Unreal Tournament 2003

Unreal Tournament 2003

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 10/10/2002 for PC  

Unreal Tournament is a game that received a whole lot of lovin’ from the guys around the Gaming Nexus offices. Featuring perhaps the most addicting gameplay of any First Person Shooter on the market, Epic had an amazing title on their hands that took the world by storm. Sure it never quite matched up the mighty Quake 3 juggernaut, but it lingered around long enough to garner a following. Epic and Infogrames, proving that their respective mothers didn’t raise no fools, were wise enough to milk their product for everything it was worth. Packaging it with high-profile sound cards, re-packaging the product in the “Game of the Year” format, and adding more subsequent upgrades. By the time that the company was finished with it, nearly everyone and their mother had come in contact with the game and from the looks of it, they liked what they saw.

After building up a solid fanbase, and hooking thousands on their proverbial crack, they were wise enough to produce a sequel for the game. Many were hasty to proclaim the title a one hit wonder, especially after the numerous delays that pushed back the title’s release date. Now the title is out on store shelves and if you’re a skeptic, you certainly won’t be one for much longer. This game is amazing and is a worthy successor to the original, the only thing keeping it from perfection are the horrible design choices that seriously dampen the experience.

This time around, Digital Extremes (the developer of the first UT) tried to address the issues that players had with last year’s game. One of the areas where the original was heavily lacking in was the Single player department.They responded by adding a ladder mode where you can recruit and build up your own team of AI players. While this is no match for the unpredictability of a living, breathing combatant, it’s a very nice addition that is definitely worth a look.

There were some interesting design choices made in UT2003, on the one hand we have the inclusion of the intense and addictive ‘Bombing Run’ mode (more on that later) but on the other hand, we have the absence of the excellent Assault and Domination modes. Though the Bombing Run mode is a suitable substitute to the Assault mode, it still baffles me as to why the guys at Epic would decide to remove some of the more popular modes in the game.

As it stands though, Bombing Run is a more than capable substitute for Assault. In BR mode, you’ll play what is essentially rugby with deathmatch rules. There is one ball that must either be run through or thrown through the opposing team’s goal. The team with the most points at the end of the round is of course designated as the winner. This most emphasizes perhaps what the hardcore audience wanted the most, teamwork, for without teamwork you’ll find yourself on the losing end every time. It’s simple really, and genius at that, the ball carrier cannot fire his weapon so he must rely on his teammates to protect him as he makes a run at the opponent’s goal. So obviously, you have to work as a team or the whole operation will fall apart. You’ll also have to rely on some of your teammates to sit back and protect the goal from opposing ball carrier. So you’ll have to organize your team and co-ordinate your plan of attack wisely if you hope to be successful. As you play through this mode you’ll find that the more selfless and cohesive teams will always prevail. Out of all the modes in this year’s game this is definitely my favorite, and judging by the number of players online, I'm not alone.
This isn’t a game that relies on conventional wisdom and logic to deliver the goods. To be honest, the game feels like it would be a nice fixture at your local arcade. Featuring wacky things like the Big Head mutator, a feature that let’s your head size show the competition how well you’re doing, and the inclusion of the double jump feature really set the tone and feeling of the game. Even the announcer has become a little more outlandish, yelling “Holy Shit” when you’ve managed to rack up enough kills in succession. Wanting to spice things up a little, the designers included a set of special moves called Adrenalin moves. Collect enough pills or kill enough enemies and you’ll fill up your Adrenalin meter. In order to activate these, each of these moves require the player to input a combination of button presses, then the real fun begins. You’ll be able to regenerate health, move at incredible speeds, become invisible, and increase your rate of fire. The programmers at Digital Extremes should be commended for trying something new and different. Though it's not exactly groundbreaking, it's a nice enough inclusion to warrant praise from this reviewer.

Also new to this year’s game is double domination, a mode that is the successor to last year’s domination mode. I’m not particularly fond of these matches, as it seems to actually be a step backward from the original domination mode of UT. Instead of earning points for controlling certain areas on the map, double D requires you to hold two points for 10 seconds in order to garner a point for your team. If the opposing team takes control of your point then the count is broken and must be started over again. In theory this sounds like an excellent game but in practice, I found it to be too easy to simple kamikaze and take control of the point. On the other end of the spectrum, there are levels that sometimes end far too abruptly. It seems as if a proper balance could not be maintained and the end result is a match that is far too short, or a match that seems like it lasts for an eternity.

Of course the other modes are present as well, Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Team Death match, all of which operate just as you would imagine. Though these matches may have become old hat for some, UT2003 still manages to make them more than enjoyable. There are dozens of maps in the game, each of which have their own distinct flair and style. Each new locale lends an entirely new atmosphere and more importantly, an entirely new experience from the previous one. Each of the maps are entirely unique and were built from the ground up, this means no cheap rehashes from UT are included to help build up the map total, we’re talking brand new material here.

Each of Unreal Tournament’s weapons make a return in one form or another, most of them featuring significantly upgraded designs. Though their functions still remain generally unchanged, all of the weapons now have a more futuristic feel to them. The standard weapon is no longer a simple handgun but instead a fully automatic machine gun, the sniper rifle is now a weapon that fires out lethal bolts of lighting. There are some interesting new additions though, for instance, the Link gun’s secondary mode can now be used on teammates to help boost their firepower. There’s a new weapon called the Ion Painter that lets you mark a target for an orbiting Ion Cannon. The changes are generally skin deep though, the weapons still function in the same fashion as before and there aren’t many changes. I had a few problems with this though, I felt that the 'cheap kills' of the original were a huge problem, especially in a game that emphasizes great skill and precision aim. It's far too easy to blanket an area with Bio Rifle sludge or even the grenades from the standard rifle. It basically boils down to plenty of random kills that are garnered by luck rather than skill.

