Epic Games may be known as the team behind the kiddie-centric battle royale shooter Fortnite, but history will forever know them as the creators of one of the greatest multiplayer-centric video game series ever made. Unreal Tournament was the second installation in the Unreal series, transitioning from a first-person shooter into a fully-fledged, arena shooter with nothing but exciting, addictive multiplayer-action. It’s safe to say that the first Tournament has aged like a very fine wine.
In the distant future, due to a sharp rise in mining strikes and bloody riots, the government has decided to legalize murder (as you do). The Liandri Mining Corporation decides to cash in on the craze by organizing arena tournaments in abandoned mining facilities, ships, and otherworldly areas, all of which are recorded live for major profits. Multiple factions sign up to the tournament; each character has their own biography, which include details of their past, their personalities, and even their weapon preferences. You’ll need to join a faction, customize your character, and start fragging.
Make no mistake, Unreal Tournament is not recommended for people who love to play games that go at a snail’s pace. It’s a speedy shooter with oodles of weapons to get your hands on. Some may feel like conventional inclusions, like the pistol, chaingun and sniper rifle, but these are still major-fun to use. The same can be said about the more unique weapons, like a sticky, sludge-shooter, and a cannon that fires pieces of shrapnel that reflect off of walls, making your standard shotgun look about as menacing as a sharpened stick. All weapons have alternate firing modes, which adds a lot more variety to the combat. It’s a fantastic arsenal, all of which feel fair and balanced.
The tournament mode consists of five game modes, with ten levels a piece. Starting off with deathmatches, once you beat most of the levels, a new game mode is unlocked. Others include team deathmatch, capture the flag, domination and assault. The latter requires the attacking team to complete objectives, like destroying computers or flicking switches deep within enemy fortresses, while the defenders must stop them. CTF and domination equip players with personal teleportation devices, which fire discs that can zap you to them instantly. They’re extremely useful for traversing tall maps, or for escaping quickly.
Of course, you can always create your own rules for your matches. The difficulty slider is extensive, but finding a difficulty mode that will suit to your needs will definitely require a bit of experimentation, as these will change the bot already-responsive AI’s reaction time and accuracy. A brief synopsis just doesn’t fully cut it. Anyway, the numerous mutators available add spice to any game, and the amount of customizable settings on offer (you can alter gravity, enemy’s weapon preferences, etc.) is pretty phenomenal for the time.
In fact, bots will often spout commands or insults at you. Considering this was the decade where video game voice acting was usually on-par with Resident Evil’s infamous “Jill Sandwich” line, the voice acting is actually pretty good for the time. Characters may share the same few voices, but the banter they spew out never gets old. Same goes for the announcer; it’s a gem when you hear him spout aloud iconic lines like “M-M-M-MONSTER KILL”.
When it comes to maps in a multiplayer shooter, which is more important: quality or quantity? Both boxes are ticked in Unreal Tournament. Arenas have pools to swim in, traps to humiliate enemies with, elevators to ride, and so on. The designs are quite varied; some contain numerous walkways for hasty retreats or ambushes, or teleporters to help you zip around the map with. Snipers to this day adore “Facing Worlds” with its twin-fortresses and paths connecting the two, while “Pressure” is packed with long corridors, various platforms, and a remote-controlled pressure chamber harbouring wonderful goodie for those who can escape quick enough. A few oversimplified maps are tossed into the mix, like the multi-layered “Pyramid”. Those ones aren’t much to look at, but are there for anyone after a silly gimmick to a quick round. Then there are the occasional, no-frills levels, which are pretty boring outside of a one-on-one battle.
Unreal Tournament has some heckin’ good music. A whole slew of composers like Dan Gardopée, Michiel van den Bos and numerous artists make up this score. Energetic tunes and thumping rhythms are often blended with sweet synths, drum ‘n’ bass beats, or space-like ambience. It may not be one of those soundtracks you can whistle along to every track, but it’s a perfect addition to the mayhem, and makes for a pretty darn fun listen outside of the game, too.
It’s difficult to find fault in such a monumental title like Unreal Tournament. The PC release in 1999 snagged top scores, and it’s still hailed as one of the greatest games ever made to this day. Damn right it is! Compared to multiplayer modes from revolutionary games like DOOM or Quake, this was a big step. Customization was extensive, weapons were extra-satisfying and balanced, levels were plentiful and memorable, the AI were adaptive and cunning, going so far as to spout cheesy one-liners at you, and the soundtrack is a blissful mix of headbanging tunes. Without a drip of a doubt, Unreal Tournament truly lives up to its name, rounding off the final year before the new millenium on a note so high that no other multiplayer game mode has come close to topping it.