the game is menu-driven, by the way - no more typing in the console) that allows you to enable and disable single-fire rockets. I find that it's advantageous to leave the Rocket Launcher in multi-fire mode for heavily populated maps. There's a distinct satisfaction in walking into a room full of people busy fighting each other, whipping out your Rocket Launcher, loading six rockets, and releasing them all at once. The carnage that ensues is a hysterical, beautiful thing. But for a game with just a few players in it, I prefer to have the Rocket Launcher in single-fire mode. You have to have that split-second timing when everyone's attention isn't spread so thinly.
Another weapon that deserves mention is the Pulse Gun: it has a secondary fire mode that is like Quake's Lightning Gun, except that it's easier to aim than the original. Quake's Lightening Gun has a "spread" as you're firing it that makes it a challenge to aim accurately. The Pulse Gun's secondary fire mode throws a green , wavy beam across the level that that is a lot "tighter" than the Quake Lightening Gun. It doesn't "grab", either...you either hit your target, or you don't.
The rest of the weapons work well enough, even if they aren't especially inspiring. The Mini Gun is you basic chain gun, the Shock Rifle is just that...a single-fire rifle. The Enforcer is your hand gun, Double Enforcers is just what it sounds like: two handguns. The Impact Hammer is your close-combat weapon that requires you touch your opponent to make a hit.
One cool twist is the Translocator. It allows you to fire a module anywhere you can see (from where you are), and instantly transports you to the place that the module lands. That gives you a say in where you "teleport" to when you have to bail a firefight, unlike the Quake 3 Test's Personal Teleporter that just puts you who-knows-where. Of course, that means you can't just slam your "Use Item" button when you get into a jam...you have to make an effort to aim the module where you want it before you fire. It's a neat tool that will be fun to learn and use, and it should make for some interesting strategies.
Hey, be careful with that thing!
Can we just all get along?
Modes Of Play
There are different modes of play in UT that give players a wide spectrum of gibbing goodness to choose from. There is, of course, the good old-fashioned deathmatch free-for-all mode that we all know and love. Then you have your team mode that has become popular ever since the original Team Fortress took off a couple of years ago. There's also Domination, which is a really cool kind of combination of team modes. You have to capture and hold "control points" that the other team is also trying to capture and hold. There are several control points to worry about at one time, so it has a nice depth to it. Think of it as Capture the Flag with several flags being taken and defended, all at the same time, all of the time.
Another neat feature is the ability to play a tournament in a single-player mode against the Bots. As you win more tournaments, you move up and gain experience. There isn't any find-the-key, kill-the-ridiculously-stupid-bad-guys-along-the-way mode. Speaking of the Bots...they have unbelievable AI. Sometimes it's downright scary. You can select their skill level from a list of eight levels of skill before you begin, ranging from "Novice" to "Godlike". They act like human opponents in that they dodge, chase, jump and run just like a human player. They can also be treated like human players: if they can't see you or hear you, you can get the jump on them and get them before they get you. If you're good. Really good.
Damn, I lost my contact lens!
I see Bob! He's over there, and there...
Epic, 3dfx, And NVIDIA
You knew it was coming...
Any personal rants? You bet. What's up with Epic and NVIDIA (or Epic and anyone other than 3dfx, for that matter)? Remember how it was like pulling teeth to get Unreal to run on your TNT, with promises of patches from Epic to fix the problems, only to be told the patch has been delayed...again?
It just kinda rubs me the wrong way that after all that, Epic comes out with a "3dfx-only" demo a week and a half before the "full" demo. And there's a big "Sponsored by 3dfx" banner on the opening screen for the game, and there are 3dfx posters on the walls in the game...but I digress. Did Epic think we NVIDIA guys were going to forget all the poo-poo we went through with Unreal? Do they think we're used to having to wait for their software to work properly with our video cards? It just kind of gets my skivvies wadded up the wrong way (is there a right way to wad your skivvies? Hmm...).
This is all a terrible misunderstanding...
In conclusion, I think that Unreal Tournament is a fantastic multiplayer game with a lot of bells and whistles. It plays well in multiplayer and single-player mode, it has a good range of weapons, the graphics are great, the Bots totally rock...it's going to be interesting to see how Unreal Tournament and Quake 3: Arena fare against each other in the coming months. By the looks of it, though, Quake 3: Arena has its work cut out for it.
Here are a few popular Unreal/Unreal Tournement web sites: