In some ways, 2003 is a shadow of its predecessor, but in others, it's an excellent shooter and a graphical masterpiece.

User Rating: 8.8 | Unreal Tournament 2003 (Best Of) PC
The original Unreal Tournament was a stunner. A ballsy, explosive, no-nonsense shooter with the focus of running around corridors with over-sized weapons blowing everybody else up. But for a concept as one-minded, Unreal Tournament was actually a monolithic experience; a thrilling, adrenaline-pulsing, bullet-driven shooter that flattens all its competition and demolishes everything else in its genre. I wondered, prior to this game's release, if 2003 could ever match up. I had my doubts, and this doubts are definitely correct. In some ways, 2003 is underwhelming, as it's nowhere near as fast-paced or jaw-dropping as its predecessor. But in other ways, it's a technical masterpiece with some awesome weaponry, even if the gameplay itself lacks in panache.

Unreal Tournament 2003 doesn't add much to the formula of the original; actually, it takes away a lot of it and replaces it with a bizarre focus on teamplay and "sports combat." Seeing as the team mechanics of the original were minimal - only a few basic orders could be issued to warriors with the same colour as you - and 2003 is exactly the same. The majority of the campaign is based upon your team, and seeing as you can only press a few keys to tell your fellow(s) to carry out an order, this focus is slightly out-of-place.

Nevertheless, 2003 does subtract a few features of the original. The Assault Mode has been dropped and been replaced with a similar Bombing Run mode - which is best described as soccer/football (depending on your location) with weaponry and psychos. Also, the generic Last Man Standing has vanished, leaving in its place absolutely nothing. And the single-player has been stripped down even further, to maximize the focus of the multiplayer, either through LAN or Internet. Sometimes the solitary package - i.e. the campaign, and the Instant Action mode (which is actually pretty good) feels flimsy and thin, and I have to say, before I launch into the meat of the review, that this game simply isn't worth buying if you don't play online regularly. It won't last long on your own.

Another new element is the Adrenaline feature. Scattered around the various arenas are huge tablets - I'm not sure how they're meant to be digested - and when these are collected, your meter will rise. When your Adrenaline meter reaches 100, your character will become hyperactive. From here, you can access some bewildering powers, activated by performing key combos. The Booster, activated by pressing the backwards key 4 times, is a health regenerator, and the Speed mode, activated by pressing the forwards key 4 times, obviously turns you into a Road Runner. I won't reveal any more, as the game is all-too-keen for you to figure these out by yourself.

Features that make a triumphant return... well, the bog-standard Deathmatch mode is back, even though it's not used very much, along with the Team version too (which is used quite a bit.) And the same thing can be said about the excellent Capture the Flag (CTF) which also makes itself known. The innovative Domination mode from the original has been overhauled, polished, and given a new name (Double Domination) I won't go into the fundamentals of these modes, as each are pretty self-explanatory, but these are the main modes you'll be killing things in. All these modes can be adjusted using the trademark Mutators, such as the beloved Fat/Thin mode, and other bizarre changeables that don't really deserve a mention.

Some of the overpowered guns from the original are here, with a nice new coat of paint and a mechanical redesign. Some of the weapons in the original game were way too forceful; the Flak Cannon was horrendously good at close-range, the Rocket Launcher far too explosive, and the BioRifle was a criminal shade of luminous green. I like to think that these weapons, although they make a return, have been toned down a notch. The Rocket Launcher now fires a slightly slower missile, and the explosion is nowhere near as life-threatening as it was in the original. The Flak Cannon, although still dangerous, isn't half as devastating as it was in the original. And the Shock Rifle now blatantly sucks, as does the BioRifle. The excellent Pulse Gun has been replaced with the wimpy-but-fast Link Gun, and the brutal Impact Hammer has been kicked. A pathetic waste of time called the Shield Gun is now in its place. New additions include the Ion Painter, which seems weak at first but soon explodes into a real death-dealer, and the Lightning Gun, which is simply an electrifying Sniper Rifle.

