Tag Archives: Video Game History

Commodore 64 mini-guide, and a concert I went to.

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Sorry for being a little bit late this week. I was able to see a fantastic concert for the first time in many moons. I had to take full advantage of that fact. I got to see The Dollyrots for the second time ever (They don’t get out to New England very often), and it was awesome. An area band, Chaser Eight opened for them, and had an absolute killer set. Then the Dollyrots got on stage, and crushed it too. If you’ve never heard either band, and you like rock n’ roll, do check them out. Chaser Eight is pretty great, with elements of Alt-Rock, Glam, and straight up rock. It just works. The Dollyrots on the other hand, are an amazing Pop Punk trio led by Kelly Ogden, and Luis Cabezas. They have a really great blend of the sound of the early Rock groups like The Ronettes, and 1970’s Punk bands like The Ramones. Over the years they’ve grown as musicians but the roots are still apparent. It was a great show. Both bands were very approachable, and kind. They hung out with everyone at the bar after playing for a bit, and visited with fans like family you love, but don’t get to see all of the time. It was awesome. If either comes to your area, go see them. If they’re in your town as you’re reading this, just stop reading, and go see them. What are you waiting around for? Go!

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Okay, you’re back? Good. I hope you had as great a time as I did. Anyway, lately I’ve talked a lot about the mighty Commodore 64, its library, and a great C64 peripheral. It’s one of the best platforms of all time. It was sold more than any other computer in its day, and there are a plethora of great games on it. With those, the demo scene, and even a few great bands using its sound chip, you may have thought about getting one. As a lifelong fan of the computer, I can point to some facts, and information you’ll need to know if you’re going to collect for the C64. Now this isn’t going to be the most in-depth look at the platform. There are books that go into the detailed information over the course of several hundred pages for that sort of thing. But these are some key things to look for, and some things to be aware of. There may even be a few things that intrigue a casual reader. So feel free to read on.

First of all, there were a few models. The first version is often called the bread bin model. This came in a couple of variants. The silver label variant is the earliest version, and is sought after by the most devoted Commodore fans. These have the logo in a silver style paint. The drawback with this variant is it has a 5 pin DIN connector for video, where the later models (which had a rainbow of colors next to the logo) used an 8 pin DIN connector for video. Later models also added support for S-Video which is a major jump over the stock RF cable, and switch box that all models can use. The image will be much cleaner, and clearer. Provided of course you track down one of the cables.  After the bread bin model, Commodore released the C64c, which has many of the same updates as the rainbow variant of the bread bin. It also has a couple of chip refinements, and a redesigned bezel.  It should also be noted that while you gain the S-Video, and slightly better power connector in later models, you lose the ceramics for heat reduction on chips. To remedy this, later models have a metal shield inside to draw some heat, but this still isn’t always an effective solution. In Europe some later models didn’t have a metal shield, but a metal coated cardboard one, which trapped heat in some cases.

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Aside from the revisions to the standard Commodore 64, there were alternate versions altogether. The SX-64 was one of the earliest portable computers, as it had a built-in screen, and floppy drive. These things weigh a good 20 lbs. though, so they’re not portable in the sense you’re used to.  In Japan, there was a short-lived version of the C64 called the Commodore MAX. But this cut some functionality. So it didn’t compete on the games or business end, and quickly disappeared. There was also the C64 Game System. But this cut out all of the computer aspects of the computer to play cartridge games. Unfortunately this also broke compatibility with most of the game library as by 1990, the best titles were on tape or diskette.  All three of these variants are considered collector’s items. But unless you just have to have a conversation piece in your collection, I would focus on a regular C64 instead. These alternate versions can also be expensive.

The one noteworthy alternate Commodore 64 is the Commodore 128. This doubled the amount of memory in the computer, and could run all of the C64 software. The catch is it has to be run in C64 mode, as some of the revisions to the hardware led to some incompatibility in 128 mode. But the 128 did well with business, and productivity users, as there were applications that did take advantage of the extra memory. There were two versions, the standard C128, and the C128D. The latter made the keyboard an external peripheral, and included a built-in 1571 floppy diskette drive. The C128D can get expensive as a result, as finding one with a working drive is getting harder.

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There are a couple of risks involved when getting into the platform. But these can be mitigated if you’re wise enough to do a couple of simple things. First, when you find a potential C64 purchase, confirm it is working. If it’s a store, they should be willing to hook it up, and confirm it’s operational. Second, make certain the Power Supply Unit not only works, but is in great shape. The PSU actually has two rails inside. One powers the motherboard, and most of the system, while the other powers the sound chip. As a means to control costs, it is encased in a resin material. However there’s a chance even a working PSU can overheat. Depending on the problem, a bad PSU can fry components inside the computer. That’s why it’s imperative you get a plug-in as pristine condition as possible. You’ll want to make sure it sits out in the open where heat can escape, and if you’re paranoid, you can always have a small desk fan blowing on it. Also keep in mind some of the later bread bin releases may have heat issues from the cost reduced RF shield. These are mostly in PAL territory releases. But again, keeping things cool can help mitigate a problem.

With that out-of-the-way, you’ll want to start gaming. But what else will you need? This depends a bit on what territory you’re in, and whether or not you plan to do any importing. Since I’m in the US, I’ll focus on that, but I’ll touch a bit on other parts of the world in a bit. When the C64 arrived on the scene, games for it started out on cartridge. They had about as much space as the ones found on consoles that were out at the time. Not every user had an external drive right away either, so it made sense for publishers to put games on cartridges. Some of the earliest software also came on cartridges, and this even includes diagnostic software, which may or may not work depending on the hardware issue. If applicable you can turn on the computer with a diagnostic cartridge, and it will let you run simple tests to determine if a chip has gone bad.  But this isn’t always a sure thing, since some hardware failures won’t give you anything other than the blackness of space on your screen. More on that later.

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So a lot of the earliest stuff was out on cartridge. Activision ported many of its console games to the C64 including H.E.R.O., Beamrider, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, and River Raid. But there were a number of great games on cartridge. Eventually however, publishers found alternatives that gave developers more space at a lower cost. The first of these were cassette tapes. Games, and other programs could be published on audio cassettes. These were also cheap, and so many titles started being released on cassette.

In order to run these programs you’ll need a datasette drive. These are basically old school cassette decks. If you want an in-depth look at how these worked, I highly recommend this video from the 8-Bit Guy. In European territories this is the format nearly all of the biggest titles came on, due to the lower production costs. There is one thing for newcomers to be aware of though, and that’s long load times. A lot of larger games on tape can take minutes to load. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big a deal. Even today’s console games can take eons to load if you’re playing them off disc, rather than installing them. Still, if you’re short on patience, you’ll need to learn to gather some if you need to run a game off of cassette.

