Visual Presentation

There's no denying Unreal Tournament 2003's evolution here. There is no better looking shooter on the market today. Period. UT 2003 has a level of detail that makes it clear that every pipe and doorway has been lovingly crafted.

The lighting is superb, employing texture projection that simulates complex lighting and shadow. Even casting shadows on particles employing volumetric particle systems are now possible. It's breathtaking to see the beams of light swaying along with the lamp projecting it. Shadows from trees are cast upon the ground, moving with the wind.

Shadow and light on DM-Leviathan. Check out the bad-ass light coils! Incredible lighting and crystal-clear water?

You should see this in motion! Come into the light... Some sweet light mapping even makes blood look good!

The Karma Engine added to UT2003 brings atmosphere to a whole new level. Players sail through the air, arms flailing as they are shot. Hanging lamps and hooks rock as they absorb damage from the players weapon. In fact, I've even knocked a few of them clean off the chain! Water reacts (albeit in a flubber sort of way) with heavy weapons fire and players jumping into it.

Speaking of water, the UT2003 Engine now lays a transparent texture of the surrounding area of the map over the top of the water. Any deforming of the water affects the texture as well, giving a very convincing appearance of reflectiveness. A technique called Cube Mapping is used to show reflection in some of the Egyptian themed maps, giving a reflective, metallic appearance that has never been pulled off so well before. You'll also notice reflective textures in maps like CTF-Geothermal, where there are pipes that, while rusted, also give off a hint of metallic reflectiveness underneath. Very convincing.

The new terrain feature all but ensures we can say goodbye to blocky ground in outdoor maps. This technique is used in many maps, particularly well in BR-Bifrost, and takes the outdoor concept that the Unreal Engine does so well, to a new level of realism. You'll notice in maps like DM-Flux2 the terrain editor was used on the ceiling to give the very natural impression of a cave.

The number of polygons used for player models and maps have increased exponentially. The player models now use 2000-3000 polys to give a very life-like appearance. The movements are very smooth when compared to Unreal Tournament. The main gripe with the models seems to be that they now appear much smaller, almost toy-like, which is a shame because it makes it harder to appreciate the work of James Edwards' and the rest of the Digital Extremes animation team. The maps have roughly 100-200 times the amount of poly that were used in Unreal Tournament. Complex shapes are now very common, and textures are up to 1024x1024, giving the maps a more genuine appearance.

New to the Unreal Engine is the heavy reliance on prefabricated pieces. This allows the engine to display some rather remarkable and detailed decoration. Complex networks of pipes, crumbling masonry, elaborate doorways, intricate machinery are all possible and commonplace in UT2003. It adds a new dimension of realism to the game and creates a very convincing atmosphere. Firefights around pillars and ornate statues are now status quo.

The main drawbacks to this are the high system requirements this bestows. To run this game acceptably, you're going to want to ignore the minimum listed system requirements and be certain you have at least a 1Ghz processor and a GeForce2 class videocard or better. If you want to have more eye-candy, acceptable frame rates, and a decent screen resolution, you'll want to have at least a 1.8Ghz Athlon, GeForce4 Ti series, and plenty of RAM. Even the highest available level of processor and videocards are not going to be able to run this game at 1600x1200 with full detail and still get obscene frame rates (70+). This is a game that will make use of the resources of upcoming technology for a good while.


The movie preceding the Singleplayer ladder is above and beyond the call of duty. The animation is superb, and the little touches (hot fan babe wanting to touch a warrior, Gorge backhanding a fan who falls onto the walkway, etc.) add to the 'WWE' feel to the movie.

Graphically, UT 2003 is currently without peer. The high poly approach certainly works to provide extremely detailed, more realistic environments than ever before. Real-time shadows enhance the immersiveness as well. Karma physics are just stunning. The ragdoll effect, in particular, is state-of-the-art, and carefully not overused. There are a large number of other graphical/animation changes that I would rate as 100% improvements over UT, including flying the redeemer, redeemer explosion, shock rifle alt fire and combo, flak primary fire, link gun alt fire, most weapon/item models, spawn points, flags, teleporters, double domination control points, terrain (finally!) and trees. Quite simply, there's nothing out there that looks as good as UT 2003, when you take the whole game into consideration.

