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Unreal. That’s a word you should know if you’re actively part of the gaming community. I think at this point, that word is familiar more so because of the Unreal Engine and its numerous iterations rather than the Unreal games. I played the original Unreal for the first time a little while back but I think the series is better known for the Unreal Tournament games. If you were around in the late 90’s, and especially the early 2000’s, you should know there was a lot of popular first-person shooters, specifically a lot of popular multiplayer first-person shooters. Quake, Quake II, Counter-Strike, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Day of Defeat, and, of course, Unreal Tournament. Developed by both Epic Games and Digital Extremes, Unreal Tournament was released for PC in November, 1999. It was eventually ported to the Dreamcast in 2000 and PlayStation 2 in 2001. Unreal Tournament was initally supposed to be an expansion for Unreal but ended up turning into a standalone game with a shift in focus to multiplayer rather than single player. Free expansion packs were released over time and were included in the Game of the Year Edition, released for PC in 2000, and that’s the version I played for this review. Now I know there’s tons of mods for this game like new skins, weapons, maps, and even overhauls including Infiltration and even Tactical Ops which eventually became its own standalone game. I decided to take a look at the Nali Weapons 3 mod which includes all kinds of new weapons, among other things. I also installed the Ultra Gore add-on for this mod because why splatter a wall with gore when you can cover an entire room with it? I also installed X bots, a tool that allows you to configure more than thirty two bot configurations across six bot lists. It’s a applied as a mutator and randomly picks thirty two bots from any of the active lists. I should also mention that I installed the Unreal Engine Direct3D 10 Renderer which fixes various graphical glitches, supports bump mapping, parallax occlusion mapping, and provides other quality improvements to help the game look and run at its best.
Unreal Tournament does include a single player campaign of sorts which more or less introduces you to many of the major game types. I didn’t play enough of the first game to know about the characters, enemies, or any type of lore. From what I do know, the humans and Skaarjj are at war, the humans are losing, a New Earth government was formed, riots are breaking out, there’s all kinds of violence going on, and Mining Corporations decided to capitalize on the violence. It’s the year 2341 and what is now called the “Tournament” has become a very profitable and popular event. And there you go, that’s the set up for the plot. It’s not very in-depth and there’s not much voice acting other than during the game’s intro sequence, the dialogue shouted by characters during gameplay, and of course the famous announcer that shouts dialogue whenever you’re on a killing streak.
The Unreal Tournament campaign involves you competing in various game types, moving up each game type’s ladder with each win, in hopes of becoming the ultimate champion. You’ll compete in standard deathmatch matches where the objective is rack up more kills than your opponents. Domination involves you taking over the control points on a map to acquire points. The more you hold on to, the more points you acquire and the team that reaches the point limit first, wins. There’s also Capture the Flag, where you need to acquire the opposing team’s flag and bring it back to your base. Assault is probably the most interesting out of all the game types. The idea here is that the attacking team must infiltrate the defending team’s base and complete a set of objectives before the timer reaches zero. Then the team’s switch places and the new attacking team must infiltrate the defending team’s base faster than the other team infiltrated theirs. The defending team must defend their base at all costs and the bases will be equipped with automatic turrets and even mortars that fire at incoming enemies. You can even issue commands to bots. These include following you, attacking, defending, and other basic stuff. And these commands seem to work in any game type. Finally there’s the Challenge ladder which are just deathmatch battles, with the final map of the ladder having you battle Xan, which I guess is the final boss. The Challenge ladder can be quite difficult, even on the lower difficulty modes, ending with a final boss battle that will really test your skills. If you do complete the campaign, you unlock the Boss Skin which you can apply to your own playable character online or in a Practice Session. My only issue with the campaign is the Capture the Flag ladder. I don’t mind the game type but they’re not timed matches so they can really drag on if the opposing team is putting up a good fight.
