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Review: Unreal Tournament 2003

Reviewed By: Kirk Hiner

Review Computer: 867MHz G4, 640MB RAM, ATI RADEON 8500, Mac OS X v10.2.6

Review Date: July 15, 2003


Genre: First-person shooter
Format: CD
Developer: Digital Extremes
Original Publisher: Atari
Mac Publisher: MacSoft
Minimum System Requirements: 700 MHz G4 processor or faster (except 12" PowerBook manufactured in 2003), Mac OS X v10.2.6, 256MB RAM, 3GB hard disk space, 32MB ATI RADEON or Nvidia GeForce 2. 33.6 KBps or faster modem and Internet connection are required for online play.
Network Feature: Yes
Mac OS 9 Compatible: No
Price: $49.99
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Availability: Now
Official Website:


We've known each other a long time, right? I've written you many reviews, and you've humored me by reading some of them. Whether it's because you care what I have to say or because you just want to see what anyone thinks of a game you may have liked or hated, you've read my reviews.

Or, at least you've scrolled straight down to see the games' rating. Either way, you've bothered to come here to see what I think. Therefore, I'm going to be forthright with you...

I don't understand the appeal of these Unreal Tournament games. To me, they're like running around in circles in the back yard for half an hour; except here, you don't get the exercise. Or, maybe they're the computer equivalent of a neighborhood game of Smear the Queer. But again, with Unreal Tournament, you don't get the joy of popping that annoying neighbor kid in the jaw. I tell you, Crites had it coming.

What you do get are some amazing graphics and more action than Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay could dream of fitting into a two hour movie. These games are all about action, you see. Oh, sure, some people love to talk strategy, but some people also love to talk Atlantis. That doesn't mean it's down there.

For me, there has to be some kind of impetus to the action. Don't just "blowed stuff up," tell me why that stuff has to be blowed up. Unreal Tournament 2003 makes only one small attempt to explain why all of this fighting is going on. It's the future, you see, and in the future, sci-fi cliches run rampant. Sporting events have turned ultra-violent, so people apparently pay money to watch other people kill each other. They'd have to pay, because this sport seemingly has no corporate sponsorship. Surely, it should be called Tostitos Unreal Tournament 2003, or something like that.

Anyway, the opening scene is actually kind of funny in the way it mimics professional wrestling...or, at least what professional wrestling was in the 1980s. The fighters all have goofy names and over-the-top personalities, and fans react to them with fervor. The good guys are cool and have attitude, the bad guys are violent and have attitude, and the announcers make you wish the fighters would eliminate them—and their attitudes—first.

This out of the way, the single player game starts. Here, we see the first solid separation between Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2003 (UT 2003). Well, aside from the improved graphics, I mean. In UT 2003, your training levels serve more of a point. After getting through the first few, you have to assemble your own team which, through an unnecessarily complex system, you can command throughout the game by hitting various keys (Nostromo N50, anyone?). You're given a fairly large list of characters from which to choose, each having his/her/its own strengths and weaknesses, of course. Some are more accurate, some are more deadly, and some work better as a team. In that aspect, I guess it's just like hiring your morning shift at McDonald's.

What I like is that, after you've picked your team, you have to defeat them in order to be considered good enough to be their leader. I guess this means that, in the Unreal Tournaments, people don't actually die when their head explodes. See, that's not so bad, Senator.

You may also notice many new weapons. I didn't. I can't tell you the difference between the Ion Painter here and those Ninja star flippy things that Lo Wang used in Shadow Warrior. I can tell you, though, that the weapons behave differently here than they did in Unreal Tournament. First, you've actually got a defensive weapon this time around in the Shield Gun. This thing throws up a green barrier that protects you from some least in the direction you're facing. Quite useful when trying to get to a better position. Also, there are a couple proximity weapons here. Were they in Unreal Tournament? If so, I never used them properly. Here, getting a couple of these weapons close to their target can actually be better than the hitting the target dead on. Good news for me.

