The newer ventures into the Unreal Tournament (UT) series have been somewhat hit and miss, with the iterations following the original attempting to re-gear through additions and changes. This latest offering from Epic Games is an interesting beast and somewhat different in a number of ways. First is the way that it relates to the currently highly competitive game engine market. With the likes of Unity, Cryengine and the new Source engine, Epic’s Unreal engine is seeing a significant amount of competition. The response from Epic Games has been to make the use of this engine for development entirely free with the caveat of a 5% royalty on software of games that are released using the engine. This is an interesting way of doing things and makes a great deal of sense, it reduces the barriers of entry for the likes of indies and such whilst also encouraging Epic to make the best engine that they can. The new UT appears to be an offshoot of this strategy, following a community-centric development model and being entirely free. The nature of this release is not following the free-to-play model, the game is literally free with no microtransactions. From what I’ve read, the idea for this release is to have the freely released game act as a basis for other developers and the community to build upon and release content, either for free or commercially with Epic Games taking a cut. UT in this context is almost the literal incarnation of the release model that Epic Games are using for the parent project, the Unreal Engine. I’m fascinated to see where this goes, as it feels a great deal like the direction that Valve have been taking the still very successful Team Fortress 2, but without the free-to-play strings attached. Very interesting indeed.
The game itself is still early in development, but even so is a great deal of fun to play. It feels much more like the original UT than those that were released in the time between. The latter games attempted to mix UT up by adding vehicles and the like and in doing so I often felt like the game had lost much of its purity and had perhaps lost sight of the original strengths of the series. Whether the move to introduce vehicles and different elements was the result of influence from the likes of popular console multiplayer shooters such as Halo is unclear, however to have the new UT appear on the scene almost untouched by these changes shows a certain attitude. This appears to be Epic Games bringing UT back to its PC origins and celebrating what made the game fantastic in the first place. The sheer amount of modding of UT and community map was immense, and in many cases spawned offshoot projects that became important in their own right. It is this which the new UT is embracing, not some cross-platform watered down UT, but the UT of the PC gamer and in many cases the UT that the PC gamer grew up with.
I was among those that grew up with UT, I owned the 1999 release, but the version I had came bundled with a large number of community maps and mods; I think it was the Game of the Year edition, but it was also absolutely fantastic. I hadn’t been exposed to the likes of Quake and my experience of multiplayer shooters was very limited, so to have UT and to play it both single player with bots and multiplayer over LAN was a very interesting experience. The new UT has many of these bells and whistles and more: The single player experience is more fleshed out with a progression system that gives stars according to the difficulty that a map is completed upon, it’s a little like Door Kickers in that respect. The bots are also rather… intelligent…. ok they kick my butt at higher difficulties. This isn’t a bad thing and the game still remains very fun to play. So far I’ve not had a chance to explore the game outside of singleplayer thanks to inconvenient timings and such with fellow players of games, however the experience I had with what I’ve played has been very positive. The multiplayer system also appeared to be streamlined, painless and good in offering a reasonable degree of control over the game to the player. The weapons have been taken from the original game, although remodelled obviously. This is your classic weapon set with all of your favourites as well as the bio-rifle for whatever reason. The newly modelled weapons look slick and the visual and audio effects remain faithful whilst also being brilliantly visceral at the same time. Many of the maps have been pulled from prior games, offering a selection of old classics and newer options. The inclusions of the capture the flag map Facing Worlds is of great interest and I had an immense amount of fun playing on it again after all this time. Basically, if you enjoyed the original UT in any way, you’ll love the new iteration and if you played any of the games in between, you’ll still likely have a great deal of fun.
Graphically the game looks fantastic whilst still remaining scalable enough to account for hardware variation. It’s based off Unreal Engine 4, which means that it gains all of the advantages in both new fancy technologies and good optimisation that such a new engine offers. It is worth noting that the game is technically still in development, but thanks to the nature of the engine, this doesn’t really show in the visual aspects of the game. The audio is good, as mentioned the weapons sound about right but at a higher fidelity. The music choice is appropriate for an UT. Compatibility is brilliant theoretically, although I’ve yet to actually get around to trying it out on Linux. Unreal Engine 4 allows easy exporting to Windows, Mac and Linux and therefore this new iteration of UT is available on those platforms. Hardware requirements aren’t too bad on the processor front, although you’ll want a good amount of memory and a reasonably decent graphics card (>=GeForce GT520) to get the most out of the game.
In short, would I recommend the new iteration of UT, hell yes! If you have the system to run this game and the data cap to allow for the download then there is absolutely no reason to not give this a whirl. If you’ve enjoyed UT in the past… just go, now, do it! If you’ve not played any of the UT games, then maybe head over to the website and give it a shot, the chances are that you won’t regret it.
Unreal Tournament Homepage (including Download Now link, account creation required):