Unreal Tournament has a lot of things going for it and one of those things is that it’s customizable. When I fired up the game for the first time, I started going through the menu options as I normally do and noticed all kinds of things that can be tweaked. And I’m not talking about just video and audio options. You can toggle on and off different aspects of the HUD, set your HUD’s color, crosshair style and color, if you want your character to be left or right handed, maybe you want the weapon centered or hidden altogether. Although, centered should probably be renamed “off-centered” since not every weapon is exactly “centered”. Some weapons aren’t centered at all like the Pulse Gun for example. You can even choose different menu styles. But that’s not all, you can also customize your character and bots. You can choose your character’ss class, skin, face, and even voice. I wouldn’t say it’s like a true character creation but there’s plenty of options to choose from. This also applies to bots. If you decide to play practice sessions, where I would say the real meat of the single player is, you can configure various bot options. You basically have the same options as the character setup. You can even name them, set their accuracy, alertness, camping, strafing, favorite weapon, and choose from several combat styles, even how their skill adjusts. The vanilla game allows up to thirty two configurable bots and if you decide to modify all of them, it may take you some significant time to configure a bot roster to your liking, seeing what works and doesn’t work. Now if you decide to use the X bots mutator, you could configure up to one hundred sixty bots. In addition to all of this, there’s tons of maps, specific to each game type, and you can set up a custom list of maps to play through, if you want to apply any mutators, you can set rules for each game type, time limits, game speed, toggle on and off enhanced team AI, and you can even choose one of eight base skills for your bots, which is basically the difficulty modes. Nali Weapons 3 comes with its own set of configurable options including tweaking damage values, weapon settings, and other options that are unique to this mod. Not only do these customization options apply to multiplayer but they also apply to single player which is where I spent all of my time. Furthermore, the default max amount of bots you can set is sixteen but if you edit one of the game’s INI files, you can increase this limit. Unreal Tournament is basically a customizable first-person shooter where you can tailor the experience to your liking and tweak things as you see fit for single player and multiplayer. The amount of control you’re given is truly incredible, even today, and I think more games could benefit from this type of customizable experience.
I’m aware this is a multiplayer-focused game and I believe people do still play this online somehow but I didn’t bother to try. However, the single player is not anything to scoff at that’s because the bots in this game are actually competent. They’re not just dumb “fill-ins” and thanks to all of the bot customization options, you can basically customize their level of intelligence. You can thank programmer Steve Polge for the bots. I believe he’s responsible for creating the Reaper Bots for the original Quake. They were popular for their intelligence and giving the illusion you’re playing against actual people. Obviously, nothing can replicate the experience of playing against actual people but the Reaper Bots were pretty incredible and his work on the bots in Unreal Tournament is just as amazing. Practice Session, and I’m assuming multiplayer, offers the same game types as the single player campaign but with two additions, Team Game and Last Man Standing. Team Game is basically Team Deathmatch where multiple teams battle it out and the team with the most kills at the end of the match wins. Last Man Standing is similar to deathmatch. You have a set number of lives and once you lose all of them, you’re out of the match. No matter which game type you decide to play, the bots prove competent, making them worthwhile allies and foes. For example, in Assault and Capture the Flag, they’ll back you up, make an effort to complete the objective or even try and carry the flag back to their base. If you manage to acquire the enemy flag, you’ll suddenly become the target of projectiles but your allies will provide cover and I noticed on many occasions that several bots were waiting around our team’s flag, essentially defending the area all on their own. If you set a bot’s camping slider all the way up, you’ll actually see that they camp. If you set the alertness slider all the way down, you’ll see that they’re not very aware of their surroundings. This is where the tweaking comes in and it can take a while to tweak each bot just right if you want a balanced and fun experience. At least for single player.
There are several weapons you can acquire and they’re scattered around each map along with ammo, armor, health pickups, and even various items to assist you during combat. Weapons can also be acquired from fallen enemies, every weapon has an alternate fire mode, and there is no reloading. The Impact Hammer is like a melee weapon that be charged up and can then kill an enemy instantly if you can get close enough. The Enforcer is like a basic pistol which can be dual wielded if you pick up a second. The GES Bio Rifle shoots explosive blobs that are very deadly and it almost feels like a grenade launcher. The ASMD Shock Rifle fires beams and it can also fire shock orbs. The Pulse Gun rapidly fires green orbs and it can also unleash a deadly beam. The Ripper fires razor blades that will bounce all over the place as well as explosive razor blades and decapitating enemies with this thing is quite satisfying. The Minigun is my favorite weapon just because of the way it looks, feels, and sounds. It’s also a very deadly weapon that can tear through multiple enemies in a matter of seconds. The Flak Cannon is another deadly weapon that kind of acts like a shotgun and can also lob explosives. It’s pretty obvious what the Rocket Launcher’s primary attack is but you can also launch multiple rockets at once and it can even lob what I think are grenades. The Sniper Rifle is another obvious weapon and it’s alternate fire is just the zoom. Sniping enemies is actually quite fun here and acquiring no-scope head shots is very satisfying. The Redeemer is the most powerful weapon in the game that fires missiles that cause a massive explosion, killing almost anything in the blast radius. It’s alternate fire mode lets you guide the missile manually. The Chainsaw is another weapon not found in any of the default maps so you need to spawn it in or apply the Chainsaw Melee mutator. When playing through the campaign, in Capture the Flag and Domination, you’ll be equipped with a Translocator. This is actually a tool, or device, rather than a weapon. After you fire the destination module, you can transport to its location at any time, great for quickly navigating through maps and even hard to reach places. In Capture the Flag, if you Translocate while holding the flag, you’ll drop the flag at the spot you translocated from. If you set up a Practice Session against bots, you can enable and disable the Translocator for any game type.
