Unreal Tournament is the PC first-person shooter that gathered a significant number of "game of the year" awards from various PC magazines and is easily one of the best games of the genre. Soon console owners will get to see what the fuss is all about, because Infogrames and Epic Games are bringing Unreal Tournament to both the Dreamcast and the PS2 this fall. And although the graphics may not be quite as good as those in the PS2 version, the Dreamcast's four-player split-screen mode, eight-player Internet mode, and DC keyboard and mouse capability could make the Dreamcast version of Unreal Tournament the version to have for console owners.
Infogrames was showing off a new build of Unreal Tournament on the Dreamcast at its latest press event. Although the version was fairly early, it contained most of the levels that will be in the final game, and it was sporting some pretty solid gameplay. Easily the coolest part of the demo was playing a deathmatch game against one of the play testers in San Francisco over the game's Internet connection. We were in a small four-player map, going at each other's throats. Despite the fact that we were 200 miles away from each other and playing over a wimpy 56k connection, the game actually ran fairly well. The frame rate was choppy at times, there was an odd delay between when you actually hit the fire button and when the shot was fired, and there was lag here and there, but Epic promises to optimize the frame rate and fix any Internet problems before the game ships. Even with the problems, the game was fairly fast-paced and only slowed down when there was a lot of action onscreen.
The single-player game is much smoother than the multiplayer game. Even when playing with four computer-controlled bots, I found the game rarely slowed down, and the action was pretty intense. Playing with the combination of the Dreamcast mouse and keyboard should be second nature to anyone familiar with the PC version, and I found that when I was armed with the mouse and keyboard, I was a force to be reckoned with. I didn't have nearly as much success with the standard controller. Right now the default control scheme is to have the analog stick control moving your character forward and backward and looking left and right, while the X and B buttons control strafing left and right, and the Y and A buttons control looking up and down. This scheme is very confusing because it's different from the typical grouping of similar movements. To look diagonally left, you have to use both hands, and then you have to use both hands again to strafe while walking. Though I played the game for over an hour, I never got used to the control scheme and often found myself accidentally staring straight down in a combat situation. Fortunately, Epic assured me that it hasn't made a final decision on the default control scheme, and it plans on picking the preferred scheme of its testing department.
Unreal Tournament on the Dreamcast looks great. The environments run in a lower resolution than those in the PC version, but they still look good on a TV screen. The backgrounds and textures will raise eyebrows, and the visual effects in the game are stunning as well. The weapon effects, teleporter effects, gibs, and player animations all look just as good on the Dreamcast as they do on the PC. While there wasn't any music in the Dreamcast version we played, the sound effects were spot on.
Though the Dreamcast version of the game features the Internet mode and the four-player split-screen mode, it's missing a few gameplay modes. Assault and domination are nowhere to be found in the Dreamcast version, and Epic apparently has no plans to put them in. Additionally, while the PS2 version has an auto-aiming feature to make up for difficult controls, the Dreamcast version has nothing of the sort, making it somewhat impossible to do well with the standard controller. Let's hope Epic will fix these problems before the game hits store shelves this fall, because with a few tweaks, Unreal Tournament could give Quake III Arena a run for its money.