Unreal Tournament PreviewDeveloper:
Epic Games & Community
Out now (Pre-Alpha)
With Wolfenstein thoroughly rebooted, DOOM riding high once more, and the announcement of a new Quake at E3, the classic shooters of yore are seeing a bit of a resurgence. But it isn’t just the canon of id that is receiving a modern makeover. For the last year or so, Epic have been working on a brand new Unreal Tournament – the first entry in the series since Unreal Tournament III in 2007. More excitingly still, you can play it right now, for free. And if you fancy, you can even get in on the development.
In what is one of the most intriguing development projects currently ongoing, Epic are collaborating directly with the community to design their new arena shooter. This isn’t the same as other Alpha projects, where developers use feedback from early builds of their game to influence later design. Users in Unreal Tournament are actively contributing to the game’s content, creating assets, building levels, even designing gameplay modes.
Such a project obviously raises some logistical and also ethical quandaries. How do you corral such a broad and remote user base into a functional development team? And is it acceptable for a developer to use their community as free labour? Epic answer the first question with a detailed online flowchart that visualises what needs doing, who is doing it and how long it will take to get done, while somewhat circumventing the second issue by keeping Unreal Tournament absolutely, completely free. Right now, however, the most important questions are these. Is this new, crowd-developed Unreal Tournament fun to play, and is it fun to play right now?
The answer to both these questions is an emphatic yes. Although much of the game remains under construction, there’s a rock-solid foundation of movement and shooting built upon tried-and-tested UT systems. From the one-two punch combo of the ASMD Shock rifle, to the devastating shrapnel spray of the almighty Flak Cannon (a good litmus test of any UT game is the quality if Flak Cannon, and this incarnation’s whirring industrial death machine is a fine one), the basic deathmatch feels distinctly UT - nippy, acrobatic, and gleefully violent.
In terms of style, Unreal Tournament takes inspiration from all the previous games, but it feels most closely aligned to the 1999 classic. The character models, for example, are lithe and slender, as opposed to the bulkier avatars of 2004 and UT III. Meanwhile, both the pace of the game and the weapon roster hark back to that original design – from the ability to pick up twin enforcers to the lethal snap of the sniper rifle.