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In North America, prices of writable media began to fall after a while though, and so many games began the move to 5.25″ Floppy Diskettes. these eliminated the storage concerns for a long time. When they cropped up again, many developers simply made games that took multiple disks to get through. To play these games you’ll need a 1541 or a 1541-II floppy diskette drive. There were a few aftermarket drives as well like The Enhancer 2000. In the USA, nearly every notable game came on floppy diskette. Even games that were previously released on cartridge or cassette tape. Most games released on floppy take a lot less time to load over cassette releases. However they’re not quite as fast as one would hope due to a slow port speed. To help with this, there are a number of Fast Loader cartridges you can get. These take some of the load off, and do shave some time off of loading. Again, 8-Bit Guy has a great video on the specifics of how this worked that I won’t go into here. Just know, that an Epyx Fast Load cartridge, or equivalent is something you want if you’re going to play games on Floppy Diskettes.

Once you have all of those in order, you’ll probably want to look into controllers. Most games took advantage of joysticks, though many also had keyboard binds. Almost any controller with a DB9 connector will fit the ports. Atari 2600 joysticks, Sega Genesis pads, and so on. However, it is NOT recommended you use a Sega Genesis pad, because the Sega Genesis pad draws more power than the controller ports need, so there is the chance you can blow a controller port in the process. So it’s best to stick to controllers built with either the C64, or Atari 2600 in mind. My controller of choice is the Slik Stik by Suncom. But there are no shortage of joystick options. Note that some games still utilized two button schemes, at a time when nearly all controllers were one button controllers. The work around most developers went with, was using the space bar.  Depending on the title it may take a little getting used to. In slower paced games it’s rarely a problem, in action games, you’ll want the joystick right in front of the computer so you can easily press the space bar when you need to.

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Now the thing to remember is, this is still a computer platform. So you can do more than game on it. In fact if you’re willing to learn the Commodore variant of BASIC, you can code your own homebrew games for the machine. Which a lot of people did. So you may even have fun tracking down old, defunct Commodore 64 themed magazines. Some of them have been archived like the entire run of Ahoy!. Not only do you get the sensation you feel when looking at an old Nintendo Power, you get programs. Long before the advent of getting a CD full of demos with your game magazine, computer magazines had program articles. You could type in these programs, save them to a diskette, and run them whenever you wanted. Many of them were written entirely in BASIC, although some were written in machine language, and you typed them into a HEX editor program. But you could save them to diskette! Some of these were really good too, like Mystery At Mycroft Mews, where you had to go around a town as detectives, solve murders, and bring the right suspect to trial.

Aside from gaming, there are a wealth of old productivity, and business programs you can find, but honestly, they’re not really going to be much value beyond the history. It is nice to see the original Print Shop in action, or some of the word processors of the time. But you’re probably not going to send your masterpiece novel to a literary agent on a 5.25″ Floppy these days. Still, you can still find old dot matrix printers, and the ribbons though they’re getting scarce.

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But in the more interesting range you can find things like the Koala pad, which is one of the earliest graphics tablets. You could draw with a stylus, and save your art to diskette. There were a bunch of clones that came afterward. But if you draw on a modern Wacom graphics tablet, and wonder where the earliest versions of the tech came from, their infancy took place on 8-bit home computers. You can also find the original 300 baud modems, that let users connect to services like Quantum Link back then (LazyGameReviews did a wonderful video on that service.) But these days, there are homebrew network cards, and browsers tinkerers can invest in.

One of the craziest things I have in my collection is the Hearsay 1000. A cartridge, and software combo that reads whatever you type, back to you. In a kind of creepy robot voice. The software is far from perfect, it doesn’t account for pronunciation, so it can only read things as they are spelled. So if you type in the name “Barbara” it will say it back as “Bar-Bar-A”. But this is where stuff like Dragon Naturally Speaking got its start. Building off of this early tech, or properly doing what it was trying to. If you find a Hearsay 1000, don’t use it while playing games with voice samples. It will yell “HEARSAY ONE THOUSAND!”, and then crash the computer. Then you’ll have to turn it off, disconnect the module, and turn it back on. Then load your game again. Considering you’re going to wait a while for Ghostbusters to load again, best to know that up front.

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Of course not too long ago, I reviewed the SD2EIC. This is a must own peripheral because you can make disk images, or download images of stuff you own to an SD Card. It’s also great if you do happen to have old disks with personal files on them, and want to save those along with your other programs. Plus the load times, are dramatically cut down.

One also needs to take into account the difference between PAL, and NTSC territories If they plan on importing. A lot of really great games including some of the best were exclusive to Europe. While most of these are playable on a North American C64, the speed differences can often lead to all kinds of glitches. Random characters popping up, graphics showing up in grayscale rather than in color, some extreme cases will involve lock ups, and crashes. One can convert their computer via modifying it, but this isn’t recommended if you don’t know your way around altering a circuit board. My advice is to either deal with the glitches if you import a game or follow the purist. Purists will import a PAL C64, peripherals, and either a PAL monitor or else using a scaler with their HDTV to run a native 50 hz signal from the computer. You’ll also want a power converter as the electrical outlets, and standards are different. If you’re in a PAL territory, and you want some of the NTSC exclusives, you’ll see similar issues. So again, purists will want to import an NTSC setup, and use a power converter.

While some of this may get a little complicated, it is worth the plunge. Once you have a fully functional C64 setup, there really isn’t anything else like it.  The unique sound of its sound chip (known as the SID) is popular to this day. The wide, and varied library gets you a large variety of original games, multi platform games, and arcade ports. As is the case with every platform you’ll find a lot of good games, some truly great games, and a fair number of bad ones. I highly recommend visiting Lemon64 for its wealth of information, and its game archive. Plus they have a very helpful community if you do run into issues. Thanks to them I discovered a wonderful hobbyist who does repairs, and builds a lot of high quality homebrew accessories, and power supplies. When my C64c gave me a dreaded Black Screen Of Death last month I got in contact with Ray Carlsen, After some back, and forth messaging I ended up sending him the machine. Having some background in PC repairs, and upgrades I had taken it apart, checked the motherboard, found no bad capacitors. The fuse was intact, and working. I didn’t see any corrosion on chips. But I had no way to test them, and I was stumped. Well he was able to determine I had a minor issue with my power connector, and that my PSU was on its way out. He installed a breaker to prevent the components from frying from a bad PSU. I also ordered one of his homebrew PSUs. When the computer came back, not only was everything working the way it is supposed to, but he somehow got it looking much newer than when I had sent it in. Now he isn’t a traditional business, so he doesn’t do bulk jobs. Don’t go looking to send him 50 broken C64 computers. That isn’t what he is about. But he’ll charge you a fair price to fix a single machine, and take a look at some of his PSU models. With the originals drying up, it can’t hurt to have a spare.

