Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Unreal Tournament 3 Review

Unreal Tournament 3, developed by Epic Games and published by Midway.
The Good: Nice graphics, fast and furious gameplay remains, online cooperative “campaign”
The Not So Good: Warfare mode is simply tweaked Onslaught, six old game modes have been removed completely, annoying menu system and online browser, no original weapons, the “campaign” is simply a series of multiplayer battles against the AI
What say you? Outstanding visuals, but a lot less content than previous versions: 5/8

When a game sequel is released, an important decision must be made: Roman or European numerals? Most games, it seems, opt for the classic Roman approach to make their title seem more prestigious. But not Unreal Tournament 3, the next chapter in the venerable first person shooter series. Well, except for the game box, which use roman numerals in the background. I’ve been a fan of the Unreal Tournament series since its inception, enjoying its frantic over-the-top action and flexible engine with plenty of user made mods to enjoy. The last time we experienced the full fury of Unreal Tournament was way back in 2004; what improvements and enhancements have been made to the game in three years of development?

Clearly the highlight of Unreal Tournament 3 is the exceptional use of the Unreal Engine. The level design is similar to previous Unreal Tournament games, but the textures show how powerful the new engine is: they are highly detailed and great to look at. The detail in general has been improved, from the character designs to the weapon models and effects. Unreal Tournament 2004 was getting a bit out of date so it’s nice to have some contemporary graphics to look at as you kill people. The user interface is also “slicker” and more futuristic, matching the overall theme of the game. Unreal Tournament 3 just plain looks better and equals the visuals offered by Call of Duty 4 and some EA game that I never received for review so it will go unmentioned. The game also seems to perform well at default settings and appropriate resolutions. The sound of Unreal Tournament 3 is slightly improved as well. Although the audio design obviously doesn’t benefit from the same leaps in technology as the graphics do, the addition of more varied voices and nice weapon effects round out an excellent presentation. The memorable musical score and theme music make their return so the delight of nostalgic fans everywhere. The graphics and sound of Unreal Tournament 3 will not disappoint as the title certainly looks and sounds good.

Unreal Tournament 3 is still a multiplayer-oriented first person shooter, first evidenced by the Gamespy login screen when you enter the game. Though your ID is used, stat tracking is kept at a minimum, unlike most online games (World in Conflict, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Call of Duty 4, and Battlefield 2142 to name a few). You will also need to customize your online character, choosing a team and outfit; these options are superfluous and picking from a suite of characters in the past was fine. Unreal Tournament 3 does come with a single player campaign, but it’s simply a linear set of matches against the AI using the six game modes available for multiplayer. The AI is still a quality opponent that can easily be mistaken for decent human competition, but when you compare the single player offerings of Unreal Tournament 3 against other predominantly multiplayer games like World in Conflict and Call of Duty 4, Unreal Tournament 3 comes up short. You can choose your game modes against the AI in instant action mode, but the game is really designed for human competition. Unfortunately, Unreal Tournament 3 has been bitten by the console design bug, featuring information spread over many menus that used to be confined to one when the developers cared about our platform. For example, filters are kept on a separate page from the browser and they seem to reset no matter which choice you pick. There aren’t many servers up yet and you can only view one game type at a time. Unreal Tournament 3 also features some really long load times: when it takes ten seconds to exit to the main menu from a match (I’m not exaggerating), there is a problem. I guess two gigabytes of RAM isn’t enough. You also can’t exit while loading a map, so you’re stuck for the thirty second load time when joining a server.

Unreal Tournament 3 features six modes of play: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, vehicle capture the flag, duel, and warfare. You would figure the developers would come up with something fresh and original in the past three years, but they have not. Duel is a one-on-one mode featuring a waiting queue, and warfare is simply UT2004’s onslaught mode with orbs that can be used to instantly capture a node. How disappointing. Even worse, the developers actually removed a bunch of modes that were present in Unreal Tournament 2004, most of which I played extensively and enjoyed. Bombing run: gone. Mutant: gone. Domination: gone. Last man standing: gone. Assault: gone. Invasion: gone. For a game that thrives on its versatility, this is a complete shock. We shouldn’t have to mod in the missing game modes. The infamous mutators have also been minimized, featuring instagib as the only notable one.

Unreal Tournament 3 does come with a good number of maps that cover all of the available game modes. Arrows are superimposed on the ground to show the most appropriate path to follow to the enemy flag or base, so the usual learning curve has been reduced somewhat. In another area of non-innovation, Unreal Tournament 3 features the almost the same exact weapons as before: impact hammer, enforcer, bio rifle, shock rifle, link gun, mini-gun (although alternate-fire shoots balls), flak cannon, rocket launcher, sniper rifle, avril, redeemer, translocator, and hoverboard. At least people will be familiar with them. The vehicles selection is largely the same as well (air, tanks, jeeps, ATVs) although different teams can have varied skins and designs. The pace is as frantic as ever and the game is essentially just as enjoyable (not surprising since it’s basically the same game). Note that (surprise!) adrenaline has been removed and replaced with a couple of pick-ups that grant a faster firing rate, increased damage, invisibility, or invulnerability. You can also deploy mines and charges to blow stuff up and shields for protection, although they certainly are not as widespread as the deployables in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. It seems the developers have concentrated on graphics instead of features, and the result is a game that looks better but has less substance than its predecessors. What happened in three years of development? We’ll see if the modding community picks this game up like they did with Unreal Tournament 2004, but since there is really no reason to “upgrade” unless you want a game with less features, I’m not so sure.

I realize that you shouldn’t expect drastic changes in a sequel, but absolutely no innovations in three years? In exchange for nice graphics, we get half the number of game modes, a poor console menu system, and the same weapons: awesome! Is it fun? Yeah, but I did this already in 2004. In fact, Unreal Tournament 3 actually comes with less features than that title. Less! Some people say “less is more,” but those people are idiots. I am extremely disappointed in Unreal Tournament 3, because the potential was so high for creating a great game that expanded upon previous versions, instead of just regurgitating them. I certainly would not spend $50 on Unreal Tournament 3 when I have Unreal Tournament 2004 already. If you like the fast-paced gameplay of Unreal Tournament, then find a copy of UT2004: shiny graphics do not make a game. Well, maybe on the consoles.