And by making these guns slightly weaker, 2003 loses some of the meatiness of its predecessor. The combat packs far less punch than it did all those years ago and there's barely any brutality in the gunplay. It's still a gory game - opponents can get mutilated, they can become unintelligible crimson slush, they can go sliding across the ground in sickening positions - but it still is far less satisfying than the original. And that really is a shame.

The gameplay is still advanced, and still manages to hit the spot, even if it is less in-your-face than the messiah that was the original. The interface is even more honed, and the HUD is even more sleek, and the gameplay is still slick and polished. There's a certain feeling of exhiliration in unleashing a hail of bullets from the barrel of a minigun, and watching them barricade into the skull of an enemy. The ragdoll physics are also entertaining, and they make the deaths a lot more interesting - enemies will contort as they die, or their legs will crumple under them, or they'll get pummeled backwards as bullets hit them in the chest. But when they're still alive, enemy AI is hectic and disorganized. One chief example is CTF; if you're in possession of the enemy flag, it's as if the other team will completely abandon their positions and follow you like a magnet to a metal bar. A magnet that fires explosive missiles and shells full of white-hot shrapnel. Still, they put up a good job of their positions when they actually keep to them - sometimes their base can be crippingly hard to get into, or your base will become overwhelmed with fire and strife. Determination is rife in the CPU opponents, and this turns them into deranged raving psychopaths.

Unreal Tournament 2003, despite its shortcomings in the gameplay, completely smacks jaws in the visual department. At the time of its release, I had never seen anything like this before. The graphics are, in a word, astonishing. The framerate is firm and smooth, and even if your computer isn't quite up to the recommendations, the gamestill does a good job of spluttering the graphics to life. There's some mind-boggling levels of detail on offer here, from hieroglyphics to sophisticated lighting to intricate textures. And if you zoom out from all this microscopic detail, the environments are virtual masterpieces as a whole. Each one of them are individual, with a heavy dose of artistic innovation and style. From cold metal to magma to pyramids to woods, 2003 pulls off everything with aplomb. Each arena is beautifully designed, and some more than others - just take the new instalment of the classic Facing Worlds... from the top of a tower, everything looks unbelievable, and then you can zoom in and admire the Egyptian intricacies and religious symbols painted on everything in sight. And then look at the futuristic masterpiece of Phobos Moon (another returning favourite) a brilliant space station in its own right, hovering some miles away from the hulking red sphere of Mars, with the asteroid belts and cosmic debris... I could go on for hours, but this paragraph is already too long. Unreal Tournament 2003 is an unbelievable technical achievement.

Unreal Tournament 2003 also has some brilliant sound on offer here too. I have a Surround Sound system installed at the moment, and I was blown away. 2003 has a diverse soundtrack that covers every genre, from the orchestra to guitar riffs to techno, and pulls off them all with a level of finesse rarely seen in-game. The music is superb, and it adds that little bit more to the art direction I mentioned above; a real atmosphere is sprinkled all over the game with these amazing musical pieces. However, this astounding soundtrack is sometimes ruined by a bizarre announcer with a fruity voice - "5 minutes remain!" is yelled with such flamboyance that it almost spoils the moment. The amusing taunts and murderous snippets from the original take a center role here, too, with some hilarious sexual references and immature comments. Some environments, though, contain an ambient, mysterious atmosphere that can be ruined by this self-confident announcer and these stark taunts.

Don't get me wrong - Unreal Tournament 2003 has an audiovisual presentation not to be missed, whether you're craving for stunning graphics and amazing sound or not. But it really is a shame that this short campaign and this underwhelming gameplay lets down the side a bit. If you're an online gamer, this is definitely worth a go, but if you're not, go for a game that's more fleshed-out. Let me capitalize that in some ways, this game is a shadow of its predecessor, but in others, it's an excellent shooter, a graphical masterpiece, and an aural journey.