Unreal Tournaments arrival on the Dreamcast is kind of a double-edged sword. Its great for the 3D-card-deprived to be able to experience the immensely popular PC shooter firsthand. Yet despite being a well designed game, gamers must ultimately tread through a watered down version of the PC incarnation. Its certainly nice to see a respectable number of options—domination, capture the flag, tournaments, and the like—but all the options in the world are useless unless the core gameplay concepts are implemented effectively. While Unreal Tournament for the Dreamcast does remarkably well for its platform, it still lacks the depth and refinement of its PC cousin.
Critiques of Unreal Tournament inevitably juxtapose it with Quake III, and rightly so; both games, at least superficially, are quite similar. Upon further inspection, however, Unreal Tournament and Quake III are actually quite different. Quake III features more outlandish level design and faster action that revolves primarily around players ability to capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of each weapon. The weapons in Unreal Tournament, on the other hand, can be mastered with remarkably little practice. The gameplay, then, relies more on strategic utilization of the levels than a quick trigger finger. Because Unreal Tournament is more reliant on strategy than Quake III, the draw of the gameplay lies in outwitting (rather than outgunning) human opponents in online play. Since crafty bots are more difficult to program than accurate ones, the single-player campaign cant hold a candle to the online competition. The enemies will give chase, fish you out of hiding places, and horde power-ups, but it still becomes easy to outsmart the CPU bots after a little practice.
Of course the original Unreal Tournament wasn't popular because of its single-player features, but rather its online play. Unfortunately, this is where the Dreamcast version falls markedly short of its PC counterpart. Most of the modes are intact—domination, capture the flag, tournament, and deathmatch—but the eight-player limit and lag-plagued combat detract from the suspense that made the original so popular. As T.S. said, there are a lot of issues that plague the online play. Some of them, such as the discrepancies in team designation, should have been obvious to developers. Others, such as the immensely frustrating lag time of the Dreamcasts 56k modem, are simply unavoidable. Like T.S., I found that the online play was too slow, too small, and too buggy to be worth the effort. The single-player mode was far more enjoyable simply because of its quick pace and balanced gameplay.
Unreal Tournament also lacks the punch and personality of Quake III. The environments are bland, often flat, and generally uncreative. The characters lack any distinguishing traits; most are just Joe-Marine-type faces wearing differently colored armor. The weapons are more balanced and more creatively designed than the arsenal of Quake III, but lag renders most of the accuracy-intensive weapons useless in the online mode. Lastly, the game cannot seem to decide on a time frame. One level takes place in a space station, the next in an old castle, and the next in a bland warehouse. Contrasted with Quake IIIs always otherworldly levels, it seems that the developers couldnt decide on a consistent theme.
Unreal Tournament for the Dreamcast is certainly an enjoyable game. The single player mode features respectable (though not quite cunning) artificial intelligence. The multiplayer modes are filled with options and usually maintain a steady framerate. Only when it is compared to the original PC game, particularly in the online mode, does Unreal Tournament seem watered-down. Its a solid game, but one that is not well suited for the Dreamcast.
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