Harry Milonas
16 Dec, 2007

Unreal Tournament III Review

PC Review | Breakneck multiplayer mayhem returns.
Players weaned on the slower-paced combat found within most recent popular shooters will find Unreal Tournament III's twitch mechanics a learning experience in itself. To a lesser degree, so will UT2003/2004 veterans. Let the record show that the series has never cared for contrived attrition, with UT3 taking that mantra in line with the original UT. Containing both a single-player 'campaign' of sorts, along with its meat and potatoes multiplayer mode, UT3 above all takes pride in its near ludicrous sense of shooting anything and everything that moves.

Of course, that's not to say that the UT gameplay methodology is 'brainless' by any means, but it sure is exhilarating for what little effort is required to pull off a 'Multikill', or any other multitude of in-your-face player performance rewards signature to the series. Such rewards however are a curious stalemate, when one considers Epic's attempts at creating a more cohesive narrative, at least in terms of UT3's single-player mode. The UT 'story' this time around does away with the sports arena styling of previous instalments, instead attempting to bring a more traditional testosterone-filled sci-fi plot to the table. Shades of Gears of War will no doubt pass over many a player as the campaign's cutscenes and vocal briefings almost exclusively unfold the somewhat uninspired proceedings of a corporate/alien/blokes with big guns war. Gone are the win/loss stat recordings or team management options of UT2003/2004, with only an illusion of choice of which 'mission' should be plot next, along with a negligibly helpful cheat 'card' reward system offered upon match completion.

On the plus side, the single-player campaign can be played online co-operatively, with up to three other people. Fundamentally speaking however, whether by oneself or in co-op mode, the campaign is essentially a series of matches against unbalanced AI-controlled bots on the same modes and maps one could be playing against other humans. While the tongue-in-cheek plot reasoning behind contextualising traditional multiplayer design into an essentially war torn storyline may be entertaining for awhile, more engaging commitments lie elsewhere in UT3 -- not even the likes of the embarrassingly amusing capture the flag 'FLaG' acronym will be enough for most players to see the campaign through to its contrived end. Indeed, one could even go so far as to play UT3 completely offline against the game's all-round bot support in any mode available they wish. But with said modes providing ample opportunities to let one's fellow UT3 players suffer on the wrong end of a rocket launcher, such a choice would be a gross loss. With UT3’s 'new' 'Vehicle CTF' and 'Warfare' modes, there's a bit of everything to satisfy the twitch gamer within.

Team Testosterone would like to point out that, contrary to popular rumour, they are
not overcompensating for anything whatsoever.

Team Testosterone would like to point out that, contrary to popular rumour, they are
not overcompensating for anything whatsoever.
While Vehicle CTF is self-explanatory, it's the Warfare mode in particular that provides the best example of just how hectic, but also strategically versatile a typical match of UT3 can get. With two opposing teams pushing forward for control of a varying number of nodes on a map, winning isn't as easy as simply holding an arbitrary area on a level. This is far from UT2003/2004’s Onslaught mode. Depending on the map in play, a variety of environmental and gameplay variables can change up the pace, with last minute comebacks not unheard of for those that take advantage of them. Throw in the possibility of using one’s team orb to speed up and/or protect the node capture process, and the amount of strategy involved unsurprisingly leads to a constant tug of war for control, with matches more often than not leading into overtime. Some maps may even contain side nodes that, while not part of the central route of nodes that ultimately lead to exposing the opposing team's vulnerable base core, they nevertheless provide access to alternate attack routes or heavily armed vehicles.

Whatever the map in rotation, the design of almost each and every one of them demonstrates the level of inventiveness and variety Epic’s level creators have reached. Every UT instalment brings a multitude of eye-popping maps, while also keeping in mind the important notion of gameplay balance, and UT3 is no exception. In fact, it could be argued quite a few of UT3’s maps may be too ambitious, coming across as overwhelming to the new player. Throw in a range of vehicles which represent the series’ established along with a couple of new additions, and things enter even more of a confusing grey area.

Separated into two contrasting themes, that of human and alien vehicle sets, the motors get more interesting the more extraterrestrial in design they are. While both races of vehicles are seemingly balanced with a contrasting one from the opposing race, some maps just don’t feel designed with vehicles in mind. But that doesn’t mean the likes of the floating alien Half-Life 2 strider-like vehicle aren’t fun to stomp around in -- just artificial in placement. Undoubtedly the most fun of all for both parties though, is the addition of a Back to the Future inspired hoverboard, that infantry can whip out at a moment's notice, and even attach to the bumper bar of a larger moving team vehicle to speed things up even more so -- the downside being that a single hit from an enemy weapon will knock the player, and whatever flag they were carrying, over.

Check out my fully sick rims, bro.

Check out my fully sick rims, bro.
At this point, if it sounds like there’s a lot more of the 'same ol', same ol' to UT3, with negligible additions, it’s because well, there is. From the Flak Cannon to the Redeemer weapon set, to the basic deathmatch and capture the flag modes; there’s not much in-between, bar the hybrid 'new' Warfare mode for UT veterans to get excited about gameplay wise, if they’ve just installed any other UT game. But that’s not to say that’s a bad thing either. While other first-person shooters deck their design with as many features as possible, UT3 has tried to ring together everything that the majority of players love about the series, while also throwing out the unnecessary gimmicks -- the UT2K adrenaline moves the most welcome loss. It’s just a shame that in the process of streamlining the game (no doubt in anticipation of upcoming console ports), UT3 has nevertheless lost a bit of what others players may have enjoyed from UT2003/2004 in particular -- where for art thou Domination, Assault, Invasion, Mutant et al? It can be argued UT3’s customisation options help remedy that to a degree, but it remains to be seen if the average player will discover that -- blast those horridly consolised menu screens.

