Unreal Tournament 3 (PC)

I loved the day I was given this to review for play.tm. At the time it was the biggest PC game I’d had to review.

‘Good things come to those who wait’ and ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Two phrases that instantly spring to mind when you load up Unreal Tournament III. Strangely it’s actually the fourth in the series but Epic Games have gone for naming it in line with the game engine used, in this case the Unreal 3 engine. It’s been 3 years since the release of Unreal Tournament 2004 and it’s been a long arduous wait for fans with numerous delays abound before its eventual and timely release. Some would say it was a bit of a risky time to release it, near the launch of Crysis and Call of Duty 4. But instead it was a perfect move by Epic Games because this game is incomparable with the others. It may attempt a story but deep down, it is all about pure, frantic multiplayer action.

For the two of you who know nothing of the Unreal Tournament series (and how is life under that rock, by the way?), the series began back in 1999 as a follow up to the single player game Unreal. Focusing primarily on the multiplayer market and launched as a competitor to Quake 3 Arena, the game was a phenomenal hit sparking a number of sequels each attempting to add upon the previous game’s accomplishments, mostly extra maps and improved AI. The game had a simple premise, you play a nameless combatant within a tournament comprising of all the most popular forms of multiplayer FPS action such as deathmatch and capture the flag. You shoot your way through a number of different maps before finally winning the tournament. There is no real story to speak of, just fast paced action involving you running around a small arena shooting at anything that moves. Occasionally there would be team matches requiring you to (in theory) stick together as a team to accomplish the goal such as controlling various points of the map. And that, as they say in show business, is that. Nothing any more complicated than shooting at your opponent. Yet it still managed to be engrossing and the twitchy FPS player’s wet dream. Compared to Quake 3, Unreal Tournament had arguably superior bot AI, a wider range of multiplayer options and the ability to use alternate fire from your weapon as well as primary fire, giving you a few extra options. Throw in excellent mod support and it was a huge hit. But you all know that already, what you really want to know is whether Unreal Tournament III can stand up to his father and show him who is king of the multiplayer FPS games. You may be pleased to know that yes it has, even if it isn’t all that different from its Dad.

Epic Games, as is often the way, have opted to improve upon a sure-fire hit formula. Rather than adding anything too revolutionary, they’ve gone for improving what’s already there, which makes perfect sense. Why reinvent the wheel when it’s already doing everything you expect it to do? The first thing you will most likely notice (once you get past creating an online account for yourself) is what options are initially open to you. There is the choice of instant action (throw yourself into an arena of bots, handy for a quick game), the multiplayer mode and the campaign mode. I found myself immediately drawn to the campaign mode, mostly because I expected it to be somewhat weaker than the multiplayer mode, because after all it’s always more enjoyable to shoot ‘real people’ than bots, for the reaction you get off them if nothing else. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by a slightly meatier version of the campaign mode that has been used throughout the series. There is actually an attempt at a story this time round, sure it’s no Half Life, but at least there’s a bit more of a reason as to why you are involved in this campaign. The story revolves around a team of mercenaries led by a very friendly sounding man by the name of Reaper (you). With their home colony and its inhabitants destroyed, they seek revenge against the Necris, an evil alien race out for destruction. Within about 5 minutes you won’t actually care much about the cliched plot, but it’s nice to have it there and to see Epic put a bit more work into the single player campaign. It also provides a nice warm up before delving into the multiplayer mode. The campaign manages to display some extremely good quality cut scenes to explain the story, for those of you who have played Gears of War, you will know exactly what to expect from this engine. The faces of the characters look very nearly real and even on an averagely specced PC it will still impress thanks to just how widely scaleable the graphic options are. The campaign does try to pretend that it’s non linear by offering you a mission select map screen but in reality, it’s all been plotted out for you already. In a strange sort of way it reminded me of the map screen in Street Fighter 2, a great illusion of choice but ultimately constricting. There is the inclusion of a ‘card’ system, designed to sometimes change the rules of a mission dependent on what card you play; however it feels a bit gimmicky and I suspect most people would rather just get on with the mindless killing. On the whole, the campaign feels like an introduction to the multiplayer mode, giving you the comfort of fighting the AI rather than real people, which is always handy for the newbies of the online FPS world. It is quite a nice touch that you can play the campaign online with someone, so that it is humans against the AI. Again, a handy feature if you’re new and nervy. Just set up an online campaign with a friend till you’ve covered the basics then get on a public server and blast away some real opponents.

