Game: Unreal Tournament 3
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Midway Games
The Unreal Tournament series has long been a popular multiplayer franchise for Epic games; right from the moment the first Unreal single player game was released, the Unreal universe has always held a great deal of fans. In late 2002, the update to UT2003 was met with much anticipation, but in the end, it received a lot of flack from players because it missed some game modes and changed the game-play a fair bit from the first UT. UT2004 solved some problems when it was released a year and a bit later, but already the fan base was divided, with some players still preferring the original UT, while others (especially those that played the newer version first) liked UT2004 more. In the end, UT2004 has never commanded quite the same user base that UT did at its peak, but still holds strong today with a good player base, and a decent selection of custom user made mods and maps.
At the end of 2007, Unreal Tournament 3 was finally released to an eager fan base, but trying to please players who prefer either UT or UT2004 and not both is hard. In the end, the game tried to go back to its roots a bit in game-play, but not feeling like so much of a twitch-shooter, and ends up feeling like a compromise between the two. The only problem is, a lot of players were left unhappy when presented with what felt like a very mediocre game – some game modes have been lost, and while the map collection contained some very pretty maps, some seem to have very poor game-play, such as DM-Deimos. The biggest issue at all though is with the UI (user interface), it’s not the way it looks from an artistic sense that is the problem, but rather the ease of use. For example, getting back to the main menu requires far too many clicks than should be necessary, and there are still issues with the online MP UI too. Another issue is that the main menu loads a rather large 60+ Mb map in the background too, and that slows things down a lot more than needed, and is more annoying considering that the look of the main menu could have been done with an animated gif because it’s that plain; so why the need for loading a huge map in the first place?
Moving on to the game-types, while some have been lost, such as Assault (again), Double Domination, and Bombing run, it can be said that they probably didn’t have large followings anyway, but still, it would have been nice if they had been kept. Out of the ‘new’ game-types, they centre strongly around vehicle based game-play. Warfare is a variation on the Onslaught game-type brought in UT2004, and while generally seeming to have support from a good number of players in the community (percentage wise), there are still a lot being less so impressed, me included, due to the addition of what is called an ‘Orb’, which can quickly change around the situation in a game, which is good on some maps, but on others maps it has been implemented poorly, and can lead to frustration. This particular issue is probably less to do with the addition of the Orb and more to do with the design of the maps and how they use it. Vehicle CTF (Capture The Flag) is a fun addition and basically makes the CTF experience a bit more interesting, and gives a player more variety in the ways of going to and from the enemy team flag base. Like Warfare, it benefits a lot from having the use of one particular new vehicle: the hover-board. It looks like something out of Back To The Future, and most probably was inspired by that film, and it basically makes travelling around large maps a lot more fun when all the vehicles have been taken up. The downside of using it is you are left open to attack, as you can’t hold a weapon, and when you fall, you are left vulnerable for a second while you pick yourself up, and a second can mean the difference between life and… er…being fragged. Another set of new vehicles is brought along with the Necris, who last appeared officially in the original UT, and only appeared in UT2004 through a bonus pack of custom player-made content. The Necris presence is quite high in the theme of a lot of maps, helping to give them a very dark setting, and the Necris vehicles, especially the Darkwalker, which is rather like the tripods in H.G.Wells The War Of The Worlds, is really fun to use.
Moving on again, as well as the game being multiplayer based, the series has also long been known for having a single player ladder to complete that unlocks some characters. They basically involved playing through some of the various maps and game-types that you’d encounter in the Multiplayer mode anyway, and characters could easily be unlocked via other methods too, so didn’t have much of a reason to play them. In the build up to the release of UT3, the single player portion of the game was promised to be a proper single player game experience, but in the end it feels like the same ladder as before, but with cutscenes in-between, which is hardly adding much entertainment value, so a lot of people expecting more of this mode were left disappointed.
Graphically, the game is very beautiful, and while probably not having the same kind of photo-realism that Crysis has, it doesn’t have the same hardware requirements either. Rather strangely though, it is the hardware requirements that is another aspect of UT3 that isn’t liked. This becomes clearer when you realise that the UI issues mentioned earlier, extend to an over-simplification of the graphics choices. Ok, the simple slider for textures and world detail are great for systems higher up, but on systems on the lower end of the requirements, it’d be a lot better to have customised settings to make it look as decent as possible – in the end people running on minimum end up with a blurry mess that looks worse than the original UT, and that shouldn’t be the case for a game 8 years newer. This issue has been solved though because the community had come to the rescue and a 3rd party application to control these settings more accurately has been produced, but this is really something that Epic should have dealt with.