This is a very fast-paced shooter. You’ll run, jump, crouch, swim, and should be circle strafing and jumping often to avoid getting killed. There is a dodge mechanic that involves you rapidly moving in one direction by double-tapping a directional key. I’m sure it’s helpful but considering how fast-paced the game is, I found myself dodging in directions often just because of the way I move my character. I guess I double-tap directional keys often and the dodge mechanic exposes that. It’s not that big of a deal until you play on a map where falling off ledges equates to an immediate death. Thankfully, the dodging mechanic can be turned off. Now I’m assuming some maps are based on locations from the original Unreal but they all feel disconnected from each other. The developers clearly had free reign when it came to map design and that includes both the layout and theme. Considering the story in Unreal Tournament isn’t really important, this is a good thing because it allows for a multitude of maps set in a good variety of locations. You’ll battle through urban environments, castles, temples, caves, outer space, some kind of base under the ocean, and there’s even an Egyptian-themed map. Each game type has it’s own set of maps and the sheer variety is impressive and basically keeps the game interesting. Throughout the maps are various types of items including AntiGrav Boots that let you jump extremely high, a damage amplifier, and even invisibility. The map layouts are also impressive with plenty of paths, corridors, ledges, jump pads, portals that warp you to different parts of a map, and even environmental hazards. These include hazardous liquids like lava, falling off ledges, and even laser beams. And Assault maps have turrets that can really ruin your day if you’re on the attacking team. Some of the really large maps can be less action-packed since I found myself running around a lot more looking for objectives or enemies to shoot but this can be alleviated if you increase the bot count. There is an issue of dying immediately upon starting a match and I think it’s because you and a bot are spawning in the same location, but I’m not sure since I’m usually a pile of gibs before I can see what happens. It doesn’t happen all the time and I could see it being a bigger problem during multiplayer sessions, if it happens at all. Before starting a match you can apply mutators that change up the gameplay in different ways. For example, the InstaGib mutator removes every pickup from the map and provides players with an Enhanced Shock Rifle that can kill blow an enemy into gibs in one shot. There are relic mutators which place relics as pickups on the map that provide better defense, health regeneration, increased speed, and stuff like that. The mutators offer a ton of new ways to customize your game and experimenting with them is all part of the fun.
Nali Weapons 3 is actually a set of mutators. All of the weapons and item pickups have been replaced and the item pickups in particular have been renamed. But not only does the mod include new weapons, there’s even a new game mode thrown in called Monster Hunt. I don’t know if “game mode” is the right term but its definitely a new and interesting way to play. With the Monster Hunt mutator applied, players will be rewarded with random abilities over time like regenerating health, ammo, and other kinds of stuff that mix up the gameplay. This mode basically turns any game type into mass chaos with projectiles, explosions, and blood coming from every direction and it can be a lot of fun. The entire default arsenal has been replaced. There’s bolt rifles, a Flametracker which is basically a flamethrower, some kind of freeze gun, a MultiMissile Launcher, a nuclear weapon, and the weapon you start with, the War Ready Enforcer, is like an automatic rifle and it’s very addictive to chain headshots with this thing. One of the standout weapons is the Graviton which can be used to grab enemies and smash them into things and it also fires this giant gravitational orb that basically sucks opponents in and explodes them. The arsenal is definitely more over-the-top than the default arsenal and it’s just pure fun. Nali Weapons 3 also comes with a mutator that adds different modifiers, normally used with Monster Hunt. The modifiers act as pickups on the map and these include a damage modifier that multiplies your active weapon’s damage, a fast modifier that multiplies your active weapon’s fire rate, and there’s even one that provides infinite ammunition. This mod does come with detailed documentation and I would suggest leafing through it to really see and understand everything it has to offer. In many games like this, I normally stick to lore-friendly or traditional weapon mods, like the Ballistic Weapons mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 for example. I usually stay away from weapon mods that are just silly or meant to create crazy, ridiculous explosion-fests but in this case, Nali Weapons 3 provides a good balance of over-the-top gameplay and fun, satisfying combat.
