Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: November 23, 2007
Unreal Tournament has been fragging players for over eight years with its furious action, community mods and wide support from other games that have licensed the technology to create worlds of their own. UT has always given players something to shoot at, both on- and offline with its futuristic, sci-fi charged battles and now, with the Unreal Engine in its third iteration, the newest offering, Unreal Tournament 3, delivers another dose of adrenaline.
UT3's single-player campaign tries to play off multiplayer concepts such as spawning, control points and capture the flag in an awkward attempt to make sense out of them as a part of a story. The visuals during cut scenes are very cool, and the immense amount of work that went into developing a game storyline for UT3 is impressive. This makes me wish that I could have seen the single-player campaign as a separate title, though. Instead, it comes off as a mostly forgettable experience better served by Gears of War, which seems to have taken the place of the roles that Unreal and Unreal II had traditionally occupied. The single-player mode gives you a grand tour of the game modes, maps and the brutal AI bots that inhabit each map, providing something for newcomers who want to get up to speed with the easy-to-use controls before heading out into the wild.
In particular, the bots are brutal gladiators when you face off against them individually, but when it comes to team coordination, the AI is not as sharp. You can tell them what to do in a limited sense through a command console on the battlefield, but when it comes to protecting nodes or moving ahead in claiming territory, expect to do most of the work yourself. Then again, if you encounter a gladiator in a dark alley while hopped up on god-like difficulty, expect not to come back in one piece.
But the single-player story isn't why most people play Unreal Tournament, as just about everyone goes in for the multiplayer carnage. Epic's newest tour de force manages to maintain the frenetic pacing of the past while making a few tweaks that not every veteran may appreciate.
For starters, you're required to create a profile and password, which must be used every time you want to play UT3. Once logged in, you have the option of playing the Campaign mode either online with others, offline with bots, or you can jump right into the multiplayer action and mix it up across a fairly large selection of maps and game types that can support up to 32 players in most modes. The menu feels as if the simple design has been dumbed down for its upcoming release on consoles, requiring you to sweep through several options instead of simply giving you what you want to see on fewer screens, not to mention the bizarre requirement of "logging in."
Playing offline will also bring up the occasional annoying message that you will be missing out on online options, as if you needed a further reminder. The clunky and somewhat buggy multiplayer menu isn't much better, requiring you to go through several pages of options instead of keeping things nice and tidy on one or two screens. At one point, the map names actually doubled up on my list of game types for hosting.
You can customize your own avatar from a variety of models and go in as a human, a goth Necris warrior with bad complexion or one of the cold-blooded, reptilian Krall warriors. You can even swap out a variety of armor pieces and colors to customize your look online, with more character options unlocked during the Campaign mode. Once you're ready to prove your worth, it's off to find some opponents against whom you need to march.
Servers are listed depending on what game type you've chosen, and it works pretty much as you'd expect it to, but it can be a little buggy. When I tried to pick a different game type from the server listing, it wouldn't refresh for whatever reason until I left the list completely and restarted the entire process from one of the previous menus. I'd also occasionally get disconnected from a server when a game would end, logging me out completely and booting me out of multiplayer. Listening to its hardest critics, the fans, Epic has already stated that they're working on patches to help improve the menus and performance issues at the time of this review.
If you've never played Unreal Tournament before, the harrowing, fast-paced action might come as a bit of a surprise as players dodge strafe, double jump and otherwise whip across the battlefield in arcade-paced speed kills. Many of the juicy effects powered by the new Unreal Engine are in full display here, as glowing flak embers scatter in the air, explosions turn players into ground meat, and the shimmering purple of a damage amplifier causes infighting over the right to bear it during its short-lived existence.
Vehicles also play a huge role on many of the maps, whether it's an old favorite like the Axon Goliath tank or a new toy such as the Axon Leviathan, a mobile battle fortress capable of carrying several players onboard. A few other new vehicles, such as the Necris Darkwalker tripod or the sphere-like Necris Scavenger, add plenty of other weirdness to what you'll be fighting on the battlefield. Most of the UT weapons also return, such as the bio and sniper rifles; the shield gun has been retired in favor of the impact hammer, and "The Redeemer" is back to deliver a limited nuclear exchange, whether you want to fire it from the hip or guide it in yourself.
Battles are waged across huge, sprawling maps filled with tunnels, narrow alleyways, open-air deathtraps and choke points. Translocators make a return, allowing you to shoot out a disc and teleport to wherever it might land, and a hoverboard enables you to quickly glide slightly above the ground. You can hitch a ride by attaching yourself to a vehicle traveling the same way that you're heading, but getting hit while pretending to be Tony Hawk can be a painful experience. Particularly daring players who have the enemy flag can make a good escape using one of these, but hitching a ride on the back of a vehicle can use a little practice, as it can be too easy to lose your link, leaving most players to glide their own way to the front lines.
Several previous modes, such as Invasion, Bombing Run and Mutant, are missing from the multiplayer list, and Duel and Warfare are two of the newer options. Warfare, in particular, blends together Domination, Assault and a little Bombing Run gameplay across its own set of maps, with or without vehicles. Few of the original maps from the previous titles, like Deck and Torlan, have made the transition over to UT3 so the amount of included content feels as light as the menus. This might be remedied later with downloadable content or community mods, but it's not difficult to notice how much less there is here, especially when compared to UT2K4's massive load of goodies.
Aside from the regular selection of basic modes, Warfare pits players against each other on a map where a chain of control points link energy cores belonging to both teams. You link together a series of these nodes by taking control of them; a team can make the other team's energy core vulnerable to attack, allowing the attackers to destroy it and win the round.
Adding a Bombing Run twist to Warfare's gameplay is a special orb that spawns for either team, allowing it to instantly convert an unused or enemy node. Teams will usually drop what they're doing when they see an enemy orb on their mini-map approaching a vital control node as everyone swarms to protect — or attack — it, forcing battles to swing either way, with one team on the verge of victory only to be pushed back down mere seconds later. Additionally, several maps have resources that can be unlocked by whichever team takes control of particular nodes, unlocking abilities that allow them to flood the enemy core or spawn new vehicles, like tanks or Darkwalkers.
It all looks good, although it may overly remind one of Epic's recent Gears of War, which makes sense, since UT3 is powered by the same engine. Epic's artists have pulled together a wide variety of architectures and outdoor areas filled with an incredible level of detail, ranging from Shangri La's buildings to the alien organic corridors of the Necris. Effects fill the air with heat trails and burn their way across the battlefield as plasma lances out from the head of a Necris walker across arenas. Sound effects are filled with your usual explosions and crunchy frag bits, and no one will mistake a Necris Darkwalker's shriek for anything else as it echoes across the battlefield. Solid voice work will taunt players and provide some narration during the campaign, and the music provides just enough nostalgia for longtime veterans.
Unreal Tournament 3 updates the series' gladiatorial action with a new look, at the same time harkening back to the fast-paced multiplayer gameplay that the series began with the original Unreal Tournament nearly eight years ago. With an editor for ambitious modders to go in and tweak the game to their satisfaction, it's only a matter of time before the community begins flexing its collective imagination. Veterans might not be so impressed, however, given the somewhat-thin selection of multiplayer options and available maps when compared to its predecessors. UT3 still manages to retain much of the series' classic twitch-fu for whenever you feel the need to jump in for a few rounds of unrelenting action. It may not be as revolutionary as some may have hoped, but UT3 continues to deliver that little extra something with which FPS aficionados can test their reflexes.
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