So, what types of games can you play here and in the multiplayer component? Well, there's Deathmatch. You all know Deathmatch, right? It's pretty much what this game is all about. There's also Team Deathmatch, which I guess is Deathmatch run by ineffectual middle management suck-ups in corporate America. In fact, I may use that at my next interview. "Why would I be good for this job? Well, I'm very much a Team Deathmatch player." I firmly believe there's no "I" in &team," although there is a "me."

Anyway, you also get Capture the Flag, which is the closest the game comes to Smear the Queer as I was talking about earlier. Here, a little bit of strategy actually does come into play, and I think it's one of the most fun to play online. Double Domination is kind of the opposite of Capture the Flag, as you're charged with capturing and holding two control points instead of bringing them back to your base.

New to the mix, we have Bombing Run. Bombing run is described at MacSoft's website as "futuristic rugby," which makes me laugh. Again, why does "futuristic" always mean ultra-violent and deadly? Are we to assume that all sports will involve guns and headshots in the future? If so, I wonder how they'll work that into futuristic bowling and futuristic pairs figure skating. I suppose both might finally be fairly interesting to watch, if that's the case.

Anyway, Bombing Run. You grab a ball and shoot it through the goal before someone else shoots you. No scrums here, but I guess there wouldn't be. Too many targets clumped together is never good battle strategy when there's an ion cannon on the field.

Unreal Tournament 2003 is just as appealing visually as you would want and expect it to be, but it doesn't blow you away as its predecessor did back in...what? 1999? Early 2000? In fact, the whole design of UT 2003 is pretty much the same as the original Unreal Tournament, which was pretty much the same as the original Unreal, there's just plenty more detail. The interiors are mostly greenish/grey structures with a lot of pretty lights but no real character, and the exteriors are mostly reddish/brown desertscapes with what appears to be a nasty storm a'brewin' in every level. It should be noted, however, that all of this looks fantastic. The levels layouts can be pretty slick, too, although you have to get deeper into the game before the really fun ones show themselves.

The characters themselves look much better this time around as well, as do the weapon animations. Quite often, I'd find myself using the less powerful weapon just because it looked cooler when it fired. Of course, this doesn't really matter since everything's really moving too quickly to be noticed. The true Unreal Tournament fan will have noticed that I lifted these screen shots from MacSoft's website. That's because the game moved too quickly for me capture anything other than my character dying.

Three years has certainly brought us some nice advances in graphics capability, but these are advances we've already seen in other games. Plus you'll need the latest hardware to really take advantage of them. On the test machine detailed above, UT 2003 ran well for the most part, but it did start to stutter on the games with wide open spaces in which many people were moving around at once. Plenty of tweaking can be done, though, so have at it.

I said earlier that I don't understand the appeal of games like this, but that's not exactly true. When a game looks this good and has this much action, it pretty much has to be successful at pulling you out of your world and into its own. The only problem is that the world of Unreal Tournament 2003 is constantly the same thing, just with different scenery. Run, jump, shoot. Run, jump, get shot. Sure, you can develop all the strategies you like, but, in the end, it's all about who has the twitchiest finger. This is the kind of game you have to play a lot in order to become any good, so those who can't play it two or three hours a night are often left to wonder exactly how big there head is that makes it so easy to hit.

Still, I can't knock it for that. That's what it is, and that's what it wants to be. It caters to the younger gaming crowd—those with plenty of time on their hands this summer—who can frag their friends (and total strangers, of course) with glee, then brag about it the next morning at sports camp du jour. Want proof, listen to the voice taunts. Good thing my mother doesn't know I'm playing this. Of course, had there been an Unreal Tournament 1983, I probably would've been right along side these guys. As it stands, I'll stick with games that add something more than pelvic thrusts and witless one liners to tie together the gorgeous graphics and intense action.

Now, if you'll excuse me, Smear the Queer 2003 is about to start in the back yard, and I've got a score to settle with that Crites kid.

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