Unreal Tournament 2003 has been in development for little more than a year, but it's already nearing its summer release date. The game is more than a graphical update to Unreal Tournament, but it certainly does take the visuals to a new level, powered as it is by the same advanced 3D engine as Unreal II. The new engine makes it possible for some maps to take place in expansive outdoor environments, and a few maps will use vehicles in a limited way.
Multiplayer competition is naturally the heart of the game. There have been many refinements to the core gameplay in response to feedback gathered from the community that's grown up around Unreal Tournament in the two-and-a-half years since its release. Many of the classic weapons have been changed to emphasize player skill, so the flak cannon shards now bounce less and an instant-hit lightning gun has replaced the sniper rifle to make it easier to track down hidden snipers. You now spawn with all the regular weapons, but you start out with limited ammo, which can be replenished at recharging stations. This should ensure that you have a decent weapon as soon as you get into the game and means that recharging stations will be key strategic points on the maps. There are also new special moves that are an extension of the previous game's dodge ability and will depend on the bioenergy you pick up from fallen opponents.
Unreal Tournament 2003's graphics are simply outstanding. It's easy to point out that the game averages more than 100 times more polygons per scene than Unreal Tournament, but what's important is that this level of detail is put to good use in the game's 30-odd maps. The game's characters also have a lot more personality, in part because there are a lot more to choose from. There's a total of 50 unique characters grouped into six races.
Those interested in playing the game offline will find much more robust single-player options in Unreal Tournament 2003. The tournament theme of the first game has been fleshed out to emphasize the sports aspects. In the main career mode, you're the captain of a fighting team, and you have some freedom to set the team up before matches, recruiting members and placing them in positions. The single-player ladder matches include the different game modes, including capture the flag, deathmatch, a revised dominion (capture and hold) mode, and others.
Unreal Tournament 2003 should have a significant presence at the Infogrames E3 booth. The game is said to be just a month or two away from release, and we'll report from the show with the latest details on its progress.