Unreal Tournament 2003
Windows - 2002
Description of Unreal Tournament 2003
As apologies go, the 1999-released Unreal Tournament was probably the most sincere and gratifying gesture any gamer could have received after being tortured by the poorly implemented multiplayer in Epic's original Unreal. Cynics were actually ready to damn its arrival, incredulous to the idea of a retail multiplayer-oriented FPS shipping without any kind of single-player campaign. But it ended up being universally praised, outclassing id Software favorite for the holiday season, Quake 3. The latter game ultimately won in sales and licensing deals, although the battle was fierce. Three years later, Unreal Tournament 2003 is here and this time without an id challenger around to steal its time in the limelight.
So what is Unreal Tournament all about? Fast, frenetic, feverish, and any other F-word you can find in the thesaurus can't adequately describe the pace of UT2003. It's actually somewhat of a shock to the system when you're coming off the more cerebral, objective- and class-based team tactical shooters that have dominated the genre over the past couple of years.
Included in the game are, a rather stingy, four modes of play: old standbys deathmatch (plus team deathmatch) and capture the flag make an appearance, along with double domination and bombing run; the popular assault mode is sadly no more. Double-D -- okay, calm down at the back -- is a variation of domination from the original UT, where each team is required to hold two control points -- usually on opposite ends of the map -- for ten uninterrupted seconds to score.
The very refreshing bombing run is an American football inspired competition, where each team has to try to rush or project the ball through the goal inside the enemy's base. The ball carrier is unable to fire his weapons or teleport, so it's up to his team-mates to both protect him and be available for passes.
Weapons in UT2003 balance relatively well in that no one device appears to be heavily favored. There are some inventive ideas in there, including a default shield generator that can block shots and the link gun's ability to boost team-mate's weapon damage; in practice, however, the pace of the game doesn't really lend itself well to doing anything other than madly firing at the enemy. The translocator makes its return, and for servers that have it enabled, you'll find it to be heavily used as a means of faster mobility. It also makes hitting anyone even more difficult as they're constantly blipping in and out of your view. Amusingly, the game actually offers a "walk" key as an absurd kind of taunt: Go on, we dare you to use it. See how long you last.
The implementation of adrenaline is an interesting new feature, although bizarrely undocumented. Picking up adrenaline pills scattered around the map, along with making repeatedly good kills, increases your adrenaline gauge; when it reaches 100, the announcer bellows "ADRENALINE!" and you now have the option to activate one of four special moves by tapping either the forward, back, strafe left or right keys four times in a specific order. Why these moves can't be activated from one keypress by default remains a mystery, especially since FPS veterans won't have a hard time writing scripts to macro four keypresses together. The moves themselves are very useful and include increasing your movement speed, rate of fire, regenerating your health and invisibility.
Although team play should be a focus of UT2003 with it being touted as sports entertainment and all, it's sadly lacking in the department of communication between team-mates. In-game voice communication is absent, despite being implemented perfectly in Half-Life and other shooters. There's no radar or any other visual indicators as to the positions of your team members, nor any useful way of organizing tactics and issuing orders, aside from a crude menu of preset voice commands. This is primarily there for spouting taunts (including the always effective, and censored here, "Die, B**ch!" and housewife's favorite "Kiss my Ass!").
Also hindering what tactical element of the game exists is the instant respawning, especially since most of the maps have been designed with spawn points directly on top of an objective like an enemy goal or flag. It turns the final push for a score into a messy, shoot-n-sprayathon that seems to have more to do with luck and lag than anything else.
If you've heard that UT2003 comes with a solo-player campaign, then you're not actually going crazy, although whoever chose to advertise this fact may very well be. As with the original, UT2003 eases you into the shortlist of game modes through a ladder style tournament with pre-determined maps and player count. You climb each of the four ladders to eventually unlock the semi-final, then one-on-one final, which takes place in a cool little square arena with overhead walkways and a trench maze. While climbing the ladder, you can engage in a poor man's Championship Manager by altering your roster of team-mates and accepting or declining any trades offered. It doesn't really make much difference, since we found little to distinguish a bot rated "85" in team tactics over one rated "61."
And that's it for the campaign; it should take you a few hours at most to get through on normal difficulty. So what, you might ask, since nobody in their right mind purchases an Unreal Tournament game for single-player? You may well be right, but this does leave the whole futuristic sports theme rather under developed.
One of UT2003's shining accomplishments is its fantastically creative and beautiful level design. The sheer variety in locations and layout surpasses its predecessor and is backed up by what is easily the most stunning game engine to date. Dense foliage, reflective water, amazing architecture... a 2.5GB installation of hi-res textures can't be wrong, folks. Gone are the days of cardboard cutout trees in your 3D games. The only caveat with the otherwise impeccable map layouts is the over reliance on symmetrical designs, which tend to feel jarring and repetitive; in its defense, we suppose this does fit with the annoying sports theme, since both sides of any sports arena tend to be identical.
At an industry level, Unreal Tournament 2003 accomplishes exactly what Epic and Digital Extremes set out to do, in terms of creating a dazzling tech demo for an engine that they intend to license out. For us consumers, the results aren't quite as clear-cut. With the exception of the extremely, though not awe-inspiringly fun bombing run mode, UT2003 could essentially be Quake 1996 with one hell of an Oprah Winfrey style makeover. Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, Wolfenstein, Battlefield, Tribes... we've experienced the future of online shooters and aren't too interested in turning back. But for those who want their Friday night LAN sessions unfettered of complications, or simply a quick blast-em-up when they've got some minutes to spare, UT2003 is a satisfying solution.
Review By GamesDomain
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