Unreal Tournament 2003, by MacSoft
Posted: 17-Jan-2004

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: MacSoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Dan Schneider Class: GAMES

Overview
While Unreal Tournament 2003 (UT2K3 from now on) is one of a myriad of first person shooter (FPS) style games on the market today, it has a legacy of greatness. The Unreal product line started with "Unreal" way back in 1998. The name not only referred to the game, but also the graphics engine underneath the covers as well. The Unreal engine, which stunned the world with amazing graphics back then, has evolved into a tool of amazing power and continues to deliver envelope-pushing visuals with latest version. And while Unreal and Unreal II focused on single player action with plots and story lines (such as they were), Unreal Tournament shifted that focus to multi-player, networked action. Staring with the original UT, the story was pretty much dropped entirely and the single player game was identical to multi-player with the exception that you played against computer generated opponents or "bots" instead of other live combatants. UT really shined, though, in networked mode. Matches against friends at a LAN party or against people you didn't even know, halfway around the world, were simple to set up. It was much more difficult to stay alive. This remains true with UT2K3. The network play is fierce and engaging. Single player is fun, but really serves mostly as practice for the next time you want to go up against real homo sapiens. So, bump up your mouse sensitivity, grab a flak canon, pick up some adrenaline and follow me. But, don't forget to check your six...

Unreal Tournament 2003 is available on Mac (OS X), Windows and even Linux.

Mac System Requirements

  • Macintosh OSX v10.2.6 or higher
  • 700 MHz G4 processor or faster (except 12" PowerBook manufactured in 2003)
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 3GB hard disk space
  • 32MB ATI RADEON or nVidia GeForce 2 or faster
  • Internet (TCP/IP) and LAN (TCP/IP) play supported
  • 33.6 Kbps or faster modem and Internet connection are required for online play


Test System

  • Macintosh OSX v10.3.2
  • 1 GHz 15" Powerbook G4 Al
  • 768 MB of PC2700 RAM
  • Lots of hard drive space
  • 64 MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9600
  • Comcast Cable Modem Service


Installation
This was definitely not the easiest or quickest install program. The game came on two CD's, an install disc and a play disc. In order to install from the CD, I had to download an installer patch from the website and run that instead of the setup on the disk. Without the patch, the installer on the CD simply reported that OS 10.2.6 was required and then quit. Not Good. Then, the install process took over two hours to complete! Really not good. Fortunately, other than those two frustrating facts, the install was straightforward and simple. So finally, after many bouts of Halo on the XBOX, UT2K3 was ready to run.

Setup
First Person Shooters are a finicky bunch. They demand the utmost of your graphics card and require that you spend some time and effort tweaking the settings for optimal performance. Just to see how things would go, I skipped that step. (Don't worry, we'll come back to it later)

Game Play
Like most FPS's, the premise of UT2K3 is simple: start a game, run around, grab better weapons, and blast anything that moves without getting blasted in return. In single player, you pick a character and are then presented with four ladders to play, each representing a different game type with different maps. In single player mode, everything is team based - you're assigned some 'bot team members and go up against another team made up entirely of computer controlled 'bots. The game types start with Deathmatch, which is your basic "run around and kill things" type of level. Then there's Capture the Flag, which is where your team has to retrieve a flag from the enemy's base and return it to yours (but you can only score when your flag is still at your base and not on it's way to your enemy's). Next is Double Domination, think King of the Hill with two hills (And your team has to control both for a certain amount of time). Finally comes Bombing Run which replaces the Assault game time in the first UT. Bombing run is different because it is supposed to stress team tactics. Basically there is a ball and a goal in each team's base. The objective it to either shoot or carry the ball into the opposite team's goal (more points for carrying it in). However, when you have the ball, you cannot fire your weapon (but you can pass the ball to a teammate). The general consensus seems to be that Bombing Run was not a worthy replacement for the quite popular Assault game type and so Epic is bringing Assault back in UT2K4. I agree, and await the return of Assault.

Even though Bombing Run doesn't match up to Assault, it's still enjoyable, and along with the other game types, it provides for a good mix which keep the game from becoming boring. Because there are lots of maps, my expectation was that they would be mediocre, but the opposite is true; you can tell that each one was crafted with great care and detail. In fact, I have never seen such detail in any video game to date. The detail doesn't end with the maps or graphics either; the sound was very well done. (But I should mention that with FPS's, my cognizance of the sound is usually limited to whether or not it annoys me.)

