Monday, April 6, 2015

Unreal Tournament Series Retrospective

A screenshot from the new Unreal Tournament pre-alpha

There is a new Unreal Tournament game in development and it is free! If that means nothing to you, you didn't play 90's arena shooters, and I'm sorry for your loss. The original Unreal Tournament was a staple of the LAN parties of my youth. Many curses were uttered and energy drinks consumed while fragging each other into the wee hours of the night. What I'd give for a good fragging. A nice, long, hot fragging. Anyways, in celebration of UT4, I thought I'd replay and review the various entries in the UT series, looking ahead to the newest iteration.
Unreal Tournament was released in 1999. It was essentially a multiplayer expansion of Epic Games' Unreal, a single player focused shooter. It was another spin on Quake, but unlike ID Software's games, Unreal Tournament was more developed, featuring colorful maps with sci-fi themes, various multiplayer modes, and a huge arsenal of weapons. Also of note is the soundtrack, which is an awesome collection of 90's techno. Playing it today, it still feels good, though the mouse look is a little floaty. Iconic weapons such as the flak cannon and the shock rifle are powerful but spammy. Map design is tight and lacking superfluous details, and most levels are a mix of space stations, industrial complexes, and medieval castles. Although this is my favorite version of UT, I think that most of the weapons are too powerful, though I would like the newest Unreal to take inspiration from its level design.
 Oooh, bright colors

Unreal Tournament 2003/04 was a large update to the series. Player movement changed considerably; dodge jumping was introduced, as well as double jumping, making it harder to hit characters. Curiously, all the maps in UT04 feel gigantic, as though the player character isn't quite to scale with the environment. Replaying it, hitscan weapons like the shock rifle and lightning gun are more useful than traditional staples like the rocket launcher and flak cannon because of the tiny player models and huge maps. The graphics also look cartoony, which contrasts with the copious blood and gore. UT04 featured even more game modes than UT99, while also introducing vehicles to the series. Still a fun game, though I dislike the expanded movement options and cartoon graphics.

It's Gears of Tournament

Epic dropped the year-based naming scheme for UT3. Featuring the now-ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3, UT3 owed a lot in the art department to Gears of War. It's probably the most coherent of the series as far as design goes, but the dark, gritty nature of the levels, mixed with blurry post-processing effects, sometimes make spotting player characters difficult. Epic also focused more on vehicle-based modes like Warfare, to the detriment of Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes. The game launched very buggy, with a server browser that barely worked, which succeeded in killing the community. Perhaps overly derided, I actually like UT3 more than UT04. I feel player movement and weapon balance are best in this iteration. The game feels like an Unreal Tournament game, it just doesn't look like one.

In conclusion, I think UT4 should adhere more to the design of the original Unreal Tournament, while incorporating the weapon balance of UT3. This feels like what they've focused on so far; the one finished map, Outpost 23, isn't as cluttered as UT3 and owes more to the look of UT99. The newest UT is being developed simultaneously with the community and is free to play. Checkout to download the pre-alpha (gganate is my player name, in case you want to get fragged). 

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