Every once in a while, stellar groundbreaking games come out that shake the world and make everybody weep at night waiting to play them.
Unreal Tournament 2003 is not that game.
So why did I use that line?
I felt like it.
If I were writing about the original Unreal Tournament, the preceding paragraphs wouldn’t have been there. The original Unreal Tournament was simply impressive in that at least, at the minimum, it provided a break from Quake, which I grew thoroughly sick of and couldn’t stand the sight of anymore. UT gave players an opportunity to experience great graphics in cool levels, a lot of which were open and grand in design, resulting in great addictive gameplay and tons of fun that I somehow no longer received from playing Quake.
Then something bad happened to both of those. Tribes 2 came. That was a really bad thing, at least from my humble point of view. I am not a champion at Quake or UT – I’m just a bloke who likes to frag some people and grab a few flags, so don’t flame me with a flood of “quake rox man ur stupid” or “tribes sux man wtf are you on”. To each his own. But at the moment, as far as I’m concerned, Tribes 2 is still the best first-person game out there, since I am more into the team domination concept than I am into deathmatch these days.
But back to our guns, comrades. UT2K3 makes several improvements to the original UT, some of which can be considered forwards-looking, and some are backwards and not quite what they are touted to be.
The first thing that was done is that levels were slightly altered and made more complex. For instance, my favourite level in the original UT, Facing Worlds, has transgressed into an Egyptian-themed level with lots of pharaoh statues, Sphynx look-alikes and other yellow memorabilia, with sand thrown in for good measure. The insides of the towers have been radically reworked, too – no longer do you just have 3 floors with sniper ammo on top where people just “accidentally” wound up in, but you have a much more complex structure with teleporters and various opportunities to hide and seek. Similarly, Inferno and Plunge have been reworked, too, with some more interesting twists and turns added to make things more hectic. Levels vary in size, too – some, like Face3 are manageable in size, while December is ridiculously large and I got lost in it more times than I care to admit.
Another thing that got redesigned since UT are the weapons. This is something I’m not so overjoyed about, as opposed to the levels (though I don’t really dig the Egyptian motif of Face3). Some weapons got ditched, and some weapons got “improved”. The sniper rifle is gone, replaced by a lightning gun; I’m not sure whether I like it or not. Granted, it performs the same basic function, and the zoom window is cooler than on the sniper rifle – but somehow, I’m more up with a sniper rifle firing a single bullet, rather than a big weird lightning with a rather large footprint. Also, (okay, so I’m a sniper. Sue me) I rather dislike how obvious the reverse path is – the original sniper rifle was obviously traceable, but it wasn’t as despicably obvious. The fire rate has been reduced, too – “for balancing purposes”, I imagine – which means you can’t follow people and keep blasting away. The flak cannon has been modified, too: it’s not as damaging as it used to be, but the neat thing is, you can bounce it off walls once, for an added around-the-corner effect. ‘Course, the problem with that is, your opponent will likely not wait until you flak him around the corner, and come around said corner for you with a lightning gun or a chain cannon. The new superweapon, Ion Cannon, is sort of no fun, either – I really enjoy chasing people with the Redeemer, so there’s absolutely no fun in just telling a satellite to nuke a certain area of the map. I just like to see the futility in people’s faces as they run and try to dodge the Redeemer. The feisty ones try to shoot it. That’s when they die.
One thing that I was rather disappointed about in UT2K3 was the lack of any type of vehicles. Somehow, I got really used to using lots of fast-paced mobility units in Tribes 2, and it really bolstered teamwork, especially when a bunch of people got into a transport vehicle to go assault stuff, or people got into a bomber for a bombing run. But then again, UT23K is not really a team game (when’s the last time you saw people cooperate for a coordinated CTF attack?), and the levels are not huge enough to warrant vehicles for transportation.
The sound and musical ambience in the game are quite impressive. The music is absolutely great, bringing back fond Deus Ex memories, and the sounds are quite good, with great positional audio effects, which frequently helped me find my way back to where the blood flowed. The player taunts are really badly done, though, and the incessant “die bitch” gets old fast.
Thus far, UT2K3 sounds a bit similar to Quake, perhaps, through my inept description of its prowess. It is not, though. It is more of an improvement on the original UT, than a clone of Quake. Notice I say “improvement”, though – it’s not a groundbreaker that UT was – for instance, while UT got me back into the online FPS genre, UT2K3 will likely not, at least not for anything longer than a month or two.
But I don’t want to leave off without an important mention about UT2K3. I didn’t want to bring this up at the beginning, because most other reviews do, and I just do not believe in being like everybody else, and also I don’t believe that graphics make the game – though they CAN make it better. You probably figured out by now that I want to talk about UT2K3’s graphics. Unreal Tournament 2003 has absolutely THE best graphics I have ever seen in a computer game so far of this writing. I was stunned beyond belief when I started playing it. The effect was so strong that I couldn’t actually concentrate on gameplay for the longest amount of time – I kept getting killed because I marveled at little things like lava, smoke, being able to shoot something big through that and affect it, as well as the absolutely incredible amount of detail of the world, the reflections on things, the environment mapping and so forth. The other impressive thing was that with my measly Athlon XP 1800+ and a GeForce 3 card I was able to set the game to 1280x1024 and maximum detail (when I set the last setting to the max, the game told me in this awed voice, “HOLY SH*T!” – I was happy). And the game ran smoothly, even when we played 32-player multi – I experienced virtually no slowdown, even in outside areas. This is where the game stays true to the original UT – I ran UT on my Voodoo2 in SLI mode at 1024x768, and it worked beautifully with zero slowdown even in the worst of times. Kudos to the Unreal team.
So what are my feelings about Unreal? Despite my apparent rumblings and growlings, this is an absolutely excellent game. Sure, it does not redefine the genre – but Quake hasn’t redefined the genre since Doom, and it’s still been getting top honours in every iteration, so all the more reason for Unreal Tournament 2003 to get them – but it doesn’t just sit on its predecessor’s laurels, it has something of its own to bring in – a most impressive graphics and physics engine, an incredible bot AI (of which I have not spoken, but the gist of it is – not only can you set the bots to any level of difficulty from a completely moronic one to basically Godlike, but what’s more, you can set the bots to match your skill level – while my skill level is not high enough to judge whether they accurately match you or not, I did feel like I never got too many kills or too many deaths either – I was always kind of keeping up, or else the bots were always keeping up. Either way, impressive.), as well as very impressive level design and great multiplayer capabilities. As well, Epic always designed their games to be multiplayer-friendly, so I expect some beautiful levels and mods to appear, and probably some fun mutators too (basically scripts that somehow modify the behaviour of the game). I still wish teamwork was more of an issue in the game (have a “clone of Tribes mode” or something), but oh well, I guess I’ll be playing the next iteration of Tribes to fill that need. Besides that, UT2K3 is, indeed, rather impressive.