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Review: Unreal Tournament 3 - PC, PS3, Xbox 360 - 9.4

November 25, 2007

Unreal Tournament 3 brings back the old-school multiplayer mayhem of the series...

Since 1999, the Unreal Tournament series has been at the forefront of fast-paced, online, PC multiplayer action. It's combination of fast gameplay, outrageous weapons, huge map selection, and easy modification have made it the poster-child for the PC gaming scene and a popular tournament game. Epic's latest iteration of the franchise, Unreal Tournament 3, attempts to continue and further the legacy of its forerunners.

To start off, this game is a different beast from Epic's other recent blockbuster, Gears of War. Whereas Gears rewards slow pacing, cover gameplay, and had more of a focus on the campaign and co-op, UT's strength is its FPS multiplayer.

Every match is fast-paced, with characters rapidly moving across the map either to get to objectives or blow the crap out of each other. This isn't like Halo or Counterstrike, which are slow-paced and tactical, but a game that follows more in the vein of games like Quake, where players often live for less than ten seconds and are instantly respawned only to watch their body parts and gore fly across the map yet again.

UT3 has a plethora of gametypes, especially when compared to pretty much any other game on the market. These include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Duel, Warfare, and Vehicle Capture the Flag. They are all varied and should appeal to all fans of shooters in some ways. The majority of these game modes are self-explanatory and should be familiar to FPS fans. Duel consists of two players taking turns on a tournament ladder in one-on-one deathmatches. Warfare is probably UT3's most complicated and developed gametype. It puts two teams on opposite sides of the map and tasks them with taking out the other team's "power core." In order to do that, a team has to capture "power nodes" which eventually link one power core to another. To capture a node, a member of a team has to stand on it and trigger its capture sequence. The node then glows the color of the corresponding team and starts to gain hit-points. When the bar is full, the node is captured. In order to capture a node from another team, players must fire on the captured node until it loses all of its hitpoints. On some levels, teams are granted orbs which instantly capture power nodes that they touch, regardless of their status. Once a core is not connected to any nodes, the shield around it drops and the opposing team gains the ability to damage it. Some maps include objectives and special nodes which grant teams rewards such as alternate routes, or special vehicles. Maps range in size, from small to large ones requiring at least five minutes of travel to get from one end to the other.

The weapons included in UT3 are standard Unreal Tournament fare, meaning they might seem strange to newcomers to the series. You have weapons such as the Flak Gun, which is a highly modified shotgun; a shock rifle, with two firing modes which fire orbs or beams and allow you to pull off devastating combos; a rocket launcher, which allows you to load up to three rockets at once and fire them in three different ways; a link gun, which serves as both a weapon, a repair tool, and a teammate damage booster, and many more. The guns are all incredibly unique and are fit for radically different situations. There is no reload system in the game, allowing you to empty out all of your ammo for a particular gun without reloading once. This might seem strange, but is actually a nice design decision considering the pacing of matches. Weapon-switching is extremely fast, even though it has been slowed down a bit from the previous version of UT. This means that you will often see pro players fire five different weapons in the space of two or three seconds. Again, the pacing of the game is just insane compared to other shooters.

VCTF and Warfare include a selection of well-designed and unique vehicles. On one side, you got the Axon vehicles, including ones ranging from the small Manta hovercraft (reminiscent of Halo's Ghost), all the way up to the enormous, seven-seater Leviathan with multiple turret defenses and a deployable cannon mode. On the other side, you have the much more exotic Necris vehicles, including ones such as the infamous Dark Walker, a tripod with several firing modes and huge amounts of armor. All of UT3's vehicles are incredibly varied, each possessing unique weaponry and fulfilling different roles on the battlefield. They are improved when compared to UT2004, as they no longer feel overbalanced against infantry and are much easier to take out.

For UT3, Epic decided to try something new with the series and give it somewhat of a single-player campaign. While an improvement over the virtual tournaments found in the past games, and it can be played in co-op, UT3's campaign is really nothing more than a series of gametypes fought against bots tied loosely together by the occasional cutscene. The story is nothing worth following, and all you really need to know is that an army of Necris (undead) have invaded a random planet out in the middle of the galaxy and that you are part of a team of muscular behemoths who are fighting back against them. The campaign often seems to drag on at times and the characters have even less personality in them than in Epic's Gears of War. To add insult to this, Epic decided to have it end in a cliffhanger, as all games do nowadays. But, the difference here is that you really won't care about what happens next. UT3's meat and potatoes is in the multiplayer, and thats always been the case for the series.

Running on Unreal Engine 3, this is Epic's second game using their newest technology. It looks superb, and the amount of detail put into the environments is astounding for a multiplayer game. Epic has clearly learned a lot since Gears of War, and it shows, producing a game whose looks are top-tier in the market. Added to all of this, it runs extremely smoothly on high-end rigs and can be scaled down easily to run fast and look good on older ones, which has always been a hallmark of the UT series.

Since this game has such a focus on multiplayer, I believe its appropriate to mention the interface and range of options found in this game. The UT series has always been known for a simplistic but easy-to-use interface, allowing players to quickly filter servers and join a game with friends and clan mates. The options menu always provided the player the ability to tweak everything from his FOV, to announcer voice, to crosshair colors, to sound settings, etc.

Unfortunately, UT3 is a step back in this regard. Missing are the large selection of graphics customization sliders, having been reduced to two sliders: World Detail and Texture Detail. Oh, and a V-sync checkbox. The server browser interface has an odd console feel to it, and won't even let you get to the list of servers without first picking a gametype. The browser itself is less helpful than previous iterations, giving even less information than before. Thankfully, Epic has stated that the upcoming patch will fix most of these issues and that they won't leave their community hanging for too long.

All in all, UT3 is a superb old-school-style shooter. It plays great, looks beautiful, and runs well. However, since Epic didn't want to alienate past fans of the series, it doesn't offer many innovations besides in the field of graphics. It is hurt by its strangely subpar interface, but Epic has promised to fix it. While there are a few quirks with the game itself, UT3 remains a faithful entry in a successful multiplayer game series.

Gameplay: 9.5 – Unreal Tournament has always been know for its superb multiplayer gameplay. UT3 is no exception. Fans of the series might be annoyed by the lack of innovation, but "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Presentation: 9 – The multiplayer is presented well, with constant notifications and match tracking which allow you to understand what's going around. Unfortunately, the campaign is weak. Also, some of the menus have been overly simplified, lending it a console-like feel. Epic has stated that this will be fixed in the first patch, however.
Graphics: 9.5 – Unreal Engine 3 really shines through here. Showing some moderate improvements over Gears of War, UT3 is one of the best-looking games of 2007. The sci-fi environments are extremely detailed. Weapon and vehicle models are incredibly varied. Also, the engine is extremely smooth, and scales all the way from low-end rigs up to Quad-Core 8800 monsters.
Sound: 9 – UT3 preserves the range and outrageousness of awards and announcements inherent in the series. Weapons sound distinct, and the Necris vehicles make an eerie addition to a map's soundscape. The ambient tracks fit the mood of each map.
Value: 10 – UT3 offers tons of multiplayer maps, modes, and options. It includes the newest version of the Unreal Editor, allowing easy map and mod-making. If you're a fan of multiplayer shooters, then UT3 will find itself at home on your hard drive... at least until the next one is released.

Final Score: 9.4 - Unreal Tournament 3 continues the series' long tradition of offering intense multiplayer mayhem and outstanding graphical accomplishments.

Marcin Skok
"The Gaming Corner"