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Unreal Tournament 2003 Review
developer: Digital Extremes
PIII 733, 128MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 3GB HD
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Sep 30, 02 (released)
|» All About Unreal Tournament 2003 on ActionTrip|
"Unreal Tournament 2003 is a lightning-fast, no-holds-barred sport of the future, where warriors face off like the Gladiators of Ancient Rome to determine the ultimate combatant."
I think the most accurate way to describe Unreal Tournament 2003 would be to say that it's the most progressive/regressive PC game of the year. But when you think about it DE and Infogrames couldn't have made a smarter move for themselves. As far as I know Quake 4 is going to be primarily focused on the single-player story-driven experience (Raven is well known for delivering in that department), and so will DOOM 3. Granted, both of these games will have multiplayer capabilities, and will probably be more popular than Cuban cigars after the "Cuban cigar" incident. They will nonetheless shift the focus from a sport-like multiplayer experience (as seen in Quake III) to the more story-driven Hollywood like ambience. All of which leaves the market wide open for more "sporty" multiplayer games, which represent a hybrid of EA Sports-like games and online shooters. All of this in an attempt to create a bloodier incarnation of the WWF, at least as far as pre-match hype goes. It just takes one look at the opening single-player cinematic to figure out what I'm talking about.
Check this out! Damn, it looks like a halo!
What's this guy trying to do?? Head-butt me?!
Enter Unreal Tournament 2003, with its simple, and yet effective game concepts. Even more unusual is that many of these concepts were actually trimmed in UT2003 in order to make the franchise more acceptable to a wider array of consumers. Or, in other words, the game is "optimized" for tournament gaming - think CPL, people! The name change (i.e. year tag) clearly indicates that this will become an annual game series, much like all the famed EA Sports games. Consequently, the gameplay was simplified as I said, and popular mods like Assault had to be left out. Again, a smart move by Digital Extremes, since this time around, they won't have a direct competitor, as Epic had in Quake III. When the original UT came out it had to establish itself on the market with its innovative gameplay modes and cool concepts like the mutators. This time around, DE didn't bother much with innovation. Instead of concentrating heavily on tweaking the existing gameplay concept they simply made sure their game is optimized for net play and looks absolutely gorgeous. Or, they just took all the great stuff from the original UT and Quake III and crammed it into one heavily marketed online FPS / sports game. Granted, there is one notable new game mode - Bombing Run. It represents a sort of a Rollerball/CTF hybrid where players get to score by slamming a ball down a virtual hoop. (Ed.- In America, we call this Basketball, 2Lions.) They can pass the ball around. The defensive assignments sort of consist of fragging the offense and vice versa. (Ed. - Future Mod Pack will include the "Jordan" player skin.) The new mode is fun to play, especially if there is a large number of players on each side, but it would be unfair to say that UT2003 is an innovative game because of this. One other thing worth mentioning here would be the adrenaline power-ups. In all honesty, this option is largely reminiscent of the 'Runes' in the old Quake II Lithium mod, but instead of simply collecting them you have to activate the adrenaline power-up by hitting the right key combo once your adrenaline bar is full. This allows for speed boosts, invisibility and so on. Again, hardly enough originality to call the gameplay in UT2003 creative. The mutators are back from the original - InstaGib, Low Grav, etc.
Most people will say however that originality and new concepts are not what they're looking for in this game, and I would tend to agree. Still, this begs one question: providing you're not an eye-candy junkie, why would you buy this game and not simply stick to the original UT or Quake 3? Beats the hell out of me... Just shows you how much influence aggressive marketing can have on the consumers.
For the full list of game modes and all the basic features in this game (as well as the weapons list), again, I suggest you read our hands-on preview. I'm pretty sure that you've all played the demo by now and pretty-much know the ins and outs of this game, so it would be pointless for me to write simple facts here. In stead, let's just concentrate on some of the finer points of the gameplay, and touch upon the visuals and sound effects a bit.
One thing you'll immediately notice when playing Unreal Tournament 2003 is that it in some way resembles Quake III. Some say it's the visuals, but I beg to differ, I think that the two games are simply not comparable in that sense. It would be like comparing a '69 Chevy to a brand-new BMW - just doesn't work that way. Some would argue that the art style in UT2003 resembles the one in Quake III. There is possibly some merit to this argument, especially if we take a long, hard look at maps like DM_Inferno, DM_Gael, DOM_ScorchedEarth, and CTF_Magma. All four of these maps clearly represent the symbiosis of the post-industrial and Goth like art style, which is virtually a trademark of id Software. On the other hand, the outdoor maps are nothing like the ones in Quake III, mainly because the new Unreal engine is so vastly superior in rendering outdoor environments - consequently giving the designers a lot more artistic freedom. There are some maps again that are similar to the ones in UT, and some maps made their way back from the original because of their popularity. I think the best way to describe the maps in UT 2003 would be to say that they represent an amalgamation of many art styles, and yes even those from Quake III... which is OK. Simply put, players are given a chance to play in a host of diverse environments, which is always a good thing. And you simply cannot deny the fact that some of these maps look drop dead gorgeous.
The gibs WILL fly!
