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Unreal Tournament 3 Review

geoff_hunt By:
GENRE First-Person Shooter 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

What do these ratings mean?

Another fragging chapter.

I’m conflicted about Unreal Tournament 3. It is by no means a bad game, but in light of other recent offerings, it is not as exciting. It’s a throwback to the old days of FPS gaming on the PC, and the slick coat of paint doesn’t overcome the sensation of déjà vu that permeates this title.

click to enlargeAs with most games built with the Unreal 3 engine, Unreal Tournament 3 looks good. Or, at least, it looks good if you have a spectacular system. Unfortunately, the game scales miserably, looking incredibly jagged and fuzzy on hardware a mere two years old. Performance drops so quickly when you crank the graphics up that you have to learn to accept poor visuals unless you've recently won the lottery.

That may not be so bad a thing, though. Unreal Tournament 3 looks a great deal like Gears of War in terms of proportions of the models and the attention to detail in the level design, though there’s a lot more color to everything than the grayscale Gears. Cut-scenes like flashbacks from Gears litter the singleplayer campaign, and I found myself expecting Marcus and Dom to chainsaw their way through the krall while Cole, I mean Malcolm, shouted something boringly stereotypical. So oddly, having the graphics settings on “fail at life” actually helps the game to look more original.

The singleplayer game, by the way, is the single newest thing to the Unreal Tournament experience, but it’s also the single greatest failing of the latest entry in the series. The storyline has heaps of melodrama and tension without any clear direction or logic. With little explanation of who, where, or what, the game plunks you down into a vast conflict. It’s therefore difficult to care about the ugly folks bitching each other out about their lack of professional military experience. The writing exists somewhere between the play-ground arguments of ten year olds, and cliché action flick pissing contests.

Particularly distressing is all of the frequent self-aware attempts at humor of classic UT gameplay mechanics. It's not funny to have the flags in CTF be given an acronym like FlaG, accompanied by an explanation for how they're used in power generators. It's even less funny when, during a match, your computer-controlled teammates comment on how those generator components really just look like flags. It falls flat.

All of these quibblings, however, are irrelevant to a game like Unreal Tournament; it’s all about how the beast plays. Let me sum it up for you: Unreal Tournament 3 is Unreal Tournament 2KWhatever with hoverboards, and fewer players in the battles. That’s it. You’ve basically seen 80% of the gameplay before, if not more, by having every paid attention to this Madden of PC FPSs. It’s always a bad sign when the newest iteration in a series makes you want to install the older version.

The most notable change to the game is the scaling back in players. Many of UT3’s maps are set up to be played by eight to ten people, a vast reduction from previous games. The huge pitched CTF games, the four-team deathmatch games, and the hilarious assault gameplay where twelve people would constantly curse at twelve other people are all conspicuously missing. The introduction of Warfare, a mode that’s essentially a structured version of Battlefield’s area control gameplay, does little to make up for these losses.

click to enlargeThe vehicles seem like they should be an interesting addition to the game; there’s a lot of variety there, with tanks and little jeeps and hover-jet things. Mostly, though, they feel imbalanced and like a desperate attempt to be a Battlefield game. In the typical skirmish they’re far too powerful in competent hands. Folks stuck plodding across the ground can barely scratch the things; even the Avril, a rocket launcher ostensibly meant for taking out vehicles, doesn’t prove very effective.

The biggest weakness of the vehicles, however, is how poorly they are worked into so much of the level design. There are a few maps especially built for vehicles, and these really shine. There’s some real stinkers, though, where the vehicle-friendly paths are sufficiently convoluted or awkward so that it’s more worthwhile to just float around on the hoverboards.

Speaking of which, the hoverboard does make an interesting addition to the game, especially on CTF maps. Moving quickly while horking a flag is nice, and it's well balanced by how visible a target it makes you. A solid shot will knock you off the board, slowing you up. It’s a nice trade-off, and smart use of the board becomes very important.

However, in CTF maps that feature both the hoverboards and the vehicles, the concept starts to fall apart. Vehicles are faster than the hoverboard, but not as good at traversing different landscapes. You still have to use the hoverboard when you have a flag, though, because for some inexplicable reason, you can’t take flags into vehicles. Perhaps because of the small 'a' in FLaG.

This balance doesn’t work terribly well, though; since vehicles come loaded with powerful weapons, you can just park outside a base and rain hell down on the area while another guy slips in to get the flag. Then the flag carrier can grapple onto the back of a vehicle and get yanked halfway across the map in seconds, with the other team unable to get much real response in.

click to enlargeA lot of the core problems in the gameplay are nothing new; CTF games where one side can pull some dickish thing and be halfway across the map with your flag before you can respawn are classic. UT3 just goes an extra step or two to exacerbate the problem.

The user-interface was clearly designed with consoles in mind. It’s stylized and inconvenient. Valuable things are nested a few levels deep in menus, and in-game controls for the advanced video options are condensed, stealing control from the user. You’re also tied to an online profile for most things, so if you were hoping to play through the singleplayer portion of the game offline, you’re essentially out of luck. Oh, you can start it, but you better not stop – without a log-in, your progress isn’t saved.

It’s hard to really judge a game that hands its users a comprehensive modding kit. Because in six months, many of my complaints may be completely nullified by the modding community. Out of the box, however, Unreal Tournament 3 is a mediocre presentation, and brings little new to the table. You might as well re-install UT2K4.
C+ Revolution report card
  • Looks good…
  • …if your computer’s got the chutzpah.
  • Lots of vehicles…
  • …that are overpowered or impossible to drive.
  • An actual singleplayer experience…
  • …that is terribly written.
  • Modding tools!

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More information about Unreal Tournament 3
Also known as: unreal tournament 2007

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