After the longest 'two weeks' in history the Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo is finally here. A while back we talked about UT2003 and covered some of our hopes for the game. Now that we have the demo we can finally see whether all our dreams have come true or whether we'll chalk up another one in the 'Sequel isn't as good as the original' column.
The first thing that springs to mind is what a difficult task Epic and Digital Extremes had producing this demo. Hampered by legions of fans on 56K connections, Epic made the decision to limit the download size to 100MB. Now thats a hefty chunk of data to be sure but by the standards of todays games it really isnt a lot. Some things had to be sacrificed in order to make it under the 100MB bar. High resolution textures were probably first onto the chopping block, followed bu extra player models and a Domination 2 map.
The end result is a Demo that is not representative of the retail game since so much has been left to the imagination. The final game features 35 Levels, a plethora of character models, superb high resolution textures and that all important extra play mode.
So what /did/ we get? Well for a start we have four levels; two deathmatch, one CTF and one for the new game mode Bombing run. We got one player model which would not exactly have been my choice after seeing some of the screenshots of other models. Four skins are supplied which are all pretty much the same.
Operating System: WIN 98/ME/2000/XP CPU: Pentium III or AMD Athlon 733MHz processor (*Pentium® or AMD 1.0 GHz or greater RECOMMENDED) Memory: 128 MB RAM (256 MB RAM or greater RECOMMENDED) Hard Disk Space: 3 GB CD ROM or CD/DVD ROM: 8X Audio System: Windows® compatible sound card (*Sound Blaster® Audigy(tm) series sound card RECOMMENDED) (NVIDIA® nForce™ or other motherboards/soundcards containing the Dolby® Digital Interactive Content Encoder required for Dolby Digital audio. Also RECOMMENDED) Video System: 3D Accelerator card with 16 MB VRAM (*32-128 MB VRAM RECOMMENDED) 16 MB TNT2-class DirectX® version 6 compliant video card. (*NVIDIA GeForce 2/ATI Radeon RECOMMENDED) DirectX® version 8.1 (Included on game disc) Multiplayer: Internet (TCP/IP) and LAN (TCP/IP) play supported. *Internet play requires a 33.6 Kbps or faster modem
So is it the same old UT we know and love? Well, yes and no. The movement speed seems substantially quicker than UT which leads to a more Quake-like feel. This small change in speed really alters the gameplay into a much more frantic game with more wild passing shots and less of a tactical approach. Is it bad? No, its just different and will take a little getting used to. Dodging now feels a lot smoother than it did in UT without that odd little hitch in motion that we're used to seeing. Now it seems more like a sliding maneuver. The double jump is interesting but perhaps a little too easy. While it doesn't exactly turn UT2003 into a flight sim, it could be toned down a little.
In some ways this is where the whole thing starts to look a little ragged around the edges. The balance between the weapons is fine and none dominate but the individual mechanics of the weapons have been changed drastically. One of the most notable is the shock rifle where the secondary fire not only moves much more slowly but causes less damage when detonated with the primary fire. The speed of the secondary needs to be improved since at its current rate it becomes almost useless. The lightning gun, which has replaced the sniper rifle also needs work. In its current form the firing rate is far too slow. Except for players who are able to make headshots every time the weapon is a liability. The recycle time needs shortening to perhaps two thirds of its current level. Until then I have to consider the gameplay mechanic for this weapon completely broken. The new default weapon too has its problems. The damage is far too low. I usnderstand that you need to find a better weapon as your first priority but couldnt the assault rifle be at least a little more useful? In UT I scored many kills with the enforcer's primary fire mode but I just cant see this happening anymore. There was always something very satisfying about fragging a rocket launcher toting opponent with the Enforcer and I'd like to see that make a comeback.
On a lighter note, some of the weapons have improved enormously. The Flak Cannon is no longer as cheap as it was in the first game, the new rocket launcher mechanic is great and the Impact Hammer now has the ability to produce a useful shield. The link gun, which has replaced the pulse rifle is an interesting idea. Player A shoots Player B with the link gun and Player C can shoot player A to increase the damage to PLayer B. Sound complicated? not really but I haven't seen it used by anyone yet so whether it will be a factor or not is a moot point.