Some of the new maps are great but the sad truth is that the majority of them are just plain awful. They range from wild rendezvous in outer space to a Tolkien-esque forest setting, complete with fairy dust-like objects. Each of them are well designed and feature plenty of room to maneuver and strut your stuff but they all tend to have one major flaw that prevents them from being functional. For instance, the spawn points are just a horrible mess, basically throwing you into the center of the action after each death. It's not a rarity to spawn on a map only to sent to your fiery death a fraction of a second later. There were plenty of questionable design decisions for the maps from the atrocious choke points on the Bombing Run maps to the relative easiness of the Double Domination matches, it appears the guys at Digital Extremes and Epic really dropped the ball on this one.UT2003 performs well on most midrange machines and exceptional on the high-end rigs. However, if you have a low-end machine you should probably stay as far away from this one as possible. The minimum requirements on the box are a joke and will only lead to plenty of frustration. Even more baffling though are the recommended requirements, I had access to a P4 1.0 Ghz with a GeForce2 and the results just weren't pretty. Even with all the details turned down I had a hard time playing the game with any sort of skill of precision. Though the facts are a bit misleading I suppose one could look at UT2003 as a good excuse to finally update their out-of-date rig.

It's not all bad though, the game runs excellently with all the details maxed out on my P4 1.5 Ghz, 328MB Ram with a Geforce 3 Ti200 machine. My only problems came at the onset of each match where the first 3 or 4 seconds seemed to stutter like crazy but after that, it was smoother than butter. I will admit that the demo seemed to run much better on my machine and with a lot fewer hitches, but I’ll take the performance I’m getting from this puppy any day. It should be noted though that if you own a Sound Blaster Extigy you should stay as far away from this game as possible, unless of course you’re a big fan of slideshows.

Speaking of the audio, you’ll want to have a sweet setup if you hope to receive the full effect from the game. With full support for a 5.1 setup, you’ll get 5 separate streams of audio coming from you at all directions. There is definitely a new feeling of immersion that really puts you into the middle of the action. It’s a shame that all gamers don’t have access to this setup because it’s definitely a treat. All of the audio elements are cleanly sampled leading to one of the year’s best audio treats. This is one game where if you’re not careful, your subwoofer will really kick your ass. I recommend you rent a shack out in the middle of Wyoming so that you can play this game without having to worry about pissing off the neighbors.

With all of the upgrades being made, it’s nice to see that the visual aspects of the game were not overlooked. While UT was a beautiful game, UT2003 completely blows it out of the water. Every single aspect of the game has been improved. The explosions are prettier, the architeture is more refined, the models are better developed and the effects are just mind-blowing. This game provides a pyrotechnics show that rivals that of even the largest 4th of July celebrations. I’m talking beautiful coronas that litter the level and provide the surreal feeling that we’ve come to associate with those outer space horror flicks.

Player models have also received a significant upgrade. The guys at Epic have been touting that their models feature up to 100 times the amount of polys as the originals and I’ll tell you, they’re not exaggerating. All of them look amazing, featuring tons of little details to really differentiate themselves from the others. All of the faces do well to match up to their portraits, featuring perhaps the most detailed faces to ever appear in a FPS. Each of the body parts has the ability to move independently of each other. This may not sound impressive in writing, but believe me, it’s amazing in execution. Aptly named “Rag Doll Physics,” each of the bodies get tossed around like your favorite childhood rag doll. This is especially prevalent in the death animations as you watch your combatant succumb to death. I recommend you die next to a cliff in order to observe this technology at its best, you’ll actually see your character fall down the side of the cliff in a realistic manner, limbs flinging around all over the place. It’s just like watching one of those entertaining Stunt Gone Bad shows on Fox, popcorn anyone?Everything in the world of UT2003 isn’t perfect though, the network code could still use a little more stabilizing. I'm having a hard time finding servers that run smoothly and when I'm lucky enough to come across one, it's usually well into the night. This is inexcusable, especially for a game that relies so heavily on its online component. I’m also upset that the CDs came in paper cases as opposed to the traditional jewel casing. Though I’m not knocking off points from the title for this, I feel that it’s wrong to charge $50 for a game and not having the decency to package it with a suitable housing unit. I was willing to let this go until the install program instructed me to “enter the CD-key found on the back of the jewel case.” Doh, apparently the guys who coded the installation program share my exact sentiments. The same problem was present in Atari’s previous blockbuster title, Neverwinter Nights, and I fear that it’s beginning to become a trend in future games. Couple this with the original batch of manuals featuring orange backgrounds and you have perhaps one of the largest packaging debacles seen in recent years.

John also pointed out that it’s quite easy to become stuck in some of the game’s archtecture, I didn’t understand what he meant until I went back and revisited the game. It seems that it’s simply too easy to become stopped by even the smallest piece of the environment. When you’re running around corners, sometimes a small area of the environment will protrude out and stop you dead in your tracks. This isn’t too large of a problem during the majority of gameplay but it becomes a huge annoyance when you’re playing cat and mouse with a rocket launcher.

The guys at Epic were faced with the seemingly impossible task of improving upon the series’ excellent foundation, but they’ve somehow managed to deliver in nearly every respect. UT2003 is visually striking, technically sound and is a hell of a blast to play. In a market that is filled with “me-too” titles, Epic and Digital Extremes have managed to elevate themselves above the rest. Though the game doesn’t do much in terms of advancing the genre, it sure as hell does a fine job of showing off what it truly is about.
The sequel to one of the best online First Person Shooters manages to deliver on nearly all fronts. With a visual package that is unparalled by its competitors and frantic action that could only be described as “devilishly fun,” Epic has another winning title on their hands.

Rating: 8.9 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

comments powered by Disqus