I’ve decided to take a shot at an objective review for Unreal Tournament 2003. Originally my review would have consisted mainly of the word “drool” followed by me passing out. After a hard day of not only playing but beating the entire first person tournament on “Average” I think I can now offer a more diverse opinion into a game that otherwise would have gotten a “go buy this instantly” rating. I don’t say this to suggest in any way that the game is “bad”, quite the opposite, I’m merely setting myself up to be objective.

With that said, I suppose you might actually want to hear about the game. I plan to go into detail so for the first time here I’ll be using the “read more” feature of Moveable Type. That way, those that simply don’t give a crap can continue on with their browsing while you game junkies get your fix.

At any rate, sometime around 9am there was a loud knock at my front door in the form of a UPS delivery man. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and signing for my package I quickly began to realize what I in fact held in my hands. My preordered copy of Unreal Tournament 2003 had arrived. Shredding the packaging like a Christmas gift I clawed my way towards the mini game box that housed the 3 CDs I had wished for so much. Upon first inspection everything seemed in order with two glaring exceptions. First, there was no jewel-case. Not that it’s a crime to not use the most standard packaging on the planet, but I thought it was a bit odd just the same. Second, the manual is printed entirely in neon-orange on a white background. I’ll be damned if I can read a single line of it. No matter, who needs instructions for a FPS anyway.

Within ten minutes I was installed and ready to rock. I decided to start with the single player campaign and work my way towards full blown internet domination. As far as the interface goes, everything is very simple and easy to understand. This is certainly a vast improvement over the original UT “window” interface. It’s set up much in the same way Quake III was but I’ll get into that in a moment.

Configuration of a character was simple and painless. From there we enter a quick 5 level “qualification” bracket. I’m not really sure why they didn’t just merge this into the actually tournament brackets like the original or at the very least simply make it part of the “training” but it wasn’t very bothersome so I didn’t mind. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “bracket” it’s setup much in the same way a sports tournament might be. Teams (yes, teams) progress through the ranks of the tournament facing increasingly harder opponents before finally reaching the “championship” game.

They decided to mix it up a little in UT2k3 and now it’s required that you beat each bracket for each game type in order to advance to the finals. Meaning, you have to finish not only “Team Deathmatch” but “Double Domination”, “Capture the Flag” and “Bombing Run” in order to advance. In fact, you have to complete at least half of one game type in order to try out the next one.

Throughout the entire “tournament” you not only get to play the role of “super death athlete” but team manager as well. At the end of the qualification rounds, you’re allowed to pick 6 team members to join you on your quest for the title. As you progress through the tournament your offered trades which you can choose to except or decline if they meet/don’t meet your needs for better players. The abilities of the players on your team are determined by a seemingly random score out of 100. For example, a player might have a 90 for “Team Strategy” but only a 75 for “Accuracy.” It’s your jobs as team captain to pick the best players for your team.

Unfortunately, all the players are pretty even so the scores don’t really mean much of anything. It’s just another interesting way to evaluate the ability of the computer players your playing with/against.

So, now that you know the setup, I’d bet you’d like to know how it actually plays. Well, it plays damn nice. It’s fast, it’s clean, and best of all it’s balanced. Each weapon is finely tuned to match the others. Several times I’ve been caught unarmed, using only the default “please kill me” gun and have come out on top. If you know how to avoid rockets and lighting bolt, a simple assault rifle can do quite a bit of damage.

All of your old favorites are back, some with different names, some slightly reconfigured. The pistols are gone, replaced with a Space Marine-ish assault rifle. The alt-fire (bouncing grenades) have been added to it as well. The alt-fire of the rocket launcher now consists of only multiple rockets (3) and a weak “lock on” system. This may seem like a bad thing but it evens the playing field quite a bit. Gone is the “random kill” obtained by lobbing 5 rockets into an enemy base. Now you actually have to aim the thing.

The levels themselves are the bread and butter of this game. The developers went out of their way to create new but familiar feeling levels that not only play well and “flow” but look amazing. I was killed quite a few times due to the fact that I was paying attention to the amazing water effects of the game engine and not the incoming explosives. The death-match level “Tokara Forest” and the CTF level “LostFaith” stick out in my mind as very “pretty” levels. Especially the forest. I’ve never seen such nice volumetric fog and use of lighting. There were even little fire-flies darting around.

So, it goes without saying that the visuals were extremely beautiful. The levels were exceptional, the textures were amazing. Even the character animations got serious attention. This is one beautiful game. But… looks aren’t everything.

I do have a negative attribute to report. It completely depends on your frame of mind whether you think this is a “huge problem” or something minor that you’ll over look after playing for mere moments. The problem is, that this game IS Quake III. Yes, the technology is better, the engine is better, the levels are better, etc, etc… but this is exactly what Quake III was a few years ago. Now, I’ll be the first to admit it, I don’t like Quake III. I never have. I’ve never liked any game built off it’s engine with the exception of Medal of Honor. I find the very structure of Q3 games to be far too “pixel-ish” and removed. I can’t quite explain it, it’s just a feeling I’ve had since it was released. Even Jedi Knight 2 had the visual problems I’m thinking of. It’s probably just me, but they just didn’t “feel right” somehow. Fortunately, UT2k3 feels perfect.

Perfect but uninspired. This is exactly the same game as UT and an even closer relative of Quake III. The action, the level “flow”, everything, feels like the original. What’s worse is that the indoor levels LOOK exactly like Quake III levels too. Now, I could stand here and draw comparisons between these two all day, but I won’t. In my opinion UT2k3 is a far superior game. Anything that’s being made based of this engine will be fantastic and the single player Unreal 2 will be amazing I’m sure.

My roommate actually said it best last week while we were playing the demo. He said something along the lines of “damn this looks nice, too bad I’ve played it all before.” And he’s right. Anyone that’s played UT, Quake 3, Half-Life, Soldier of Fortune or any other FPS will feel right at home. That was part of the idea. In designing this game they made things as familiar to gamers as possible. That’s fantastic but it’s also unoriginal. This game looks better, sounds better, plays better and feels better than the original but in its heart it’s still just Unreal Tournament in a really pretty wrapper.

Like I said, whether you find that to be a big problem or a slight annoyance is up to you. I for one enjoy this game and will be playing it for quite some time. I think my $39.99 was well spent and I congratulate Epic and Digital Extremes for making one hell of a sequel. I can’t wait for MODs, addons, user created levels, skins and all the goodness that will come from the gaming community in the coming months. I look forward to seeing you all at LAN parties and on random servers along the East Coast. I’ll be the one that just put that lightning bolt in the back of your head.

Graphics – 10
Game Play – 9.5
Sound – 8
Replay – 9.5
Originality – 6

Final Score (not an average) – 9.5