Lovely looking yard. I think I'll take a little breather...
But to get back to the original question: in what way is Unreal Tournament 2003 similar to Quake 3? I would say that the likeness mostly has to do with the physics engine, which is in a way an intangible characteristic of the gameplay, hardly ever noticed in the heat of the battle. Still, the gameplay pace, your movement and jumping all seem to remind me of Quake III gameplay, and being an avid Quake 2 and Quake 3 player I'd say that this is a good - nay, a great thing! It goes without saying though that the physics engine in UT2003 is far superior to its older counterpart. The developers have separately licensed the Karma physics engine from an Oxford based company, MathEngine, plc, integrating it into its Unreal code with spectacular results. The engine allows you to simulate solid objects such as crates, tires or bones, as well as different joints, motors or springs between objects. Using these simple 'building blocks', complicated systems can be easily built that will behave according to the laws of physics. This can be anything from the classic stack of crates, to swinging lights or doors that can be shot off their hinges, up to 18-wheeler trucks, or characters falling down stairs like a rag-doll when they die.
Naturally, this adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay, but that's not the main point here. The fact is that DE seemed to have optimized the gameplay speed, your character's jumping and movement in UT2003 in such a way that it just feels a lot more like Quake III than the original UT. I think this is a change for the better, but I'm sure some UT die-hards will disagree...
I've gone over the weapons in my hands-on preview, so there is no point in repeating myself. In a nutshell, the weapons in UT2003 have been perfected over the original ones, in terms of both weapons balance and the special effects. Some changes have been introduced, but nothing too spectacular - like the Mini-gun's alternate (slower) mode of fire, and minor changes to the RL (you can now load only three rockets before firing). For me, this is a good thing, as I've become accustomed to the original weapons and would hate to have to 'rediscover' them all over again. I will say this though, I absolutely adore my Rocket Launcher (even though its destructive power has been decreased somewhat) - sniping someone with the Lighting Gun and then finishing him/her off with a Mini-gun is super-cool, too -- not to mention the Flak Cannon, and the Plasma and Link Gun. The more you play this game, the more you'll learn to love some weapons and avoid others. But, that's just how things are in these online FPS games.
Still, even the most powerful weapons won't help you win the game if it happens to lag more than an Armenian server over a dial-up. (Ed. - You may as well walk to the Internet.) Luckily, you'll rarely experience this in UT2003. The netplay is smooth as silk, and anything below a 100ms ping will play like a LAN game. Great stuff, Digital Extremes! The loading times are hella-fast, which further increases the hassle-free experience of playing a UT2003 match. I can't stress enough how important it was for this sequel to have air-tight net code from day one. Much to the satisfaction of thousands of players world-wide, DE has managed to achieve this goal. Likewise, the single player mode is just as good. The bots might give you a fair challenge. Crank up the difficulty and even the more experienced players will find themselves in trouble.
Finally, we come to the (insert your own adjective) visuals, which remind me why I LOVE my PC over any other gaming platform in the world! (Ed. - 2Lions, do you even remember who is editing this review?) A smooth frame rate at high resolution with top-of-the-line special effects is what this game is all about. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous. The final version of the game features even higher-resolution textures and more polygonal details than the demo! You could only set the details as high as Normal in the demo, but now you can crank it up to High, Higher and Highest! I mean, just get a load of the exemplary usage of T&L and you'll immediately see why this technology symbolizes the downfall of 3dfx.
The sound effects on the other hand are a bit dodgy. Especially if you don't care for pompous 'ready to rumble' like announcements. The announcer has been the subject of a heated debate ever since we first heard him in the demo, but I think this whole debate has been blown way out of proportions. Yeah, he can get annoying at times, but it's not as if I've been pulling my hair over this. The most important thing is that the rest of the sound effects add a lot of flavor to the gameplay. You'll hardly ever notice the announcer once the fragging starts.
In a nutshell
Many people will love this game, and some hard-core UT fans might object to the course that the developers have taken. Some will say that the maps are just full of power-ups and they won't like the more arcadish Quake-like gameplay. The game is regressive in a sense that it doesn't bring anything new to the field of online shooters - it's as straightforward and arcadish as online shooters get, and at the same time, it's highly progressive with its incredible physics, 3D, and net code.
Some will love it and some will hate it, but none can dispute the fact that once they start playing it they'll enjoy the hell out of it! UT2003 is extremely fun, make no mistake about it, and that's the sole reason why I recommend this game even to those of you who feel that older online shooters can offer just as much fun, but with lower hardware reqs. It's much like the shooters of old, but the actual gameplay mechanics have been raised to another level. Along with some other gameplay tweaks, this probably makes UT2003 the best online shooter on the market. Creativity does suffer greatly, but that's what happens when you become one of the big boys. The bid for a wider market reach often yields the death of innovation and a far more rigid approach to game design. Well, just as long as the end product is hella fun, we shouldn't object that much really.
8.9 Very Good
Extremely polished online shooter. Physics, net and 3D code; maps, weapons... Hella fun!
Creativity makes way to profitability. Some map areas are over-abundant with power-ups; the announcer can be quite annoying, but only if you actually pay attention to him during the match.
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