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Unreal Tournament 3

Unreal Tournament has been a staple of PC gaming since 1999. Along with Quake, the franchise has been the premiere twitch-based action game for PC, promoting speed and power over methodical, complicated gameplay. With Epic’s new Unreal 3 engine, Unreal Tournament 3 has finally been released. Strangely, this supposed gaming juggernaut was put out with little fanfare, amongst Crysis, Halo 3, and Call of Duty 4. Not a great idea, but maybe UT3 will sell itself on brand name alone. And it might have to, because as it stands right now, it’s pretty disappointing.

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For starters, the gameplay. It hasn’t changed since 1999. That’s not really a bad thing; the original Unreal Tournament is still a fun game. No, the problem is that UT3 feels like a step down from the acclaimed Unreal Tournament 2004. UT3 has fewer maps, game modes, and customization options than its predecessor. This is extremely disappointing, considering that up until now, each UT had added at least one new great idea to the pile. In going back to its roots, UT3 has stripped away most of them. It’s still lots of fun, mind. The deathmatches are as intense and frenzied as ever, but it’s fun that could be had on a piece of software that came out nearly eight years ago. The only big “new” addition is a vehicle called the hoverboard. It delivers what it promises, plus it makes you look like a complete pillock. Controlling your character from third person in a first-person-shooter, on a flying snowboard no less, is impossible. Other than that, UT3 is the series standard: Run, shoot, run. This is by no means a bad thing, and UT3 can be great fun online. Deathmatch is by far the best mode, as it was in 1999, but the frenzied action has held up well since then.

The major selling point for UT3 seems to be the shiny new engine it’s running on, the excellent and versatile Unreal 3 Engine. UT3 looks fantastic, from a technical point of view. The characters are detailed, the levels are filled with beautiful lighting, and the weapons look appropriately ridiculous and detailed. For some reason, though, UT3 has opted for a dark, bland, “brown is real” sort of look. Previous UTs have sported a fairly colorful look, but UT3 throws all that out of the window. Not only are there less characters to choose from, but the brightest color among them seems to be the Ronin team’s burgundy. Even in team matches, it can be hard to make out red and blue teams- it sometimes looks like brown and less-brown teams. It’s the prettiest ugly game ever released, which is a huge let-down. It will tax your computer and use all of the latest effects, but you’ll swear that the only color displaying on your monitor is a rather ugly beige. The characters look a little too much like those from Gears of War. In fact, watch the first cutscene in the so-called “Campaign”, a glorified series of singleplayer matches. It looks very similar to Gears, complete with buff soldiers, mutant aliens, and lots and lots of shades of gray.

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Even the thing that made the series famous- customization- seems to be MIA. The list of maps, mutators, and modes has been shortened significantly. Even options like graphics quality, usually filled with different tweaks, has been dumbed down to “World Detail” and “Texture Detail”. Gee, thanks. By lumping everything together (Warzone mode is just Assault and Territories mashed up), UT3 has turned its back on good old options. Even the interface feels off. Do we need a fully-rendered 3D world moving around behind our menus, especially when it’s blurred to hell? I didn’t even realize it was a 3D room until I turned “World Detail” all the way down. This bizarre design choice makes navigating the menu sluggish, unless you’re running the game on Deep Blue.

At least the modding community is in full swing. Because UT3 is just as easy to modify as its previous kin, amateur coders everywhere are working on new maps, games, and other bits to add on to UT3. Unfortunately, without the promise of user-created content, UT3 is hard to recommend. Series veterans will be sorely disappointed. New gamers may have a grand old time with UT3‘s retro gameplay, but anyone who’s tasted better will be bored. Where did UT3 go wrong? It’s hard to say, but it’s easy to see that UT3 is a bit of a failure. The lack of content is just bizarre, considering the success of UT2K4. It’s still worth buying UT3, for those who enjoy modding and hacking. For everyone else: there have been far better PC games this season.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

Gentle persuasion

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