Obviously for the veterans of the Unreal Tournament series, all you really care about is the multiplayer. And you won’t be disappointed at all. As usual there are standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes, as you would see in pretty much all multiplayer FPS modes. There is also the last man standing mode as seen in previous Unreal Tournaments. There are then a few new modes. Duel changes the pace somewhat, changing the action to a one on one battle with other players able to spectate. There is a vehicle capture the flag mode which is identical to regular capture the flag but with the addition of vehicles (which I’m sure you couldn’t guess from the title!) and then there is the real meat of the multiplayer modes: the Warfare mode.

The Warfare mode already looks to be the most popular server type available at the moment and there’s no surprise as to why that is. The mode revolves around the concept of two teams each having a base with a power core that the opponent needs to damage and destroy to win. Each power core is linked to a number of nodes in various spots on the map and the team is required to capture each node until they reach the enemy power core. At that point all that needs to be done is to destroy the power core to achieve victory. Initially it seems extremely similar to the onslaught mode seen in previous Unreal Tournaments but in the case of Warfare it offers extra nodes that are unlinked but provide the team with extra spawn points, as well as a countdown node that can drain some energy from an enemy power core if it is controlled by the opposition. These extra features add some terrific tactical depth to the mode so it’s no wonder it’s so popular. It makes a refreshing change from deathmatch and will no doubt be extremely popular amongst clans wishing to play a more team orientated game.

None of these modes would be anywhere near as enjoyable if it wasn’t for the expansive maps on offer and with over 35 available across the different modes, there’s plenty of variety. There’s even a remake of the classic map from Unreal, Deck. With a copy of Unreal Editor 3 supplied alongside the game there’s even more potential with the ability to create your own maps. The only real disadvantage to some of the maps is many do require a large number of players to be playing, otherwise it can get a bit sparse and barren which slightly ruins the frantic action that is available with a full server. Also it’s a shame to see some modes left out such as my personal favourite Bombing Run but hopefully with the extensive mod community and accessible modding tools, it won’t be long until such old favourites return to the scene.

Talking of the community, there is quite a range of in game tools which look set to greatly enhance the community. The world leaderboard in particular is handy for anyone determined to beat their counterparts from around the world, and there are options to create friends lists and send messages to friends, all linked through the login system that is needed initially to go online.

Other than that, gameplay wise, it is business as usual with Unreal Tournament 3. The weapons are unchanged for the most part, with some minor tweaking, but it’s all fairly unnoticeable to the average player. There is an addition of a hoverboard in Vehicle CTF and warfare which enables you to go a bit faster than running but it does have the significant disadvantage that if you get hit you fall off and can’t move for a short time so its benefits are somewhat minimal. Still it’s fun for a few games and you can do tricks on it if you want to show off. You can also customise your characters to have all arrays of different looks, such as different torso armour and different shoulder plates. Again, nothing game changing but it’s nice to have the option to stand out from the crowd in this game.

On the whole, Unreal Tournament is nothing really new. But that doesn’t matter; its predecessors were so much fun that no ground breaking changes were needed really. It won’t convert anyone who didn’t like Unreal Tournament in the first place, but you’d have to be mad to think like that anyhow. This game is pure, unadulterated, violent fun and should be compulsory for anyone who needs a bit of stress relief in their life or have an urge to shoot aliens for no other reason than because they can.