Publisher: Atari Games
Developer: Digital Extreme
Release Date: Q3/2002 (aka SOON)
We've managed to get our hands on a pre-build copy of UT2003 and the verdict is in; this game kicks ass! But is it as good as the predecessor on which it is based? Simply put, it’s too early to tell. The version of Unreal Tournament 2003 that this preview is based on is a late beta build. By the time UT2003 is actually released there will be many changes to the game, some that we can already notice from the recently released demo. So please do not take every word as absolute fact but keep in mind that this an assessment of the technology and overall feel of the game based on an “almost” finished version of the game.
The first thing we noticed after loading up UT2003 and starting a 8-player deathmatch is the game seems to move faster than UT, of course the speed of the actual game will be adjustable by the time it is released, but on its default setting it moved noticeably quicker than UT. Veterans of UT will feel right at home with UT2003, it retains that trademark reflex-testing UT-style that made the original game such a hit. Of course the standard movement and weapons are mapped out the same but there are also a few notable additions to the tried and true UT formula. For instance, you now have the ability to double-jump; hit spacebar and you'll jump but if you hit it again while you are in the air you'll jump twice as high. Now, at first this might seem like a relatively inconsequential modification, but it totally changes up the close-quarter combat dynamics. Performing a double-jump while you are low on health and in the middle of a face-to-face confrontation will give you a good chance of buying a few precious seconds to haul ass to the nearest double-health container.
Another cool formula change comes in the form of the new adrenaline system. Basically, how this works is that there are adrenaline capsules strewn throughout the nooks and crannies of the various maps, each is worth 5% adrenaline. Still following? Once your adrenaline is at 100% you'll be able to jumpstart a special ability that will last for the duration of the adrenaline’s affect. (You can also acquire adrenaline from killing enemies.) For example, pressing back four times after you've maxed out your adrenaline will allow you to quickly regain up to 200% health and 150% shield. Pressing forward four times will start berserk mode, which allows you to fire weapons twice as fast. Being able to simply summon these things that give you an offensive or defensive edge on the competition is just awesome. There are also a handful of other new gameplay trimmings to spice things up but we'll have to wait for the final release before we are made privy to them all.
Perhaps the biggest gripe that most fans of UT will have with UT2K3 is the absence of Assualt mode or any other mode that is even Assualt-ish. That’s right, its gone, it sucks, I know. But the career mode that replaces it is definitely a reasonable tradeoff. The career mode makes playing endless sessions of CTF, DM, Domination or the newly introduced Bombing Run all the more worthwhile since you can pimp out your team with awesome fighters and keep track of your stats in tournaments and playoffs. Many will still scoff at the game’s lack of modes though, hopefully the final release will address this issue, it is unlikely but keep your fingers crossed and think “Assualt-ey” thoughts.
After becoming familiar with the slightly revamped gameplay the next thing that was readily apparent was the incredibly improved visuals. Just to put into perspective the amount of improvement in UT2003, consider this; a single door in UT2K3 consists of more polygons than some entire scenes in the original Unreal Tournament. That is a damned pretty door. Character models look awesome, the various outfits of the numerous character class’s are brilliantly designed. While playing a high-intensity round of deathmatch it is unlikely that you will notice the attention to detail on the player who is running at you firing a flak cannon, but believe me, it’s there. The environments are even more impressive than the character models. Every random piece of shrubbery and wildlife is finely crafted, nearly every blade of grass is separately rendered in real-time which is excellent for concealing your presence in enemy territory.
Music is absolutely fitting to the game, bringing an extra bit of adrenaline to the experience. If you've heard the music in UT than you'll know what you should expect; high-energy beats and masterfully orchestrated soundtracks. The commentator, a woman in the beta version, sounds very Star-Trek-TNG-ish, if you follow my meaning. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be many new taunts, but at least the voice-clips are newly recorded and do sound more aggressive. Of course you can expect countless amounts of 3D-accelerated ambient sounds just to put the nail in the coffin of total immersion. The sound aspect of UT2003 adds a huge amount of entertainment to the experience, I'd say it constitutes for about 30% of its overall appeal.
The weapons in UT2003 consist of a handful of classic favorites and a few new additions. The flak cannon, minigun, toxic-waste gun, shock rifle, missile launcher, and everyone’s favorite; the Redeemer are all back in fine form. The default pistol from UT is gone though, and is instead replaced with an automatic rifle that pumps out lead around four times quicker than UT’s gun. Bullet-for-bullet it doesn't seem to be as powerful though, and you can't ‘double-fist’ it in UT2003. Also new is the electrical-pulse sniper rifle which is basically like the original sniper rifle but has a futuristic-looking zoom-in mode and doesn't fire as quickly. One more gripe I'd like to get off my chest is the fact that the missile launcher’s alternative function only fires off a quick missile instead of a grenade like in the original UT. But again, all this may change by the time it goes gold.
A lot of the maps featured in this build of the game are obviously based off some of the maps found in the original UT, not to worry though, there are many nuances and structure adjustments that really make the maps feel brand new. The all-new outdoor environments are particularly impressive, just make sure your system is up to snuff. This game will make even the brawniest of GeForce 4’s break a sweat during the times when things get busy on-screen. The NPC A.I. seemed dim at times though, but I'm sure that this problem will be ironed out by the time of the game’s release.