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The Commodore 64 may have been a home computer, but it was one of the most important platforms in video game history. It’s where many games went after the infamous crash in North America, and even after the rise of the NES it still retained a viable market share. In Europe it was also a major contender throughout the 80’s, and 90’s. Although there are some things to be aware of if you want to begin collecting for one, it can be a rewarding experience. Prices fluctuate constantly, but expect to spend between $50 – $150 for a working model with a good PSU. With that alone, you’ll be set for any cartridge games. But chances are you’ll want some of the higher profile releases. A 1541 Floppy drive will set you back about $50. There are deals out there to be had, but many of the cheap ones aren’t tested, so you may be buying a worn out drive. On the budget end though, Datasette drives are fairly inexpensive. So keep an eye out for one of those.

Then, you’ll be ready to pick up some C64 games! Just like on retro consoles, some games are cheap, and common. Some are rare, and expensive. A lot of times you can make out well, by buying lots. A lot of games don’t require anything beyond a floppy diskette, cartridge or cassette. But there are games that have manual protection. So do some research on a title before you buy it. For example, you’ll want to look for complete copies of certain RPGs as they require a code wheel, or manual as a means of copy protection. (IE: Type in the first word in the third paragraph on page 13.) Plus it’s nice to have the manuals, and keyboard overlays for flight sims, RPGs, or point, and click adventure games. Action genres usually didn’t have these vast control schemes requiring hot keys. But a handful did use manual protection so make sure the game you’re interested in isn’t one of them if you’re looking at a loose copy.

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Also be sure to keep your disk based games in sleeves when you’re not using them, and don’t let them get too hot or cold. Definitely keep them away from magnets, as that will corrupt the disk, and destroy your game. It was a lesson we children learned quickly back when home computers were first gaining prominence.  Finally, the Commodore 64, and other computers of the era were powered by variants of Microsoft BASIC. So you’ll need to know a few basic (Ha, ha!) commands. The most important being LOAD”*”,8,1 which for all intents, and purposes tells the disk drive to load the first file on a disk (Usually the executable) into memory. Then when the computer says ‘READY” you can simply type “RUN”, press RETURN, and fire up your game.

That should about do it this time. But keep in mind how many great things the retro games, and computing scene keeps pumping out for the mighty C64. Here’s hoping the new motherboards, network cards, card readers, and even homebrew games continue preserving one of gaming’s most iconic platforms.

 

 

SD2EIC Drive Review

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It’s no secret I’m a huge Commodore fan. As a child in the 80’s, I started gaming on the seminal Atari 2600. It’s a timeless system for many reasons, and I still fire it up a lot today. But when my father came home with a Commodore 64 bread bin it quickly became the de facto platform in our household. When the company redesigned the computer, and sold a cheaper junior model, my father bought one, and donated the old one to relatives. But from the moment I saw Forbidden Forest running off a cassette tape the first time, I was hooked.

Through the years I played tons of awesome games on it. It wasn’t until I was a Junior in High School that we would move to a modern MS-DOS X86 PC. Because that is how versatile the King of 8-bit computers was. The C64 launched in 1983, and wasn’t discontinued until 1994 when the company went out of business. It’s fondly remembered as a games machine, because it’s where many companies went during the console market crash, and where many indies that became today’s majors got their start.

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It was a big deal here in North America, but it was even bigger in Europe. There are countless games that never officially made it Stateside.  So the platform is also an importer’s dream. Provided of course you’re willing to wade through the landmine of PAL Vs. NTSC concerns.

But whether you’re a North American or European Commodore 64 owner, there’s no denying that over time some of our floppies, and cassettes are slowly wearing out. A lot of our disk drives, and datasette drives are going kaput. With only so many in the wild, it’s going to get harder, and harder to rebuild our beloved collections. But fear not! Thanks to The Future Was 8-bit there is a way to keep the memory alive, on the original hardware.

PROS: An SD Card reader that emulates Floppy, and Cassette drives exceptionally well!

CONS: Not quite everything is compatible.

BUT: Far more than enough is compatible.

At first glance, the SD2EIC just looks like an SD card reader in a cute 1541 floppy drive shaped casing. But it’s no ordinary SD card reader!  This device emulates an actual 1541, and datasette environment. It plugs into either the tape drive slot or the floppy drive slot (depending on the version you order), and the serial DB port.  From here you can put in an SD card with your Commodore 64 program files , and run them natively on the computer!

This can be done a few ways, you can download images (assuming you own the programs in question), or if you have the means, you can back up your files to a computer, and then transfer them to a card.  You can also migrate disk images from the 1541 floppy drive to the SD2EIC. This is a little bit more involved, since you’ll need a couple of extra cables, and you’ll need to find a Compression software that works with the platform. Once you’re set up though, you will be so glad you have one of these.

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The device utilizes a file browser software file you can download which lets you go through a DOS like directory system. This makes it easy for you to organize files, and set them up in an order you feel most comfortable with. The documentation included with the SD2EIC gives you a pretty detailed set of instructions on using it. For basic file browsing though, it is pretty straight forward. You can navigate using either the CRSR Up/Down key, or a joystick in port two. If you don’t feel comfortable configuring the software, you can order a preconfigured card with it. The card has the file browser, and a bunch of programs on it.

If that weren’t enough, the device also has three buttons on it which are used when using programs that require multiple disks. This is handy when running a game or other program, that would normally involve flipping a diskette over, or putting in the next diskette when prompted. Here you have forward, backward, and reset buttons which you can press in these situations. Two of the buttons also act as the power, and load/save LEDs on the 1541 floppy drive. It’s really cool, and a nice touch to an already great experience.

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The SD2EIC can read all kinds of C64 file images. It can run D64, T64 files as well as PRG files. Again, it can also run them sequentially. But the device can also save files. This makes the unit very attractive to budding BASIC programmers. If you know your way around code, you can use this in lieu of a floppy diskette drive. This is a great way to save your projects without fear of a 1541 drive dying, or your diskette wearing out, and your data going with it. Plus even a relatively small SD card can house thousands of programs, and files due to the small file sizes on a typical 5.25″ Floppy Diskette. It’s compatible with both NTSC, and PAL machines too, though if you put PAL files on your card, and run it on an NTSC machine you’ll likely experience the same random glitches, video issues, or occasional crashes you would if you were to run an imported game on floppy.

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One of the things that really impressed me was the build quality. Most commercial SD card readers, even ones made by big industry names can be flimsy. The SD2EIC I received is superb. It’s built with plastic made by recycling broken Commodore 64, and 128 computer cases. It’s sturdy, and even the cabling feels secure. It isn’t something you can be careless with, but it can withstand shuffling around your set up.

There are a handful of minor issues with the drive. The first is that you do not want to accidentally grab the wrong controller if you have two of them plugged in. Doing so will exit you out of the program, and drop you back to the BASIC prompt. The second is that the SD2EIC doesn’t emulate a 1541 drive at 100%. That’s because the 1541 floppy drive is powered by another MOS 6502 CPU just like the stock Commodore 64 computer. So there are a handful of programs that won’t work due to being written in a way that utilizes the 1541 floppy drive in a specific way.

