Monday, March 2, 2015

Unreal Tournament (PS2) Retro Review

I have a special theme for a lot of the games to be reviewed this month. It's going to be a multiplayer-focused month of reviews here at SuperPhillip Central, and we start off with one of the greatest multiplayer arena shooters around. The caveat? This is the PlayStation 2 version. How well does it hold up almost 15 years later? Let's find out with my review of Unreal Tournament!

A Tale of the Quick and the Fragged

As a gamer growing up I stayed towards consoles. Thus, I grew up on games like GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark while those who played on PC had a renaissance of arena shooters with games like Quake and yes, Unreal Tournament. With a new edition of Unreal Tournament coming down the pipes soon, I felt like it was about time for me to see what the fuss was all about. Even with only playing the PlayStation 2 version, I can definitely see why UT has such a large fanbase.

Unreal Tournament has four unique modes of play, and each possesses its own set of maps to master. In fact, there are over fifty unique maps with Unreal Tournament-- a mind-blowing amount that is further made crazy by most being masterfully designed. The PlayStation 2 version contains some maps that are exclusive to that version, adding some incentive for UT fans to pick it up. Rather it would have been had these maps been up to the same level of quality as the base game. Sadly, they are not.

Deathmatch is your standard FPS mode, where you score points through earning frags, shooting or blasting other opponents dead. Deathmatch supports the most amount of maps to fight and frag on, and the maps for the most part are designed to maximize the amount of strategy, fun, and entertainment available for players.

Why, what a big gun you have!
Are you overcompensating for something?
Domination is akin to a King of the Hill-type game match. There are three icons serving as control points that can be held by either team's color. While an icon is under a team's color, it slowly scores points for that team. Holding all three points of interest on a given map means a faster amount of points that are accumulated for that team. It's often a mad scramble to move from one point of interest to another, as control points are traded between teams like baseball cards of undesirable players.

Capture the Flag is probably a mode that I could do without explaining, but for those uninitiated, it has two teams with two bases. The goal here is to take the other team's flag and triumphantly march it back to your own base on top of your own team's flag to score a point. When a player with a flag is fragged, the flag is dropped and must be touched by a player of the opposing team to have it return to their base.

A mainstay of the arena shooter,
the Capture the Flag mode!
Assault is one of the more popular modes within Unreal Tournament with fans, and as an UT newbie, I can definitely see why. It pits two teams against one another, an attacking team and a defending team. The goal is for the defending team to disallow the attacking team from successfully completing a certain set of objectives. In the Rook map, the attacking team must destroy the chains that hold the castle's large door leading to freedom closed. By destroying these chains, the front castle door will open, allowing the attacking team to escape. It's the defending team's duty to prevent this at all cost.

You're about to get bathed in
a shower of bullets.
Each team gets a chance to serve as the attacking and defending team. The team that attacks first tries to do so in as fast an amount of time as possible. This sets how long the next team has to successfully complete their objective. If that team beats the other team's time, then they win. If neither team is able to complete their objective, then the entire match is a draw.

While Assault is a fantastic mode to itself, some maps have unclear goals to them as to what the attacking team must actually do. This can cause an unfair advantage to the other team when you're just aimlessly wandering a map, unaware of what the objective is. That said, it does lend itself well with the general rule of arena shooters in that knowing the maps is key.

Known more for its multiplayer madness, Unreal Tournament supports play for single players, offering a series of matches against bots in all four match types. The bots can range in difficulty from very easy to inhuman, where they can mow you down instantly and use very smart strategies. By completing every match in a given mode, you earn a gold trophy. Earn all four trophies, and you unlock a mode where you fight four one-on-one matches against a boss character, a fictional champion of the Unreal Tournament circuit.

The explosion of body parts after a kill is
still pretty gratifying.
Unreal Tournament on the PlayStation 2 is a blast to play, though using the PS2 controller is not the best substitute for a keyboard and mouse. Turning can be very slow in comparison, and when being fired on from above, you can be dead before the time you're able to turn around. Confusingly enough, the default controls have strafing mapped to the left analog stick while movement is mapped to the right. Thankfully, this can be changed within the controlling settings option menu.

As for the gameplay of UT itself, the fast-paced fragging action fans have grown to love with the franchise is ever-present in this PS2 version. Combatants move at a steady speed, able to jump around, and access locations on maps otherwise inaccessible. Maps range from small to large, offering an abundance of popular battle locations, areas of high traffic, sniper points, camping spots (though camping is not recommended, as one should always be moving so they're a harder target to hit), and locations for weapons, armor, health, boosts, and ammo.

The Impact Hammer is one of two
weapons each player starts a match with.
When a match begins and when a player is revived after being killed, they start with a close-range weapon and a relatively weak gun. Through exploring the map and acquiring weapons that spawn in each arena, players can obtain a mighty powerful armada of weaponry. Such weapons include a massive rocket launcher, a gun that sprays explosive bursts at other players, a bio gun that launches toxic bubbles, and a mainstay for shooters, a sniper rifle. Each weapon comes equipped with a secondary firing function. For instance, the Shock Rifle not only shoots out fast-moving bolts of lightning, but a player can fire a slow electrical orb that can take out foes in a jiffy.

We're going to tear-a Tara a new one!
The PlayStation 2 version of Unreal Tournament is sadly the weakest on the market. Not only are there tremendous frame-rate issues when the action gets fierce, but the visuals are rather weak. Multiplayer is available for up to four players (Multitap peripheral required for this amount of humans), but this astonishingly only allows a paltry 11 maps for skirmishes. Seven of these are Deathmatch maps while the other four are Capture the Flag. Yes, you read right. Three-quarters of Unreal Tournament's maps are locked away from multiplayer, and two of the game's modes are not able to be played with other humans. Considering those two modes are some of the most interesting in the package, this is a great loss for the PlayStation 2 version that offer incarnations such as the PC and Dreamcast versions have.

Despite being the black sheep when compared to other versions of the game, Unreal Tournament on the PlayStation 2 is indeed a entertaining arena shooter that still manages to play and hold up well to this day. Even the dated graphics and performance of the PS2 version don't detract from Unreal Tournament being a total blast to play whether alone with highly competent bots or with friends locally. It's gameplay that stands the test of time and offers a game that delivers total adrenaline rushes and fast and frantic fun. The fact that this arena shooter is still so popular 15 years after the fact is quite simply unreal.

[SPC Says: B-]

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