Column: My Favourite Games, Part VIII: Unreal Tournament

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My brother and I used to play this game, with a very particular set of modifiers. Firstly, you were invisible, so the only way to see the other player was a slight glint or reflection of light in front of you. Secondly, the background music was turned off, but the sound effects were on high. We played on the level called DM_Barricade, a medieval castle. FInally, we only used one weapon: chainsaws. This meant you didn’t know where the other person was until the ear-bleedingly loud rev of a chainsaw happened, and your head was lopped off.

As far as gaming memories go, this game provides the most. Released in 1999 (hence the game now being referred to as UT99), I first played it soon after this, and I instantly fell in love with the fast paced, and exceedingly brutal combat, as well as the many different types of over-the-top weapons (each with a primary and secondary firing function). The enemy bot AI was also particularly unforgiving, making you either get good, or get out. UT99 also featured an announcer, over the top of the gameplay, who would announce to the whole game when you got a killstreak, or did something particularly awesome. It’s where often imitated ‘double kill, multi kill, mega kill, ultra kill, M-M-M-MONSTER KILL’ comes from.

The one weapon that will always stand out in my memory is called the Ripper. Sort of like a shotgun, of sorts, The Ripper launched a rusty, circular razorblade that would either bounce off up to five walls, or explode on impact, depending on which firing button was used. The primary attack could be used to decapitate enemies (with accompanying ‘HEADSHOT’ announcement) or to attack them around corners. While The Ripper will always stand out as unique, it was the Flak Cannon that will always be my favourite. The Flak Cannon was essentially an explosive shotgun that lobbed shrapnel grenades with the alternate fire, and getting a killstreak with it gave you the bonus of ‘Flak Monkey’. Worth every shot. There is also the obligatory sniper rifle, minigun and rocket launcher to appease those that prefer ranged, high velocity or particularly explosive weaponry.

UT99 featured a wide variety of game modes, from the standard solo- and team-deathmatch, to a capture the flag mode, and a king-of-the-hill-style domination, as well as the objective oriented assault games. Of these, the assault modes were the most unique, as two teams had to fight through a series of objectives, with one team attempting to hold the other off. One such level took place in a (different from the above) medieval castle, where the offensive team had to escape the dungeons, via a secret switch in the library. Another was a Omaha Beach style raid on a weapons facility, complete with auto firing mortars and an abundance of sniper rifle and minigun ammunition. Back in the beginning of high school, someone brought UT99 and put it on the school computers, which I’m sure you can imagine meant we got nothing done at all. I am happy to say I was always among the top players in the class, too.

Aside from just the highly entertaining bloodbath that is competitive multiplayer, UT99 also featured a solo campaign, in the form of a large tournament, where you had to climb the ranks by defeating those above you, to earn a shot at the champion, Xan Kriegor. Kriegor was a robot (I think?) that was ridiculously difficult; if you were playing on ‘novice’, the game had Xan fight on ‘experienced’, if you were on ‘experienced’, Xan was masterful, and if you were on the hardest difficulty, ‘godlike’, Xan was a cheating piece of shit. He could take a hell of a beating, and seemed to have perfect accuracy, even when aiming from across the map (his personal space ship, no less).

A sequel, Unreal Tournament 2004 (originally released in 2003 as Unreal Tournament 2003) was released, with improved graphics and more additions such as vehicales for the new Onslaught game mode. Whilst this was an enjoyable game, it never managed to have the same, lightning paced gameplay as UT99. Unreal Tournament III was released in 2007 (the first to be simultaneously released for consoles)… and it sucked. A new game, Unreal Tournament, is currently (as of 2015) in pre-alpha, and can hopefully bring the series back to it’s former glory. It will be completely free when it is released, so I imagine it will at least have a solid fan base.

I have always said that “everything that Halo did, Unreal Tournament did first and did better”. I’ll admit that may be a bit of fanboy in me, but in terms of impact, it is hard to say there are too many, if any, games that have had more than UT99. The game was fast paced, violent, and long-living, but above all, immensely enjoyable.

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