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Nevertheless, I can still tell you that the SD2EIC is a must own peripheral for any Commodore 64 collector. The wealth of pros outweigh the cons of a few incompatible programs out there. Especially when you consider just how versatile it is. The ability to run backup images alone, is something that should put this on your radar. With 5.25″ diskettes drying up, breaking down, and working 1541 drives dying from old age, this is a very welcome peripheral for preservation. Plus, budding indie developers have a means for their BASIC, and Assembly language projects to be stored on a modern format.

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It’s amazing how many wonderful homebrew products keep coming out for this legendary machine. Over the last three decades there have been Ethernet cards, a web browser, and even a new motherboard! But this drive is going to be more, and more sought after as time goes on. And, as these are made from recycled Commodore computers, you may want to get one before they dry up. It is truly a must own peripheral for anyone interested in Commodore.

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Now it should be noted there are other ways to get the SD2EIC. You can buy the circuit board, and daughter board from NKC Electronics. It’s nice if you’re good at assembling your own casings, and doing your own electronics assembly, or repair. But going with this specific one makes things very convenient. Plus the use of recycled computers to make the attractive casing is a nice touch that keeps them out of the landfill. I know I’m repeating myself, but it’s true. TheFutureWas8Bit has really outdone themselves with this one. Whether you’re a long time fan, or new to Commodore. Get yourself an SD2EIC from them. You won’t be sorry. Even the care put into the shipping packaging will astound you.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

SiN Retrospective Part 1: SiN Review

Originally released in 1998, Ritual Entertainment developed SiN from humble, literal in-house beginnings. It follows the story of HardCORPS police officer John Blade. As well as hacker JC Armack (A play on id software founder John Carmack’s name), and the nefarious plots by SinTek. A mega pharmaceutical company run by a voluptuous, and sultry mad scientist named Elexis Sinclaire.

PROS: Huge environments. Solid mechanics. Multiple paths.

CONS: Blocky graphics haven’t aged well. Later levels aren’t as interesting.

CHEESE: It has a lot of the fun, direct to video movies of the 1990’s have.

The game runs on id software’s Quake II engine. To go back to it today admittedly will have you wondering how games from the era could have impressed us so much. But if you can allow yourself to get past the blocky, low poly look of the characters, and 16 bit textures you will find a lot to like. Levels are huge, and intricate. There are branching paths ensuring you can complete the stages different ways, and enter following levels in different areas. Character designs are fairly original with only a few fairly generic ones crawling out toward the end. There are a lot of fun weapons, some cool boss fights, and even a vehicle section or two. Bottom line there is a lot to like.

Seeing how I’m doing this review as a retrospective, I’m doing something a little bit different. I’ll be going over the storyline. Broadly mind you, but there will be a number of spoilers. The game is also a retro game at this point so for a lot of people it shouldn’t be that big a deal. Nevertheless, there will be spoilers.

SiN opens up with the main character. Blade on a police chopper flying in to thwart what appears to be your typical bank robbery. As Blade you will have to gun down a bunch of low-level grunts, (Some of whom are dressed like ninjas with machine guns) to infiltrate a bank. It is right out the gate you will see Ritual made great use of the engine to do in-game cut scenes leaving pre-rendered CGI cut scenes for the very beginning, and end of the game. After making short work of these criminals you’ll get out of the chopper, and fight your way through the bank to get to the vault.

When you get to the vault you’ll be introduced to Vincent Mancini. Mancini is behind this elaborate heist, and has drilled under the bank for an escape route. As you pursue him, you’ll find yourself going through abandoned buildings filled with more henchmen. A short time later you will be introduced to Elexis Sinclaire in another in-game cut scene. She meets up with Mancini on the roof of a building, and argues with him. It turns out that all she had hired the mob to do at the bank was steal a safe deposit box, but instead Mancini had gone all out with a full-scale heist. Here we see Mancini is your typical idiot lackey type henchman. Sort of the Beast Man to her Skeletor. Or the Star Scream to her Megatron.

Anyway, Elexis injects him with something before flying off in a chopper because now her corporation can be tied to the robbery. As Blade you’ll follow on through a construction area eventually leading to a Subway. At the end of this subway level you meet up with a huge mutant monster in a battle that will remind you of the final boss of Resident Evil 2. He crashes through the roof of the train, then darts off after being severely damaged. When the train reaches it’s destination, the mutant returns, and you have to gun him down. This boss takes a TON of punishment. But when you finally beat him, the next cut scenes show HardCORPS taking in the body, and discovering the mutant monster was actually Vincent Mancini. The autopsy also shows signs of a lethal new street drug called U4 in his system, and that SinTek labs is known for making components to it.

The next stage will have you infiltrate SinTek’s lab division. This mission is one of the hardest in the game because you have to be very stealthy. There are a bunch of worker characters like scientists, receptionists, and other low-level drones you aren’t allowed to shoot. If you do, someone will hear it, and pull the alarms. If this happens there will be a horde of spider robots with chain guns swarming you. Plus turrets on nearly every ceiling gunning you down. Your only hope of beating this stage is to sneak up on the low-level characters, and punch them in the back so they can’t trip the alarms. You also have to do this away from security cameras, and you have to find hidden paths like one of the air ducts (You jump into off of a ceiling fan in the break room) to do it. At one point you even need to steal a yellow jumpsuit, and key card to advance.

By this point it should also be obvious that the game retains the “Get the key” aspect of games of the time. So expect to find yourself not only shooting down bad guys, but also looking for keys. However, the branching paths of the stages also lessen this, because if you know where to go you can avoid some (Though not all) of the key cards. That said, it never seems to reach the level of the old DOOM games where you needed them constantly. Here it’s much closer to Goldeneye 007 on the N64.

When you do get the key you’ll get on an elevator, to go underneath the lab, and it is here you first learn about their plan with drugs. You have to sneak around the labs until finally you find this one head scientist who has the key to get further. Up until now the only major environmental action you’ve had other than blowing up background objects is one bank vault password on a computer. But here you will have to log into a system, and turn off a fan. Run through the fan tunnel before it comes back on. Turn on another terminal to unlock doors. Turn on another terminal to get a scientists’ password for another terminal. And there is another terminal that opens up a lab so you can grab a U4 sample. After getting that sample there is another computer that controls a U4 scanner that you will have to jack into so that JC can read the data for your case. After all of that you have to escape the lab through an underground sewage pipe, and make your way to a warehouse.

In the warehouse you find out that Elexis is planning to poison the water supply with this U4 which will do to everyone what she did to Mancini. You also find out after going through this warehouse that she has a SECOND lab under the warehouse designing cyborgs much like the Strogg from Quake II. Much like everything else out of B movies in this story she wants to take over the world. (Though one wonders just how much money her company will have left after all of this elaborate spending. When they’re not wondering how she’s managed to keep all of this stuff a secret.)

After a hard-fought battle through these labs fighting off hordes of enemies you do catch up with Elexis who taunts you before unleashing two NEW types of cyborg killers. These are easier to take down than the mutant Mancini boss, but you do have to keep circle strafing, and sidestepping to stay alive.

I should have probably mentioned this earlier in the review but you don’t just walk over things in this game to get them, you actually have to press a button (Default is E) to pick them up. Some of the items you press a second button (Usually ENTER) to use them. In any event hopefully you’ve figured this out by now. In all likelihood you probably have. After you beat these bosses it still isn’t over because you’ll have to get outside to call a chopper to a pad which of course, is guarded.

The next stage will have you doing A SEWER LEVEL. But I have to be honest, the sewer stage in SiN is actually pretty well done, and is fun thanks again to branching paths. Also helping is the fact that it doesn’t sport the usual “Sewer” enemies although there are mice. (Brief tangent, this game has TONS of mice in it if you’re willing to look straight down when you take seemingly random -1 damage)

When you do manage to get through the end of this you’ll find yourself at the Dam where you will have to find your way down to a secret bunker to stop SinTek from poisoning the water supply.

When you do, you will find it was all for naught.

Why is this? Because Elexis Sinclaire has more dough, and parallel plot points than Dr. Wily, and every one of James Bond’s adversaries combined. While you were busy making the water line safe, she was out hijacking nukes, and taking them to her secret uncharted island base.

From this point JC sends you out to an oil rig owned by SinTek. After quietly coming up on a raft, and sniping some guards you begin your next quasi stealth mission. Elexis lands on the top of the rig with her helicopter, and tells everyone to kill you. So of course now you have to sneak to the top, blowing away everyone you see to get to her. Really everyone. Big guys with wrenches, more ninjas with tank guns, even a few of those cyborgs show up. This is one of the most fun stages in SiN due to the variety of enemies, and the various ways to the top you can go. When you get to the top you will actually be going down, because the elevator leads to another shipping area where SinTek is moving cases of stuff to the island. After dispatching guards, and getting a few more key cards, you flood the undersea base, and follow the shipments out to sea. In the sea you will have even more new enemy types like underwater deep-sea divers with harpoons, and giant blue crocodile/fish hybrids. Beating this stage is less about gunning down baddies, and more about finding air bubbles so you don’t drown. Also avoiding falling rocks, and spikes. It seems like there’s always something falling on you.

Finally you get to the end of the stage, and onto Sinclaire’s island. Here you have to fight your way to the top of a mountain. There are not only SinTek mercenaries to worry about, but you also have to re-battle some of the monsters like the one Mancini turned into. Getting up to the top you’ll drive a jeep through a section of enemies to a lab. Sadly this is the one section where the controls are HORRIBLE.

You can’t steer very lightly, it’s mainly hard left or right turns. So to get to the top you’ll be letting off the gas, turning, then gassing again. Thankfully it’s a very small part of the overall game. But it is a nuisance.

When you do make it to the top, and slay the last few bad guys though, Elexis captures you, and injects you with U4. What follows is the most difficult, and strange area of the game.

“Area 57” as Elexis calls it has you in the role of the mutant. Clawing is your only weapon, and you can jump slightly higher. You also have to do things just the right way or you have to start over. For instance, if you kill the mechs you can’t get into the pipes to get to the areas you need to go. Doors permanently close behind you so you have to make sure you did everything properly before going through one. Do the stage properly, and you’ll find the antidote to U4, allowing you to go back to being human. After this trial, and error exercise Blade will find himself in a really bizarre area with guys in sacrificial coats, and doing experiments on mutants, and chunks of flesh. When you finally escape this area you interrupt Elexis who is in the midst of a meeting with villainous characters.

She goes on about how she stole her father’s research, and through these twisted experiments she hopes to use her drugs to create the ultimate being. In doing so she can use them to enslave the world, and rule it. Blade crashes the party, and even stops the nuke from being launched.

Only to have her capture him again.

This time though instead of being turned into a mutant monster, Elexis decides to throw you into a giant feeding ground for what has to be the biggest monster boss since the Cyber Demon from DOOM.

This thing is HUGE, and takes a TON of punishment. Even if you found all of the hidden super weapon parts throughout the game (Yeah I forgot to mention that before) it is still going to be a hard fight.

Where as the Cyber Demon from DOOM merely required you to duck out behind a pillar between lobbing tons of gunfire, this thing has no pillars to speak of. There are boxes of ammo for your various guns to be found on structures around the ring, but getting them takes some luck because of how many missiles he fires at you. Not only that but the monster taunts you, after it takes so much damage, and then increases it’s attacks. When you finally do take it down you’ll be treated to one of the most tongue in cheek CGI cut scenes in gaming history.

Elexis is in a chair as Blade confronts her. Instead of shooting her, he allows himself to be tempted by her assets just long enough for her to press a teleport button on the chair conveniently between her legs.

Blade does pull the trigger, but not in time, and she beams herself onto an escape rocket.

Back at the station, JC taunts Blade, and the credits roll.

SiN was a long game for its type, and the story while not the deepest was better than a lot of the thin stories back then. There was also a lot of stuff I didn’t get into, like the myriad of hidden secrets. There are a lot of Easter Eggs in the game if you want to take the time to seek them out. Other technical aspects in the game are pretty good here. The AI, and graphics supported realistic (For the time) limb damage. So characters acted different, depending on the situation. Sometimes they would hide. Other times call for back up. Textures on the models changed to reflect ongoing shoot outs. Shot a guy in the head? A hole appeared, and they usually died instantly. Hit a limb? the texture turned to a blood soaked ripped one, and they ran away. Point blank shotgun blast into a bank robber? His entire torso would giblet.

The last real games to do any of this sort of thing were the sequel to this one, and the Solider of Fortune series (Which sadly only really offered giblets after first one, and it’s low-budget second sequel didn’t even give that.). Sure a lot of games let you hack terminals, but in SiN they went as far as making everything a true command line OS prompt (At least in the vein of the game). Some of them let you type in commands besides simply unlocking a door, or entering passwords. The branching paths were also novel because not too many games around then or even since outside of RPGs really offered that sort of thing. It keeps the game from feeling too linear, and it’s something I wish games would go back to.

I also didn’t really talk about the multiplayer, which by this point is pretty moot. Not too many people play it due to the age, and while it is a fun death match game, other arena shooters, and modern multiplayer games have upset it. Still, you may want to check it out if you have yet to play through SiN. There is also the expansion pack Wages of SiN which is comparable to a modern-day DLC bonus episode. In it, Blade has to take down a crime boss who has somehow managed to get ahold of SinTek’s mutant drug technology. It isn’t very long, but it does have a few references to the main campaign.

This game would eventually find its way to Steam, and GoG. Oddly enough the Steam version had some censored textures throughout the game. The game also disappeared from the Steam store front. Though its sequel is still there. Fortunately, if my review has piqued your interest, it is still on GoG. You can also track down the original physical CD-ROM. Just know that there are a number of issues you may have running it on a modern PC. The GoG version is probably your best bet at this point in time if you’re a retro gamer. Still, for collectors, the original game isn’t terribly expensive or rare.

Final Score: 8 out of 10 (Still worth playing many years later)

Pigs In Space Review

The Muppets. What children of the 80’s didn’t love them? Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and of course the theatrical films. Even when they weren’t all that great, they weren’t completely lamented. Except for maybe the time they tried to remake The Wizard of Oz. Anyway, Muppets have been plastered on everything for decades. T-shirts, flat ware, a rather excellent toy line from Palisades Toys, the list goes on. Muppets even made their way into video games. Most of them have been simple, edutainment fare. Things for toddlers to learn shapes or colors or numbers from. After all, Sesame Street has been a pre school staple. But now, and again they’ve ventured out into traditional video games. This week I stumbled onto one of the more interesting, and yet disastrous ones.

PROS: Based on one of the best parts of The Muppet Show.

CONS: Inconsistent visuals. Poor controls.

PSYCHIC GAME: Predicted Gonzo was an alien 16 years before Muppets From Space.

Pigs In Space is loosely based off of one of the Muppet Show’s greatest skits. In it Miss Piggy, Captain Hogthrob, and Dr. Strangepork go on adventures in space that parody popular science fiction. One of their most notable skits, featured Mark Hamill reprising his role as Luke Skywalker, even bringing C-3P0, and R2D2 along. It was pretty funny, and something a lot of kids looked forward to back then. The game however shouldn’t really elicit that sort of nostalgia. Because it isn’t very good.

This is probably going to be a fairly short review because there isn’t very much to Pigs In Space. It’s a compilation of three games, two of which are fairly shallow. The game starts out with a title screen with none of the design of the skits’ popular moniker. Upon starting the game, you will see three heads appear underneath, and a scoreboard on the top of the screen. Just below the scoreboard are some X’s. These represent the number of lives you have left. Choosing each of the heads will bring you to a corresponding game. The first of these is Captain Hogthrob’s game. It’s the best game on the cartridge, and the only one that could possibly pass for an actual skit. It’s a parody of Space Invaders. The alien ships have all been replaced by Camila the chicken, and the space station that flies across the top has been replaced by a spinning Gonzo head. The Gonzo head is interesting, because not a lot of Atari 2600 games were doing the rotation effect this does. In any event, you move the Captain along the bottom eliminating chickens for points. Instead of landing on the ground for victory, they just push you below a certain barrier. The other thing they do is shoot at you the way you would expect. If you get shot, you turn into a chicken, and fly away. The game is the only one that doesn’t end until you lose all of your lives.

As a parody of Space Invaders it works, but the clunky movement, and single joke will have you wishing you had just played Space Invaders instead. Next up is Miss Piggy’s game. It’s a really bad Frogger clone. If you can even call it a clone. Floating across the screen are spaghetti, and meatballs. Because “Spaghetti Western” I can only guess. The object is to get Miss Piggy across the fast flying food, and into the ship. Once you do that successfully it’s back to the title screen. The faster you do it the bigger the point bonus. Of course if the ship makes it all the way across without you, you’ll lose a life, and have to try again until you’re out of lives. It’s short, you’ll probably play it once, and forget about it.

Finally there’s the Dr. Strangepork level. Strange doesn’t really begin to describe it. It’s a vertical shooter. You pilot the Swinetrek through what one can only guess is a cave. Gonzo appears on ledges firing laser guns. If one connects or you touch a wall, you have to start over again. You can shoot at the Gonzos but the game has you do so in the most asinine way possible. It shoots in the direction you last steered. Even more baffling is the arc of the shot is odd. It will go left or right, but also fall back. So landing shots requires pixel perfect timing. With enough practice you can clear the stage. There are no bosses, or tougher enemies on replay. It’s the same thing every time. Clearing the cave again, takes you back to the title screen. There isn’t much else to go over here aside from one crucial point. Points aren’t tied to any one game. Your score carries over between them until you run out of lives.

One interesting note about the game is that it is one of the few 2600 games to come out just before the industry crash of 1983. Which makes it one of the rarer games in the library. Although not so rare that you’ll pay a mint for it. It doesn’t have the status of scarcity of other noteworthy 2600 games. Pigs In Space is a morbid curiosity. Something that you may pick up to say you’ve experienced, or to boast it’s in your collection. Outside of those uses though it isn’t a recommended game. You’ll get a competent Space Invaders knock off, a bad Frogger clone, and a really strange vertical shmup. There are far better 2600 games to play. Really, really good 2600 games to play. Get this only if you’re into rarities, and collecting pieces of obscure video game history.

Final Score: 4 out of 10

Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 4

Unreal Tournament III was, and is the game that tried to be all things to the entire fandom. Sadly, the fandom didn’t ever see it.

Pros: Wondrous UE3 visuals, Homogenized movement, Worthy gameplay additions.

Cons: Botched launch. Steep (at the time ) requirements. Gamespy.

What The Poop? It’s rated M so why the watered down announcements, and taunts?

It’s no secret that Unreal Tournament, and Unreal Tournament 2004 were both major successes for Epic Games. Both games won all kinds of awards from publications, and websites like PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World, and Gamespot. Both games were featured in high-profile tournaments for huge prizes. Both games gave other FPS makers like id Software some really stiff competition.

But what the casual observer may not have noticed, was that Unreal Tournament’s player base was fragmented between the two games. Many gamers felt that UT2k4’s adrenaline pills, and required mastery of trick jumping may have been a little too unreal. They preferred to be grounded, and able to dodge firepower. But without looking like Keanu Reeves bouncing around in another Matrix movie.

Meanwhile, others had felt that the new additions 2k4 brought to the table increased the skill level for those who wanted to play seriously. They enjoyed the new Onslaught mode. They relished in the movement system, staying just out of firing range before returning fire, and scoring high frag counts. Going back to standard UT felt backwards.

Still, there were plenty who enjoyed both games enough to go back, and forth.

With UT3 Epic was whetting their appetite for console development. Sure, in the past UT had been ported to the PS2, and Dreamcast. UT2k3 had also been on the Xbox as Unreal Championship, and they had done an exclusive Xbox Unreal Championship 2 which was met with mixed reaction. But those weren’t done entirely in-house, and UE3 was poised to power many console games. So with UT3 Epic had to not only please fans, but also try to make a game they felt console players would give a chance to.

Upon looking at the fragmented fan base, Epic decided to make a bridge game. An Unreal Tournament that would please the diehards who never left the original game, as well as the 2k4 purists. But they also wanted to make something Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 only types would be able to play without giving up in frustration.

UT3 features some stunning visuals. There are some really beautiful environments, and some of the classic UT maps from previous games like the iconic Deck make a triumphant return. Even seven years after it’s release the textures, lighting effects, sounds, and animation will impress. The uninitiated may pick this up, install it on their PC or console, and wonder why this game didn’t take off.

To answer their question the game really did do what was advertised, but not entirely.

UT3’s movement system is indeed a hybrid of UT, and UT2k4. Like UT the gravity is more grounded. Gone are the superhuman double jumps, replaced with a double jump that feels like a jump, and a half. One of the most vocal oppositions was the removal of the dodge jump. In 2k4 a player could tap any direction to dodge. Pressing jump immediately afterwards would allow them to jump very far. In some maps this may have cleared a room. To be fair, UT3’s maps are designed around this new system, but it somehow turned off both the UT, and 2k4 fan bases despite how well it really does homogenize the two systems. For instance, even though dodge jump is gone, wall jumping is still here. It’s still possible to cart-wheel over rockets, goo, and flak balls. Just don’t expect to be halfway down the hall afterwards.

UT3’s weapons also changed to accommodate the rest of the game. In previous games the Bio Rifle would also spray on the floor, or you could fire a single full charged shot for what was often times an instant kill. In UT3 A fully charged shot instead sticks to opponents, and drains their health. Sometimes still leading to an instant kill. The Rocket launcher reverted back to its original UT firing modes, while the Flak Cannon’s arc was changed. The Shock Rifle’s combo attack was also tweaked to slightly reduce the blast radius. Unreal Tournament III also brings back the command to feign your own death. This is really only effective on new players however, as series’ veterans will shoot corpses.

One of the more unpopular changes however was the character designs. Presumably to appeal to the Xbox crowd (Which ironically got the game last), UT3 almost seems to take place in the Gears Of War universe. Gone are the over the top races of 2k4, and standard science fiction designs of the original UT’s races. Instead characters have big bulky Space Marine designs eerily similar to those of GoW. If you are coming into this game late, don’t expect to see the UT1 styled Necris designs, or UT2k4’s Mr.Crow, Egyptian costumes, or other designs. Longtime fans turned up their noses at this. To be fair, the Robots are back (albeit in a new look), and the new Krall models are playable. You can also do some light costume edits on your models, choosing boots, belts, shoulder pads, and visors. But it is a far cry from the variety of earlier games.

Unreal Tournament III brings over the standard Death match, Team Death match, and Capture The Flag. There is also a Vehicular Capture The Flag that introduces vehicles to the mode. One of the most popular modes in UT2k4 was Onslaught which was updated, and called Warfare. In Warfare nodes are still captured, but now there are orbs added into the mix. Orbs can be carried to the nodes to more quickly set them up or buff their defense shields.

Doing so is important because it makes things that much more difficult for the enemy team to take the nodes down. Every node becomes a frantic battle for control. By capturing enough of these areas, your team will lower the force fields around the opposing team’s reactor core. Once the defenses are down you can attack the reactor core until it is destroyed.  Hover boards have also been added to every character in the mode allowing players to get around faster than walking if they can’t get into a vehicle.

 

Also while not an official mode, Death match now had stock maps with vehicles for Vehicular Death match. While some scoffed, and still scoff at this idea, it is actually one that works. Furthermore, it keeps people who simply like to goof around, and wreak havoc with vehicles out of the Warfare mode. This can relieve some of the more team oriented player base. Also other games such as Battlefield Bad Company 2 seem to have taken a cue from UT3, putting vehicles in their DM variants for likely similar reasoning.

Unreal Tournament III also has a campaign, that tells the story of series’ newcomer Reaper. In it the Necris return to destroy an outpost colony by releasing an army of Krall. Reaper’s group; The Ronin, are slain. After being rescued, He trains with Malcolm to get revenge.

 

The campaign isn’t a traditional one either. Instead of an 8 hour single player game you will play through a tournament ladder. This is to get you accustomed to how each of the multiplayer modes work. Some of the ladder stages may throw in an objective to advance the story. But it mainly serves as a tutorial. Along the way, you can complete side challenges to obtain cards. The cards can be cast to make other missions easier. It is possible to play the campaign in Co-op, but most players will likely stick to the other multiplayer modes.

Love or hate these changes UT3 is still a very fun, and very good game. Console players who are intrigued will find something completely different from the umpteenth Call of Duty clone, and open-minded fans of the previous games will still find a lot to like. The console versions of Unreal Tournament III are much better than the ports of UT, and UT2k3 on previous consoles. The Playstation 3 version has all of the content from the initial launch of the PC version. It can also run mods or content PC players make with the editor. It can’t run the editor itself, and the mods have to be specifically made for the PS3 in mind. Still, for fans with both versions, or PS3 owners who have friends who mod on the PC it is a nice feature. The PS3 also received some the updates, and patches over time. The Xbox 360 version came late, and with some exclusive content. However due to Microsoft’s Xbox Live restrictions at the time didn’t get as many updates. It also cannot run mods made by the community on the PC version.

Unfortunately the biggest problem for even the most devoted fan at release was a buggy launch. UT3 had a demo come out shortly before release. Despite feedback from a vocal community, UT3 launched in a state not too different from the demo. There were crashes, instabilities, and performance issues for the first couple of months. Also while it was heavily promoted that the PC version editor would be able to make levels PS3 version buyers could use, there were also complications with this feature. It also used Gamespy for matchmaking which reduced a lot of the ease of server browsing with its account system. Strangely, the salty yet funny award announcements had been changed to substandard PG rated names. Despite the fact the game had about as much gore as ever.

Finally, the system requirements were criticized for being steep at the time of release. Crytek’s Crysis came out around the same time, and was berated for the same reason. This, coupled with a glitchy launch hampered early sales of the game. Also homogenized gameplay seemed to fracture the fan base further rather than bring it together.

Months later Epic was able to get out a comprehensive fix for the PC version with a lot of free bonus content added. Called the Titan Pack, it fixed many of the glitches the original release had. It also cleaned up performance issues, and on top of that added new maps, and weapon balances to the game. Titan pack also added Titan mode. In this fun mode players could turn into a giant if they met certain conditions during a game. It really is a lot of fun, and is definitely worth checking out. The Titan Pack also brought a new UI that PC gamers should have had during launch. Now they could change all of the various visual settings the original release locked them out of.

Unreal Tournament III is a great game that didn’t really get the attention it deserved. Playing it today certainly gives that impression. It runs fast, it has the wild weapons the series is known for. The modes are highly enjoyable, and the PC version still includes the Unreal Editor for free. This a great deal for anybody even remotely interested in-game design as you get to play with the very same utility many games are still being made on. While not as plentiful as previous games, one can still download all kinds of community driven content for PC, and PS3.

If you’re a PC gamer who missed or skipped UT3 when it originally came out in 2007 you may find yourself pleasantly surprised if you play it today. With its beautiful graphics, fast paced gameplay, and hundreds of hours of free content one can’t help but wonder what could have been had there not been so many missteps during its original publishing.

For Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 owners in their teens, and early twenties who have only experienced Epic’s later franchises, UT3 is a great way to see what shooters were like in the days of hyper competitive old, fast paced, difficult, yet fair.

PC gamers can get this underrated entry on Steam, While Console users may be able to find it in bargain bins for a comparable price. Epic is also transitioning away from the Gamespy service so UT3 players can still find games when Gamespy shuts down.

Final Score: 8/10

 

Unreal Tournament Retrospective Part 2

Unreal Tournament 2003

Some sequels are a wondrous continuation of a glorious first effort. Others turn out to be the biggest train wreck this side of Speed 2.

Unreal Tournament 2003 is thankfully closer to the former.

PROS: Almost everything you loved about UT bulked up.

CONS: Even steeper learning curve. No more Assault mode.

WTF?: Mmmmmiiiiiiiissssstttteeerrrr Crrroooooooooooooooowwwww!

UT2k3 added a lot of revisions to the standards set by UT. The first change was an entirely new run of character classes. Whereas UT featured mostly human characters, and a few Unreal Universe villains like The Skaarj, Nali, and Necris. UT2k3 put a more E-Sports spin on the Tournament story adding a wider cast of races. These included The Juggernauts, who resembled Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines. The Liandri Corporation’s AI Robots. The Nakhti, a group of humans in Ancient Egyptian garb. The Nightmare, a group of mutants, transhumans, and experiments gone awry, and The Gen Mo Kai, a group of reptoids.

Each of these races also had their own attributes. The Juggernauts for example could take a higher number of hits before dying than the other races. They also had a little bit more power behind their hits. But they were the slowest characters in the game. The Nakhti were a lot more acrobatic in their air jump animations making them harder to hit. They were also a little bit faster while sacrificing some resistance to weapons fire. The Liandri bots fell in between extremes, making them a popular choice. As were the Gen Mo Kai. The craziest faction were the Nightmare. To this day, Mr. Crow remains one of the most memorable things about UT2k3, and it’s follow-up UT2k4.

In addition to these attributes, UT2k3 also added a new mechanic called Adrenaline. Throughout a game your character would earn pills either by collecting them on the battlefield, or when killing an opponent. After collecting 100 of them players could tap four directions for super secret power moves:

Booster: This increased your health (So long as you’re not being shot) every second until you ran out of pills

Speed: This made you run faster

Berserk: This made your attacks temporarily more powerful.

Invisible: This made you cloak so that you were a lot harder to see.

The third change UT2k3 made was expanding upon the movement set by the original UT. Now not only could you dodge by double tapping directions, you could do wall dodges. By dodge tapping away from any wall, your character would kick off the wall. Players could also now double jump by pressing jump a second time. They could also combine double jumping with wall dodging for even greater mobility. Finally, there was the dodge jump. This move allowed one to jump after a dodge to do a great leap. Dodge jumping would be an imperative skill when trying to escape enemy shock combos.

Movement was vastly more complex here. Maps were also built a lot around the new system. Where UT used dodges to mix things up, the sequel made these advancements imperative. Because not only did they make players harder to get a bead on, they also allowed players to get around a lot faster.

Some of the movement, and adrenaline changes alienated some UT fans, keeping them playing the old game. There was also one omission that would cement that fact: Assault mode. Assault mode was one of the more popular modes from the original UT, and when gamers saw it had been replaced by Bombing Run ( An object carrying mode in which two teams would try to get said object into the opposing side’s goal) many players stayed with the original Unreal Tournament.

Bombing Run wasn’t a bad mode. It could be fun when played with two evenly matched teams. It was a cross between Football, and Capture The Flag. Some of the community really enjoyed bombing run, and preferred it to many of the other modes.  But ultimately it would prove the least popular mode in the game for die-hard fans of the original.

Other modes were the staple Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch types. Also returning were Capture The Flag, along with Last Man Standing. UT2k3 also had Invasion, a mode that was essentially a horde defense game. In it players worked together against A.I. enemies. Finally there was Mutant, where one player had to fight everyone until he or she died, and his or her killer became the new Mutant.

Grievances aside, UT2k3 carved out a nice niche for itself, as people looking for a game with a lot of depth, and challenge would stick around. Graphically the game was a huge leap over UT, as there were huge environments, higher resolution textures, improved lighting, improved skyboxes, and all kinds of little touches. The changes to movement made the game more aerial, as people learned advanced movement would find, dodges, and jumps allowed for faster navigation along stages. UT2k3 also added rag doll physics, a newer convention at the time. Gone were the canned animation of headless combatants flailing around. Instead, rocket splash damage sent characters flying.

The weapons were also tweaked, and retooled. In addition to this, UT2k3 added a Lightning Gun that replaced the Sniper Rifle from UT. It too had a scope, for headshots. But it would fire a large arc of lightning that could be traced back to the point of origin. Unfortunately the saw blade shooting favorite doesn’t return here.

Customization was still a big part of Unreal Tournament in UT2k3. Players could change the typical resolution, texture, and geometry settings. They could change crosshairs for each weapon, their HUDs, and access console commands. As in Unreal Tournament, the game once again gave players access to all sorts of tools they could use to create their own maps, or mods. There were countless maps, mods, and even total conversions done as the game had gone from Unreal Engine to Unreal Engine 2.

Not only did the engine upgrade make for a very pretty Unreal Tournament game, it also gave its community of fans the ability to create a lot of great content. More than the original game.  Much of this content became so popular on servers, that it caught the eye of game developers everywhere.

Atari, and Epic had hoped this would mark the beginning of an annualized series. They had looked at Electronic Arts’ Madden series, as well as THQ’s wrestling games at the time, and thought they could do for  shooters what those games did with sports, and sports entertainment. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s story. UT games tend to put in a single player training ladder to get players used to the various modes. During these tutorials, UT2k3 featured a lot of in-game engine cut scenes. All heavily inspired by pro wrestling. From the Titantron videos, to the custom entrances, to heckling fans you’ll see it all here.

For a host of reasons this idea of annual Unreal Tournament never came to pass.

With it’s improved graphics, physics, and new gameplay conventions UT2003 was an awesome addition to the Unreal Tournament series. however it wasn’t without its flaws. It had dropped a very popular mode fans of the original loved, and it’s requirements at the time were high enough to keep some players from adopting early.  Overall, though the wide variety of characters, the advanced movement, and additions to the gameplay made for an ambitious sequel. However, as good as the game was upon release it’s hard to recommend because of a certain little follow-up. You see Unreal Tournament 2004 would include everything in Unreal Tournament 2003, and more.

Final Rating: Try it out! 6.5/10 (If you can find it.)