Ahh… the taste of a new, well-executed first-person shooter on PC, there's nothing quite like it. Especially when you get one focused on multiplayer, and even more importantly, it's a popular sequel. Both of those lead into tons of competition and the knowledge that you will never be lacking for a good opponent to test your mettle against, something I wish more games could offer so well. As a devout Quake addict, I had not been too thrilled with the Epic's offering in the first Unreal Tournament. It was good, but it just didn't play as well or as fast as Quake III, and the mod scene was not all that. It is therefore with great pleasure that as I play Unreal Tournament 2003 (UT2k3), I see that not only has it become a far more enjoyable experience then its daddy was, but might actually match the grandeur that is QIII and its mods.
Epic tossed out the basics of most every online FPS, giving the traditional Death Match, Team Death Match, and Capture the Flag modes as well as the upgrading of a previous mode into Double Domination. In Double Domination, each team is trying to reach two touchpoints which will change that area into their respective color. Keep both touchpoints the same color for ten seconds and they score a point, but the instant the other team reaches one of the points it resets. Interesting, but can be painfully annoying. These three modes are all good, but not great, and not worth the price of admission alone for me (unless one has some insane craving for better graphics). Compared to those modes, QIII is still far better.
However, UT2k3 has added in something so insanely cool, it would be worth full price by itself: Bombing Run. Think rugby with weapons and you will start to get the idea. Get the ball, pass it to teammates, and make sure it gets to the other teams goal and shoot it in for points. The twists are that everyone is obviously armed up and ready to do some killing and whoever has the ball can't fire any weapons. Originally, I did not think this mode was going to be very good (or simply not my style), but once I tried it out I was instantly hooked.
Most of the maps are incredible (the Egyptian asteroid one is stunningly insane), with a couple basic by-the-book ones in there, but there is only one way I see this mode being improved: the grapple. Yes, it would detract from the "sport" feeling of it a bit, but if Epic had added the grapple in here and widened some of the halls accordingly, Bombing Run would be the greatest FPS game ever. Do you hear me, mod-makers and Epic? Get cracking and produce some goodness the gods would be proud of!
The way bloody sports games are supposed to be, but always end up failing to achieve, usually in terms of horrible gameplay. Players run around fragging each other incessantly while everyone scrambles for the ball, only to get gibbed and fumble it into each other. A frantic mad rush while trying to plow towards a goal hole (I can not think of another term, it looks like a warphole from a movie), interceptions are as much shooting people with rockets as they are grabbing the ball from the other team passing. Hell, they are even fun to watch on the sidelines, which makes the self-controlled preview camera much more a blessing then usual. The whole shooting goal aspect makes it even more intense then CTF, which had been the best thing in FPS' for a long time. It also promotes team play even more then the aforementioned mode, since ball-carriers require assistance and backup for both passing and keeping them alive. Many flag carriers can handle themselves in a fight, so it is helpful but not required to have groups on offense in CTF; one of the main differences regarding tactics between the two.
The weapons are a mixed bag that will vary from person to person according more to taste instead of usefulness due to them all being fairly well-balanced. The flak cannon and rocket launcher are my personal favorites, with everything else taking a back seat to sheer destruction. I still find the bio-rifle to be really annoying to use, and would toss it aside completely if not for the skilled usage I've seen from others with it. Great for layering an area with damage, but I prefer my weapons straight and to the point, with quick killing high on that list. Then comes the newly done sniper rifle, now with lightning that does not look like it hits targets when personally firing it, although the bright flash is a wonderful way to discourage campers. Because of the weapon balancing, there is not really one weapon that dominates over any other; they all are equally powerful at killing based on technique. My love for gibbing with rockets is somewhat tainted here since it can now take two-three direct hits to kill someone (more if they have shields), and rockets tend to do better at splash damage anyway. If one is good at picking targets out of the air this becomes a bit less so, but UT2k3 has somewhat of an air control ability to alleviate part of that on the receiving end. No real complaints can be had about the offerings, and dual-firing for all the guns is great stuff. I would say that the faster deaths in Quake are more fun, but that would also make Bombing Run near impossible so it ends up working out great in the end.
From the moment you turn on the game (after the install, of course) your eyes will be shown such beauty as never before, so long as your video card can keep up. The requirements for pumping out the highest levels of detail at 1024x768 and above are crazy, but for those who have the power I can say it was like heaven caressing my imagination. Gigantic Egyptian statues stand hundreds of feet tall, hallways have wafer-thin wires running through them with glowing energy flowing by - every single level is filled with gorgeous details on top of equally impressive environments. There are a few standard maps contained within but also more then enough inventiveness in the rest to easily shine bigger and brighter.
I do wish the hallways were slighter larger on some of them, as quite a few maps had some extremely tight corridors. If you enter certain places and an opponent is nearby, you can pretty much kiss your ass goodbye if they get the first shot because you will not be able to dodge anywhere. This isn't as much a problem during Death Match where killing is the answer to everything, but it becomes much more pronounced on the team-based objective levels. Thankfully, it is not that big a problem, but it does linger with bad feelings in some areas.
Epic certainly also had some fun with the death physics, as they made the bodies in such a way so that they can separate from any limb joints and bounce across the landscape like bunnies. Gibbing people becomes more then a simple gush of blood, it also a dance of arms and legs across the ground, with heads skidding across grassy hills. Can be quite fun to see occur, especially when running through said giblets tossing out hot tasty death the whole time.
Thankfully, it is not only tasty but hearty as well, as the sounds of weapons and people around work perfectly. Each gun has its own distinctive sound, and placement in a stereo environment allows for picking out locations by sound alone. I did not have the chance to test it out in a more surround-sound friendly connection than stereo, but a good set of headphones are still one of the best choices. The dialogue does not fit as well as the footsteps and shooting, but it was still nice to hear the different sayings changed depending on the character used. More variation would be nice, or even person-specific lines would be absolute cream, but for mere flaunting and background noise they do fine.
Honestly, this game absolutely kicks ass, far more then I thought it would. When I originally tried out the demo, it merely seemed all right and left me with nothing more then a desire to play more Quake III. However, the level design they were hiding combined with Bombing Run shot this game past what I thought it would be and officially made me a lover of its cuisine. If they start releasing UTs yearly as the title hints at, Bombing Run needs to become the main focus, because it is easily the best thing here and the other modes really do not stack up to what has come before. Of course, the mod scene could change a lot of that, as it usually does.
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· · · MechDeus