Over the past two years, I've reviewed free software first-person shooters including Tremulous, Alien Arena, and Nexuiz -- all top-notch games. Now we can add Urban Terror to that list. While the first three sport other-worldly, sci-fi-style opponents, Urban Terror goes for realistic opponents -- as realistic as today's headlines. You're fighting terrorists in Algiers and other locations around the globe, and you're using realistic weaponry to do it.
Urban Terror 4.1 is a cross-platform -- Mac, Windows, and Linux -- free software game developed and maintained by Frozen Sand, LLC. Earlier versions of the game required a copy of Quake III in order to play, but the game now runs on a modified version of the free ioquake3 engine. To get started, download the Urban Terror ZIP file, unzip it, and execute the appropriate binary in the Urban Terror directory that you created as you decompressed the downloaded file.
Depending on your distribution and X Window configuration, you may run into an "Out of Range" problem when you start the game. I did, running on Ubuntu 8.04 using a restricted Nvidia driver with a resolution of 1280x1024. My workaround was to set my desktop resolution to 800x600, start the game, adjust the System settings for 1280x1024, exit, restore my normal desktop resolution, then start the game again. There are other fixes mentioned in Ubuntu forums.
Urban Terror provides a clean, easy interface for both game setup and game play. The opening screen, shown in Figure 1, offers you the option of playing the game, setting it up, starting a game server, viewing previously saved demos, or leaving the game. Clicking setup from the opening screen allows you to tweak your settings for Controls, Player, Game Options, or System. Choosing Player lets you set your player name and gives you a choice of gender in a various garb for both Red and Blue team play. Selecting Game Option gives you access to nine submenus to tweak everything from the size, type, and color of the cross-hair for aiming your weapons, to displaying (or not) frames-per-second of game play. You can even control whether blood, bleeding, or wounds are shown. Complete information on all the options is available in an online manual.
Get in the game
Urban Terror provides no local play mode where you can practice against the bots before appearing in public. But if you want to practice on moves, weapons, or maps, without the distractions of people laughing at you and trying to kill you, start a non-dedicated server and then have at it. As soon as you start the non-dedicated server, you'll be joined to it as a player.
Once you feel ready to make a public appearance, click Play Online, and a server selection screen will appear. If the screen shows no servers, click Get List. Even if a list of servers does appear, it's a good idea to Refresh List before jumping on a server, since there is no guarantee that a server is still online, or that it is still playing the same type of game as the last time you played.
You can filter the server list by game source (Local, Internet, or LAN) or by type of game. You can also tweak the interface so that full and empty servers are not shown. The list can be sorted by any column displayed. When you've found the server you want to join, click Connect.
Urban Terror offers several game types. If you're a noobie like me, start with a Free For All, since nobody really minds how often you get killed in FFA. If you start out in a team game, where others are counting on your skills, you may not be so lucky. Other game types include Team Deathmatch, Team Survivor, Follow the Leader, Capture and Hold, Capture the Flag, and Bomb Mode.
The first thing to do after getting in the game is to select your weaponry. You can choose an assault rifle, grenade launcher, sniper rifle, machine gun, or submachine gun for your primary armament. Unless you choose the 90-round IMI Negev machine gun, you'll also need to pick a secondary weapon, either a shotgun or a submachine gun. For a sidearm, you have the choice of either a 9mm Beretta or a .50 caliber Desert Eagle.
You also have the choice of high-explosive grenades, smoke grenades, or no grenades at all. Pick either type of grenade and you can also choose one item from the following list: Kevlar vest, Kevlar helmet, silencer, laser sight, med kit, tactical goggles, or extra ammo. Choose neither variety of grenades, and you can pick two items from that list instead of only one.
Game play is fast and furious. Expect to be killed early and often as a noobie, and skill does matter. In FFA mode, you're typically dead for only about six seconds, then you're right back into the action.
The discussion forums on the Urban Terror Web site is very active on a wide range of related topics, including news on leagues, tournaments, and the latest game developments.
If you're more interested in running a server than in playing the game, it's easy to get your Urban Terror game server on the Net -- not counting any tweaks required for your firewall or router, of course; you're on your own when it comes to configuring those devices. The critical things to select when you set up a server are the options for dedicated (the choices are No, LAN, Internet), the game type (FFA, Team Deathmatch, Team Survivor, Follow the Leader, Capture and Hold, Capture the Flag, or Bomb Mode), and the game map. Out of the box, Urban Terror 4.1 comes with more than 20 different maps, and more community developed maps appear all the time. If you join a game on a server running a map you don't have, you'll need to download it in order to be able to play. Those aren't the only server setup choices, of course, just the bigs. There are dozens of others, and you can find them documented in the aforementioned manual.
Urban Terror is an excellent FPS. As promised on the Urban Terror Web site, the mix of realism and fast-paced fun provides exactly the kind of fun FPS players are looking for. This one is highly recommended.