Unreal Tournament was released in 1999 and it shows. Some things look basic, character death animations are scripted, but with the Direct3D 10 Renderer, the game can look better than it ever did and it runs great on modern systems, or at least Windows 10 since that’s what I’m running it on. Playing with the default renderer, I noticed many of the weapons are cut-off but this was resolved after installing the Direct3D 10 Renderer. The Redeemer weapon was still cut off when holding it and I’m guessing that’s due to the widescreen resolution and field of view. There’s a good amount of detail in the environments, there’s plenty of color, and since you’ll probably be moving super fast through the maps, you may not even notice the blurry textures. They look fine from a distance but do show their age when you get close. This is one of those games that basically gives modders ultimate control and I’m sure there are HD texture mods and such out there somewhere so if you’re not happy with the visuals, you don’t have to live with them. Some of the maps have really cool details like asteroids flying around and the Earth visible in the background. The weapon models in the Nali Weapons 3 mod are exceptionally well crafted with excellent animations and little details like smoke emitting from the Flame Tracker and a cold mist emitting from the freeze gun. You can see different parts of the Vulcan chaingun rotating as it fires. Blowing an enemy’s head off in the vanilla game is cool but once you install the Ultra Gore add-on for Nali Weapons 3, you’ll witness a level of carnage that’s just eyepopping. Body parts go flying, headshots result in gibs followed by a dissipating mist of blood, you can see the skeletons of enemies amid explosions, blood and guts will splatter and drip down walls, it really is awesome. All of the weapons in both the vanilla game and Nali Weapons 3 sound great, pack a punch, and feel satisfying to shoot. I noticed when there’s a lot of shit happening on screen, mainly when I increased the bot limit to thirty two, some of the sound effects would cut out but it wasn’t often. The music is also quite catchy with a soundtrack that includes some rock, electronic, and other genres I normally don’t listen to but the music does help emphasize the action. As for the performance, the vanilla game ran super smooth but I did notice some frame rate dips when playing with the Nali Weapons 3 mod. Usually when there was a lot of explosions, projectiles, and gore on-screen. The game did crash on me once during my time with the Nali Weapons 3 mod but overall, I would say it’s a solid performer.
I had a ton of fun with Unreal Tournament and that’s without even touching the multiplayer. The amount of control you’re given to customize the experience is something I think more developers should look into. The bot AI is impressive, even today, and not many games since have even come close in terms of artificial intelligence. I would say the AI is the driving force behind the single player experience and is the sole reason it’s as enjoyable as it is. Now this is obviously a multiplayer-focused game but this is also one of the most enjoyable single player games I’ve ever played. You don’t have to focus on the campaign if you don’t want to, it’s open for modding, there’s plenty of replay value, and you can basically tailor the experience and challenge to your liking thanks to the extensive customization options. Unreal Tournament reminds me a lot of the TimeSplitters games which is a good thing. I think I easily put over two hundred hours into TimeSplitters 2 when I was younger, and I’m talking about the single player, and I probably would have invested the same amount of time in Unreal Tournament had I had PC capable of running it back in the day. While the TimeSplitters games have more traditional campaigns by today’s standards, both series are focused on multiplayer but provide plenty of cosmetic and gameplay customization options that let you craft the single player and multiplayer experiences to your liking. But the fun in Unreal Tournament isn’t just limited to customization. The maps are all varied and well crafted, the game types are fun, and the combat is enjoyable. Unreal Tournament’s fast-paced nature resembles many popular prior shooters including Doom, Quake, and even Quake II. It’s all about accurate aiming, moving fast, circle strafing, and non-stop action. I would say this is one of the greatest first-person shooters ever made.
Ultimately, Unreal Tournament is a must buy. I’m not sure how big the multiplayer community is anymore but I’m assuming there are still dedicated fans that get online games going. It may show its age in many ways but it’s an extremely fun game that provides a ton of ways to enjoy what it has to offer. That includes in-game customization and modding capabilities. Unreal Tournament is also a game that represents a different time. A time I would say was the golden age for first-person shooters, although that is just my opinion. There’s a reason developers create new games and market it with words and phrases like “retro”, “oldschool gameplay”, “no gimmicks”, or whatever. It’s possible they just can’t think of new ideas or innovate or, like me, they were around during the time when people would fire up Doom at the office and get LAN games going, link up multiple Xbox consoles to play the original Halo’s multiplayer, or just stay up all night playing Quake II. Unreal Tournament was included in the roster from that era with it’s own following and competitive scene. Even if the online community was to die, it still offers a truly great single player experience thanks mainly in part to its bot AI. The gameplay is fast, fun, and satisfying. Unreal Tournament still holds up today and I would consider it a classic that everyone should experience.