Always a good plus in the UT games is that it comes with a decent easy-to-use editor, and the version of the editor included with UT3 is no exception. In fact, I think it’s probably the best version of the editor so far – while I was sceptical at first, I have grown to like it, and find it to be of good quality. As a downside, it’s a shame that the skinning application included with UT2004 wasn’t included with UT3 as well, as that was a nice feature, but I remain hopeful of any custom user made mods to allow for easy custom skinning.
It might seem like I’ve spent the entire review being negative about the game, but unfortunately that’s because there’s really not a lot to praise here. The graphics aren’t bad, but that’s about the only thing I can’t find anything to complain about. Oh, and there’s a button you can press to display all hotspots, which I’ll reiterate yet again, should be a standard feature of adventure games these days. It’s always nice to see another game using that. But more and more ridiculous features keep coming back to me. It’s a shame, since I don’t think it’s bad due to laziness or through cynical cashing in, but simply from lack of skill and experience. I know there are more games in this series and other games by the same company and hopefully those will be improved from this one. Because sadly, they really can’t get a great deal worse.
So then, what are the biggest problems with UT3? Why isn’t it as popular as it could be? Well, the UI is the biggest problem by far, missing out options, and generally feeling clunky and slow to navigate. This is an issue which has put off a lot of players when they first got the game, but thankfully is being fixed little by little with every patch released (the current patch being 1.2 at the time of writing this review). Essentially then, the UI problem extended to putting off a lot of players running on older systems due to the limited graphics options, and thus limited the potential community a bit more. Add that to some rather lacklustre maps, although generally ‘Ok’, and a lack of advertising for the PC version in particular at the time of release, and you get an unloved and unpopular title that should have been so much better.
While the core game-play is still great, and the graphics are very nice on higher end PC’s, and even some midrange PC’s, (no issues for console users though, of course), limited options in the UI coupled with poor marketing of the game, and a very picky UT community in general have left the game looking a tad underwhelming and the result is that it remains relatively unpopular compared to previous efforts. A quick look at the Xfire online gaming stats page puts it ranked at number 69, compared to UT2004 which still hovers around 43rd place. What compounds things even more is that fewer people playing means quieter servers, and so with empty servers, fewer other players bother playing online. So things are not looking good at all. On the positive side, all the issues could be solved in further patches and, as always, decent custom content produced by the UT community will help make the game more popular (hopefully) with time. As a summary, a decent enough game, but with flaws that put a lot of the hardcore fans off – it’s definitely worth getting at some point, especially with the ever increasing numbers of custom maps and mods, and with fixes released in official patches, but I’m not quite sure if it should be got right now, and at full price.
Save System Review:generally not applicable as it is MP based, but the saving system in place for the ‘single player’ portion works for what it is, although nothing special
Graphics: Nice graphics if your PC can handle it.
Sound: Sound quality is always good with UT games, and this is no exception, with some good sound tracks for maps, and taunts from other players/bots are there as usual.
Bugs: I can’t recall encountering any major bugs, just bad design choices.
Gameplay: This is great as it always has been in UT, I can’t really fault it too much, apart from the odd quirks, weak SP ladder though
Storyline: Not really applicable to a multiplayer only game – maybe in the single player portion, but nobody buys UT just to play the single player ladder. So it’s irrelevant really, but still, the single player isn’t great. The settings for the maps with the Necris themes and the general Unreal universe add to the game though
Reviewers Opinion 2008:
It’s a decent enough game, and indeed I do like it, but I must admit I like it more for the map making than I do actually playing it, although that’s just me. The UI flaws haven’t really affected me too much though, so that has less of an impact on my person opinion. In stock form, the game is worth a grim 70-75% rating to be perfectly honest, but with the patches, and the newer custom content from the Unreal community, it’s good enough for 80-85% at the time of writing. As a compromise, I’ll go with a value in the middle, and say 7.75/10 or 77.5%.
Reviewer Opinion 2010:
This is one game that hasn't held up well. The core of it, the engine itself, still looks nice, but the gameplay itself is old and tired, and the franchise is at an end. Over 2 years on from launch, the Unreal Tournament community has shrunk to nothing. No one is interested in arena style shooters anymore, and UT3 was too poor an effort to sway peoples opinions. In the Xfire game rankings list, UT2004 is still ranked #82, quite good for a game several years old now. But UT3 is only a lowly #168 in terms of hours spent playing it per day. If that is anything to go by, that really does tell you all you need to know about UT3. If you still haven't got it by now, avoid it altogether tbh. The servers will be even more empty than they were just a few months after release. I have updated the overall score to reflect this.
Arbitrary Final Score:
If you like this, you might also like: Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2004, Quake 3 Arena. Obvious really!
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