Hands-onUnreal Tournament 2003

Epic Games' first original Unreal game in almost three years is finally nearing completion. Read our impressions of the latest build.

Epic Games vice president Mark Rein was on hand at Infogrames' annual press event to show off the latest version of the long-awaited Unreal Tournament 2003, which, when it's finally released later this year, will be the first original Unreal product since the release of Unreal Tournament in the fall of 1999. The game will be the first of three Unreal products--Unreal Championship for the Xbox and Unreal II: The Awakening being the other two--released in 2002.

Rein started the demo by showing off the game's opening cinematic. Rendered completely using the in-game engine, this scene depicted three contestants entering a massive and futuristic arena, where literally hundreds of fully animated fans awaited, screaming and hollering. As the three contestants were being introduced, they slowly made their way to the center of the platform, waving and flexing their muscles to their fans in mock appreciation. A few moments later, their opponents--ugly warriors clad in big armor--made their grand entrance, punching cement columns and even tossing some fans aside like toys. The entire spectacle had a distinct World Wrestling Entertainment look and feel to it. Once the announcer introduced both teams, a venue for their eventual combat was selected, and the game began.

The first level on display was called Plunge, and it's reminiscent of Morpheus from the original Unreal Tournament. This is a low-gravity level that has lots of jump pads and ledges that lead to precipitous drops, and it's here that Rein showed off Unreal Tournament 2003's adrenaline gameplay mechanic. Every time you kill an opponent, you'll receive a small adrenaline bonus, which is visually represented by a meter in the upper right of the screen. You can also pick up adrenaline capsules that respawn throughout each level. Once your adrenaline meter hits 100, it'll start glowing, indicating that you can execute one of three special moves: a shield bonus, a speed boost, or invisibility. These effects last for only a few seconds, but they'll give you some much-needed help to overcome your opponents. Additionally, they're all executed by pressing a certain four-key stroke on the movement keys. For instance, the speed boost is acquired by tapping the forward key four times rapidly once you've acquired 100 adrenaline points. The shield bonus, on the other hand, requires you to tap back four times.

Unreal Tournament 2003 seems to borrow a number of conventions from standard fighting games. In addition to the adrenaline special moves, you can also dodge in either direction by double tapping the strafe left or strafe right keys, sprint for a short distance by double-tapping the forward key, and perform a double jump by hitting your jump key at the apex of your first leap. Unreal Tournament 2003 also borrows a bit from sports games. Rein showed us the game's new bombing run mode on a map called Skyline, which features a series of high rooftops with overhanging edges. Bombing run resembles a cross between CTF and American football, with a few notable differences. There's only one "flag," and it's essentially an explosive ball that always spawns in the middle of the map in a neutral area. The ball has to be carried into the opposing team's base, and once it's dropped into the goal, the scoring team is awarded some points and the match restarts. Ballcarriers can never fire weapons, though they can pass the ball off to other teammates--or even to other enemies. A favorite tactic among the Epic designers is to pass the ball to approaching enemies, as it leaves them completely unable to attack your character. Three points are awarded for throwing the ball into the goal, and seven for carrying it in. If there's a tie at the end of a game, the match will go into sudden death.

The demonstration also included a brief look at Facing Worlds 3, a much larger version of Unreal Tournament's Facing Worlds 2; Serpentine, a cramped one-on-one indoor level with a winding trench; Lava Giant 2, a remake of the original game's Lava Giant, complete with impressive lava flows and eruptions; Phobos Moon, a typical deathmatch level; and Curse 3, another tribute to an Unreal Tournament classic that features a strange, almost flubber-like ceiling that bends and morphs when you fire at it.

According to Rein, the development team at Epic is currently finding and removing bugs from the game and redoing the majority of the menus in order to make them more accessible to mod makers. Interestingly enough, the single-player component had been completely removed from today's build, but Rein insists that it's alive and well--today's demonstration was strictly to showcase Unreal Tournament 2003's multiplayer elements. On a side note, Rein also stated that Epic will be submitting the game's opening cinematic to the Machinima Film Festival this month during QuakeCon in Dallas. As for the elusive demo, Rein maintains that it's on its way. "I wish I could say with some accuracy when it will be ready," he said. "We like to think of ourselves as perfectionists, and we won't release a demo when it still has bugs and issues that we're fully aware of." According to him, it doesn't do the Epic designers and programmers any good to receive feedback about problems they know exist. "We want feedback about stuff that we don't know about," Rein said. And until the demo reaches that level of optimization, Epic will keep it under wraps.

Unreal Tournament 2003 for the PC is scheduled for a late summer or early fall release. We'll have more details as they become available.

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jakeboudville
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