Unreal Tournament Preview

One of the biggest PC releases of last year, Unreal Tournament hopes to replicate its breakaway success again on the PlayStation2. But how will a game that made its name with online play fare on a system without a built-in modem?

Unreal Tournament, the dark horse PC hit (and voted game of the year, by many), made its first demonstration on the PlayStation 2 a few months ago at E3 2000. Despite running on an unfinished graphical engine, UT came out on top at this year's show, and the game was labeled by many as one of the bigger titles due to be released for the new console this year. Not bad for a first person shooter (FPS), a genre that hasn't translated easily from the PC to the console. Though it would be easy to write off Unreal Tournament as just another quick PC conversion, a closer look reveals that UT is an extremely important title to publisher Infogrames and developer Epic MegaGames. Infogrames charged Epic with the arduous task of translating its prized property to an entirely new platform, in order to ensure that the quality PC gameplay comes to the new console untarnished.

The original concept behind Unreal Tournament was simple enough. Where games like Quake I and II made multiplayer an integral, but nonessential, part of the gameplay, Epic set out, from the get-go, to design the title around the Internet experience. Epic reasoned that although Doom and the Quakes were built with a story-driven, single-player game in mind, they are best remembered for the infinite replayability of the wild shotgun duels, rocket-jumps, and heinous bloodletting from the online battlefields. Unreal Tournament's developer subtracted the superfluous single-player experience from its equation and focused purely on delivering a fast and memorable deathmatch experience. Numerous "Game of the Year" awards later, it's safe to say that Epic knew what it was doing. Unreal Tournament succeeded on almost every level.

Whether a similar scenario will play out on the PlayStation2 is still unclear. Because the PS2 has neither a built-in modem nor online capability, Epic will have to contend with designing the game around two-player split-screen deathmatches instead of the huge arenas of 20 people or more found online. Though this will prove to be a major gameplay sacrifice, it looks to be the only one. Unreal Tournament features a vast array of satisfyingly powerful weaponry, proving that you'll still have plenty of ways to maim and butcher your friends. Everything from the prerequisite rocket launcher and chainsaw, to more outlandish firearms - with names like impact hammer, enforcer, ripper, and flak cannon - will be coming to a PS2 near you, without modification. There is, of course, a fair share of "professional" weapons at your disposal as well - like the sniper rifle and pulse blaster - for those of you who prefer stealth and style to blood and gibs. Just like the PC version, Unreal Tournament for the PS2 will ship with 50 levels, many of them modified or totally different from their PC counterparts, and three modes of play: deathmatch, capture the flag, domination, and assault.

Epic has recently announced that although the initial release of Unreal Tournament will not support more than two players, a new version, planned for release sometime next year, will support the PS2's upcoming Ethernet adapter. This version will also let you play online against other PS2s as well as other PCs. Great news, if you don't mind waiting several more months to satiate a deathmatch fix. Those who can't wait for the Internet-enhanced release, however, will likely end up enlisting the support of the computer-controlled teammates. These will come in handy when you and a friend want to fill an arena with carnage or experience the fun of team-based modes of play - the concept of cooperative team play is obviously not possible when there's only one person per team. Like Perfect Dark, Unreal Tournament comes equipped with a bevy of computer-controlled "bots" that can be thrown into the game to compensate for the lack of human players. Though the emphasis is on multiplayer excitement, Epic gives you a skeleton single-player game too - bots can also be used when no friends are around and you feel like practicing your rocket-tossing skills. The difficulty of the computer can be adjusted to provide anyone, regardless of skill level, a serious challenge.

Aside from the lack of any online element, Unreal Tournament looks essentially unchanged from its PC counterpart - all the graphic razzle-dazzle that you can find on a $3000 PC looks to have been translated faithfully to your comparably inexpensive PS2. Notwithstanding a slightly abrupt frame rate that's still in need of tweaking, and some possible headaches for control pad users, Epic's so-far-successful port is no small feat, when you consider that UT is still a current benchmark for even the most pricey PC's performance. Epic assures us that its programmers will continue optimizing the frame rate up until the game ships. Even better, Epic recently confirmed that it has successfully integrated USB port support for the title. That means you can hook up any USB PC keyboard and mouse to your PS2 and use it as your primary controller, which obviates the problems presented by mapping a suitable control scheme to a Dual Shock pad.

Unreal Tournament, with or without Internet play, should be a popular title for those of you interested in a fun party game that'll display a bit of what your new PlayStation 2 is capable of. Look for Unreal Tournament, chock-full of deathmatch mayhem, to hit store shelves sometime before Christmas.

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