Unfortunately, all this detail comes at a cost. The game was SLOW. Granted, I was running on a laptop, and laptops generally don't perform nearly as well as desktops do with 3d games. For me, it was entirely unplayable at the default graphics settings so I was forced to go back in and turn everything down to the bare minimum (Do you know how painful it is to restrict such a beautiful 3D engine to 640x480 with 16 bit color? Answer: Excruciating). Even with the minimal settings, I could barely manage to rack up frags (kills) with any weapon which required accuracy (the rocket launcher and flak canon have good amounts of splash damage and without one or the other, I was quickly reduced to giblets). At these minimal settings my test machine was barely cranking out 30 frames per second with regular drops to 20 and even below. For these types of games, 30 is usually the bare minimum. With my system being respectably above the minimum requirements, I expected much better, or at least I expected to be able to play the game with reasonable chances of success. In network play, I was the easy kill, which galled me to no end. So, if you're like me and get quite competitive with these style games, make sure you have a beefy Mac. If you just like to play single player for fun, you could probably get away will less hardware, but I would be leery of running it on a laptop.

I did call tech support to ask them about the poor performance. Since I already had the latest patch loaded, the only recommendation was to actually run the game at a higher resolution. Specifically, I was told to try the game at the native resolution of the LCD monitor because when you run at anything less, the operating system has to do extra work to scale the smaller image to use up the larger number of pixels. This only applies to LCD screens which have a fixed number of pixels and not CRT's because they can support many different resolutions natively. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to make much difference in my case. The bright point was MacSoft's tech support. While the phone number was long distance, I only had to navigate one menu and in less than 15 seconds a real person answered! I didn't spend any time on hold at all. Amazing.

The other complaint I have is the changes made to the weapons from the first UT. The sniper rifle was changed to a lightning gun that takes forever to reload and leaves bright traces of light across the arena, immediately identifying the sniper's location. The rocket launcher's simultaneous launch capacity was reduced from six to three and its grenade function was removed and given to the assault rifle. Thankfully, my favorite, the flak canon was mostly unchanged as far as I could tell. An available modifier on the net supposedly allows you to use the classic weapons, but I was unable to get this to work. The only saving grace for the weapons is the Insta-gib modifier which changes all weapons in a map to a one-shot-one-kill shock rifle. If the regular game ever feels too slow, Insta-gib is the cure: one second you're the hunter, and the next you are a rapidly expanding pink cloud of kibble. There are many modifiers in addition to Insta-gib, everything from Fat Boy where the best players get fatter (and subsequently easier to hit) with each kill, to low gravity, where you can almost fly. These mods are great for network games, when you've gotten bored with the four basic game type, or just want to kick it up a notch.

Network Play
Like its predecessor, UT2K3 is a great network game. Setting up network play is a snap. Whether hosting or joining, you'll be up an fragging in no time (minus the install, of course). Also, I should mention that the online game finder interface is pretty cool. You can easily find games based on game type, mods, number of players, etc. And there are lots of games out there because the Mac version supports network play against the PC with no real problems.

Summary
In the end, though I really like the game, I cannot really recommend the Mac version for use on a PowerBook (although it does fall within the minimum spec). I also own the PC version which runs just fine on my 5 year old video card. The ironic thing is that Halo for PC doesn't run well on anything less than the newest hardware, while UT2K3 will run decently; but on my PowerBook, Halo (also from MacSoft) is playable while UT2K3 is not. UT2K3 looks really pretty and sounds great, but when you can't aim accurately due to screen lag, it can be quite frustrating (and I'm running with the lowest settings on a machine that is rated better than the minimum specs). Thankfully there is a demo available, so if you're interested in getting this one, I would highly recommend loading up the demo first to see how it performs on your hardware. It should be noted that PowerBooks are not as well-equipped to handle high-demand games as G4 and G5 towers; in fact, another user is running UT2K3 on a G4 iMac, and has reported that it runs smoothly. That said, if your machine has enough CPU horsepower, UT2K3 is definitely worth a look.

NOTE: As you've probably gathered from my comments, UT2K3 is a pretty violent game (Rating: Mature), so it's probably not one for the kiddies.

Pros

  • Beautiful graphics
  • Stunning environments (high detail maps, with good physics)
  • Immersing sound
  • Lots of different maps to play
  • Lots of game types and modifiers
  • Extra maps, mods and content available for download

Cons

  • Poor performance on a PowerBook that meets min specs
  • Need to download patch just to install
  • Need at least a couple hours to install
  • New/changed weapons are too weak


Overall Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice