Slow news morning so far, and IÃ‚'m just managing to ramp back up to speed following a singularly bizarre weekend. But, while weÃ‚'ve got a momentÃ‚'s peace around here, IÃ‚'d like to take a moment to talk about a game that, until this past weekend, hadnÃ‚'t been seared against my retinas for quite some time: Unreal Tournament 2003. With early reviews of Unreal 2 painting it increasingly as a dud I had begun to think that there might not be any good Unreal games on the market, but the release of both a UT2003 bonus pack and surprise patch made me take a second look at a game IÃ‚'d pretty much written off several months before.Then it made me question why IÃ‚'d been so critical of it to begin with.
IÃ‚'ll be the first to admit that IÃ‚'m no paragon of impartial objectivity. When it comes to my free time IÃ‚'m just as likely to formulate my own unfounded expectations of a game, television show, book or movie as the next guy. ItÃ‚'s a difficult trait to overcome, and I often fall short. Someone once told me not to judge a book by its cover, but he was wearing a Members Only jacket and corduroy slacks, so there was really no way I could take him seriously. Now that I think on it, it may have been Certis.
On the other hand, if I may take the liberty of being self-congratulatory for just a moment, when I see that IÃ‚'ve been wrong about something, IÃ‚'ll be the first one to say as such. A lot of people find an opinion, apparently chosen at random from a great sea of freely floating opinions, and latch onto them like a starving sea lamprey on a bloated whale carcass with no consequential evidence to support their haphazard convictions despite every shred of evidence to the absolute contrary. We all know people like this, who seem to believe if they ever did admit their own fallibility they might very well evaporate into a wafting cloud of self-doubt and disappear forever from the face of tangible reality. Even more incredible to me are those who applaud this kind of behavior, who say things like "You know, Hitler was a vile mass-murdering snotwad, but at least he stuck to his convictions!" No! Hitler was a vile mass-murdering snotwad, period, end-of-file. His inability to see his own failings of character, his own intolerance makes him an even more reprehensible character. Call me wishy-washy if you must, but IÃ‚'d rather have the flexibility of character to both know and admit when IÃ‚'ve been wrong. Now before you all get your tighty-whities tangled, turn down the hyperbole alarm for a moment and realize I'm not equating misjudging a video-game with murdering several million people. I am saying that no one's judgements, even those well founded, are flawless, and the ability to question one's convictions is crucial.
Eventually, it was a lesson I had to learn on my own, and, surprisingly, the critical process helped. I realized early on, when it comes down to writing a review or impressions up for a game, one needs to focus far greater attention on being objective instead of subjective. People don't want to read reviews chock full of personal pronouns, and adjective laden litanies on what you thought was cool. (Save that stuff for bloated editorials!) They want to know one thing: Will I like this game? Objectivity tends to mediate scoring, to close off the extreme ends of euphoria and absolute disgust, and bring a well thought through score somewhere into that middle ground. In fact, my measuring stick for the general veracity of a gaming review site is one where 9s are doled out as seldom as 1s and 2s, and generally IÃ‚'ll ignore anyone who scores more than one game a perfect 10. I donÃ‚'t think IÃ‚'ve ever played a perfect 10 game.
Unfortunately, for me, when I picked up Unreal Tournament 2003 it was an impulse purchase not meant for any review, and so my impartiality scattered like so many trailers caught in a tornado. Further, UT2003 was released very close to Battlefield 1942, a game for which I have a special warm spot on the soft underbelly of my iron cold heart. So, even as I installed UT2003 I was already in a mind set to pass judgement. Not an hour into the game, I had, with an imperious wave of my flaccid hand, proclaimed UT2003 More-Of-The-Same, and dispatched it unceremoniously from my desktop. I tried again to play several times over the next few days, but I found myself much more preoccupied with controlling the Rail-Car flag in Stalingrad than tap dancing my way toward some adrenaline power-up.
My actual complaint with UT2003 stands. It is a derivative game. It is More-Of-The-Same. It is also a well crafted game, and can be extraordinarily fun for a few minutes of visceral gibbing. It has a strong CTF component, an engaging Bombing Run gametype, as well as a nearly flawless classic deathmatch. But more importantly, UT2003 is exactly what it always aimed to be, a gorgeous twitch shooter that one can get lost in for minutes or hours. To compare, as I did, UT2003 to a Battlefield 1942 is as common and inherently flawed as comparing Xbox and Gamecube. You might just as well compare a John Grisham book to wall spackle.
I canÃ‚'t help but wonder, if I had been reviewing UT2003, would I have looked at it more objectively, saw that it achieved its goals while fostering a strong player community? Would I have liked UT2003 more if IÃ‚'d scrutinized it for flaws and realized that aside from some occasionally dodgy net code, it really had no more or less shortcomings than my beloved Battlefield 1942? Subjectively, based solely on how UT2003 matched what I baselessly wanted from an FPS, I probably wouldn't have scored UT2003 much above a 5, but had I turned a more objective eye on the game, I doubt I could have scored it any lower than 8.
In the long run, I donÃ‚'t think IÃ‚'ve necessarily become a UT2003 convert, and I would imagine with the release of Road to Rome it will be quietly ushered to the hard-drive equivalent of a supply closet where I store other games like Giants, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Starfleet Command 3 that I like to think IÃ‚'ll someday get around to playing again. But, I see more clearly now that UT2003 was probably sold short by a lot of gamers who installed it with ridiculous preconceived notions. For what Unreal Tournament 2003 sells itself as, it succeeds wildly. If you havenÃ‚'t played UT2003, you might want to pick up the latest patch and bonus pack, and look at it with fresh eyes. You may find itÃ‚'s a better game than you thought.