Of course, what hasn’t been lost above all is the eye candy factor of the series. As to be expected with a game running on Epic's Unreal Engine 3, UT3 looks the part, and then some. Whether on a top of line system or a just over three-year-old graphics card, the engine manages above all to render a respectable frame rate, even if it sometimes is at the cost of the more delectable eye candy. Case in point with those aging video cards, while we were blown away by the level of detail when playing on a rig hovering around the recommended specs for UT3, testing the game on a Radeon 9550 with a GB of RAM and a single core 1.8 Ghz AMD Sempron processor proved just as playable -- albeit with an overly blurry, muddy and lightless sheen. It's a downright shame though that UT3 doesn't break the mould as far as its art direction goes. While we're not recommending Epic reinvigorate the series with a cel-shaded makeover, it's at least more colourful than Epic's previous Gears of War effort, mixing up the grey and brown hues, for a few patches of reds and blues.

The same mixed sentiments could be said about UT3's audio department. Keeping the electronic style of previous instalments intact, UT3’s doesn’t come across as memorable as UT2003/2004’s soundtrack. Curiously enough however, UT3’s soundtrack is gameplay dynamic, with it ramping up in tempo and instruments as the on-screen action heats up, and calming down during the quieter times. But quieter times are few and far between with the roaring range of announcer soundbites and the exchanges of the contents of one’s weapons. Meaty and bassy, UT3’s sound effects make up for the sometime muted range of its musical pieces. If only they could’ve done something about the voice cast’s overdramatic and/or cheesetastic delivery of dialogue.

Othello wondered why he kept losing at hide and seek.

Othello wondered why he kept losing at hide and seek.
With a game like UT3’s emphasis on online multiplayer, special note must be made of the state of play on public servers -- or to be more precise, the lack thereof. While most new games of its ilk usually garner a heap of interest from server operators and players alike within the first week of release, UT3 has been finding a hard time if server browser findings are anything to go by. With barely more than a handful of Australian servers operating one or two Deathmatch and Warfare servers, at least the community will be a closely knit one. The question is "for how long", since such low support could make or break the game’s invaluable online aspects if the issue doesn't improve soon. It could be argued endlessly about why UT3 has received such a reception, but they’ll no doubt all lead to choice in timing.

The Unreal Tournament franchise has always had a peculiar timing with its releases. From going head-to-head with Quake, the once undefeated king of deathmatch, to finding itself having to adapt in a post-vehicular/'realistic' multiplayer industry, Epic Games' UT series has somehow managed to stand its ground. These days however, the multiplayer ring is as varied as ever, with the likes of Call of Duty 4, Halo 3 and Team Fortress 2 beckoning for one's free time. But UT3 stands by exactly what it says on the box. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than the sum of its series best parts, and nor need it to. While there are areas of the game, such as the single-player campaign mode, that could have seen the insides of the designers’ bin for the sake of development time spent elsewhere, UT3 does its darndest to bring its own brand of turbulent mayhem to the party -- even if it sometimes does feel a tad familiar.
The Score
It may not be so much a stride than a baby step for the series, but Unreal Tournament III still manages to offer a solid return for pure hectic multiplayer entertainment. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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6 years ago
the caption for the first image is great. i think we need a new category in the Let's Vote! awards - Best Caption.
6 years ago
My import of the PS3 version should be arriving tomorrow icon_biggrin.gif
6 years ago
Solid Review. I disagree about the art design to an extent - I find the redesigned Necris soldiers to look incredible, and some of the levels like Omicron Dawn look absolutely breathtaking.

That being said, a lot of the DM maps tend to be a little stale and too 'metallic'. Some of them have a more organic feel but most generally feel really cold and hard.

Still a fantastic game and well worth getting. And the servers are up, it's just that the main UT players like myself are playing in Private servers icon_wink.gif
6 years ago
I'll be hitting this up on the PS3 when it is released. Never had a dose of UT so i think it's about time.
6 years ago
FrozenPoo wrote
Solid Review. I disagree about the art design to an extent - I find the redesigned Necris soldiers to look incredible, and some of the levels like Omicron Dawn look absolutely breathtaking.
I agree, like what are they going to do with the art direction instead of the way they went? It's supposed to be gritty/futuristic and kind of dirty.
Well that's the way UT series has been from what I have played anyways.
I quite like the game but it's just not my type of FPS, a bit too much twitch gunning for my liking, but I can see how the foaming at the mouth, caffeine fiend ,hawkeyed gamers can like it. icon_razz.gif (that was a joke)
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  29/11/2007 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
  Red Ant
Year Made:
System Requirements:
Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista
2.0+ GHZ Single Core Processor
512 Mbytes of System RAM
NIVIDIA 6200+ or ATI Radeon 9600+ Video Card
8 GB of Free Hard Drive Space

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