Im going to stick my neck out and say that the new translocator is an unadulterated triumph. Theres now a limited amount of translocator discs you can fire which recharge slowly over time. Yep. No more cheap translocator movement in CTF. It restores the way the translocator is MEANT to be used. The only gripe I have is the trail that firing the disc leaves. It destroys many possibilities for tactical translocator usage by pinpointing exactly where you traslocated to. Kills are still possible which makes possible a really intersting tactic in bombimg run which I hereby dub the 'Translocator Landmine Steal' Drop a disc on the floor at the entrance to your base and wait for the ball carrier to run over it. Activate the translocator and he's dead and you have the ball! Sure its cheap but I had great fun doing it last night.
Other than gameplay gripes, the new weapons look great with detailed models and animations. The effects, especially from the Shock rifle look awesome. The only minor gripe is that the primary fire animation on the Flak Cannon looks very odd.
It has been said that Epic refused to include their very best maps in the demo so as not to run the risk of disappointing those who buy the retail game. I find this somewhat puzzling. A demo is after all supposed to be a markleting tool, akin to movie trailers. We all know that movie trailers all feature the best bits from the movie. Presumably Epic have been disppointed by one too many movies! Its all relative though, as th maps supplied are of a high standard. They were obviously chosen to showcase the wide variety of game environments with one being an outdoor, mystical temple kind of level with some very weird architecture and an indoor level in an industrial environment. The outdoor map is perhaps not as open as I might like, with most of the action taking place in twisting canyons. Occasionally there is a place where you can access the higher ground. These are nicely done since the weapons up there are appropriate to the longer range although pulling off long distance sniper shots is going to put you in a very exposed position when you get silhouetted against the skyline. The flow of the map suffers a little from the bi-level design since access to the higer areas is mostly restricted to lifts. Frankly, I /hate/ what lifts do to level flow although thankfully none of them are too long and they move at a respectable speed.
Moving indoors, DM-Asbestos sees us in familiar territory with its theme of industrial decay. The detail in this level is absolutely stunning. Finally we have proper 3d chains! The architecture is very complex and texturing is nicely done. The lighting could be a little better as the whole level seems rather over bright. More dimly lit areas would have added to the atmosphere and created some interesting gameplay opportunities. Where the level really shines is in its flow. Moving from place to place feels effortless and natural. You find yourself continually drawn to certain areas wher the fiercest fighting inevitably takes place. Great stuff.
The CTF map is a bit of a letdown. It seems to be one of those form-over-function maps in many ways. The paths from base to base are all pretty much completely linear and once you've chosen one you'd better be sure because you aren't going to get to improvise in the middle. If eye candy is your thing however, you're going to love this map. The architecture is stupendous being composed of equal parts creepy and technological. The whole thing has an almost Giger-esque quality about it. Pity they couldnt hav included a few more options in the middle of the flag paths.
I didn't like the Bombing Run map at first. It's very open with a few choke points in which you'll repeatedly see people following two feet behind the ball carrier pounding away at his back until he drops the ball at which point the whole thing starts again. Then I realised what was wrong with the map. Nobody actually knows how to play bombing run! Once players are skilled, the open areas provide a terrific opportunity for complex passing maneuvers while the choke points allow for a zone defense type setup.
It isn't perfect but then what game is? Unreal Tournament has its flaws and UT2003 is no different. Certainly it retains elements of the gameplay we all know and love while adding new ones. Its certainly pretty, in fact 'astounding' might be a better word. One word of caution. All that extra detail means a major frame rate hit on anything less than a current generation video card and you may find yourself having to turn much off the eye candy off to achieve playable framerates on older systems. The only major gripes are with a few of the weapons which are so serious that it might b considered that they break the gameplay almost completely. Providing attention is paid to those before the final release or in a subsequent patch I can see Unreal Tournament 2003 being every bit the success its predecessor was.
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