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Unreal Tournament 2003

Blood and gore. Violence. More blood and gore. More violence. Unreal Tournament 2003 richly deserves the Mature rating it earned for its grisly, nonstop action. Dismembered body parts thump wetly as they rain down. Snipers' headshots litter the ground with burning corpses. Blood doesn't splatter, it showers. Cool.

UT 2003 isn't much different than its predecessor, and we're glad—don't mess with a good thing. It's just bigger, better, and bloodier. And it includes the traditional Deathmatch (kill everything that isn't you), Team Deathmatch (kill everything that isn't on your team), Capture the Flag (steal the enemy team's flag while protecting your own), and Double Domination (vie for control of two bases with your team). But it also includes a new game called Bombing Run: a ball-and-goal–based team game that plays like rugby—rugby with big guns, that is.

Bombing Run has nothing to do with bombing. Two teams fight for control of a ball; picking it up changes your weapon into a ball-thrower for passing the ball to a teammate or firing it through the enemy's goal to score three points. Of course, real warriors will jump through the goal instead, earning seven points—often with a glorious death. The tricky part is that like Capture the Flag, you can't use your Personal Teleporter while carrying the ball—and unlike CTF, you can't even fire a weapon. It's great fun, and you get an announcer worthy of a monster-truck rally.

What can we say about the sequel to the game that's still our favorite diversion more than three years after its initial release? Well, the last time we reviewed Unreal Tournament (Apr/00, p52), our main complaint concerned the game's setup interface. Changing any of the game settings in the original UT sucked because the interface was so slow and unresponsive—besides being as ugly as a Windows stepchild. In 2003 you get a smooth, responsive interface that's much faster than the old one. It also looks better—it's still a far cry from OS X's Aqua delights, but who cares? It works great.

If you're ticked that UT 2003 hit the Mac almost a year after its PC release, revel in this: The Mac version includes extras out the wazoo that weren't included with the first release. We Mac addicts get booty from two bonus packs—including 14 extra maps—as well as three additional game types that offer slight variations on the usual UT carnage. In the first, Mutant, whoever scores the first kill becomes the Mutant, who (stocked with the full UT armory) must kill to keep up its health until it's killed by another player, who then takes his place as the Mutant. It's sort of like tag, only bloodier. In the second, Invasion, all players fight an infestation of big, mean, hairy, fireball-throwing bugs, and their bigger, meaner, uglier humanoid chaperones. Finally, there's Last Man Standing, a game from the original UT in which players gain health points for kills.

The playing fields provide more of the balanced UT mix: crowded hallways where your rocket launcher can take you out along with your mark, and wide-open environs such as the multitiered rooftops in the SkyLine and Plunge levels, where reduced gravity allows for amazing hang time when you're jumping from here to there. You still have to watch your step, though, lest you leave a small crater in the unseen depths below after a fall, or get picked off by an enemy sniping from anywhere—that's 360 degrees around, above, and below.

Many of the battlegrounds are updated versions from the previous release. We love the new Face 3, Lava Giant 2, and Phobos 2. Overall, the graphics are stunning and big enough to occasionally make our Dual 1.25GHz Power Mac's Radeon 9000 with 64MB of VRAM skip a frame—but not often and only on the hugest maps.

Of course, you need some help to compete in these even more futuristic, brutal, and deadly worlds. UT has you covered. For starters, warriors (that'd be you and your peeps) are bigger and stronger, and can jump higher than ever before. If you tap the space bar to jump and realize you're not going to make that ledge, you can press the space bar again at the height of your jump for a boost, Michael Jordan double-pump style. You'll also find a new type of ground score scattered throughout the levels: The standard 10- and 25-point health packs, 100-point Big Keg O' Health, Double Damage inducer, Shield and Super Shield Packs—and, of course, weapons—are plentiful. Plus, there are new Adrenalin capsules that give you temporary special powers like Speed and Invisibility when you really need them, instead of instantly when you happen to find the power-up, as in the old UT. The Adrenaline system is a huge improvement, allowing smart players to strategize and use the special powers more effectively (see "Pill-Poppin' Power," previous page).

Most of UT's weapons, including the Flak Cannon, Minigun, Shock Rifle, and Rocket Launcher, are back and essentially unchanged. So is the big boy: the one-shot Redeemer. But if you think the Redeemer's personal nuclear missile was impressive, try the awesome new Ion Painter. It's a simple ion rifle that doesn't cause any immediate damage when you tag your target with its harmless laser beam—however, once the satellite-based Ion Cannon picks up the mark, stand back (actually, run far away). The resulting two-terawatt blast of ionized plasma vaporizes everything within a 50-meter radius of its target (check out "New Superweapon: The Ion Painter," right).

The single-player game is a ladder-style tournament, where you and your team of computer-controlledbots fight other teams in each of the four main combat types. It took us a weekend to finish the game at Average difficulty, but we're pansies—there are six difficulty levels above Average. Throw in the extra maps, new game types, and fun Mutators (turn on Big Head, and each player's head size grows to reflect their kill status in the game—great fun!) that come pre-loaded in UT 2003 for the Mac, and this game can last a long time even if you don't have Internet access. But competing with other humans on a local network or the Internet is the real UT addiction, and it's been improved for 2003. Besides the smoother interface for finding online games, the network performance is allegedly fast enough to play over a 33.6-Kbps modem—but you'll still want a fast DSL or cable connection for optimal online play.

Unbridled, unabashedly violent mayhem (coordinated, unabashedly violent mayhem in the more-organized games) isn't for everyone, but if it's your thing, Unreal Tournament 2003 is your game. —Niko Coucouvanis

GOOD NEWS: Awesome action. Improved interface and network performance.
BAD NEWS: Massive levels make even a high-end Mac stutter. Still no level editor for Macs.
CONTACT: 800-229-2714 or 612-249-7600 ,
PRICE: $49.99
REQUIREMENTS: 700MHz G4 (excluding 12-inch PowerBook), Mac OS 10.2.6, 256MB RAM, 3GB disk space, 32MB VRAM