What hasn't improved vastly are the lighting capabilities of the engine, skyboxes, big keg 'o health (the old one was cooler looking), goo (the goo should look more radioactive) and the stock textures that come with the game.

My only beef with the graphical look of the game, and it's a big one, is the size of the models in relation to the scale of the maps. Somebody was smoking crack when they decided to scale things the way they're scaled. Models are FAR too small for the maps. Since I (QAPete) run the game in Linux, I didn't check what got changed via UnrealEd, but it's obvious someone tweaked the models and/or the maps. This is very disturbing, and makes the little lights on the models' shoulderpads absolutely necessary for picking them out at a distance in maps like DM-TakaraForest.

There's also a small problem with the point-of-view from your player model. If you stand right in front of another player, you always appear taller than the other player. This is much less of an annoyance than my previous point.

larrystorch: Visually this game is stunning. With all the detail settings set to High, this game can give you eye-gasms, but this is all at a price. Ignore the minimum requires needed to run it. Well, you can run it, but you'll be able to get your frames per second without needing to benchmark it. This game will set new levels of visual quality for a long time to come.

And speaking of low FPS, the Linux client is virtually unplayable unless you have a near top-of-the-line CPU and Nvidia card, and even then, it will shock you with low framerates. On a Linux system that's able to run Quake3 and UT at high res and high eye-candy, I can get great frames and it looks visually much better than the Windows clients. With UT2003, I get 15-20 FPS. The Linux client needs major work to get it in good playable condition.

Sparky: Unreal Tournament 2003 is visually breathtaking. The heavily modified Unreal Engine sets a new standard in First Person Shooter technology and simply blows the rest of the market away, Quake III Arena included.

The texture detail is outstanding, gone are the days of UT’s rather low quality PCX textures, instead replaced with these extremely large-resolution, eye popping works of art which really help paint the Unreal world. I’m actually still finding it hard to come to terms with the sheer, overall graphic appeal of this game. To me this is something I’d expect from a rather choppy and unplayable 3Dmark type program, which to me says something.

By far the largest and possibly the coolest addition would have to be the Karma integration. There’s nothing like seeing a dead body roll down a slope after being pounded with a fat load of rockets, or alternatively doing major air flips off terrain due to excessive flak Spam. The models bounce, slide and pretty much do everything you’d expect a body to do in Real Life being put in these “unreal” circumstances. Personally, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to play a game that doesn’t include this feature from here on in.

The player models themselves are truly to die for. Unreal Tournament’s were quite limited and few and far between, but Digital Extreme’s really put out on this and delivered the goods. They’re extremely detailed, and the variety seems endless. The Weapon models pretty much follow the same path to victory. They’re nicely detailed, right down to the subtle scratches, and the models themselves seem to push the polys of a full rendered scene in UT alone.

Now, I’m actually pretty lucky as I’ve got an AMD XP 1800+, and a nicely overclocked Leadtek GF3 Ti 200, but I’m sure this game will disappoint those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to own a half decent system, not to mention those who choose to run Linux, you’ve gotta feel sorry for Pete and Larry (bwahaha). Sure, the gameplay still remains intact (unless you’re getting 10-15fps in the lowest possible settings), but turning the detail down really does remove that “unreal” element.

hal: No denying that this game looks stunning. The texture detail and world detail is incredible with hints of more to come courtesy of 256Mb RAM video cards. The models look great (crank up that character detail and have a look!) and are animated oh-so-sweetly, but the point of view or the scale of the maps makes them appear too small... especially at the end of matches where the camera focuses on the score leader.

I hope to see better water in future games. It's too much like jello to be convincing, it only reacts to a few projectile weapons, it looks too clear in some instances, and it there must be a performance reason why water was removed from some of the maps.