In recent years, the PC platform has been deluged with an infinite number of first-person shooters. As the market for single-player games in this genre became saturated, the developers of these games decided to expand the side options of multiplayer deathmatching and make entire games out of them. The Dreamcast, however, had not been blessed with this genre of games until the release of Quake III Arena (Q3A) many months ago. That conversion was an excellent title, no doubt, but it fell short in many ways. Compared to the numerous play modes and 32-player deathmatches on the PC version, the limit of four players per match left something to be desired. Now that its PC rival, Unreal Tournament, has finally arrived for the Dreamcast, will it eclipse the id shooter?
Unreal Tournamentis a game focused entirely on multiplayer FPS competition, with no plot to be found. The game features three play modes: Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, and Domination. Deathmatch is simple to play: anything that moves is your enemy, and whoever kills the most players wins. In Capture The Flag, two teams compete to capture each others flags and return them to their respective bases. In Domination, two teams try to control three special points. For each five-second interval that one of these locations stays under a teams control, a point is added to that teams score. The single player game consists of working through the Tournament ladder, by which you can unlock levels to play in Practice Mode, customized to your liking. Practice offers you split-screen play, the ability to play Deathmatch in teams, and a variety of interesting mutators, or modifications. Instagib, for example, removes all weapons and power-ups from the board, and hands every player a mutated shock rifle that kills anything it hits. Low Gravity allows players to jump high into the air and slowly glide down. Although not all of the mutators are direct hits, they certainly add a lot of variety to the game.
The games ten weapons are excellently balanced. Unlike Q3A, your default weapon is strong enough to rack up many kills against opponents armed with more powerful explosives and machine guns. Each weapon has two functions. For instance, a Flak Cannon can shoot out volleys of metal shards or explosive grenades that detonate on impact. A Shock Rifle can fire a quick blast or a ball of energy that can be exploded by hitting it with the primary function blast, and so on. The computer AI is intelligent and skilled, although ordering them around during a team game can get clumsy when you have to pause the game to give them orders.
The heated combat of Unreal Tournament takes a long time to get old, and the diversity of its levels, modes, weapons, and mutators helps the longevity considerably. Fiddling around with the mutators adds a lot of replay value, and the grand total of 69 levels means experimenting will take a while. The levels are, with one or two minor exceptions, perfectly scaled to their player limit, and two-thirds of them can handle six or more players.
Graphically, Unreal Tournament doesn't reach the amazing level of Q3A, but it holds its own very nicely. The frame rates are for the most part solid, although playing in split-screen slows it down considerably. The sound is excellent as well, featuring lots of trash-talk and some radio communication, not to mention some nice techno music.
I really like this game, but it all boils down to two issues. The first is the issue for any console FPS: control. Unreal Tournament was originally designed to be played on a mouse and keyboard, so of course the Sega mouse and keyboard provide an unparalleled level of control and accuracy. What really hurts is that this game is almost unplayable with the Dreamcast controller. It simply doesn't have enough buttons or the right kind of control stick to handle this game, and no amount of auto-aim can change that. Whats more, two of the measly three control settings use Goldeneye-style movement, which is awful for high-speed deathmatching. With this kind of pitiful control, in addition to the fact that the keyboard and mouse take up two controller ports, the split-screen modes are almost worthless.
What should make up for the lack of good split-screen modes is the online play. Admittedly, Unreal Tournament's online mode has less lag and more capabilities than Q3A, but it still has that nasty, split-second weapon stall that throws off almost all of the guns. Thanks to this, all of the non-explosive weapons are just about useless. The team-play modes are interesting. After all, when other people are counting on you to deliver, the tension is electric. Unfortunately, the game forces players to choose their color before entering a game. The servers have no auto-balance, no way to switch teams in the midst of a game, and the internet interface doesn't show which team is outnumbered. Thanks to this huge flaw, four out of five team-play games you enter will feature lopsided teams of 4-2, 5-3, and even 6-1! Needless to say, this isn't very fun. A good match of CTF can be enjoyable, especially with precision-heavy mods like Instagib on, but after a while, its a waste of time going from server to server, endlessly looking for balanced teams. As for the deathmatches, for some reason, they lack that special something that Q3A brought to the table in terms of visceral online competition.
Even with these problems, Unreal Tournament is a shot of adrenaline burned onto a disc, while it lasts. What is regrettable is that the online experience is watered down and screwed up, and there is little to no use in the split-screen mode. How much you enjoy Unreal Tournament will be directly proportional to how much you enjoy playing bots with a mouse and keyboard, by yourself.