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Back Catalogue: Unreal Tournament

UNREAL TOURNAMENT

What is it about?

Unreal Tournament is what happened when the fine folk at Epic decided it was a good idea to make your character in a first-person shooter move around as if he or she was permanently on caffeine. It was one of the first fast-paced sci-fi multiplayer shooters, and to this day, it’s one of the best. Sure, there’s a back story involving aliens, humans and scumbag corporations, but the setting is a little more than an excuse to slaughter your fellow man in a myriad of maps, some of which have become the gold standard for multiplayer design.

Why should I play it now?

Look at your modern day multiplayer FPS. It’s filled with perks, skills, levelling up and all sorts of unnecessary bullcrap that takes away from what the game is really about i.e. shooting a person in the face with an assortment of weapons, all whilst dodging fire from another. Unreal Tournament is what you’d call a twitch shooter, where your survival isn’t dependent on ammo drops or loadouts, but on the only thing that matters – your reflexes. This aside the sense of speed makes most current generation titles seem like PowerPoint slides in comparison; it’s exhilarating!

There’s a wide assortment of weapons too, all with their own secondary fire modes. They range from your bog standard sniper rifle all the way up to a nuclear warhead that devastates everything and everyone in its way. Along the way, you’ll use teleporters and guns spewing toxic goo to frag your enemies and have a good time doing so. As mentioned earlier, the maps are very well crafted. From soaring highrises coupled with low gravity to ancient asteroids converted into a capture the flag arena, each of them is unique and most importantly, a ton of fun to play.

How does it hold up today?

While the graphics don’t exactly hold up, what with this being almost a thirteen year-old game, there are some workarounds to make it look palpable. These include Kentie’s Unreal renderer and this tutorial at UT99.org. In terms of gameplay, however, it remains rock solid. If you’ve been on a steady diet of slower, deliberately paced shooters, expect to be schooled by both the game’s bots and a ton of people who still play the game regularly. Matchmaking is a breeze and the netcode still awesome.

Is it similar to anything else out there?

Well, there’s Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal Tournament 2004 and Unreal Tournament 3. All three are good games in their own right, but none of them have had the staying power or the finesse of the original, what with incorporating vehicles, different weapons and maps that weren’t as good as the original.

What do I need to play this?

A PC. Unless you’ve got a working Sega Dreamcast or you’re willing to dust off a PS2 to play a stripped down version of it. The required specs aren’t too bad either. According to Steam, all you need is a 100% compatible Windows 2000/XP/Vista machine, which basically means you have zero excuses not to check this out.

‘When I played through…’

My first taste of Unreal Tournament was via a cracked copy I borrowed from a classmate. Couple that with a dial-up connection and I was in multiplayer heaven. It’s one of the few games where I never had a problem losing because it was so much fun to play. Before I knew it, I was spending an inordinate amount of time at LAN cafes playing with friends. The effect is almost the same thirteen years later, except now I’m playing a legit copy with some old buddies who are a million miles away rather than right next to me. Plus, I don’t get owned too bad this time around.

Is there anything else I should be aware of (i.e. mods, crazy glitches, contribution to pop culture, Internet meme, etc)?

From full scale total conversions like Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror (think of it as Counter-Strike with the Unreal Engine) to incorporating alien weaponry such as bots and flame guns via the Nali Weapons 3 mod, there are an insane number of mods to choose from, ensuring that Unreal Tournament sticks around on your hard drive for a while.

Where do I get it?

Steam and GOG have the Game of the Year Edition for $9.99 with the latter offering two HD wallpapers and eight avatars as a bonus. At the time of writing, no local e-commerce site seems to stock the physical version at all. At roughly 320 MB, it isn’t that big a download either so going digital is your best bet.

Let us know what you think of our Back Catalogue retrospective feature, or tell us which classic games you’d like to see featured in the future in the comments section below or in the corresponding discussion thread at the IVG community forums.

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