When PC first-person shooters move over to console systems, most die-hard fans of the genre turn up their noses in disgust. Why? Because until lately, console systems really haven't done justice to their PC counterparts in the FPS department. As console hardware becomes more and more powerful, the graphics in these games get pretty close to those in the PC originals, but the control still sticks out like a sore thumb. A console's gamepad simply isn't an acceptable substitute for the first-person shooting controllers of choice, the mouse and keyboard. Unreal Tournament for the PlayStation 2 is one of the first console FPS games on the market to offer the gameplay and control options of the original. While it's really quite an amazing game, the still slightly flawed control and the lack of online play waters down what has been one of the greatest shooters to date on the PC.
Rather than spend development time working on a cohesive single-player scenario that most players will only play through once or twice, Epic Games used that same time to refine the multiplayer game. Consequently, the only single-player mode available serves as training for multiplayer matches by pitting you against computer-controlled bots. On the lowest of the four settings, anyone should be able to defeat the bots with little or no hassle, but once you bump up the difficulty, you'll have an actual challenge on your hands.
The single-player mode will also teach you the basics about each different type of game contained in Unreal Tournament. Of course, deathmatch is the old standard free-for-all battle. Capture the flag, the quintessential FPS team game, is also included. Domination is a different type of team game. Each domination level has three control points, and when you touch a control point, you claim it for your team. The longer you hold a control point, the more points your team scores. So you duke it out to see who can hold the control points the longest. Assault is yet another new team game in which one team plays offense and the other defends a base. Each map has a different set of offensive objectives (push the button at the front of the train, destroy four computers, and so forth). If the offensive team completes its mission, the two teams switch sides, and the new offensive team must complete the same objectives in the same amount of time it took the first team to succeed. You can configure any of these modes with "mutators," which slightly tweak the gameplay. You can disable certain power-ups, play a one-hit kill mode, lower gravity, play at 130 percent of normal game speed, and more.
The selection of weapons in Unreal Tournament is mostly taken from the original Unreal, but the weapons have all been redesigned to look and sound much better. The new weapons include the impact hammer, which is more or less a portable pneumatic piston that you can use as a last resort when the rest of your weapons are empty. The pulse gun fires small energy shots in its primary mode, but the secondary mode spits out a rail of energy that you can sweep around, like Quake's lightning gun. The redeemer is essentially a portable nuclear missile - the primary fire mode shoots it in a straight line, but the secondary mode switches to a really great looking guided-missile view that lets you target foes from across the level. The nice thing about the game's weapons is that they seem really well balanced. There isn't a single weapon that causes you to run away in fear when you see it in your opponent's hands. The weapons may seem a little alien to players used to other first-person shooters, but once you get a feel for how each weapon operates, using them becomes second nature.
While the PC version is heavily centered on online play, Unreal Tournament for the PlayStation 2 offers multiple multiplayer options. Aside from the standard four-player split-screen, you can also use an i.Link cable to connect two PlayStation 2s together for two-player action. When using the Dual Shock 2 controller, the game controls roughly like other console first-person shooters, with one stick used to move and one to aim. When you let off the aim stick in this version, though, your view quickly snaps back into position - it would have been nice if this were a configurable option. Also, some players might not find a suitable control scheme, as the game only lets you choose from a few preset configurations rather than allowing you to configure the controller to your liking. Also, when playing with the controller, you're given the gift of auto-aim. Pushing in your aim joystick causes you to center on the nearest onscreen foe. Beyond that, the game even takes aim for you, allowing you to hit enemies who aren't even close to your targeting reticle. Upping the difficulty setting seems to lessen the effect, but there is no way to disable auto-aim short of using a mouse.
Unreal Tournament is the first US PlayStation 2 game to take advantage of the hardware's USB ports. You can jack in a keyboard and mouse and play the game just like you'd play the PC version. While the keyboard can be configured in several different ways, the mouse support only lets you use two buttons and the mouse wheel, and the only alteration to the mouse's configuration you can make beyond adjusting the sensitivity is setting which button is fire and which is alternate fire.
Unreal Tournament has consistently ambitious level design throughout, even in the PS2-exclusive maps, and the entire game benefits from it. The levels feel less like simple first-person shooter maps and more like actual locations, such as starships, old mining facilities, and temples. The game's music lends some atmosphere to the proceedings, but it occasionally overshadows the crucial sound effects you'll need to hear to keep tabs on what items your opponents are picking up, so it's best when it's turned down quite a bit from its default setting. Graphically, the game has a lot going for it. The textures are nice and sharp, and the models are well animated. There are lots of great weapon effects, such as the burst from the shock rifle or the smoke trail left by a wide spread of rockets, and the frame rate remains pretty solid throughout, even during split-screen games.
Of all the PC first-person shooters on the market today, Unreal Tournament stands out as the most robust. With all its modes and options, it delivers an out of the box experience like no other. This makes the translation to the PlayStation 2 a little easier to deal with. Sure, you won't be able to download Rocket Arena or any of the other amazing mods available for the PC version, but even on its own, UT is one of the most complete packages available.