Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Midway Games
Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: July 7, 2008
There is nothing more frustrating to a video gamer as a delay. We watch the release date of a title inch forward, place a deposit at the local game store, look at every screenshot and read every magazine article, only to have something cause the release date to be pushed back another six months. It's the deepest circle of video gamer hell. Something even worse than that is when unexpected delays cause a multiplatform game to come out on every system but your chosen one. This was the case with Unreal Tournament 3, where the Xbox 360 version was held back from release due to a conflict between Microsoft's Xbox Live rules and what Epic Games wanted to do with fan-created content. It's been a long six months for Xbox 360 owners, but at long last, the wait is almost over.
Unreal Tournament 3 isn't really too different from the previous Unreal Tournament titles. Either alone or in a team, you take control of a battle-hardened space marine or terrible alien monster and blow the living daylights out of each other with futuristic weapons. UT3 includes a hefty helping of gameplay modes, such as the classic Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. In addition to those mainstays, however, UT3 also includes a Warfare mode, where two teams compete to capture various points on the map, nicknamed "nodes." While none of these modes are particularly new, they've been polished to a mirror shine, and each provides a different and interesting way to eliminate enemies and work with your friends.
Newcomers to the Unreal Tournament will be glad to hear that the game offers a single-player mode that doubles as a tutorial. The single-player mode stars Reaper, a character who is similar to — but legally distinct from — Gear of War's Marcus Fenix. He's a hardcore mercenary who is badly wounded on the battlefield and ends up having to pledge his services to the corporation that saved his life. He starts off doing odd jobs for them, but before long, Reaper is caught up in a war between humanity and a race of space zombies called the Necris. The story serves as a bemusing tongue-in-cheek tutorial for the multiplayer gameplay, and it teaches you about respawners, vehicles and Field Lattice Generators (FLAGs) while helping you build up your basic skills for multiplayer combat. While the UT3 single-player campaign isn't going to be anything more than a sideshow to the multiplayer gameplay, it is certainly nice of Epic Games to provide a way for newcomers to hone their skills. Those who are looking for a bit of help can even bring in a friend to play the single-player campaign in co-op mode, which makes some missions less frustrating and trains players to work with another person, rather than making do with AI bots.
Unreal Tournament has always been known for its distinctive and interesting weapon selection, and UT3 doesn't change that up too much; the weapons retain that excellent flair found in Unreal Tournament 2004. Most of the weapons are returning from the older games, including the devastating Redeemer, the all-purpose Link Gun, and the shotgun-on-steroids Flak Cannon. Joining the returning UT2004 weapons are the Tarydium Stinger, which is a holdover from Unreal Championship and functions as a minigun from hell, with two separate firing modes that dispense either super-accurate blasts or slow, powerful and less accurate shots. The Enforcer and Impact Hammer also return from the original Unreal Tournament. While none of these weapons are exactly new, each weapon has been tweaked and modified to ensure a greater weapon balance and give each a unique use.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of UT3 is its wide variety of vehicles. Some of them are returning from the older Unreal Tournament, such as the speedy Manta and the flying Raptor vehicles, both of which are armed to the teeth with lasers and are capable of ramming enemies and breaking every bone in their bodies. Other vehicles are exclusive to Unreal Tournament 3, such as those used by the Necris. Enemy vehicles include such monstrosities as the Nemesis, a mobile turret of death, and the Nightshade, a tank capable of turning itself invisible. As for weaknesses, these vehicles require a different skill set to drive and can only be repaired by the Link Gun; most importantly, though, they are giant, loud and very obvious targets. Tool around in a Manta for too long, and prepare to have an AVRiL missile cut your joyride short.
One of the most interesting changes to the Unreal Tournament mold is the introduction of The Orb is a new item that's available to anyone playing on a level that includes nodes, which are claimable areas on various maps. Capturing a node is not an easy task. If the node is under an enemy's control, players must unleash a devastating array of attacks to destroy the node and then defend the location until their own node is built. Each node is connected to other nodes, and capturing a straight "line" of nodes is usually necessary to defeat the opposing side, although some nodes just exist to provide bonus weapons and vehicles to whichever side has them. Defending and capturing these nodes is one of the most challenging tasks in Unreal Tournament 3, as it relies on teamwork, planning, and a healthy dose of luck to keep a well-aimed rocket barrage from cutting off your network.
The Orb completely changes the task of capturing a node. Each base has an Orb Spawner, and when an Orb is picked up, it follows the carrier until he approaches a node. If the node belongs to an enemy, your Orb is destroyed, but the node ownership instantly changes to your team. If the node belongs to your team, the Orb turns that node invincible for as long as the Orb carrier is nearby. If the Orb carrier is shot or otherwise killed, the Orb remains intact for 15 seconds, and if nobody picks it up within that time, it is destroyed. Alternately, a member of the opposing side can choose to sacrifice himself to destroy the Orb before its clock runs out. Managing the Orb is crucial to winning in Unreal Tournament 3. If someone hangs out around a useless node while team members are throwing themselves futilely against a well-defended enemy node, or if someone decides to capture the enemy base while a Leviathan is pounding your ill-defended node, it can mean a quick and messy loss. Proper Orb usage also allows for devastatingly quick victories.
It's been a long wait for Xbox 360 owners, but Unreal Tournament 3 is finally coming. While little has changed between the PC and Xbox 360 releases of the title, the name Unreal Tournament alone should be enough to pique a first-person shooter fan's interest. While Unreal Tournament doesn't exactly breach new ground in the FPS field, the polished and exciting gameplay should more than make up for any real lack of innovation. Die-hard FPS fans or casual gamers looking for a break between Halo and Call of Duty 4 would do well to check out Unreal Tournament 3 when it hits stores this July.
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