BlueSmoke - Review : Unreal Tournament 2003

 Date  : Oct 2nd, 2002
 Genre  : Action
 Developer   : Digital Extremes & Epic Games
 Author  : Jin-Ning Tioh

Four years ago, the karma sutra of multiplayer first-person shooters was released. It created new standards for action gamers around the globe. It junked the traditional single-player experience, excluding storylines and linear levels. It took the best elements of the genre, amongst them competent bots, fast-paced action, impressive graphics, as well as a whole slew of maps and game types. It took form as the revered Unreal Tournament. And if you were foaming at the mouth while playing the recently released demo, prepare for a full-blown heart attack after laying your grubby little hands on the full-version of Unreal Tournament 2003. Read on to find out more about them big bad redeemers and bad-ass Gen Mo' Kai.

 

As in the original, players are thrust into the future, where the favorite sport of the masses is still watching contestants blow each other up into spectacular sprays of blood and giblets for fame and fortune. Expect an increased emphasis on teamplay this time round though - In the single-player tournament, after the qualifying round, players must set up an elite team of warriors to beat the odds. To enter the tournaments proper however, you must first defeat all seven of your new team mates in a deathmatch. Each member will be measured in four categories - Accuracy, Team Tactics, Agility and Aggression. In addition, team members can also be assigned positions. Positions, which players can adjust to their liking, include support, roam, offense, as well as defense. Support has the selected bot covering your back, while roam has the bot making battle decisions for itself. Offense and defense is pretty self-explanatory. Also worth mentioning is the option for player-trading. During the tournaments, you will constantly receive offers to trade players with other teams. All the changes mentioned above only help create the impression that players are actually immersing themselves in a real-life, professional sport... That involves blowing away the competition in big, loud explosions that is.

While some old favorites such as assault and domination have been removed, several new game types have been introduced. The full roster includes Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, Bombing Run and Double Domination. Double Domination is quite similar to the previous Domination while Bombing Run plays like an extremely violent game of American football. A match starts off with players from each team rushing for the ball, which is usually located in the middle of a map in a neutral area. Once done, the ball must be carried into the opposing team's base and dropped off at the goal to score. While players carrying the ball cannot fire weapons, they can pass the ball to other teammates - or even to opposing players. A favorite tactic is to throw the ball at approaching enemies, leaving them completely vulnerable and defenseless to your attacks. In the event of a tie, the match will go into sudden death.

Next, let's check out your "hardware". Most of the classics have made it back in one piece, including the bio rifle, rocket launcher, shock rifle, flak cannon, redeemer, minigun and translocator. The pulse rifle is also back, but with neat abilities and a new name - The link gun. In addition to the usual primary and secondary fire, the link gun can also hook up with friendly link gun carrying team mates to dish out even more hurting. However, the much-beloved Enforcer handguns have been shoved back onto the weapons rack and replaced with an assault rifle. Its primary fire sends out a burst of lead while its secondary fire bounces off a grenade to warm up the party. The sniper rifle has also been replaced with a lightning gun, which basically serves in the same capacity. The new addition to your arsenal is the ion painter. Emitting a low-powered beam, the ion painter helps sets up a target for an orbiting ion cannon in space. You know what happens next. The shield gun is another new addition. In primary fire, it acts as a melee weapon of sorts. In secondary fire, it generates a small shield players hold protectively in front of them. Of note, changes have been made to reduce the number of "lucky" kills. For example, the blast radius of the flak cannon has been reduced, while its shrapnel don't bounce around quite so much any more. Also, the rocket launcher can only load up to three rockets per spread instead of the original five.

Other significant changes include the double jump as well as adrenaline pills. The double jump can be critical in helping players dodge rockets and bursts of lightning from the bots, who are among other things, better shots than before. Don't worry - After a match or two, it soon becomes second nature. Adrenaline pills however, takes the genre in an interesting new direction. Players increase their adrenaline by fragging opponents and picking up adrenaline pills spread throughout the level. The real fun starts when your adrenaline level reaches 100. A series of combo moves will then be available to players, including speed, invisibility and boost. For starters, hitting forward 4 times activates speed for 20 seconds, turning your jogging character into a full blown Tasmanian devil, while tapping back 4 times activates your boost bonus, which regenerates health you lose for some time. Mutators are also back. Classics such as Insta-Gib and Low Gravity make a return, while dozens more have been created. Most hilarious of these is the Big Head mutator - The better you do, the bigger your head gets. Also present is Vampire, Team Regeneration, Quad Jump and so on.

As before, the bots will probably still impress both inexperienced and veteran gamers alike. The years of development which have gone into making these bots some of the most formidable deathmatch opponents or teammates available is still readily apparent. And if anything, they seem to be even better at what they do than before. They'll still strafe, dodge and weave circles around opponents to avoid being hit. They'll even open fire only when your shield gun is powered down to conserve ammo. And they WILL work well together as a team if necessary to score kills or points. Also, they still fill the air with their constant bantering and taunting. Simply watching your teammates surge forward as they scream out curses and frag any obstacles in their way brings the whole experience to life.

A powerful level editor also comes along with the package. Experienced as well as potential editors will find using the UT2003 Editor a whole lot easier than before, thanks primarily to the team's effort in making it as mod-friendly as possible. While editors will have the ability to change, tweak and alter any of the levels till their hearts content, probably the biggest improvement is the addition of prefabs. Prefabs are basically big chunks of scenery - A section of hallway, a whole tower or even a citadel - You name it. Yep, that's right. Just drag and dump. This certainly helps shorten the huge learning curve associated with the original Unreal Tournament editor - So much so that maps are probably going to sprout up all over the internet anytime soon.

 

It's beautiful, it's dazzling - In short, it's a technological marvel. The game runs you through literally dozens of maps, ranging from vine-covered jungles and ancient Egypt to boiling volcanic regions and frost-covered asteroids. While some maps such as Facing Worlds III and Orbital II are remakes of classic UT maps, dozens of new maps are included in the package - Skyline, which features a series of high rooftops for contestants to engage in a deadly game of football; Inferno, with its endless fields of lava, and the Tokara Forest, with its lush greenery. A liberal amount of effort has also been spent on death animations, with lots of blood and giblets to guarantee satisfaction. Blood sprays out ( in different colors, depending on race ) when an opponent is taken down. Dead opponents even flip around and lie facing upwards or downwards, depending on how he is taken down. Of course, all this graphical splendor has a rather demanding price. Even on a system equipped with a Thunderbird and GeForce4 Ti4400, performance can at times slow down to a crawl at 1024x768.

Some great sound effects can be found here - Rockets go BOOM on impact, shields waver when raked with small arms fire, and so on. Of note, there is much more variety in voice-acting for the bots compared to original Unreal Tournament. Humans sound like battle-hardened survivors, robots sound like the soulless killing machines they are, and the Gen Mo' Kai sound just plain menacing. The soundtrack for UT 2003 also sounds great, though we still miss the feel of some of the original tracks, such as the one used for the original Morpheus map.

 

Like its predecessor, Unreal Tournament 2003 raises the bar yet again for multiplayer first-person shooters. All new mutators, maps, player skins, game types as well as smarter bots help give the game an awesome amount of depth and replayability. Stuffed with content and polished until it gleams, it's hard to find fault with the game - Save that its hardware requirements can at times be ludicrous. All in all however, with both its superb multiplayer as well as the ability to build, manage and lead your team to the top, Unreal Tournament 2003 is still a highly entertaining game which plays with the same fast-paced action that made the original Unreal Tournament such a success. So in other words, go get it already!



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